Second identity… your own virtual self… realization of your not so realistic dreams… your dream house…. your dream “everything”… and eventually your virtual school with virtual students and virtual teachers. Only in the last few years it became possible to have everything the way you want and the way you dream, go and visit wherever you want at almost no cost… virtually. Whether it is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of another discussion; here I want to concentrate only on the concept of “virtual teaching and learning experiences”. The research comes to prove that at least the gained knowledge in those virtual classrooms is real! However there still remains the question whether it is always realistic and plausible to teach virtually.
If I were to answer that question from my own personal and very short experience, I would definitely say no. But theoretically I have to disagree with my own personal experience. What I learnt during the last few weeks of investigation of 3D virtual worlds, they have many educational advantages if used in a correct way (as almost everything). Teaching with a virtual world gives more collaboration opportunities to the learners, becomes a platform for creation of a community and networking, it also develops social experiences, creativity and critical thinking.
As noted in one of the articles I have read, 3D virtual worlds bring the distance education closer to face to face communication as they become a place where people can actually communicate by seeing each other, only in this case via their avatars. Students who participated in various research experiments with education in 3D worlds, talked about how they felt less nervous when communicating in target language in the imaginary world, how they were not afraid to fail anymore as they would approach all of that from the perspective of a game.
However, as a teacher-to-be, accepting all the advantages cited in virtual teaching research, I strongly believe that there need to be some serious considerations if you decide to use a 3D world to achieve your teaching and learning goals. First of all the choice of the 3D world is very important. A platform which will be created specifically for educational purposes or will allow creating your own virtual space where you will be alone with your learners is more preferable, than the ones that have many worlds, many spaces, where students may get distracted. I would recommend to check out http://www.meshmoon.com as a very good example of a virtual teaching/and learning experience provider.
Another consideration should be the strict monitoring. As teachers we always talk about engaging the learners in the classroom, keeping them all at task, doing everything for them to be concentrated and less distracted by outside forces. When taking the classroom and making it virtual, this becomes a more serious issue. Internet has everything your learners love, virtual worlds with their endless opportunities can easily change the direction of the learners’ concentration. Thus the teacher has to be more careful with her monitoring, with making sure that the whole process is guided. Especially this is true when you deal with younger learners.
SO, even though I may hardly find the 3d Virtual worlds useful for the contexts I am or will be teaching in, as noted by one of my professors, I shouldn’t be rejecting a good learning tool entirely. I would forward my professor’s piece of advice to all the teachers: it is important to always evaluate all the tools we may consider using in our classrooms, see how well they target our teaching and learning goals, investigate all the risks and only after make considerations.
Have fun teaching and learning everybody 🙂