Students living in the technologically advanced world of today use rich media, such as smart phones, iPads, social media, and virtual environments as part of every day life. Through technology, students can access vast amounts of information instantly, as well as maintain continuous connections with family, friends, and work. These same students fill our universities with the wonder of the information age, ready to engage with their academic courses in the same way. As educators, we must meet this technological transformation by offering students ways to harness the power of technology for their own learning. We must also prepare students with the skills and social constructs necessary for engaging and competing in the new global information exchange that has emerged in business, medicine, and education as a result of technology.
Faced with this challenge, we began utilizing the Second Life virtual world technology as part of a graduate Childhood Education course. Second Life is a 3-D immersive environment. Immersive environments are virtual representations of real-world and alternate-world places, activities, interactions, and events that tap into the brain’s sensory receptors. This allows one to feel and experience something as if it was happening in real life. Virtual representations can extend to just about anything imaginable. Participants can interact and socialize in virtual worlds using avatars, which are virtual representations of one’s self or alter ego. When involved in a virtual world, a piece of an individual’s being is captured into that world and he or she becomes immersed in it. This state of immersion creates a strong, focused engagement and sense of absorption, which creates an optimal condition for learning to take place.
Our reason for choosing and using this technology in our Integrated Curriculum for a Digital Native Nation course was to teach students in a way that matched their lifestyles and expectations as “digital natives.” We utilized the power of this technology to create a collaborative and constructivist learning experience for our students. In Second Life, we held midweek classes, facilitated small group interactions, and guided students in the construction of virtual elementary school classrooms. As future teachers, it was valuable for our students to be able to “bring to life” their mental images of an ideal elementary classroom, as well as test their classroom schemas with their peers. The students’ classrooms were fully equipped with content-related objects, furniture, PowerPoint presentations, teaching aids, and web resources. In addition, students were able to develop a deeper conceptual and practical understanding of how this technology can be used to enhanced classroom teaching and learning.
Our ability to create such an active, engaging, and unique way of learning for our students furthered our desire to expand the use of this technology. As recently honored recipients of the Instructional Technology Grant, we plan to further our project by building a virtual “Freedom Center.” The Freedom Center will be a place that teaches awareness of individual differences and tolerance for all individuals. Students from the School of Education Master’s Seminar for Childhood Education course and Levermore Global Scholars Program will design and develop a rich and dynamic curriculum addressing bullying, as well as tolerance of race, culture, disabilities, sexual orientation, and religion.
To find out more about Second Life and education, visit secondlife.com/destinations/learning.