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REVISITING VIRTUAL WORLDS AS VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

K. Day

University of the Pacific (UNITED STATES)
Virtual worlds such as Second Life are now deep in the Trough of Disillusionment in the Gartner Hype Cycle. The disillusionment and exodus of educators from worlds such as Second Life has been driven by lack of support and loss of the incentives of educational pricing. The exodus has also been driven by failed experiments in which conventional courses were transplanted into a virtual world in the hopes of using the virtual world as a distance learning environment. These failures also resemble the attempt to use online Learning Management System (LMS) environments as a delivery system for a conventional course.

The rise of other virtual world opportunities such as OpenSimulator, an open source rough clone of Second Life, has created an alternate platform that educators are exploring both in terms of their own implementation on a virtual/cloud server or through leasing spaces through a range of small, new entrepreneurial grids. The result if a low-cost environment with greater control over student access and greater opportunity to monitor student behaviors.

The rise of tablet computers is bringing more and more people onto the Internet at cheaper cost and giving easier access across time and space as these portable devices are kept at hand. Recent apps are finding ways to access virtual worlds without requiring the 3D accelerator cards be part of the hardware of the device making virtual world access open to a larger audience.

Rethinking about the use of virtual worlds as learning environments also alters thinking about what may be their true strengths. This will be the major focus of this paper/presentation.

This paper discusses: (1) the new and cheaper opportunities for creating a virtual world learning environment and how these environments can now be accessible on mobile devices, (2) the potential for using a virtual learning environment as a standalone LMS, (3) the potential for using virtual learning environments for greater synchronous interaction of both a formal and informal nature, (4) the "gamification" of instruction implemented in a virtual world, and(5) the little-used opportunities for using virtual three-dimensional space to contextualize learning and organize.