Feature - Teaching gets a “Second Life”
Imagine getting up in front of a classroom full of young students, and trying to keep their attention amidst all the electronic gadgets that students carry these days.
Taking the axiom “if you can’t beat them, join them” to heart, a new initiative seeks to immerse and engage students in the classroom in the same way that today’s video games grab and keep a player’s attention. So, instead of trying to compete against new technologies to maintain students’ attention, teachers use the technologies to their advantage.
A nonprofit initiative known as Immersive Education brings together universities, research institutes, and companies in an attempt to define and develop open standards, best practices, virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems. Its learning platform combines interactive 3D graphics, game and simulation technology, voice chat, and digital media with collaborative online classrooms.
Immersive Education is a part of the international Media Grid standard group, a digital media network infrastructure that provides digital media delivery, storage and processing service for the new generation of networked applications. It does not replace or circumvent service providers; instead, its goal is to provide open, uniform and simplified access to them. The immersive education project builds ‘virtual-reality’ software exclusively for education within commercial and nonprofit virtual worlds and game platforms such as Second life and World of Warcraft. Because many organizations lack the resources or staff expertise necessary to make full use of this technology, Immersive Education is developing open standards that are both free and easy to use.
Proponents of this approach say that it supports new ways of knowledge-sharing, by increasing collaboration and engaged learning among young people — something a step above a common online course. “Unlike traditional computer-based learning systems, this is designed to immerse and engage students in the same way that today's best video games grab and keep the attention of players,” said Aaron Walsh, director of the Grid Institute.
Because 3-D worlds are engaging, they encourage interaction and collaboration between users. For students, this can be an effective mean of maintaining their interest. “Extensive research shows that visual imagery can play a powerful role in accelerating learning. Evidence suggests that use of visual media can enhance problem-solving, motivation, understanding and the expression of ideas,” said Roger Murphy of the Visual Learning Lab at the University of Nottingham, UK.
Such tools have the potential to give participants a sense of being there, even when attending a class or having a real-life training session isn't possible, practical, or affordable. Though it was originally available only to university students, the next generation of the Immersive Education initiative is focused on a broad spectrum of academic and non-academic users such as higher education, kindergarten through high school, and corporate training.
A variety of fields, including science and math, are increasingly relying on this technology for scientific visualization, data visualization, and three-dimensional modeling. For example, medical students at Imperial College London can train in a virtual hospital’s respiratory ward in Second Life, where they can check patients’ symptoms and even examine X-rays.
The real-world situation helps make learning easier, said Eliza Gold of the University of Texas/Austin Digital Media Collaboratory.
Said Gold: “Trigonometry is much more interesting when you’re trying to build a bridge.”
—Emilie Tanke for iSGTW