Session Fourteen—Virtual Worlds

Van Gogh World in Second Life
Virtual Van Gogh World
Photo courtesy of txkimmers (Creative Commons License) from her flickr account.

In our last session we’ll navigate virtual worlds to explore their potential use in our courses. Educause serves up another concise explanation of virtual worlds and their importance in education while the four part T.H.E. Journal series provides a newbie’s perspective on initial forays into Second Life along with an intriguing and provocative interview with John Jamison (aka Virtual Bacon) on the future of Second Life as well as what he sees as seven key issues for traditional educators to consider when contemplating the implementation of Second Life in their teaching and learning.

We’ll wrap up the semester with a reflective look back at our experiences, discuss our wiki work and if time allows, take a few surveys!


Virtual Worlds as described in our readings give me mixed feelings. On the one hand I think that they might be useful for educational purposes as described in Educause’s “7 things you should know about… Virtual Worlds”. It might be a good idea for job training, e.g. the example with student doctors who can prepare interacting activities with future students. I am also thinking -history is my other major- on this great German-Italian cooperation in creating the Forum Romanum as it was in Roman times. Projects like this might enable students to “dive” into times and architecture that are long gone or that is lost. In a language class student’s can experience other countries and culture’s without leaving the campus.

On the other hand I think it is important that student’s are guided in this process. Otherwise, in my opinion, virtual world that are so closely linked to computer games (compare the “Second Life: Do you need one?” by Patricia Deubel), the impact of these virtual worlds for (language) learning can become as “blurred” as mentioned in the Educause article. Of course it is fun and one can lean collaboration — but it this really a substitute for a “traditional” class. Similarly, the border between reality and imagination has to be treated carefully in a class, e.g. if I present medieval Germany/Italy/Spain etc. how much is this my fantasy and how much hard facts are involved. Of course everybody has fun playing a king/queen/knight etc. but who presents and who would be interested in experiencing the plague, hard daily work etc.? Influenced by Hollywood & Co. there is more make-up then historical truth and this could give student’s a wrong impression.

Again, I think that Virtual Worlds could be great tools. But I think we are just in the beginning process and should evaluate carefully how to use these tools in a classroom. Otherwise we have beautiful and entertaining, but, from a teacher’s perspective, meaningless pictures/pixel.


I would like to comment on the virtual world session because I think this tool is the one that will develop the most in language classes.  When we talk about virtual worlds they necessarily have to be a place where the rule of the society we are studying are the same. I mean that in a contemporary Italian setting some slang has to be inserted. If we are trying to reproduce an experience close to the real one (that is a trip to Italy) we need to give the students an environment which is as close as possible to the real thing. And here start the problems and the mixed feelings. I have no idea how much work is involved for the instructor and the academic apparatus involved in such a project. To create such para-real environment one needs powerful means and a lot of time, and real people to talk and interact with the students. A program cannot do the job. Right now we are using a workbook on line and many students complain about the rigidity in which the program corrects their answer (it takes points off even if they miss the period!). Can you imagine problems like that in a virtual reality?

In the end such experience, to be effective, cannot be done once on a while. The students need to be familiar with the environment and then they can positively interact with the native speakers. My doubts is: how many of you would spend hours on line dealing with another world? Is ours not enough?


8 Responses to “Session Fourteen—Virtual Worlds”

  1. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    Just a comment on Second Life: Do You Need One? (Part 2)
    by Patricia Deubel. It says about Figure 4 that you will meet Yoda Bartender “like the character of the Star Trek series”. It is actually from the Star Wars series (The Empire Strikes Back), as everybody knows.

  2. Barbara Says:

    You’re absolutely right! I didn’t catch this and I’m a big fan of both series. : )

  3. martinawp Says:

    What do you think about Virtual Bacon’s statement “While the non-game group still controls the ‘politic’of the day, the game-based group destined to outlive them. The division will become bloodier before it improves”?

    Do you you have the same mixed feelings that I experience and describe above?

