Monday, August 20, 2012

Chapter 9- Who Are You?

As I was reading the beginning of this chapter, all I could think of was that movie where Matthew McConaughey starts flying a crashing plane without any prior experience. His companion asks him where he learned how to fly. He then credits his time spent playing video games on playstation or xbox. While I'm sure the line was meant as a joke, the reality is that these virtual worlds and simulations offer valuable opportunities that were not possible before.

My fifteen year old niece came to visit Maine recently for a visit. While there I watched her pull up skype on her computer to take her friend on a tour of our house. Then prior to climbing Mt. Katahdin she pulled up the virtual tour of Mt. Everest. She explained that she wanted to create something similar for her climb of Katahdin so her friends could experience the trip too. Bonk wrote that "our entertainment and communication technologies have become our learning technologies." This was never more evident for me than when I was watching my niece interact with both the real and virtual worlds with the sole purpose of wanting to share and communicate.

Second Life 

My personal experience with Second Life is fairly limited, but I was intrigued by the educational opportunities I read about in this chapter. The idea of being able to have students walk though recreations of Ancient Greece and Rome appeals to me as a history teacher. I think of the time I spend planning lessons so students can connect to the time period and make connections to the experiences people had. How much more connected can you get by walking through a virtual simulation? I'd love to take my students to see the ruins of the Roman forum, but I don't think that my school district will be paying for that field trip any time soon. Why not give them the next best thing?

I was interested in how Second Life is being utilized by companies and businesses for training purposes. What an opportunity for schools to utilize resources for their teachers. I think of the trainings I couldn't attend due to budgeting concerns and my colleagues who couldn't present at conferences for the same reason. This is yet another avenue for us to be able to share and collaborate.

Serious Gaming

"We are in the midst of a major shift in how people learn." A study cited surgeons who played three hours of video games per week were 27 percent faster and made 37 percent fewer mistakes than those who didn't. Although this may only be one study I can remember statistics about military target performance improvement based on video game playing as well. Not to mention my two year old niece's off the charts fine motor skill development from playing games on a touch screen. How can we use video games to our educational advantage? I remember one computer game I played as a child. It was called Museum Madness or something similar. You had to fix the problems in each of the exhibits with a backpack full of random items. While fixing the exhibit for the Salem Witch Trials, you were inevitably learning something about the Salem Witch Trials. I loved that game. It required creativity and higher order thinking to solve complicated puzzles. I don't think I ever beat that game, and if I was presented with it today, I would approach it with as much zeal as I did then.

What's Next 

Learning in a virtual reality can help retain learners. Authenticity and believability is growing in the simulations and the boundaries of what is possible are being expanded. What was once science fiction, using your thoughts to control a virtual character, is not far from our reality. How cool is that? "Our species has never before had so many ways to learn, as well as so many ways to put so much learning on display for others to view." 


  1. Education jumped on the possibilities for virtual learning from the outset of personal computers. There were educational games on big very floppy disks that were inserted into the machine after the operating system was loaded from a different big floppy disk. There was talk that computers would replace teachers. In the 90's there were simulations like Oregon Trail and lots of educational software on CD's for all ages. Now there are so many learning games available online. My students use simulations from PHET from Colorado and Cargo Bridge at Hooda Math.
    The role playing environments add an extended level of interactivity and engagement. My own children played Final Fantasy extensively till they came out with a version that was a flop. One of my sons complained about hate speech in a game he plays. I've never played any of these virtual world games and so don't know what kind of monitoring there could be.

    Bonk mentions the movie spinoffs from some of the games. One of my sons loves the music in the Final Fantasy games and downloads the scores as PDF files. He has binders full of the music and plays them on the piano.

  2. I took a class with Jason Baacck using Second Life and meeting in world. It was a fantastic experience but the worlds are not mature enough to warrant the effort yet. (Educationally... Second Life is NOT really for meeting and working in yet... it has a huge underground economy focused on one area)

  3. Like others, my experience with Second Life is at a minimum, only having experimented with it for graduate work. Although Second Life has some very *dark* places, I recently read an article that discussed the use of SL with social work students at the undergrad level. Basically, a graduate-level student took on the persona of various SL avatars with mental illness, while the undergrad social work student interacted with these avatars. The goal was for the undergrad to help identify "red flags" and to practice interacting with the mentally ill client. Since SL allows for the physical customization of the avatars, the grad-level student was able to give the avatars physical symptoms (like cuttings, bruises, etc).

    In this type of scenario, I think that SL (or a similar virtual world) has enormous potential. But like Keith says, it really isn't at a point where it can be used educationally without potential consequence.