What are some of the affordances of a virtual world for education?
Having had the opportunity to be introduced to Second Life (SL) a number of years ago by a colleague I consider myself one of the lucky ones as I have been able to play, dabble and explore SL for a range of reasons. These reasons have been just for fun, as part of a conference attendee and presenter (this required branching off to a Minecraft server), as a learner/student. Each role has provided me with a different level of understanding that SL can take from an educational perspective.
The thing that I have found most powerful in each situation is the immersion into a world that provides a realistic feel. On two separate occasions I have entered into Virtual McBeath, as part of Professional Learning as a teacher and as a student as part of this course, on each occasion I have become more aware of the life of McBeath, the inner workings of his mind and the external influences of his life. I am in no way a scholar of Shakespeare, but from these moments of immersion I have learnt more than I have via other more traditional forms. Maybe it is the combination of the visual imagery and audio combined, maybe it is the interpretation that has been provided by its creator or just maybe it is the fact that I could run off and explore what I was ready for? It provided me the opportunity to play, which possibly was slightly frustrating to the one leading the tour, but play and intern investigation is so important to learning especially when it is packaged in a way that allows a feeling of reality for the senses all at once. That is through the use of an avatar I am actually part of the situation being explored, I need to develop a better understanding of the place to be able to participate effectively.
Another area of SL I have entered into on a number of occasions is that of a Story Quest which allowed you to look into the life of a man impacted by HIV. This was a powerful expedition as it allowed you to sit in his house and contemplate all aspects of his life – almost like stepping into his shoes. It left me feeling privileged as it felt more personal than reading someones edited diary entries that may form a biography later on.
So what does this provide for education…. interesting question. The value of the learning that can be provided through this medium is unquestionable. It is more about whether or not we are ready to employ it. Opening up connections to such media is at times difficult and requires an appreciation beyond educators to those that are able to provide access. I currently have a student who has been developing an area on Jokaydia Grid however, as it is for just one student, the access cannot be opened up at a school level at this time. So it is now about seeking out partnerships that will open up opportunities.