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Trying to get some sense out of the chaos

I’m starting to feel a bit as though I’m drowning with all the different things that I’m reading at the moment. This is an attempt to pull some of the threads out from some of the things that I have been reading and get some kind of overview on the basis that if I can get some kind of picture of the big map then I might be able to start seeing which bits of the detail I am actually interested in. Just how that will relate to the ILE course, I’m not absolutely sure at this instant.

So what kind of things have I been reading? So far today, I’ve read two papers which are quite contrasting in content and style. Winn considers developments in the use of learning technologies over a lengthy period and links the description to a range of different learning theories and how they have grown in or out of favour over the same period. He highlights the advantage of virtual environments in making it possible to do what it is not possible to do in real life for a number of different reasons, focusing mainly on simulations. On the other hand, de Winter and Vie focus on Second Life and identify a number of considerations educationalists should bear in mind when considering teaching in that environment. These range from the technical to considerations of the environment itself and the experiences students may encounter in the spaces. It is interesting that Winn makes no mention of virtual worlds, though the idea of 3-D graphical interfaces underpins much of what he says. On the other hand de Winter and Vie differentiate games from Second Life but take it as a given that their readers will be familiar with such environments, at least in theory if not in practice.

Thinking more broadly about the stuff I’ve been reading, quite a lot of it has had a focus on instructional design, for example (Cheal, 2007; Dickey, 2003) and many others are concerned to place 3-D virtual environments within a model of development of instructional design which leads almost inevitably to the adoption of such environments. Other papers have adopted a case study approach; and these have varied between straightforward accounts of what has been done and how it has been done to much more complex descriptions linking theory and practice.

A number of authors offer taxonomies for use in differentiating between different virtual worlds or environments. These include (de Freitas, 2008; Mayes & de Freitas, 2004; Robbins-Bell, 2008). A number of features or characteristics are generally identified such as the immersive nature of the virtual world, its persistence, user generated content, communication within the environment, and the social nature of the virtual world. The most complex of the taxonomies is that developed by Robbins-Bell.

A recurring theme is the relationship of 3-D virtual environments to virtual reality. This focuses on immersiveness, presence and flow. Different authors use these words in different ways and some deliberately use immersion and presence as synonyms. Understanding of flow seems to vary between a general feeling of well-being and a total absorption.

A further strand relates to the activity taking place within the virtual environment. There is some focus on Second Life as a third place (Peachey, 2008) and this links with other authors focusing on social context of learning. Alternatively, and not often found in the same paper, is a focus on the creativity possible within many 3-D virtual worlds linked to constructivism and sometimes to experiential learning.

Cheal, C. (2007). Second Life: hype or hyperlearning? On the Horizon, 15(4), 204-210.

de Freitas, S. (2008). Serious virtual worlds: A scoping study: JISC.

de Winter, J., & Vie, S. (2008). Press enter to “say”: using Second Life to teach critical media literacy. Computers and Composition, 25, 313-322.

Dickey, M. D. (2003). Teaching in 3D: pedagogical affordances and constraints of 3D virtual worlds for synchronous distance learning. Distance Education, 24(1), 105-121.

Mayes, T., & de Freitas, S. (2004). Stage 2: Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models.

Peachey, A. (2008). First reflections, Second Life, third place: community building in virtual worlds. Paper presented at the ReLIVE08, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK.

Robbins-Bell, S. (2008). MMORPG, MUVE…What’s the difference? Examining the communication facets of virtual worlds. Paper presented at the ReLIVE08. Retrieved 29/11/2008, from http://stadium.open.ac.uk/stadia/preview.php?whichevent=1248&s=31&schedule=1470

Winn, W. (2002). Current Trends in Educational Technology Research: The Study of Learning Environments. Educational Psychology Review, 14(3), 331-351.

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