Virtual worlds can end the loneliness of the long distance learner
Students now have opportunities to learn by doing wherever they are in the world with the advent of Virtual World classrooms and 3D work enactment technology being introduced at UWE Bristol.
Developers at UWE Bristol's Education and Innovation Centre (EIC) are using Virtual World scenarios that enable students to take part in realistic simulations in a range of subjects from psychology to risk management.
These developments offer the opportunity to give a new dimension to the concept of distance learning because they will enable students to communicate in real time with peers from around the globe whilst learning in simulated activities that integrate theory with practice.
The team at the EIC, led by Professor Liz Falconer, has designed learning activities in a virtual world that include a range of teaching locations and scenarios. Professor Falconer said, What we have done is to utilise the affordances of virtual world technologies to enable students to attend workshops, seminars, simulated activities and debates, and learn as a group wherever they are based.
To enable this we have designed three separate learning islands, each with a range of themed learning environments, using a virtual world called Second Life. The design of each island has been fine tuned by an architect, so that scale and environment are realistic to a fine detail, explains Liz, As a teacher I become an avatar and using my avatar persona I can guide my students to any part of each of the islands to enable them to learn from a range of practical tasks and scenarios.
Students also create their own online persona via their avatars and then enter a world that has been especially created to provide a series of real life tasks and scenarios. All workshops and simulated tasks are firmly based on realistic scenarios but as the students are working in a virtual world they can experiment on a safe platform that accommodates error, and can thereby enable the students to practice their skills and learn in a safe environment.
For the past three years students at UWE have been taking part in real life 3D workplace scenarios that enable them to develop their theoretical understanding through practical virtual tasks.
For example, environmental health students have been carrying out simulated accident investigations and risk assessments, psychology students have begun to carry out virtual counselling sessions and languages students have been practising their skills through interactions with people in the virtual world from around the globe.
Such is the growing demand for this mode of teaching and learning experience that UWE Bristol is about to launch a MA Education in Virtual Worlds that will enable teachers and trainers to explore how to use this technology effectively and embed it into curricula and training courses in schools, colleges, universities, governments, industry and commerce.
Professor Falconer will give insight into these exciting new developments at her inaugural professorial lecture that will be delivered in situ at UWE and streamed live on-line into Second Life to reach a potentially global audience. The 'real' lecture will take place in the Glendinning Lecture Theatre at UWE Bristol on 16 May.
Provided by University of the West of England