Virtual Worlds – A past time or a teaching tool?
Although I was not familiar with Second Life before commencing this subject, I was aware of virtual worlds and their appeal with students in grades 4-8 right now. I do a lot of substitute teaching so I have the opportunity to see a wide range of students (from Kindergarten to Grade 12) and at almost every school in the school district (27 out of the 35 schools in the district).
The two obvious trends in virtual worlds I have noticed is girls in grade 4-6 are masters of the Club Penguin world, and boys in grades 4-8 are master of the Minecraft world, with some cross over of course.
In a 6 week contract as a computer prep teacher at an elementary school, I used student’s love for these sites as the starting off point to teach, or remind, students about online privacy and safety and also online “Netiquette” (after they had done some lessons on Mathletics and Raz-kids first, as was expected).
But how can we use these virtual worlds other than to teach netiquette and internet safety?
I was witness to a potential answer to this as a substitute in a Grade 8 Geography class for a week. Students, in pairs, were given the task of showing their understanding of many geographical landscape and mapping terms as well as demonstrating their understanding of infrastructure and tourism through the building of their very own island. But students wouldn’t be creating with cardboard and glue, but building an island inside the world of Minecraft. Their island had to have a peninsula, a butte, an archipelago, etc, and a housing community, a downtown core, infrastructure for power and industry, etc,. and tourist attractions in the form of lookout points, or ruins, or a snorkelling beach, etc. This type of learning can harness students’ digital fluency and build engagement with the subject matter that transfers from real world to virtual world (Dede, 2009, p. 66)
How did it go?
The students made amazing, detailed worlds and did professional-like tours of their islands for assessment purposes that initially took half a lesson per pair (I heard later they eventually cut down each pairs island tour to 20 mins max in the 87 min lessons). The students could have easily taken a full lesson showing their peers and teachers the worlds they had created, and not only that, they could talk the talk, incorporating about 50 geography vocabulary words seamlessly into the tours and tourism ploys.
1. Not all student were previously familiar with Minecraft, so were at a disadvantage time wise as they had to learn how the building worked in the world.
2. It should not be assumed that all millennials want to use technology in their learning. There were quite a few complaints that they would prefer to use physical materials – this did not cater to all learning styles.
3. Technology limitations – the schools mobile laptop lab is now getting very old and laptops would often crash or take a long time to load.
4. The need to endlessly perfect. Having been the first time the teachers has undertaken this type of learning, they didn’t know how long it would take and so had a flexible timeframe that could be altered as they saw how the students were progressing. This unfortunately lead to students setting the schedule as they would constantly want more time to perfect heir island and add more and more features.
Is this a trend for teachers and librarians to follow?
I think yes, and some librarians are already picking up on its potential. Librarians at the Mattituck-Laurel Library in Mattituck, NY have created a virtual 3D version version of their library including games and scavenger hunts, virtual shelves, and even an elevator to ride up and down on (Barack, 2013) and the demand for access is hot. Sarah Ludwig recommends librarians create a Minecraft club to bring the “hottest game into your classroom or library” (Ludwig, 2013)
Barack, L. (Sept 3, 2013). A Minecraft Library Scores Big: Mattituck, NY, Branch Is a Hit with Kids. School Library Journal Online. Retrieved Dec 9, 2013 from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2013/09/k-12/a-minecraft-library-scores-big-a-virtual-version-of-the-mattituck-ny-branch-is-a-hit-with-young-patrons/
Dede, C. (2009). Immersive interfaces for engagement and learning,
Science, 323(5910), 66-69. Retrieved from http://www.sciencemag.org.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/cgi/reprint/sci;323/5910/66.pdf
Ludwig, S. (March 27, 2013). Minecraft Club: Want to bring the hottest game into your classroom or library? Here’s how. School Library Journal Online. Retrieved Dec 9, 2013 from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2013/03/media/block-party-looing-for-some-action-launch-a-minecraft-club/