The Different Ways Educators Can USE Virtual Worlds

  1. Office hours

Students can come to a set location (the office) on the virtual campus during a given time, just like office hours in real life.  Can be held concurrently with normal office hours in your real office.  This is a good way for an educator new to virtual worlds to get started working with students on the virtual campus.

  1. One-on-one student consultations

This is similar to office hours with the one difference that only one student comes at an appointed time to meet with their professor.  I have English professors teaching on-line classes use this method to discuss with students how to improve their writing.

  1. Review sessions

With this method, a group of students come to the virtual campus at a given time to meet with their professor to review for a pending exam.  I tend to rotate the questions among students and do everything in text chat so students can copy the text and paste into a Word document to have the answers to their questions.

  1. Lectures to a group of geographically scattered people

In general, lecturing in virtual worlds should be avoided as it is less dynamic than in RL due to the lack of body language and facial expressions as well as being fraught with problems, such as students cannot access sound, lag when many avatars are at one site, students crashing out of the virtual world, etc.  When students or members of a group, however, cannot be collocated, then a virtual classroom offers a tool to give a virtual presentation.  It is best if the voice presentation is augmented with text entries in chat so attendees with sound problems can still participate.  Questions from the audience will come in chat text.  Slide presenters, whiteboards, and web screens are all available in Second Life as tools to augment the presentation.

  1. Interactive activities for students

With this method, students independently interact with one or more objects in a virtual environment and gather information from collecting data, observing structures or changes occurring in the objects, reading text in notecards, or viewing images.  Using the information learned from interacting with the objects the students then complete a series of questions.  A handout must be provided each student giving detailed directions on how to access and interact with the objects.

  1. Language training

Native English speakers studying a foreign language meet in a virtual world with students who are both native speakers of that language and who are studying English.  The students address given questions in text chat for a set amount of time in the foreign language and an equal amount of time in English.  Then the students can move to a unstructured conversation using voice.  The text chat is copied and sent to their instructors for assessment.

  1. Role play situations

This is used were skills and understanding are acquired by engaging in a simulated real life activity, and is primarily used for training in the health science and legal fields.

  1. Displays

These are panels or slide presentations set in a virtual world where students come and read the panels or view and read the slides.  These have been used to help prepare students for quizzes in the health sciences.  One slide can ask a question providing multiple choice answers and the next slide provide the correct answer.

  1. Student presentations – posters / slides

Students develop a poster or a slide presentation on a topic they independently studied and at a given time discuss their poster or slide presentation to faculty members and other students.  The students send the poster or slides to their professors as 20 x 30 inch JPEG files and the professor can import these into the virtual world and create the poster or slide presentation.

  1. Students develop handouts for activities in a virtual world

One of the best ways to learn a topic is to try to teach it.  Here students not only complete an interactive activity in a virtual world, but they develop a detailed handout to guide other students through this activity.  The students learn more about the topic, get some basics on teaching the topic, and develop better skills in the virtual world.

  1. Student designs and build

Students who have at least basic building skills in the virtual world can design and build and object or scene.  If the students also have at least basic coding skills they can script these objects to do different things.  This can be a useful tool in architecture, engineering, and computer science classes.  Also children in the primary schools find this an exciting activity in virtual worlds such as Minecraft.

  1. Videos (machinima) tutorials

For more difficult interactive activities it is often useful to make and post on YouTube a short video (called machinima when shot in virtual worlds) showing students how to complete the activity.

  1. Tours

Tours offer a fun way to show students recreations of specific environments such as 15th century London or the Grand Canyon.  In addition, tours of campuses or specific educational builds provide a fun and often interesting professional development opportunity for educators active in virtual worlds.  Tours are a nice why to highlight what innovations you have developed on your campus.

  1. Educational games and hunts

Interactive games where students must answer questions to proceed further and get small prizes can be a fun way to learn.  Hunts are when the students must fine different objects spread around the campus and answer the questions associated with each object.  Often one object gives clues to the location of the next object.

  1. Meetings

Virtual worlds offer an easy way for people who are not co-located to meet.  A campus should have designated meeting areas with easy to use chairs to facilitate meetings.  If it is a small group, people can talk in voice.  If a large group, often the chair of the meeting talks in voice and the other attendees use text chat.

  1. Professional presentations

There are many professional groups active in virtual worlds.  Frequently, one member of such a group will provide a presentation on their research or current creative activities.  These are usually slide presentations given in voice with text pasted into chat for those having problems hearing voice.

  1. Conferences.

There are a few organizations which organize multi-day conferences in a virtual world.  One of the best know such organization is the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) group with has a conference each March.