07 November 2011

Teaching and learning in 3D online

I've spend quite a lot of time investigating 3D environments for education. I got into Second Life in 2005, found it very interesting and fun and empty.

In 2007, I revisited it and 3D environments generally in this initiative, The pICTSL Farm, SDSU's, an exploration of 3D virtual worlds for education. Ours was an R&D project, an investigation of the potentials and pitfalls of such spaces. I found and still find spaces such as Teleplace a better fit for most of the kinds of learning that happen in higher education that want an online experience.

From 2008 through 2010, I spent most of my waking hours (after work) in Second Life, preparing to, and studying learning as it naturally occurred there. The study Learning in the Wild of a Virtual World, looked at the learning practices and habits of mind of Residents.

I applied my findings to an institutional context with this initiative Aztlan Island, SDSU in Second Life.

I haven't logged into Second Life for some time, although I still keep abreast of the trends in virtual worlds and education. There's very little substantive empirical research on the use of virtual worlds in k-12 and higher education. I've observed that this is also true of many technologies touted as being useful for teaching and learning. Generally speaking, there's more hype and conjecture than sound research. Generally speaking, online education is about convenience and economics. 3D is still too inconvenient and expensive for the mainstream online education world.

Still, I have a sense that as more and more institutions and organizations move learning online, 3D environments will become more desirable, most likely because they're more visually (and thus more emotionally) compelling environments than the flat web, and this will be a selling point. Their capacity to engender a sense of place (i.e. to afford a psycho-social experience of being somewhere with other people's avatars), may make them one of the next hot technologies in distance education.