New York Educators Discuss Using Virtual Worlds as a Teaching Tool

106415-004-1B158AEAYesterday, 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.

“There
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.

2 thoughts on “New York Educators Discuss Using Virtual Worlds as a Teaching Tool”

  1. I’m a a very big booster of virtual worlds, but a lot of this hype is coming from educational consulting companies who see this as a lucrative area for them to get expensive consulting contracts, which we already have too much of in the NYC school district.
    Say, when you pay taxes in NYC, and send *your* children to NYC schools the way *I do,* I might expect you Washington lobbyists on the Digital Beltway to come set policy here. Until then, *back off*. our kids already spend too much time in worlds like World of Warcraft and the educational value is far from proved by actual independent peer-reviewed academic research as distinct from the lapdog tech media’s hype and game company paid-for studies.
    A 2003 study is already terribly out of date given the huge inroads that virtuality has made into the public mindshare.
    A key problem of these efforts is that instead of studying the new media and finding ways to use it for valid educational work, a lot of desperate educators and their eager consultants are rushing after kids who won’t go to school anymore and trying to capture their attention with gimmicks and dumbing down the curricult to shortened attention spans.
    What you don’t realize because you likely don’t have kids and don’t see how these programs really work (I do, and I have) is that lazy teachers and administrators who cannot be fired under union rules reduce their already light workload by plunking kids down in front of computer terminals and letting various hired consultants take care of them — who often merely install games or survey gimmicks in order to get more hits to web pages where advertisers pay them.
    In one such program, my son spent the summer playing World of Warcraft and filling out those Netflix type surveys which resulted in our household being spammed with phone calls and junk mail for months. Even he was upset at what a scam it all was, and actually got his peers to come and see Second Life, where he at least had a content making business and store where some lessons in business could be learned as well as in digital design work.
    These programs cry out for monitoring and vigorous debate before they are just plugged in to get somebody a fee and relieve somebody else of a workload.

  2. Prokofy —
    Yes, some of the virtual worlds platforms are expensive and require high-priced technology consultants and licensing fees. But there are also plenty of home-grown, open-source work being doing by teachers themselves — like the SLOODLE project and the various things happening on ReactionGrid.
    Neither of my kids plays World of Warcraft – but they both know the basics of the OpenSim (and SL) building tools and starting to learn in-world scripting. Virtual world scripting is a great, easy fun way to learn programming — way better than the BASIC I learned back in school.
    Because of their age, I’m not allowed to take them to visit the museums or some of the other spectacular builds up in Second Life — but as more of these migrate to OpenSim, they will become more accessible to a wide audience.
    Meanwhile, my daughter has already spent time on FrancoGrid (based in OpenSim), where she can practice her beginners’ French on actual French people.
    We don’t spent any money on this. The OpenSim we run on a home computer — the Diva Distro, four regions in a megaregion — costs us nothing. FrancoGrid is free and open. ReactionGrid is free to visit (and PG!) — and region rentals start at just $25 a month, more than accessible to educators.
    — Maria Korolov
    Editor, Hypergrid Business
    (http://www.hypergridbusiness.com)

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