A number of years ago I was involved in James Burke’s great Knowledge Web project. In organizing it, we were using Active Worlds, a 3D virtual environment. We’d stand around in this gorgeous room, each with our avatars, and text message each other. It quickly became apparent that the virtual world added nothing.
The new virtual world buzz is around Linden Labs Second Life. I had a look, but wasn’t overwhelmed. Now several colleagues are involved in it in significant ways. Both have experience in (and passion for) learning through technology, and I may have to rethink my take on virtual worlds.
It helps to know that, based upon Marcia Conner’s book Learn More Now, I’m a solitary or, at most, small-group learner. So, as I’ve maintained in the design of games, when your learning objective is interpersonal is when it makes sense to use a social game and a social world.
Through my teaching, particularly the learning theory course I’ve taught this summer, I recognize the constructivist value of having learners negotiate a shared understanding. That hasn’t benefited from a virtual world (except for a novelty factor, a Hawthorne effect, which I suggest will wear off and a new gimmick will be needed). Up ’til now, a discussion board or chat room had all the necessary affordances.
However. A colleague just passed me a link to this video (you’ll most likely have to scroll down) about the New Media Consortium’s space in Second Life. And in it, I saw something I hadn’t really thought about. Most of it was the standard “places to meet”, events, and some nooks and crannies to explore, but…
…that’s not what interested me. What’s interesting is that it is easy (apparently, I didn’t master it in my exploration) to create new things. So you can make models or representations and share them. THIS is a major benefit. Now we can share 3D representations and discuss them.
I’ve suggested in the past that the operating system metaphor I really want is ‘magic’, where I can make things happen with spells (scripts) or buy tools if I have money rather than time. Not to go into that here, but at least in a virtual world we can now make that true. Which also makes true that we can reach a new level of collaboration. And that is interesting!