A colleague and I were discussing today how virtual worlds can get a bit old if the main task is to be an explorer within them.
I found this true with my Second Life (SL) adventures. After visiting many worlds within SL, where I reveled in the brilliance of the designers and enjoyed becoming a fairy or a rock star for a few hours here and there I realized my first life was most important and my exploring days were pretty much done.
However, I have also taken part in several SL conferences and the Community of Expertise in Educational Technology ( CEET ) is now hosting a world for future use by educators in SL. I left these experiences with new contacts for my Personal Learning Network (PLN) from all around the world. These experiences were purposeful, engaging and offered continuation into my daily practices.
We're seeing the same thing with the kids. If there isn't purpose, (much like anything else we propose for kids to learn) then interest wanes quickly. The virtual world experiences that offer the chance to contribute to real world problems and real world characteristics are the most attractive over time in our experience.
So...with that in mind, the world being developed in Active Worlds EDU, West Coast Quest (WCQ) offers a smorgasboard of opportunites.
It will be coupled with a website side offering challenges and problem based learning to meet learning intentions. Learners will be able to create their own challenges and create problems for others to solve.
There is still plenty of room to move around but there is a focus and a purpose. I'm sure, as we are a distributed learning school, that there will be some learners that find the socialization aspect a real draw while they learn at home. For others, they will enjoy the problems we pose and the journeys they will need to travel to solve them.
So once again, I find the "wow" factor of another neat learning tool needs to also contain the "meat and potatoes" to leave the learner feeling satisfied with time well spent, whether it is the physical or virtual world they are in.