… today in England, tonight in ancient Rome, tomorrow inside a human cell!
Using virtual environments for educational purposes
Teaming up in virtual worlds – meet and learn together no matter of the physical distance – communicate, discuss, and play – talk to experts – master quests – experience adventures – see worlds you’ve never expected to see – experience events from the past or the future …
Virtual worlds offer an indescribable range of possibilities to meet, communicate, experience, and learn as individual or in groups. Virtual worlds offer a strong motivational potential, they are boosting interest, curiosity and the will to explore. Virtual worlds are a perfect educational playground!
nextREALITY offers ideas and guidelines of how to use virtual worlds in the ‘real’ classroom; it leads through safety and technology concerns and illustrates pedagogical approach for an effective uptake of virtual worlds in ‘serious’ teaching.
This is done by addressing two major questions that teachers face when thinking about bringing virtual worlds into their classroom:
- Pedagogical context: What can those worlds be used for? What can students learn in such a world?
- Classroom management: What, concretly, could a session in a virtual world look like? How is such a session delivered and managed?
nextREALITY illustrates the pedagogial context by
- offering two fully worked-out quests, that can be used as they are or be adapted by teachers as well as
- in-depth training material about virtual world’s pedagogy.
Classroom management issues are addressed by
- providing a tool for monitoring student’s activities in real-time, the “Teacher Control Center” and by
- sharing guidelines and detailed instructions about setting up and running an activity in virtual worlds.
Gabriele is an English teacher in Germany and Lisa teaches English in Gabrieles Norwegian partner school. Gabriele and Lisa want their classes to cooperate in a virtual environment to practice their English. Therefore they meet with their English classes in Chatterdale, an isolated island on an OpenSimulator server that is tailored to educational purposes. They have designed a little quest that requires communicating, listening, reading, and understanding English texts. In total 20 children from Germany and 18 from Norway enter the virtual island and spread all around the little town Chatterdale. Also Gabriele and Lisa are logged in and move through the town, aiming at supporting and guiding the children in case they need help.
Gabriele and Lisa both use nextREALITY’s Teacher Control Center to monitor their student’s activities. In Germany, Gabriele is interested in communication density and the type of communication. The Teacher Control Center provides Gabriele with the chat intensity (e.g., the number of chatted words) over time summarized for her entire class. In addition Gabriele can immediately see the log-in times and the amount of communication of each individual student. Gabriele is also interested whether her students used certain phrases and she wants to control if the children used swear words. Gabriele applies simple filters that highlight predefined phrases in one colour and swear words in another.
In Norway, Lisa is more interested in learning performance with respect to pre-defined standardized language skills (CEFR). She defined simple rules for the little quest, for example, the rule “when a student finds a text with instructions and follows those instruction within a certain period of time, then this student has certain reading and understanding competencies”. The Teacher Control Center shows Lisa the likelihoods for the predefined CEFR competencies for each of her students in form of easy to understand bar charts. Lisa can also access the text chatted by each student and she can adjust the competency level manually with a slider control. With a button click, the outcomes of the OpenSim session can be transferred to Lisa’s Open Learner Model (OLM) account, where all achievements of her students are archived and visualized.
Curriculum area and student age
nextREALITY’s quests are designed for K-12 students of English as a foreign language (level A2/B1), however the described methodology and the Teacher Control Center are very general and can be used for more or less all age-groups and subjects.
Core competencies addressed
Virtual worlds show their true strength for teaching and learning as soon as they are used for activities that can’t be done in real life. This includes afternoon-trips to foreign countries, to the future or the past, to the moon or into deep see, inside a cell, a painting of Van Gogh or the brain of a person suffering schizophrenia.
Furthermore they allow to meet people that are not physically present and they offer a great potential for project work, e.g.: movies, exhibitions, architecture.
In the context of nextREALITY and the provided quests, the addressed core competencies are reading and speaking English, teamwork and complex problem solving.
People and roles
- Teachers define the activity and rules for collecting and presenting the information.
- Students enjoy the possibility to use a virtual world in class.
- Peers can join the virtual experience.
- External experts / teachers are a special added value (e.g. as native speakers playing non-playing characters).
Activities would typically include
- problem solving
- using English or another second language: reading, text-chatting, talking
- experiencing environments and objects in the virtual worlds
- experimental learning
- learning by doing
Quests in Chatterdale
“The Granny quest”: In this quest the students learn that their dead Granny had owned a house in Chatterdale. In her last will she commanded that among all her heirs, those shall become the owners who can solve the riddle first and find out which house it was.
“The Chatterdale mystery”: In this quest the students need to find out what happened to the population of Chatterdale and find the disappeared Prof. Jones who had left to solve some mystery in Chatterdale some time before. Each team of students is sent off in a specific role (e.g. private investigators, that were hired by Prof. Jones’ aunt) and starts with a certain set of information. If they draw the right conclusions, they can finally free Prof. Jones and learn more about aliens …
Teacher Control Center
The Teacher Control Center helps the teacher to keep an overview about what is going on in the virtual world, e.g.:
- Do the students work on their assigned tasks? Do they behave appropriately?
- Does somebody need help?
- How did the students apply their skills and what did they learn?
The TCC presents information about ongoing activities in real-time. Depending on the type of activity, the presented information includes student’s chat, movements, clicks on objects, feedback given by in-world actors, etc. A powerful mechanism for rule-definition allows the teacher to finetune what information is collected and presented, e.g.:
- Get a notification if a student uses words form the pre-defined list of forbidden words.
- Get a notification if no student has clicked on the first hint after 20 minutes (which obviously means that the students need help).
- Update the value for a student’s reading competency if the student has clicked on a hint and immediately proceeded to the next one (which is a strong indicator, that s/he has understood the first hint).
The TCC allows connecting teachers to the virtual world by analyzing the virtual world’s logfiles (which hold each and every activity and communication). Teachers can view a variety of statistics of what happened and about who did or said what: Communication intensity over time, collaborations, or the frequency of certain activities.
A link to competencies. As it is important to link activities to competencies and learning performance, TCC comes with a heuristics engine. This allows teachers to define rules and link behaviors and communications to competencies or learning progress.
When practicing English as second language in a virtual village – imagine a student reads a sheet of paper and understands the main points and acts according the meaning of the text, this is, to a certain extent, an indicator that this student holds certain language competencies. By defining a corresponding rule, TCC can update the achievement level of specific competencies for a specific student depending on the behavior in the virtual world. A teacher can access these updates and, if necessary, alter the achievement levels manually using intuitive slider controls.
All the information gathered and all the results of heuristic based analyses can be summarized in comprehensive reports and exported. More importantly, TCC offers interfaces to other components such as the OLM or myClass, so achievements can directly be exported to other tools.
Open Learner Model (OLM)
The OLM is a powerful tool visualising competencies. It receives information about competences from the TCC and visualises it for deeper analysis (after class is over).
For the Teacher Control Center Software: firstname.lastname@example.org