Virtual Worlds in Education - Brainstorming Session

The names and interests of people who contributed to the brainstorming session held on Friday morning, May 21 at the Cornell Theory Center are listed below. Their contact information is included in the list of workshop participants.

Liz Corvelyn, communications for Arnot Ogden Medical Center, virtual worlds for health education within a hospital community and for young inpatients

Arthur Kroker, visiting fellow at Cornell Society for the Humanities, electronic publishing and digital media theory in emerging medium

Steve Cavrak, director of U. of Vermont Campus Learning Gateway Center, design and planning "Library of the Future"

Susan Mehringer, coodinator of CTC Virtual Workshop program, interested in potential for reaching other kinds of learner

Diana Ryan, faculty Ithaca College, ethical and cultural research questions surrounding the new medium

Judy Boggess, on the planning team for networking future at Cornell, community building

Boris Michev, Cornell libraries, sees AW as an early example of the technology of the future

Casey O'Donovan, Olin library, Cornell, potential for expanding library into cyberspace

John Saunders, National Defense University and UMD, ready to get Vlearn going!

Paul Komar, Center for Technology Innovation, considering integrating virtual worlds into a high tech tourism attraction for Central New York

Also participating:

Delbert Martin, grade 10, Dryden High School, Dryden, NY and member of the SciCentr team

Stuart Gold, world designer with and advocate for the value of virtual worlds

Bruce Damer, workshop sponsor and co-host, head of the Contact Consortium, and head of

Margaret Corbit, workshop co-host and coordinator, CTC science outreach coordinator, and lead of the SciCentr team

Summary: The room was filled to overflowing with people who have a variety of interests in using virtual worlds for formal and informal education (see list above). The discussion centered on Active Worlds technology, as this represented the common experience of the group. We began the session with introductions and about half way through it became clear that there was a high level of enthusiasm for using virtual worlds in education within the group. The group agreed that while this new medium could be integrated into the traditional classroom, it also shows potential as a tool for developing innovative approaches to education. Examples included using virtual worlds to encourage team-based learning, for development of interactive content for self-directed as well as curriculum-based learning, and for integration and support of diverse communities of learners conceivably distributed around the country and the planet.

The time allotted to the session was too short (a lesson learned) and the actual brainstorming was cut short. However, the limited discussion began with the attempt to flesh out one model for characterizing the community surrounding an educational world.

We identified the need for a core of technology support both within the immediate world (for example systems administration) and for a relationship with an overarching "government" of the universe with which the world is associated. At the next level, you have the designers, content developers, etc. who develop the educational resources to be used by and/or contributed to by a larger membership. Depending on the goals and expectations of the group developing the world, members may play more or less active roles in the creation and use of the world.

CTC's model for the SciCentr community is loosely based on that of a traditional science center and allows for interested parties to contribute content and move through the various levels to the core developers group should they want to.

The discussion moved to how to integrate the use of virtual worlds into various educational settings and the importance of a taking advantage of changing models of education. This is an opportunity to redefine existing models and to generate new ones. Bruce Damer presented the example of a school system in South Africa that reopened after years of apartheid and as a result had the opportunity to redefine the needs of its community in terms of educational needs. They discovered that they needed to teach job skills quickly to as many people as possible and that to do so, they had to remain flexible to the extent of having portable classrooms!

We noted that, through the use of the integrated Web resource, it is possible to accommodate a variety of learning styles. Several session participants pointed out the possible use of virtual worlds for learners who are more spatial/visual and who would benefit from this interactive, shared environment. This would be an excellent research opportunity.

We outlined perceived obstacles to adopting virtual worlds as educational resources:

Software environment(s) is too challenging

Client/server is not yet sufficiently robust

Network limitations on downloading and communication

Rendering limitations of older desktop computers

Disk space requirements on desktop

Exclusion of people who do not have access to the technology

The group agreed that most of these obstacles are common to all Internet media and that the overall technology is constantly improving. Perhaps our efforts are best focussed on using and suggesting improvements for the actual software environment. There was much interest in continuing to build a community of early users.

The charge for early users is to develop excellent content. This content will be defined as much by the text and interactive plugins in a world as by the people (experts, community of organizers, clientele) that it enlists and attracts. Content and technology must be easy to use, well designed, and incorporate live interaction among its users in order to take full advantage of this emerging technology.