Sunday, August 10, 2008

Virtual Worlds Conference 2008

My hand raises involuntarily, "Me, me, me! I want to go!"

The Virtual Worlds Conference is full of heavy hitters in the virtual world and gaming industry. A quick glance of not just the speakers, but the expected attendees should send anyone straight to the registration page!

Unfortunately for me, I do not see a lot of education heavy hitters hanging out at Virtual Worlds. No, the industries more common right now in online education are flat lifeless servers that are repositories for flat lifeless text documents.

Oh, there are occassional chat spaces and sometimes interactive web conferencing softwares, but there is no through patch to the virtual world where a student could pick up a book and read it or watch a performance or speaker in a "familliar" environtment.

Gaming theory or PBL (problem based learning) are the hot topics of education at the moment. The educational system has been looking inward and has finally realized that they are failing their students when they send them off into the real world.
Where are they failing them? Ask any industry and they will tell you that new graduates are full of specialized knowledge and, surprisingly, a lack of solid problem solving skills.

Will gaming theory and PBL be the panacea or a band-aid for the problem? Only time will tell, however, solid research seems to say that it at least helps.

Ina face to face classroom it is hard to give 100 students a problem solving experience. Flash games, virtual worlds and in some cases pre-packaged games can suplement instruction and give students a much needed brain boost.

In my day, we dug out the Dungeons & Dragons manuals, a hand full of dice, and several good friends to adventure our way through as a group towards a common goal. Oh, wait! We still do that EVERYDAY in my real world job.

The truth is, killing a dragon or finding a treasure has as much value to student problem solving and group skills as a webquest and a powerpoint, perhaps more so; at least killing a dragon is interesting. I was always willing,in my youth, to get over the annoying party member who wanted to wake up the sleeping ogre to ask it a question for the sake of a quest. My "grown-up" job requires that same patience and guidance skills as a party leader to use my teams attributes, unite them, and accomplish an important goal for the department.

We never really do stop slaying dragons, do we?

Anyway, this article is my small way of saying that I would like to be at the Virtual Worlds Conference, but more importantly, I would like to see those at the Virtual Worlds Conference take education as a partner and a venue more seriously!

Most schools do not have the budget to develop the kinds of programs that would enrich our student's experience, but a focus group or two might find pre-made accounting skills builders for non-traditional students. Or, even better, a 3-D repository and interactive sharing space for distance learners and their instructors!

Second Life, I challenge you to create an educational space without all the legal jargon that holds back educational institutions from joining in. I challenge you to create more G and PG spaces for those who must forge out alone to teach. I challenge you to integrate streaming seamlessly and include repository spaces. I challenge you, Second Life, to stop flirting with educational work and embrace it!

I challenge those in education to demand the same things. We can passively watch others make the most of the virtual world evolution or we can influence that evolution on a path conducive to our own needs and delivery methods. Who knows, we may learn something about education itself along the way.

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