The use of 3D virtual worlds, such as Second Life (SL) can enhance the student learning experience in either a blended or e-learning environment. With content being what is important, the varied delivery methods can create a more engaging experience where both content and learning skills can be practiced and assessed, directly and indirectly.
Through the use of Second Life, “students can ground their academic knowledge in meaningful practice and rehearse skills through interaction with realistic environment.” (p. 56) Such is the case at Duke University School of Nursing in Second Life. Dr. Constance Johnson, an instructor at Duke’s School of Nursing has created Second Life environment that meets the expanding needs of Duke’s student population. Students enrolled in their distance-learning program may miss the opportunities of the face-to-face learning environment. However, through SL, they are able to hear the instructor presentation, interact with others in the class in a virtual social setting and practice real-life scenarios in the virtual world that will be helpful as they go in to practice. This does not substitute for the real-life observation time they need, however, it can be used as a virtual example of what could happen, and what steps need to be taken within certain medical events and scenarios. As Hobbs, Brown and Gordon state, using SL allows for a closer relationship between the virtual world and real worlds. (p. 56) In this case, I would most certainly agree and can see the advantage to using this platform.
Duke is not the only big-named university that has used SL, Harvard and San Diego have also established their own virtual campuses. They provide lectures and demonstrations. Harvard’s instructor Rebecca Nesson said that the use of SL kept students engaged in the class and provided a sense of class community. (Lamont) This seems to fall in line with what Hobbs, Brown and Gordon expressed, that besides the content offered by instructors, SL offers intrinsic benefits by helping to expose students to novel applications of technology and practice communication. There are also social aspects of learning that occur. Second Life also provides a setting where students can create virtual activities that are based on their interests.
“A key issue for the use of virtual worlds and Second Life in education is to identify the areas where it can extend or improve on existing provision.” It offers a unique educational opportunity for discovery, social interaction and creativity through the following:
Telepresence – users are able to project thie point of view into the 3D world. This can be used to increase engagement.
- Communication – voice, chat and instant messaging
- Learning by doing – help students build their own learning materials or demonstrations
- Learning by becoming – role playing
- Association – provides a context and content for reporting and reflection through associated e-learning and social networking portals.
There are drawbacks to the use of Second Life. In order to use SL, and other virtual worlds, one must be computer literate and technologically savvy in order to maneuver in and around the environment. In my own experience for this module, I was using a Mac computer and 2 Macbooks just to be able to complete the scavenger hunt. It took over 3 hours as I had to download 2 different viewers in order to be able to use the platform. Other issues that can contribute to frustration is slower internet speeds. If I were able to work through my technical glitches, I would like to be able to explore some of the classrooms in SL to be able to look at the design activities that take place. I feel overall, there is great potential for using SL and other like virtual worlds in education.
Duke University School of Nursing in Second Life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL3D-59MbnY
Hobbs, M., Brown, E., Gordon, M. Learning and Assessment with Virtual Worlds. 2009. In C. Spratt, & P. Lajbcygier (Eds.), E-Learning Technologies and Evidence-Based Assessment Approaches. Information Science Reference. (55 – 74)
Lamont, I. Harvard’s virtual education experiment in Second Life (2007) Computerworld.