Evaluation SURFnet pilot Active Worlds

After a very intense period of finishing projects, I am now recharging my research batteries. As I am travelling and networking a lot, time for my blog is limited. However, I will try to give brief summaries of some of the events I have attended recently, but not written about yet.

SURFnet provides a high-quality network specifically intended for higher education and research in the Netherlands. It is a subsidiary of the SURF organisation, in which Dutch universities, universities for applied sciences and research centres collaborate nationally and internationally on innovative ICT facilities. One of its R&D topics is how to use virtual worlds in higher education.

On October 1, an inspiring evaluation meeting was organized to discuss the results of a pilot using the Active Worlds virtual world environment. Several pilot projects that had been using Active Worlds for educational purposes in the past year presented their results. Interesting was the wide variety of applications, even in only such a small number of pilot projects. Overall, the gist was that virtual worlds can be very useful in education, as the constructivist, collaborative way of working in virtual worlds immerses students to the subjects in a much deeper way than allowed for by traditional textbook learning. However, this immersion comes at a cost, as considerable preparatory and facilitation efforts are required by lecturers for such projects to succeed.

Clearly, more advanced didactic approaches are needed to more effectively and efficiently apply virtual world resources in learning. Developing such innovative ways of using virtual worlds will require testbeds and more trials and (errors) by lecturers and students jointly. Many questions will need to be answered, ranging from which worlds to use (Active Worlds, Second Life, open source based environments?), when to lead and when to let students take the initiative, how to link virtual worlds to other web based resources, which collaborative and communicative workflows to define and support, and so on.

For another impression of this day, see the post by Inge Ploum.

Virtual worlds are not enough

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with Philippe Kerremans, who through his Louis Platini company is implementing Second Life business solutions. We agreed that building virtual worlds in, for example, Second Life is not enough. Additional necessary conditions are an accompanying website in “ordinary cyberspace” and process models that can be used to ensure that available functionalities are actually being used by community members in all their various roles.

Schomer Simpson’s Talk at the 1st Second Life (Inworld) Conference

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Below the gallery that contains the pictures taken by Al Mohr (Second Life) / Aldo de Moor (Real Life) of Schomer Simpson ‘s (Second Life) / Peter Twining’s (Real Life) presentation at the Second Life Best Practices in Education International Conference 2007. The topic was “Using Teen Second Life to Explore Visions of Schome (Not School-Not Home-Schome, the Education System for the Information Age)”. As you can see from the pictures, Schomer/Peter’s talk was very well attended. The issues raised were most interesting and he got lots of questions. The Era of Immersive Online Conferences has begun…

Picture gallery

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My first visit to SchomeBase

070515_schomebase1_004I am currently visiting my colleague and good friend Mark Gaved, who works at the Knowledge Media Institute in Milton Keynes. He is involved in an absolutely fascinating Second Life project, Schome. Basically, it’s an exploration of new learning systems for the 21st century. SchomeBase is a pilot of trying out some of the Schome ideas in Second Life. There is also a closed teenage space called SchomePark. It’s been operating with 150 students for three months and is extremely active. It’s amazing what these kids have been able to build, script and how they are developing very complex social norms and practices to govern themselves. One of the best examples of a thriving virtual world I have come across so far! To get a feel, have a look at the beautiful Japanese garden, where the students studied philosophy guided by “Socratic Shepherd”, a researcher from the University of Warwick up to a few weeks ago.