  4. Barbara Says:

    But if we take a look at what the game-based group represents to John Jamison, i.e., those who use gaming as a means to learn, to educate themselves, should it be something that alarms us or aids us as educators?

  5. martinawp Says:

    Of course, playing can be a learning process, e.g. as Friedrich (von) Schiller stated: Men is only men when he’s playing (freely translated: Der Mensch ist Mensch wenn er spielt). There is this joyful experience of collaboration and new insight. Nevertheless, playing is not necessary learning. I have to admit that I love to play “Command and Conquer” and other strategic games — I would never consider this as important for education :O). Thus, I am looking forward to our discussion in class and new virtual worlds that can be used for educuational purposes.

  6. rventura Says:

    What Martina said about students and how they should be guided, made me think about another issue (raised by Educase’s article too): cost. I am talking about computer mainframes but also the support staff. Virtual worlds are effective if we mix real (read human) and simulated (read computers) components. VW are great if beyond an avatar there is a human that actually acts and reacts like a real person (in the educase this is the situation in medical school). In the end, although it is a great idea to use virtual worlds in our language classes… well we’ll need to wait a little bit more before universities can afford it!!
    As usual I think very positive.

  7. martinawp Says:

    Renatos statement about the availability of technical tools in the classroom is important. We could have the best ideas — without technical support it is senseless. I made this experience in one of my classroom projects that I described in Session Thirteen. The classroom I taught the interdisciplinary class in had no high tech equipment at all. Thus, I had to describe the students the wiki project instead of demonstrating this in class. As I stated, this caused confusion in the beginnning when they had to sign up for the first time. We disussed this in class and, from then on the problem was solved. Nevertheless, without technical tools it can be difficult to teach — not to mention the lack of virtual worlds :O)

  8. felicebeneduce Says:

    I believe that the link that Martina quite correctly posits between the computer games and virtual worlds is a point in favor of MUVE usage in the foreign language classroom rather than against it. Of course, the MUVE cannot substitute a “traditional” class but it can be a very beneficial supplement to it. The historical accuracy is also another very important facet which must be addressed and it is for this reason that in the creation of such MUVEs with historical setting, we as language instructors must collaborate with historians as well as with the program designers to ensure that the world depicted is as truthful as possible, including all the negative aspects of the historical period in question. To answer Martina’s concerns, kings/queens/knights (and I might add damsels) should be at the very end of the list: imagine rather the students as having to live the lives of serfs in 12th century Tuscany or as a coalminers in the Ruhr of the 19th century. I fully agree that a careful evaluation of how exactly to use these tools in a classroom is indeed indispensable for a correct integration of the MUVE into our language courses. However, I do have to disagree with Martina’s statement that “playing is not necessary learning”: do we not repeatedly hear that our classes “should be fun” and that we should include “games” such as “Simon says” and the like? I must admit that I am not familiar with any studies on the topic (Barbara???) but I strongly believe there is a definite connection between the ludic and pedagogy. As an example I give you this (at the risk of revealing my age): ask anyone who was a child during the early 70s to recite the preamble to the US constitution. I am willing to wager any amount that the person will start humming/singing the Schoolhouse Rock version of it. Finally, liebe Martina, the technology required for MUVEs need not be in the classroom (that’s actually the beauty of it): the students can undertake their virtual adventures abroad in the comfort of their own dorm rooms as homework.

    As for my esteemed Sicilian colleague Renato, I cannot agree more that we should strive to present to our students linguistic environments which are as authentic as possible. There will be an incredible amount of work to be put into – not to mention a suitable infrastructure (read: money) to support – any such project but the result will be in my opinion a powerful pedagogical tool. The infamous problems with the online workbooks derive from their software and in MUVEs voice recognition programs would theoretically offset student errors by – a la Rosetta Stone – having the student repeat the phrase (anyone remember Steve Martin’s “¿donde està casa de Pepe?”) until it is pronounced correctly. I don’t think *hours* would be required for each assignment: perhaps one hour, tops which, keep in mind, would be spent as playing a game.

    Kudos to Alfonso for the noticing the Yoda faux pass (¡Que la fuerza sea contigo!)

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