Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Coming Down to Earth: Helping Teachers Use 3D Virtual Worlds in Across-Spaces Learning Situations

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Coming Down to Earth: Helping Teachers Use 3D Virtual Worlds in Across-Spaces Learning Situations

Article excerpt

Introduction

Advances in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are bringing about new possibilities for learning, such as those involving different virtual and physical spaces. For example, activities related to botany using a web platform in the classroom can be complemented with activities in a nearby forest (Kurti, Spikol, & Milrad, 2008). Different approaches have explored how to provide a continuous learning experience in these across-spaces learning situations (Kurti et al., 2008; Munoz-Cristobal et al., 2014), thus moving toward "seamless learning" (Chan et al., 2006). Mobile devices and Augmented Reality (AR) are among the technical scaffolds that have been explored to connect these physical and virtual spaces (Billinghurst & Duenser, 2012; Munoz-Cristobal et al., 2014; Sharples, Sanchez, Milrad, & Vavoula, 2009).

Three-dimensional virtual worlds (3DVW) such as Second Life (http://secondlife.com) or Open Wonderland (http://openwonderland.org) constitute an additional type of learning space that can be found in currently proposed across-spaces learning scenarios. 3DVWs are three-dimensional virtual environments with similarities to the real world that provide the illusion of being there. 3DVW users are represented using avatars that can interact with other users and objects of the 3DVW in a synchronous or asynchronous fashion (Dickey, 2003; Warburton, 2009). The use of 3DVWs in education has been explored during the last decades, and has shown to provide different learning benefits. More specifically, 3DVWs increase student motivation and also enable the perception of objects from multiple perspectives, the simulation of experiences impossible in the real world, or help knowledge transfer to the real world through the contextualization of learning (Dalgarno & Lee, 2010; Dede, 2009; Dede, Salzman, & Loftin, 1996; Dickey, 2003; Warburton, 2009). Existing examples of across-spaces learning situations involving 3DVW include the combination of activities in Moodle (https://moodle.org) and Second Life (Livingstone & Kemp, 2008), or the synchronous interaction among students visiting a replica of a city in Open Wonderland and students physically located in the "real" city, using AR in mobile devices (Ibanez, Maroto, Garcia Rueda, Leony, & Delgado Kloos, 2012).

However, most of the approaches considering across-spaces learning situations that include 3DVWs show limitations that may contribute to the current lack of acceptance of their proposals in real educational practice (Gregory et al., 2013; Hendaoui, Limayem, & Thompson, 2008; Warburton, 2009). One limitation is the lack of support for teachers to create their own across-spaces learning situations. Also, the available range of technologies for the enactment of the authored scenarios is very limited (e.g., the specific combination of Moodle and Second Life in Livingstone & Kemp, 2008, or Open Wonderland and an ad-hoc mobile client in Ibanez, et al., 2012). Additionally, existing proposals tend to consider 3DVW-supported activities in a rather isolated way with respect to activities in other 3DVWs, or supported by already existing technologies in the classroom (VLEs, Web 2.0 tools, AR tools).

To overcome these limitations, this paper proposes the architecture and prototype of a system capable of supporting teachers in creating, with a number of existing authoring tools, and deploying their own across-spaces learning situations in a variety of technological ecosystems comprising multiple learning spaces. These ecosystems may be composed of different mainstream VLEs and Web 2.0 tools (web learning space), multiple mobile AR applications (augmented physical learning space), as well as distinct 3DVWs (3DVW learning space). Thus, the system enables activities taking place in multiple physical, 3DVW and web spaces, at the same time or sequentially. Additionally, learning designs can be shared and reused in different technological ecosystems (e. …

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