Sunday, April 6, 2008

Virtual Worlds & Higher Education - Update

An earlier post, Educators, Second Life, & Higher Education was an attempt to explain my thoughts and progression in Second Life. I've also posted on immersive education and other virtual worlds. I follow these trends as an educator in higher education because I believe they will continue to develop and could play an integral role in higher education, especially for distance learners. As the distance services librarian for my university it is important for me to stay appraised of these developments. And traditional undergrad campuses may also benefit from offering some courses in virtual worlds as an appealing choice for students who prefer to learn in more immersive learning environments.

Many in higher ed are also following the growth of online learning. The Sloan Consortium report, "Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning" is available if interested. Of course online learning has taken place for decades now, but the platform used has typically been various types of learning management systems. These systems have been adequate in the past, but many learners could benefit from the more immersive learning environments available via virtual worlds.

I have been following virtual worlds in general for some time and have wondered which virtual world will end up being best suited to the needs of educators. Sometimes those thoughts have caused me to hesitate when it comes to being more fully engaged in Second Life (SL), currently the most developed virtual world (VW). There are many VWs in the works, some have been in development for many years and still have not publicly launched. A large amount of resources are being used to develop these VWs. Some have a strong focus on education, others on business applications, governments and non-profits, social networking, etc. There is a lot of momentum at the moment, and I believe in the next 1-2 years there will be significant developments. And I could be wrong, but I believe virtual worlds will eventually become commonplace within higher education.

Second Life includes many diverse communities. These communities are being closely monitored by businesses, educators, etc. to learn which are growing and best suited for the SL environment. Though SL was publicly released in 2003, and there was incredible growth for a period of time, it is still being defined and developed by the founders and users alike. Will SL end up being the best platform for higher education? I'm not sure but time will tell. I do know that there is a surge of creative activity taking place at the moment in this area. Educators of all kinds are seeing potential in SL that was not as apparent until recently. Partly this has to do with innovative technologies that have been recently implemented within the SL environment. Developments by Linden Labs like voice, along with third party applications being developed by technologists in higher ed and others has made a difference and should continue to enrich the environment.

I've been visiting islands and educational institutions in SL. If interested here is a link to "My Second Life Adventures" on flickr. I recommend you click "view as slideshow" and be sure to click on the center of the first slide so the description for each slide shows.

There have been other recent developments regarding virtual worlds. Some are considered quite important and significant by many who are tracking the virtual world phenomenon. Later this week I will share links to recent news reports on some of these developments.

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