Yesterday, we took public schools to task for not integrating virtual worlds into their curriculum with the same fervor as forward-thinking universities.
Now a gathering of New York educators came together to discuss just that, and the results are reassuring on a number of levels.
Pixels and Policy looks at why virtual worlds may soon find a home in New York's public schools, and what these new tools might mean to the future of learning.
Bringing Virtual Tools into the Classroom
New York's 2009 Technology Summit sought to change public education's noted hesitance towards the virtual world by bringing together educators, industry experts and virtual world users in one student-focused brainstorming session, nothing the "increasingly fundamental role" technologies like virtual worlds play in students' lives.
As a NewsDay article notes, New York's educators required a full push to fully understand how vital virtual worlds can be in improving test scores and student comprehension:
Among the impressive resources Warlick demonstrated were virtual worlds
designed specifically for the classroom environment, and a graphing
tool that displayed data in a three-dimensional, interactive model.
“Turn your students loose on it,” Warlick encouraged educators.
is an enormous amount of data out there. Empower them to find it.”
By stressing engagement in learning as opposed to the current passive experience many students in overextended public schools receive, educators can provide opportunities for students to own a lesson.
This makes sense. According to a 2003 study of student engagement and competence by George Kuh (requires JSTOR subscription), students engaged in study topics are more likely to score higher on comprehension benchmarks. When a student feels as if they have a personal stake in concepts being discussed – instead of merely drawing triangles off a blackboard – they are more likely to learn.
After all, the Internet and virtual interactive environments present the greatest mass expansion of information availability in a generation. Why shouldn't we be exposing students to such a powerful educating force?
How Virtual Worlds Can Enhance Learning
Whatever your impression of social networking now, it has the potential to provide unparalleled communication and creation capabilities to students. From the NewsDay article:
A panel of experts from the East Williston,
Patchogue-Medford and Elwood school districts shared their collective
experience in creating “Google schools” by integrating tools from the
popular search engine into their respective curricula.
Following the popular trends set by Twitter and Facebook, the Port
Jefferson school district’s director of technology and information
systems demonstrated how he developed his own personal learning network
into a powerful educational tool for students and staff.
Take a cue from SynapticMash, a social education company that provides an online community for teachers to swap lesson plans and students to discuss homework problems. In addition, SynapticMash software encourages comprehension of difficult material by adjusting its computer-based testing to hone in on areas where a student repeatedly shows mistakes.
Take a lesson from the educators behind the Center for EduPunx. Education is not meant to be undertaken alone, and simple modifications to social networking websites like Facebook could create an environment where the classroom spans an entire planet.
Students need not learn about Chinese culture from a textbook when English-speaking Chinese students are just a click of a mouse away. Why turn to a paper map when an interactive Google world spreads out in three dimensions on a computer screen? The more engaging education becomes, the better chance lessons will stick in the minds of students and inspire them to pursue independent learning.
Not every classroom virtual world advancement will be graphical, but every technological step forward will add value to a student's education by equipping them with the tools they need to succeed in the information economy.