Exploring Virtual Worlds

I am on the fence about virtual worlds. On the one hand, I recognize their value as an educational tool (especially in the year 2013) and I know most students would enjoy participating in a virtual world; but on the other hand, I find virtual worlds to be strange (creepy, almost) and part of The Problem rather than the solution. By the “The Problem,” I mean disconnection. Our 21st century world is taking us further and further away from real life– real interaction– and closer towards diluted versions of ourselves and human interaction. However, these virtual worlds do provide a means of collaboration and communication, which, I suppose, is better than nothing.

I very much relate to Elizabeth Knittle’s initial reaction to the virtual world in the article “A ‘Second Life’ For Educators”: “I looked around and I thought, this is crazy […]I just couldn’t see the value of it, so I left” (2009). I couldn’t have said it better myself. But as she explored virtual worlds more, as I did with Second Life and NASA @ Home and City, I started to warm up to the idea of the virtual world as a collaborative space. To me, the virtual world is a highly visual, complex and life-like Google Doc. You sign on, contribute freely, and others do the same. For the record, I still prefer just a good ol’ fashioned Google Doc, but for more visual learners (and Digital Natives) I can really see the value of communicating via the virtual world.

John Lester (2009) makes another solid point in that same article about the value of virtual worlds as a space for professional development:

“With teachers, you have this built-in culture of collaboration,” he says. “It’s in their DNA; they succeed by working with other people on projects and learning from them and leveraging each other’s work. It’s not surprising that Second Life is proving to be such a useful platform for their own professional development.”

And admittedly, that was not a use of the virtual world that I had thought about previously. I was thinking of these virtual worlds for student use only, not for teachers to collaborate with each other. We all know how difficult it can be to coordinate schedules with other teachers, nay just other adults in general, and Second Life provides a space for teachers from everywhere to meet and collaborate. Much cheaper and more convenient than a conference, I’d say.

Although I recognize the benefits of virtual worlds, I still can’t help feeling that they contradict themselves. They are a space for collaboration, but they also require users to hind behind their respective computer screens– an isolating act. The Horizon-K12 article, “What Are Virtual Worlds,” makes a valid point saying that, “it has become evident that people generally return to virtual spaces because of the experiences they find there, not because of the spaces themselves” (2011). Those “experiences” are interacting with other human beings. Meeting new people is an experience (and a worth while one). I am of the opinion that the best way to meet someone is in real life, not virtual life. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but sometimes I feel like real life will cease to exist. That instead of leaving our homes and our computer screens, we will live and interact entirely online. As an educator, I would rather provide as many real life experiences for my students as possible, and use the internet as a tool rather than as an experience.

Resources

Waters, J.K. (2009). A ‘second life’ for educators. The Journal. Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Articles/2009/01/01/A-Second-Life-For-Educators.aspx?Page=6

“What are virtual worlds?” (2011). The Horizon Project: K-12. Retrieved from http://k12-2011.wiki.nmc.org/Virtual+Worlds

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3 Responses to “Exploring Virtual Worlds”

  1. acrerie says:

    Glad to know I’m not alone, Angela.

  2. Angela Fritz says:

    Oh. My. Gosh.
    Birds of a feather. Right here. I absolutely do not like virtual realities. I kept reading your blog saying, “yes! exactly! she gets it!”

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one that’s resistant to these things. You are just so in my head! I feel the SAME WAY about using the internet as a tool instead an experience. RIGHT ON!

  3. jdosch says:

    I agree with you 100% about virtual world verging on the “creepy” side of life! It seems strange to me that a person can join a group and assume another identity to hide behind. What does this say to our students? Ideas, good or bad, should remain anonymous? I feel it doesn’t teach students how to really take ownership of their own ideas, instead it gives them a “mask” to hide behind. And don’t even get me started on people who join these groups to “prey” on young children. I just feel that if teachers require students to become a part of these virtual worlds they need to make sure the parents are onboard and monitoring the students use at home.

    On the other hand I do see the need for it because it is 2013 and students today are immersed in all sorts of virtual technologies and gaming websites. For this reason I would stick to the virtual worlda geared more towards educational purposes i.e. NASA, Brainnook, and Minyan land. I would steer clear of secondlife and simm city because there are too many variable and sections of these particular virtual worlds I would not want my students to stumble upon.