Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Virtual Environments and K-12 Education: A Tour of the Possibilities-Part 1

Magazine article Multimedia & Internet@Schools

Virtual Environments and K-12 Education: A Tour of the Possibilities-Part 1

Article excerpt

The 2007 edition of the Horizon Report by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative predicted that in 2 to 3 years, virtual worlds will greatly impact teaching, learning, and creative expression. These scalable and highly creative environments are being used by educators all over the country in a variety of settings and in a variety of ways.

Also in 2007, Cathy Arreguin and Ross Perkins wrote the article "Real-Life Migrants on the MUVE: Stories of Virtual Transitions" in Learning & Leading with Technology. It is a great overview of what multiuser virtual environments are, how educators are using them, and what teachers can look for when deciding which virtual environment fits their needs and why. A year later, many of the projects mentioned in the article have grown by leaps and bounds, and hundreds of additional virtual environments have sprung up as well.

This article offers a look at projects using virtual worlds that are currently "happening" in K-12 schools, what we're learning from them, and what we can continue to learn by charging full steam ahead with these fascinating educational tools.

If you haven't been paying close attention, you may be surprised at the number of virtual world projects and platforms out there! I've chosen to cover five robust and representative ones in my reporting. Two based on/in Teen Second Life-Science in Second Life and Suffern Middle School in Second Life-are featured in this part of my article. In Part 2, I'll cover projects based in three different "worlds"-Whyville Texas Challenge/Whyville; The River City Project/Active Worlds; and Quest Atlantis, in its own "world."

TEEN SECOND LIFE

Teen Second Life (TSL; http://teen.secondlife.com) is a 3D virtual world created by Linden Lab designed for teens ages 13-17. User-generated content defines this virtual world. Everything from a blade of grass to clouds in the sky can be designed by the user. Its "big brother" Second Life is for those 18 and older and is a separate "grid" from TSL.

SCIENCE IN SECOND LIFE

Cathy Arreguin is a curriculum developer for Global Kids (www.globalkids.org) through its online leadership program directed by Barry Joseph. Thanks to the 2007 Motorola Innovation Generation Grant (http: //tinyurl.com/22wtd6) the organization was awarded, Arreguin and Global Kids have developed a new curriculum for the Brooklyn-based High School for Global Citizenship freshman physical science class (http:// hs-gc.org) that will "enable educators to utilize the virtual world of second Life to engage students in exploring global science, technology and programming." (To get an idea of what the interface of TSL looks like, view the video about Science in second Life at http:// tinyurl.com/5gq3k2.)

The class is taught by science teacher Tracy Rebe. For the first semester, it was taught in the traditional manner, using a textbook and an instructor. During the second semester, the students and teacher spent time learning Teen second Life and fitting the science curriculum into the virtual environment. The TSL-based science curriculum is intended, however, as a supplement to classroom learning rather than comprising the total science curriculum. Nor is it meant to be used as a distance course; reflective discussion takes place in the classroom, not in TSL.

The curriculum is designed to map to the state standards of New York, which are fortunately very broad, with the overarching goal of enabling students to be able to write more scientific labs and to write them more effectively. In that sense, Arreguin says, they want to teach the kids how to be citizen-scientists in the future-they want them to learn how such citizens think and evaluate information.

The projects the students have been involved in while in TSL capitalize on the fact that, according to research on virtual environments, learners like to modify their own environment. One activity consisted of touring a virtual version of Naples, Italy, and conducting a trash dump survey there by gathering information from multiple resources including chat bots, or programmed robots, that would chat about the environment when clicked on to do so. …

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