My participation isn’t low… my connection is slow!

Virtual Classroom

People are finding innovative uses for virtual worlds, some professors are even holding classes in Second Life. Read about this and other interesting uses of this phenomenon in this post!

The dog did not eat my homework, and I promise I did my reading. The only reason I could not give you my assignment and was ‘quiet’ in the class was because I was having trouble with my Internet connection…

Professors at Elon University in North Carolina are experimenting with the use of Second Life as a teaching tool in class. Is it possible that the physical classroom may just be completely replaced by a virtual one? How likely is it that this could become a common practice? Will this perhaps be the future of distance-learning?

Virtual Worlds do offer a lot of benefits as is pointed out by the Elon professors who are currently using it as a teaching tool in their classes. It allows for easy visualization of otherwise difficult to demonstrate concepts and phenomenon. It also allows students to use their imagination to build almost anything that they can envision – and program – without incurring the prohibitive costs of doing so in ‘real’ reality.

Elon is by no means alone in such endeavors. Imperial College in London has a program that uses Second Life to teach medical students how to treat their patients. Students get to treat virtual patients in Second Life in order to learn how to treat real patients. The experiment is not intended to replace traditional teaching or practice opportunities for students. This is because the virtual environment does not ‘feel’ real, and students do not take it as seriously as a result. This concern may not be as significant in the use of Second Life to teach students of non-critical subjects, where they are not practicing on ‘dead’ subjects with the intention to port their knowledge to live subjects.

The use of Second Life in an increasingly diverse array of scenarios is raising interesting questions. In a recent assignment for the Graduate component of this class, I read the chapter “Virtual Communities or Network Society” from the book The Internet Galaxy by Manuel Castells. In this chapter the author quotes results from different research projects that attempted to find out the effects of increased on-line interactions between individuals on the number and depth of relationships that exist in society. While some results suggested that increased on-line activity had a negative affect on the number and quality of relationships between individuals, others suggested quite the opposite. A key difference seemed to be the age at which the subjects adopted new technologies. Those who were unfamiliar with technology and adopted it at later ages seemed to witness more adverse affects than younger subjects who were familiar with new technologies already.

Take the case of Ric Hoogestraat for example. Hoogestraat became increasingly obsessed with Second Life to the point of neglecting his real life. He eventually met a redheaded avatar, fell in love with her and asked her to be his virtual wife.

His real wife was not amused.

“Everybody has their hobbies, but when it’s from six in the morning until two in the morning, that’s not a hobby, that’s your life,” Hoogestraat’s wife said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

In this case, the subject can be seen as an exceptional case who is obsessed with his new-found on-line activity. Since Second Life is a relatively recent technology it may be assumed that the subject did not grow up with similarly engaging on-line social networking tools. While extreme reactions will continue to exist, the numbers can be expected to decrease as the newer technologies are adopted at earlier ages by individuals. By the time they come to college, they will no longer be fascinated by the new technologies and the use of these technologies as tools in the class room will not necessarily take away from the seriousness required for effective teaching.

The future of virtual worlds and their implications for various walks of life remains uncertain. However, it is inevitable that the role that technology plays in the social sphere is bound to increase in the foreseeable future. What remains to be seen is how society will evolve with the evolution of such technologies, and the effects will be across generations.


Daily Reveille

The Pendulum


10 Responses

  1. Interesting topic-and something that I think will be increasingly attractive to schools in the future. However, with the introduction of any new teaching method, there are bound to be new and unforeseen issues/excuses that students come up with that may negatively affect the teaching process. Despite this, I’m not yet fully convinced that virtual learning should be the sole basis of learning in the classroom, but I do think it can be used as a great supplement. I still think there irreplaceable value in learning in a physical classroom setting.

  2. I agree with you Leah. Traditional teaching and learning methods have their value. And as mentioned in the post also this value cannot be provided by virtual methods. However for those folks who are already using distance learning programs, it could actually make things better… Access to education can be significantly increased this way.

  3. For long distance learning I believe a virtual classroom such as second life could be extremely beneficial. On the other hand, for Universities like Bucknell, I believe the physical classroom and work is necessary and virtual worlds should only be used as supplement. And while I’m on the subject, I would LOVE to try to have one of our classes over second life I feel like that could be really cool! I’ve never tried a virtual world application before.

  4. I am sure that Jordi can help us there 🙂 He has a cool avatar in SL… we were fotunate to stroll around (or fly around?) a little with him in one of our Graduate student meetings. Perhaps Jordi can share his other life with the class!

  5. Your discussion of virtual learning is very interesting. I believe that virtual learning can be a tool used in the classroom to assist learning, but it should not be the primary means of teaching. Virtual learning has the ability to enhance an already existing relationship. However, I am unsure if student who never met her peers and teacher could interact with them to the same extent if only taught in second life.

  6. I’d be interested to hear whether a school like Bucknell or Harvard, for example, are interested in such technologies. Does moving the classroom online in someway devalue their educational experience? School’s like Bucknell are big into selling “the college experience”–can you truly get the same college experience online?

  7. Great comments. I know I came in a little late.

    Ross, I will try and make your dream come true in terms of being in world in SL.

    Harvard,or at least its Berkman center Cyber law is a hub of virtual world and cyberspace activity. I met some of my first contacts in the Berkman sandbox in SL.

    Nadir sets up what is the normal and typical question: will virtual classrooms replace physical? Maybe. Phoenix University is certainly one example of distance education that has grown quickly and seems successful (I think?) in terms of providing quality.

    Let me suggest it is the wrong question for most cases. Elon, Harvard, Bucknell, will not replace virtual for physical. The questions is how the two will be linked. Bucknell is not moving very quickly on this. But, it may not matter too much how quickly they move. It has not mattered for other areas of innovation in higher education in my rough estimate. But the question is worth exploring (is Bucknell slow to adopt and does it hurt its effectiveness or reputation?).

  8. Okay, I’m going to jump on this…I don’t think the virtual will replace the physical classroom, at least not in the undergrad level. However, for a post-grad experience, I believe it will become a very popular choice.

  9. I did not think that this was going to be a ‘revolution’ where the traditional classroom would be replaced by the virtual. It is more of an exploration of how the two can work together, and how the virtual can be used to emulate the traditional classroom experience for distance learning.

    I am thinking on the lines of MIT’s open course-ware and Bucknell’s efforts to develop a similar online presence.

    The virtual does offer opportunities for teachers to enhance the traditional classroom though, as I suggest with the examples at the start of the post.

  10. […] is slow! Revisited 2010 January 27 by jessier13 I chose to evaluate the post “My participation isn’t low… my connection is slow!” which looked into the use of Second Life and other virtual worlds for the classroom.  This was […]

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