Virtual Worlds for Engaged Learning


Maybe you’ve heard of Minecraft. Or World of Warcraft, or Second Life. Maybe you’ve even heard that there are a few brave educators who are using them in their classrooms, with — gasp! — students. These educators know that 3D virtual learning environments are far more than mere games and that their potential to engage students, personalize curricula and develop higher-order thinking skills is worth the fight against fears of time wasting, questionable online influences and doubts about educational value.

Could you be one of these educators? If you’re innovative, creative and a rebel, you might be. If you can deal with being misunderstood and possibly even heckled in the faculty room, you are well on your way. And if you can wear being different as a badge of honor rather than a cloak of shame, all in the interest of giving your students a one-of-a-kind learning experience, you should definitely read on to find out how to tap into the magic of virtual worlds for education.


The case for virtual environments in education

So what is a virtual environment, really? Is it a game? Well, sometimes. But not always.

Games are fun, and most have rules. Virtual environments can contain games for diversion or amusement, but since the VEs that weren’t created for those purposes don’t have rules per se, they are not, in and of themselves, games. They are whole worlds.

Students can and do visit virtual environments to view and analyze, evaluate and create content. Hmmm. Aren’t those actions the highest-order performances linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy? Additionally, today’s technology landscape incorporates the SAMR Model, the highest level of which is the redefinition of student performance — something that virtual environments are all about.

One of the best things about virtual environments is that they allow the user to build and create. Among the possibilities up for creation are virtual simulations, such as a virtual hospital for training health care workers or a virtual battlefield for military missions. Users can also create or reimagine works of art and virtually reproduce historic architecture, such as medieval castles, the Roman Colosseum or Colonial villages. Almost all virtual environments also have customizable avatars that allow users to extend their self-expression into the digital realm.

Most virtual environments also allow for amazing collaborative opportunities where groups of people can build together. Because socializing is key to the experience, they often include chat programs for communication, and some even have voice tools for heightened collaboration,


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