Okay, I’ve had a couple of days to digest some of the substance of Dr. John Bransford’s presentation on virtual learning environments that took place a few days ago. I suspect that what he is proposing fairly radical. There are really two points:
- If we are serious about virtual environments as being fertile learning spaces, we need to seriously study what works and what doesn’t scientifically;
- And we need to change the academic rewards system to honor the work that scholars, researchers and educators are doing in virtual space.
Much of the introductory part of Dr. Bransford’s presentation was not much of a revelation for those of us who’ve been following educational efforts within SL. I.e. that people learn in different ways, through listening, through experiencing, through teaching others, in groups, alone, etc. And that virtual environments can be vital educational spaces.
What I took as most interesting part of his talk was the proposal to create a bounded space where different teaching environments could be tested, replicated, published, critiqued and built upon. I.e. a more rigorous scientific empirical approach to looking at how to use virtual spaces for learning. The goal, Dr. Bransford says is "to have a focused way to build on one another’s work."
I actually don’t know if what Dr. Bransford is proposing — an “innovation island” — is really all that new. There already is an “innovation island” that I understand is not associated with Dr. Bransford or the LIFE institute. But perhaps others know if this scientific approach to MUVEs as learning environments has already been proposed and/or being deployed somewhere.
The most radical part of what he seems to be proposing is to change the incentive structure of the academy writ large to respect more the research, published work, and networks that exist in virtual space. As he says, "The overall goal is to create a new kind of space that allows for cumulativity over time–and allows academic ‘credit’ as well — credit for different people doing different parts of collaborative tasks."
This is similar to the ways that academia has wrestled with how to consider web-published work, or research about the internet, as legitimate pursuits of “serious scholars.” That debate is still ongoing, and includes the economics of academic journals, turf battles over how to consider new media, and how to confer status in virtual spaces.
Here’s the substance of Dr. Bransford’s comments on this, edited by me from Simteach’s transcript:
Now lets come back to the idea of MUVES as a space for collective inquiry and action.
If you look at our rooms and feel "I can do better"—we say fantastic. That’s why we need collaborations. We’ve seen this in our LIFE Center. Senior researchers have been amazed at the creativity of the students. We know this kind of creativity exists in this audience, and across the world. However, finding how to focus this creativity is a real challenge.
Think of the airline industry. In 100 years, they have gone from fragile planes to amazing jetliners. Education does not have this kind of cumulativity.
Imagine a SL island where we collaborate to create and test environments to enhance learning. A simple starting example could be our simple stone age maze. Anyone could use it. Make it better, do studies with it and report them. Several of our LIFE students have already decided to use the maze to test how people have or have not worked in teams will collaborate if they go in pairs or larger groups. Other things could be more fun.
Imagine a SL moon environment where people could help students learn things like the need for atmosphere for sound ways to carry. Or students might try to create a sustainable ecosystem for themselves for a year on the moon.
We don’t have start with a total adventures – we can begin with small pieces. The instruction can initially be blended—-part SL, part real life, then return to SL.
Eventually we might be able to create a new kind of journal where different people could actually get academic credit for their work in SL. Some credit could be for design, some for adding learning, some for improvements to others work, etc. The overall goal is to create a new kind of space that allows for cumulativity over time–and allows academic "credit" as well — credit for different people doing different parts of collaborative tasks.
…The big thing I see is the creativity out there and how much we could do together. WE need to have a focused way to build on one another’s work however.
All of us in LIFE are far from having a clear idea of exactly how to establish this kind of innovation environment. But we are convinced that second life offers a great possibility for doing this. Ultimately, we could imagine a series of adventures for students that could become a new way to create curricula.
It is one of the most powerful ways we know that might radically change the nature of education.