SLENZ Update, No 154, December 06, 2009

Where is education going in Virtual Worlds?

An earlier (2008) view of a Duke University  foray into virtual worlds
– just one of  the university’s many virtual projects

With the  Obama Administration  turning to the virtual world to extoll the virtues of a science education through expansion of the STEM Education Initiative and NASA also using virtual worlds to promote engineering education to the next generation of potential NASA employees it seems certain  that educators around the world will not be able to avoid the  MUVE issue although it is  apparent many would wish to.

It  also appears certain that Governments, if they wish to keep abreast of world education trends, can no longer allow their telcos to limit bandwidth or  to  obfuscate the issue of the need for consistent, high speed Broadband  – which New Zealand telcos dont deliver outside  the major centres –  if  all are to benefit from the growing acceptance of virtuality, in all its guises. In future education poverty might be determined by one’s access to Broadband, particularly in the sense of distance education,  as we move away from on-campus learning to virtual campus learning which is available to everyone.

Following President Obama’s announcement early in his term of  initiatives to encourage American students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the White House now  appears to be moving into the Metaverse in an attempt to expand its  flagging science education initiative, according to  Max Burns (pictured left) of the Washington-based Pixels and Policy  blogs .

Quoting a  press release issued by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina,  in which  the Duke Center announced a partnership with the White House to promote the development of virtual learning worlds related to science and engineering  especially in middle and high school by linking into virtual worlds and the digital generation’s undoubted video-gaming experience, Burns said:

  • The third-annual Digital Media and Learning Competition will award $2 million in support to 21st Century learning lab designers  for learning environments and digital media-based experiences that allow young people to grapple with social challenges through STEM-based activities.
  • Digital media of any type (social networks, games, virtual worlds, mobile devices or others) may be used. Proposals are also encouraged for curricula or other experiences that link or connect to any game, especially but not limited to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet™ on PlayStation®3.

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama at the event in late November at which he announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.”

KZERO’s current virtual world universe – an ever-increasing population.

Moves cannot be seen in isolation

But the  White House moves cannot be seen in isolation.  The University of Texas has already  announced plans to put all its 16 campuses across the State online in the virtual world of Second Life; The prestigious Australian Film Radio and Television School, based in Sydney, has announced  a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds starting next year;  the University of California at Irvine has received a US$100,000 National Science Foundation grant to study World of Warcraft;  the creation of  an US Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds by the Information Resource Management (IRM) College of the National Defense University, to ‘ prepare leaders to direct the information component of national power by leveraging information and information technology for strategic advantage’; Glasgow’s Caledonian University has become  the first university  in the UK to offer a complete, integrated module on 3D Internet Virtual Worlds, teaching students all components involved in this relatively new branch of internet design and multi media; the Immersive Education Initiative, a 1000-plus  member, non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices,platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems, is growing apace; and closer to home  the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s  NZ$500 000 SLENZ Project to determine the benefits of virtual education  is nearing completion with the formal evaluation process currently taking place;  The University of  Auckland, under the aegis of lecturer Scott Diener has set up a medical centre for training purposes in Second Life; and that university has also seen lecturer Judy Cockeram, gain international recognition for  her virtual architecture study programme which is schedule to accept more than 100 students in the New Year.

But these are not alone.  They  are among  the more than 500  universities and tertiary institutions now in Second Life and other virtual worlds. The launching of both learning and research programmes into  virtual worlds is continuing apace throughout the world, despite  some skepticism  from those who have never been immersed,  who are not  members of the digital generation or not digital migrants. Unfortunately for them virtual worlds, with 690 million participants worldwide, according to the UK-based research organisation KZero, will probably leave them behind as the flotsam and jetsam of  the virtual age.

Probably one of the best recent summations of just where  virtual education in the world is and where it is going   has been given  by Robin Teigland (pictured right), Work Associate Professor in the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness, at  the Stockholm School of Economics,  Stockholm, Sweden.

Her Powerpoint presentation to the Online Education Conference in Berlin on December 2 is well worth taking the time to look at.

And the US National Defense University initiative.
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SLENZ Update, No 138, September 22, 2009

Why aren’t NZ  secondary schools

using virtual worlds, video games?

or are they …  but just below the radar?

DrFuturityAhead 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 .Burns, Max

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.

CCbannerChrist’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?