Monday, May 10, 2010

Virtual Worlds for Distributed Learning

I have been working on finding a place for Virtual Worlds in a Distributed Learning environment for 2 years. I have tried a couple of different platforms during this time. Google Lively seemed to fit the bill but it closed down in Dec 2009. I have been using 3dxplorer, a Java language web browser based program this year. This program integrates well with our Desire to Learn (D2L) Learning Management software and is easy for teachers and students to use.

NIDES has a very rich text based learning environment and a Virtual World component allows students to experience the curriculum in context. No longer is there a need to describe an environment when we can recreate it in 3D rendition. Not only can students interact with the environment they can communicate in a more natural curricular setting with their peers and teachers.

There are some elements in a Virtual World that do need to be attended to. There should be a teacher presence to moderate the environment. Students will need to be given direction and assistance to navigate the world and get the experience that the virtual world is intended to impart. Bandwidth is always a concern. Image and media rich environments requires large bandwidth and a lagging virtual world is like walking through molasses. There should be a backup in case bandwidth is an issue. In our Learning Management System (D2L) this can be chat, pages, discussions and dropbox options for traditional text messages and assignments.

Virtual Worlds opens up many possibilities to create a better learning environment. There are many different platforms available, both free and subscription based. Some are browser based and others require client software. All expand the learning experience for the student and allows the teacher to explore new ways to present the curriculum.

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