The edu blogoshpere has been noticing virtual worlds for quite some time now. A few days ago Vicki Davis wrote an interesting post The frontier of education: Web 3D that looks at virtual 3D worlds from an educational perspective. She did a great job when identifying some of important potentials of virtual worlds for education:
- You can overcome stereotypes
- Student Collaboration
- Authentic Assessment / Project Based Learning Possibilities
- Role Playing
- Potential for group synergies
- Storage, Legacy, and Global Audience
- Scenario Simulation
- Digital Storytelling
From my experience, a great potential of virtual worlds is also the greater presence of non-verbal forms of communication. That is perhaps the feature of virtual worlds that I personally find very attractive. It's what (at least for me) makes the virtual world seem almost real. I love the way avatars get bored if you leave them standing on one spot, I love the way they look busy while typing and the fact that you can make your own gestures and poses is not only entertaining, but also very real-life like. Virtual worlds can in my opinion to some extent also be used to learn and practice non-verbal communication.
I also think that the therapeutic potential of Second Life is very important. People with different forms of autism are finding Second Life very positive (read the article Virtual world teaches real-world skills), Second Life is also used to fight agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) and it can also help us understand each other better through simulations. A few days ago I ventured into the Virtual Hallucinations building that simulates schizophrenia. I must say this experience had a huge impact on me and Imy perception of this disease (if you can't or don't want to visit the place, you can read this personal account of the experience on Second Life Herald).
I definitely agree with Vicki that virtual worlds have great educational potential and that they will play a big part in our future. However, I do share Sean FitzGerald 's reservation towards Second Life - I hope Second Life as it is will not be the future of the web or the core of Web 3.0.
Here are a few things I think need to be done for a better user experience and a move towards a 3D Web or Web 3.0 that can be accepted by a greater number of users (and of course educators):
Open protocols and standards
Just as Sean pointed out, I also hope that we'll have more open standards that the whole community has decided on. The Web 3.0 is supposed to be about open technologies and open identity - I hope we manage to integrate that in virtual worlds. I think it'd be great if your avatar could shoot movies in Second Life and directly upload them to YouTube, or take snapshots and upload them on Flickr. Basically, I think that we need better connectivity among all our virtual worlds and social networks.
Last night I wanted to go into Second Life to take some snapshots for the study material I was preparing for my students and guess what? I couldn't log on, the grid was shut down due to some maintenance (without prior warning). This is also what happened when I first tried to enter Second Life. Not a very warm welcome, right? In Second Life they have scheduled maintenances at least on a weekly basis (usually sometime on Wednesdays). Yeah, it's great that they take care of the grid, but I these downtimes are too disruptive. In real world you don't get kicked out of your classroom once a week because the maintenance guys need to fix the classroom. The Second Life environment isn't very stable, and at the moment it is still often buggy, which is a problem if you'd want to use it for education.
Cross platform support
Moove, Kaneva seem like great worlds, but I can't yet get in them. Why? Because I'm on a Mac. I'd really like to be able to choose between different virtual worlds, but I'm stuck with Second Life for now. That is why I also think it'd be great to make virtual worlds work in web browsers. Some great projects that are trying to achieve that are under development - Croquet and Ogoglio. I just watched some screencasts about Ogoglio on YouTube and I must say I'm really impressed. (The world is still quite crude, but it looks very promising. The way it displays pictures and text from other websites through XML looks amazing - especially when compared to Second Life!).
Better Web 2.0 support
Second Life may look like the next generation of Web, but when you really think about it, it lacks some Web 2.0 features that we all came to like. Some things that I miss: a more powerful search (where is Google? :) ), the ability to tag objects (and people), I'd also love to see recommendations for places and objects (users who bought this also liked..., users that visited this place also enjoyed...). You do have some sort or a rating system, but here is what the official Second Life site has to say about that:
"Ratings have no functional effect on your Second Life — they're vanity numbers, and some Residents prefer to do other things with their L$ than rate, such as uploading (from File menu) new media to use in their inworld creations.Great. Ratings have no functional effect and you have to pay to give them? Hm, doesn't really sound like Web 2.0 to me... I sure hope the Web 2.0 features and values will not be forgotten or lost in the Web 3.0!
Tip: if you wonder how someone came to have ratings in the high hundreds of even thousands, it's likely because they're an older Resident, from a time when ratings cost L$1 apiece."
Soon we'll be able to use virtual worlds on our mobile phones, but I also hope that more virtual world will provide the ability to do some work offline. We do have all sorts of mobile devices that can get us online, but the Internet isn't available everywhere, especially when we travel. Just like I can write this blog post without being connected to the Internet, I think it'd be cool to be able to, for example, edit your avatar offline. (Moove already supports this - I hope it becomes a standard feature in virtual worlds).
So, these are just some thoughts about potential improvements of virtual worlds. I already wrote some thoughts about the potential future of 3D virtual world in my introductory post about Second Life. I like the idea of a 3D Web future, but I agree with Vicki - we need to support further development of virtual world that will be safe, enjoyable, user friendly and easy to control in educational settings. As educators I think we should talk about potentials and problems of 3D world and encourage our colleagues to try out new technologies. You don't really fully understand a technology unless you try to use it and really experience it first hand - as Vicki puts it: "second life learning is first person learning". I hope all these discussions we are having will motivate more educators to explore virtual worlds and share their personal experiences. I find personal accounts of Second Life adventures and explorations much more valuable and interesting to read than official manuals. Do not be afraid to try out virtual worlds and if you think you can't handle it on your own, ask for help! I'm more than willing to give you a short introductory tour, and I know that so are many other educators that are working in Second Life.
And now is your turn dear reader - what is your opinion about virtual worlds? Do you think we'll be able to use the potential they are offering us? Are we ready for the shift into virtual 3D workplaces?
By the way - some interesting resources for those interested in virtual economies:
- Betsy Book - Virtual Worlds: today and in the future
- Edward Castronova - On Virtual Economies
- Thomas M. Malaby - Parlaying Value: Capital in and beyond Virtual Worlds
- Virtual Economy Research Network - News, research and discussion on real-money trade of virtual property globally
Note: This is just an archive post. The blog has moved to a new home at blog.ialja.com, where you will also find a copy of the entire blog.