Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Questions about multi-user virtual environments in education

Here are another couple of questions I have been asked to reflect on in light of my experiences with the SLENZ virtual birth unit.

What barriers are there to using MUVEs in tertiary education?
I believe attitudes and technology continues to be the main barriers to the use of multi user virtual environments in education. Access to the appropriate technology and Internet continues to be an issue that needs to be addressed. Even when educational institutions theoretically support the use of Second Life, getting adequate access to computers and technology can be problematic. And as for distance students, Second Life can use up a large amount of bandwidth and data allowance, as well as prove to be difficult to run on computers that do not have adequate graphics cards etc.

Attitudes of educators is another barrier to overcome. Educators want to use resources that are quick and easy to learn to use both themselves and in their teaching. They want tools that are time-effective, and cause the least amount of aggravation in terms of set-up - they not want to spend hours "immersed" as argued by John Waugh, one of the SLENZ team unless they see real benefits for their teaching.

What has been done to overcome them?
I believe the main way of overcoming barriers to the use of MUVE in educator is to role model MUVE in teaching. To show how beneficial they can be for students' learning - to design 'real' learning experiences, and to make them as simple as possible for educators and students to be able to use with the least amount of difficulty.

What are the key factors influencing the design of MUVE educational environments?
The key factor has got to be how you engage students - how you make the learning experience to to be an interactive and social one - make it 'fun', yet credible. I do not see any point in replicating the classroom in a MUVE but rather should look at how you can design alternative learning experiences that are unique to the MUVE.

At the same time, I also think we need to consider how our design supports students that have limited or no access to the MUVE - how can we ensure they have an equally beneficial learning experience as those who do not have access or skills issues?

What do you see as the advantages of using MUVE environments in teaching and learning?
To my mind, the advantages are that MUVE provide authentic places for students to learn, yet at the same time they are safe environments where students can 'practice' without fear of harming any one, including themselves. A midwifery student cannot practice managing a hemorrhage in 'real' life, but can do so in SL without fear of the consequences if she makes a mistake.

What are the disadvantages?
I know I keep on repeating myself but it has to be access to Internet, technology and skill-training.

What do you think?

Image: 'Nadya doing what she does.. better than+me...'


Ioana said...

Hi Sarah and thanks for informative post on MUVE. My question is are there any successful MUVE platforms today for education other then SL?

Sarah Stewart said...

A number of people are moving to OpenSim and there's a place called ReactionGrid...but I can't tell you anything about either of these VWs I'm afraid...still trying to get my head around SL :)