Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) allow us to enter and create a variety of different virtual worlds where we can learn, explore, interact and yes, play. Vast amounts of time and energy can be devoted, or in some cases wasted, in these worlds and there is a great deal of skepticism in regards to the educational value of MUVEs. I have provided a few links to some online articles about MUVEs that I think will provide helpful insight into the our present understanding of these virtual worlds and their potential promise for the future. The first article is by Stefanie Olsen who writes for CNET News.com. This article, entitled Are Virtual Worlds the Future of the Classroom? looks at the River City Project, Quest Atlantis and Whyville in it's discussion of MUVEs and their place in the "real" classroom. As you will quickly notice, much of the content and focus of these different worlds revolves around science. This is largely because the source of funding of these projects comes from the National Science Foundation which, understandably so, likes to fund research related to the teaching of science as opposed to social studies or math. But as the article indicates, there are opportunities to learn about more than just science. As you read this article I'm curious as to what you feel the primary affordances of these types of environments are for children. Also, what is your opinion about the possible detrimental effects of having kids spend large amounts of time in these environments? What impact, positive or negative, might it have on their ability to interact in the real world?
The second article is an interview with someone from Second Life, which is the virtual world designed more for adults (the version for young adults is called Teen Second Life). This article is actually part 4 of a 4 part series and you can feel free to read part's 1-3 if you want. This particular article (click here to view article) looks at some key issues that traditional educators face when they try to use Second Life either as a casual user or for educational purposes. Even though the issues outlined are focused on Second life I think the ideas apply to a broad range of virtual worlds regardless of the targeted age. In many ways the issues all relate back to changing, or broadening, our perspective of what education looks like and the ways in which learning can take place. I can completely understand the teacher who says, "I don't want to use a virtual environment because kids will just play, or it isn't safe, or it doesn't look like a classroom." But I think it's hard to deny that these virtual worlds, not necessarily all of them, hold some real promise in regards to their ability to provide stimulating and educational experiences for students. In response to the article I would like you to pick out an issue, or several of the issues if you want, that you found particularly interesting and share your opinions on the argument the author made with regard to that particular issue. Personally, I found issue 6 Re-Create v. Create to be especially insightful because this is something I see happening quite often with technology and online learning environments where we try to re-create the traditional learning environment or assignment rather than take advantage of the affordances of the specific technology to create something truly new and different. I'm curious to see what the rest of you think.