Why aren’t NZ secondary schools
using virtual worlds, video games?
or are they … but just below the radar?
Ahead of the game … Christ’s College, one of New
Zealand’s oldest schools, is in Second Life.
Given the ever- burgeoning popularity of video games, Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and virtual worlds, or Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) – they are all now mainstream – and the growing body of evidence attesting to their effectiveness as a teaching aid one wonders why more New Zealand secondary schools aren’t involved in Second Life’s Teen Grid or other virtual worlds.
There are a few involved or considering getting involved – mostly private schools and at least one, Christ’s College, Christchurch, through Skoolaborate– but one wonders whether New Zealand’s digital generation is being left behind the rest of the world. Or are those New Zealand schools using video games and MUVEs just keeping their heads below the parapet? I know a number of New Zealand teachers who are very competent in Second Life but none of them admit to teaching in virtual worlds.
New Zealand however, is not the only country whose digital generation might be missing the virtual education wave.
The South Koreans and Chinese definitely aren’t but a couple of recent blogs on the situation in US schools would suggest many there are, despite the increasing involvement of US tertiary institutions in virtual worlds.
US-based Dana Oshiro recently asked the question, “Shouldn’t Schools Have Embraced Second Life By Now?” in his blog ReadWriteWeb, and Washington-based lobbyist and virtual world’s blogger Max Burns (pictured left) asked a similar question in his Pixels and Policy blog .
The questions from both of them could easily be applied to New Zealand education where one often wonders whether the neo-Luddites still rule.
Oshiro wondering why, mainstream educators still don’t have the green light to teach in virtual worlds, said: “Many argue that video teleconferencing and instant messaging have replaced the need for virtual world interaction.” He then added though that neither of these offer the same “immersive” experience as a virtual world.
Max Burns, who has apparently been asking the question for some time, after noting that the University of Texas’ has used $US2.5 million in grants to partner with SecondLife to “road-test” education in virtual world and create a public resource of the resulting data, asked, “Why aren’t public schools everywhere doing this? It seems primed for inner-city schools where resources are strained and classrooms overflow with bored, disconnected students.
He then quoted a Tufts University report which demonstrated that kids from the digital generation learn best when they learn in the context of a game – in this case, Second Life and virtual worlds take advantage of this generation’s immersion in technology to teach and entertain.
He detailed the problem in the US of getting the greenlight to adoption as being bureacracy.
He said: ” It’s everywhere in the public school system, where the average state high school must deal with, in mostly this order: 1. in-house administrators; 2. district superintendent; 3. local school board; 4. city council; 5. local Board of Education; 6. State Department of Education; 7. Federal Department of Education.
In New Zealand, I could have added, that the problem is compounded by the fact that Telecom has appeared to have deliberately worked for competitive reasons against allowing the quick spread of high-speed, inexpensive Broadband across the country, especially into the provincial towns, although the Government currently might be moving to fill the vacuum the telco has created. But despite the trumpeting of Telcom and TelstraClear among others, New Zealanders outside the major centres by and large have no idea what Broadband is even though it is being promoted and they are paying for it. Their services are still often little better than dial-up – if better – being notoriously slow and unreliable at the times when most New Zealanders want to use the services, the evening.
Christ’s College students … leading the way in New Zealand? (Christ’s College picture)
In the US, according to Max Burns, the education in secondary schools problem is being solved by establishing legal “virtual” Charter schools, for instance in Oregon. Charter Schools receive government funding but receive exemptions from the course requirements and bureaucracy of public schools. The only requirement? Show results.
“For those committed enough to buck the bureaucracy, the future of education is increasingly virtual,” Burns said.
In New Zealand and Australia it also is the private school sector that is apparently showing the way.
But if New Zealand is going to move down the path of virtual education too, New Zealand’s education authorities should be thinking about these questions now. The yshould be asking where are the virtual world qualified teachers going to come from? How do we train them? How do we immerse them so they become virtual education champions rather than negative real world whiners and neo-Luddites? Where are the future New Zealand virtual education designers and builders going to come from? How do we retrain the digital migrants or dinosaurs in the teaching profession to handle this new education generation, where in future just as much mainstream schooling will probably happen in a virtual world without boundaries as in the face-to-face classroom?
Or are we just going to bury our heads?
Filed under: Education, Education in Second Life, Education in virtual worlds, Second Life, Video Gaming, Virtual Worlds Tagged: | Charter Schools, Christ's college, Dana Oshiro, Max Burns, Pixels and Policy, ReadWriteWeb, Skoolaborate, Telecom, Telstraclear, Tufts University, University of Texas