Sunday, March 3, 2013

Virtual Environments: Second Life

As part of my EdTech program, one of my assignments for my Web 2.0 Tools course was to explore various worlds of Second Life, a virtual environment.  According to many educators, virtual environments can be excellent for teaching and learning.  Providing a virtual environment such as Second Life is as a method of learning is different than other Web 2.0 Tools. Virtual environments enable students to learn beyond the covers of the textbook or walls of the classroom by taking them to different environments or worlds.  The students choose avatars and then are able to play, explore, socialize, and participate in activities with others.

One of my tasks was to participate in a treasure hunt on an island in Second Life.  I was given instructions as to how to properly complete the task beforehand.  I followed the arrows leading me to the first treasure chest of the hunt.  Upon finding the treasure chest and opening it, I found a bunch of items deemed unnecessary and inappropriate for elementary students.  I continued on with the treasure hunt.  Upon reaching the second treasure chest, I found that it cost money to open it.  I was told that the treasure hunt was free and I continued to look for other treasure chests but did not find any.

I continued exploring the island but was really not impressed with what I had found on the island.  Since this island included a lot of marine life (different kinds of salt water and freshwater fish and other creatures), I could see a teacher using this in an educational setting.  However, it would not be my personal choice to enable students to explore a setting virtually.  It could be there are some great worlds on Second Life to use in the educational setting; I honestly do not know because I was not going to spend more time looking for them.

From this activity I learned the following the following two lessons:

1) Before introducing a virtual environment (or any Web 2.0 Tool) to one's classroom, it is extremely important that one (the teacher) researches it.  The site might appear to be free yet have hidden costs that you are not aware of.  Or the site might appear at first to be clean and clear of inappropriate content and is therefore suitable for an educational setting, but when spending an appropriate amount of time researching it, you will find that indeed that is just not the case.  Don't assume anything; you know what that leads to.

2) When researching the site or tool if you (the teacher) become annoyed or frustrated while doing so due to various factors (the site has not been properly updated or the process is not appearing to be as smooth as you thought it would be) and you are finding that much time is being wasted, do not use it in your classroom. Assuming that you are a tech savvy educator, chances are that if you are becoming frustrated and are becoming impatient with the activity or tool, your students will also - and at a much faster rate than you did.  As educators, we are expected to have plenty of patience and flexibility for our students; we cannot expect them to have the same amount of patience when learning.

If you are looking to use Second Life as a learning tool for your students, I wish you a lot of luck.  But I would rather use the time and use the concept of "First Life," enabling me to interact with my students instead of them using a virtual environment which is foreign to them and could in fact be harmful to them.  Just remember that teachers teach and technology does not replace them.  Technology is merely a tool; let's not go overboard with it and expect it to do more than it should.  Let's make sure it doesn't do harm towards our students and that it only does good.

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