Thursday, August 5, 2010

At a snail's pace...

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I am struck again and again by how slow the process has been to get my virtual environment ready for students to explore. I feel like a snail...taking a whole lot of time to venture up the fence post to get a better look at where I can go next. I get so excited when I see how far I've come...the world is pretty much built from sea to sky and the plans for possible projects and areas of study it could cover have been determined. However, the next steps, the ones to get it up and running within our curricular offerings seem the toughest. I know there are a lot of reasons I am moving slowly. Here are a few:
  • I am learning while I'm creating. The area of virtual worlds and simulations are all new to me. I've been a participant within them but this is the first foray into creating them for me. I am brought back to my first experience with creating web pages and how I had to figure out the technical side of things to create the design I wanted. AND...I had to make sure the content was worth spending time on the design.
  • I want to make sure these are quality experiences for learners. I want them to want to come back. Think of it from a tourism perspective...If all of this time and energy is devoted to creating a virtual space I want it to be used. I want them to visit again and again.
  • Building the "backbone" for this offering to my learners is important. How do I communicate with parents regarding this venture? How do I ensure learners understand expectations? What structure should the learning have? Should I go completely constructivist and tell them to make meaning on their own with minimal guidance...or should I "hand hold" the first time through?
  • For many of my learners, this will be their first experience with a virtual world and perhaps even interacting with others online. I want to spend the time to figure out the best ways to teach them digital citizenship before entering and during participation in world.
  • Looking at security. I want to ensure learners are safe online. There are plenty of online environments for learners but not all provide the level of security to make me feel comfortable.
I feel less "slow" in my process when I look over resources in this field. Things have been evolving in this area for a very long time. Unfortunately, patience is not my forte. I'm working on it :-)
Lately, I have returned to a book I read years ago, Learning to solve problems with technology; A constructivist perspective by Jonassen et al. Although the graphics have really evolved in many virtual worlds and simulations the basic principles still seem applicable in my circumstance.

In their chapter relating to microworlds and virtual realities they include seven general uses for vitual environments in education:
  • to explore typically unaccessible situations and environments
  • to explore objects
  • create places, things and events
  • interact and collaborate with others
  • interact with others in unrealistic ways (thought this was interesting and maybe a future blogpost)
  • create and manipulate abstract concepts
  • interact with avatars (e.g. historical figures and individuals that may represent different races, religions and viewpoints
I think they summed up one of the things I so appreciate about virtual worlds and simulation experience with this quote, "In microworlds and virtual reality simulations, learners can practice their newly acquired skills and knowledge without the unfortunate results of actual failures. Therefore, they can learn safely by simply doing and experimenting in the environments provided by microworlds and virtual reality simulations." (p. 206)

So with my feelings of how valuable these environments can/could be for learners remaining intact...onward I go... at a snail's pace.

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