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Monday, October 27, 2008

Complaint? Students Don't Hang Out in Virtual Worlds After Class

In the course of a week, I get asked many questions about Virtual Worlds, an interesting one that keeps occurring goes something like this.
It seems that students find virtual worlds boring. None of my students “hang out” in-world except for class activities, and my students rarely go into virtual worlds after the semester is over. How can I get them more into virtual worlds beyond the classroom?
It is interesting to me that we often require a higher standard of new teaching technology than we do for existing teaching technologies. Let me give you an example.

In the physical world (real world), not many students hang out in my classroom when class is not in session! So why do we expect it to happen in a virtual world?

The same is true of Adobe Connect, Horizon Wimba and other 2D classroom software. When class is not in session, no one hangs out in the virtual classroom looking to have “fun.” I don’t think virtual worlds are much different. If there is not a compelling reason to be in the virtual world, people will not go to the virtual world that is not a "problem" it is a fact of human motivation. In fact, many young people leave small physical towns when they are old enough because they claim "there is nothing to do." The problem is not confined to virtual worlds.

We can’t expect students to hang out in the virtual world if we don’t have anything for them to do in the virtual world. If we want them to hang out in the virtual world and have “fun” we need to create engaging in-world environments that are asynchronous so they have activities to perform in the virtual world (and this takes some work.) Instructors must remember that virtual worlds are first and foremost social spaces. Virtual worlds are synchronous tools which means you need more than one person to really make it work.

To make virtual worlds work as an instructional environment, I have found you need:

  • An instructor or facilitator who is present to guide the activity and set the parameters for interaction.
  • Other learners who are also engaged in the activity
  • The activity is supported by the 3D environment (meaning the environment matches the activity, like teaching security checks in an environment in which the security guard will be working)
  • Teamwork is an essential element in the instructional process. Or one-on-one role-plays add to the learning of the student.

Notice, for the most part, more than one person is needed. Yes, you can create an interactive "click through" environment" that works in a virtual world and it does engage students individually but those environments will continue to be rare until more people learn to comfortably use the software of virtual worlds.


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Brad Kleinman said...

Karl, great post. I've noticed similar factors in making a successful wiki community, facebook page, or general discussion forum. It's almost impossible for them to be successful without a relatively-highly active facilitator. Have you seen any examples of teachers making 3D environments where students DO 'hang out' in them after class??

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Karl!

I guess it's the same (old?) story. I teach in a distance education centre. We had a principal some (not too many) years back who honestly thought that we should be timetabled like a standard F2F school - especially with so-called elearning. You wouldn't believe it!

I felt that she had forgotten her Bacon. His tale of the little boy in school, whose highlight of the day's 'work' was getting out to play footy in the playground, and after school down the street.

Of course kids won't want to hang out in a classroom after school - real or otherwise!

Ka kite
from Middle-earth