Why use virtual worlds in education?

There are many ways to approach answering the question about justifying why use virtual worlds like Second Life, OpenSim (using self hosted grids or public education capable grids like ReactionGrid) or others.

Virtual worlds:

  • are immersive. You get into the content or process not just read about it or look at pictures of it.
  • have places. Spatial presence (also called physical presence) - you feel like you are "there" and other people are "there" with you. This is different from video conferencing in its many forms or voice conferences (like a Skype or telephone call for instance) where you feel like you are talking to someone who is far away at their physical location.
  • have stuff to interact with not just text, videos and pictures like a web page. The have objects, scenery, buildings, toys, games as well as some let you access webpages too.
  • have co-presence. You are there and others are there with you and you can see them. Unlike you being logged into a learning management system or web page and never knowing anyone else in your course is also there. This can make the learner feel like they are not alone and are part of a class. Informal and accidental meetings can happen as well as class events.
  • allow action as opposed to passive viewing or clicking. You have agency. Even beyond the obvious that you can build, move things, ride vehicles, or in games you can even fight and kill, you can also raise funds for a cause, gather groups to create events to make a difference whether that be social, political or moral.

James O'Reilly (2010) suggests:
  • Improve knowledge transfer and outreach
  • 2. Reduce training costs
  • Increase performance
  • Embrace competitive advantages int he 21st century

Here is a copy of the post from Col Wood (Department of Education, New South Wales, Australia) in which he lists his summary of reasons:
The main justification for the use of virtual world technology used as an immersive learning environment is not around the use of 3D graphics or avatars. Virtual world technology used as an immersive learning platform deliver a number of key advantages over other online technologies.
  • Immersive technologies support ‘crowd’ communication or multi-point to multi-point.
  • Immersive technologies support very detailed analytics as every action is an event that can be logged and analysed or used to deliver live feedback.
  • Intelligent agents can exist within an immersive world to monitor behaviour or provide assistance.
  • Immersive technology can manage risk rather than avoid risk.
  • Immersive technologies deliver intelligent bandwidth use – you only receive data for the objects you can see and hear.
  • Immersive world technologies deliver equity of access and do not require expensive dedicated hardware such as video conference connections.
  • Immersive world technology deliver a canvas to connect learners rather than containers to manage learners.

It is important to focus on the key leverage points where immersive technologies deliver and other online technologies struggle or fail.
1. Supports natural classroom communication
2. Minimises bandwidth use
3. Live data rather than summative data after the event
4. The environment can change or respond to individual actions
5. Spatially aware high definition audio
6. Potential to integrate mixed reality
7. Dynamic use of data centre capacity
8. Everything can be saved and replayed from any perspective
9. Equity of access – ideal platform a for a virtual school
10. Supports active collaboration rather than collaboration by consumption