VRE Spaces and Digital Citizens

I received a thoughtful response from Jason Johnson about SecondLife on the ISED-L discussion list. (Reposted with permission of author):

Right now we are seeing a lot of active participation in RuneScape. Similar
in basic function to SecondLife (avatars, chat, etc.) but more directed like
a MMOG. This type of interaction and game play is also essential to the
future of the video game industry (Just look at what Bungie, to name one, is
doing with Halo 2 and interactive gaming on the Xbox). In other words, it is
already ignored at our peril.

I think the technologies are ripe for educational use (think of SecondLife
in Spanish or Latin), but the investment is still very high in providing the
backend and most (but not all) schools want a more controlled environment.
Sure they can purchase a private island, but I think the real advantage
would be to utilize the extended community (e.g. Run a business, develop
public art, community activism and research). However, there is a certain
amount of FUD generated by mainstream media already (like the the article I
can not put my finger on about rating prostitutes in SecondLife) that will
make it difficult from a PR perspective to use as a teaching tool.

But, beyond immersion and research programs, wouldn’t the use of the unique
qualities of VREs (virtual reality environments) simply be an more
sophisticated extension of Marc Prenskey’s ideas around gaming to teach
skills (with all the benefits and problems that implies).

What we are finding most difficult is tracking with the social norms
surrounding these. Interestingly more of these communities are being more
up front about creating their own social norms, advertising them, and allow
users to self select. SecondLifers get banished to the “corn field” for a
period of time depending on offense for violating these rules. Occasionally
you have communities like World of Warcraft restricting gay guilds as part
of a corporate policy decision but the norms are increasingly community
driven.

At the same time, student and some parents feel that these norms and
explicit rules are unimportant. People are rather casual about what they
agree to on a computer and expect to be able to reverse their decision when
conditions become adverse (when was the last time any of us read an EULA end
to end). However, when actions online carry over into the real world it is
too late reversals.

I think the more students can interact with others they already know in the
real world, in these kinds of VRE spaces, the better digital citizens they
will ultimately be. In that regard it does not matter what is taught
(Spanish, art, biology) as long as the medium does not get in the way of the
learning, conducting class in a VRE (full or partially) provides the
additional benefit of learning how to conduct oneself properly in that
environment. Given the effort and expense (time and money) necessary to
create a VRE I am not sure schools can do more than that at this time.
Sounds like a perfect elective or after school program for now. Maybe an
honors course in a year or two. Wish my kids were old enough.

_J

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