K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 25/Virtual worlds and K-12 education --- Christina Wilson
As distance learning becomes more popular with the educational practice of K-12 curricula, it is essential to keep students engaged with not only the material, but the whole experience as well. Through the use of virtual worlds, students are able to experience a lesson plan that mimics characteristics of face to face, "real world" activity, without having to leave their computer screen. Implementing virtual worlds as tools for k-12 education allows for a more enriching distance learning experience.
Virtual worlds are simulated environments accessed via computer. In these environments users interact with the scenery in the form of avatars. In virtual worlds, the scenery can be 2 or 3 dimensional and feature content similar to a fantasy or real world. Virtual worlds are platforms used in video games as well as in online social environments. In many, but not all virtual worlds, avatars can engage with each other in various manners of communication. Some interact via text, graphical actions, voice, sound and in some cases sensory equipment controlled by the user.
Teen Second Life
Teen Second Life is a virtual world specifically designed for teens 13-17 and is accessible by the Internet. The platform is a part of the traditional Second Life virtual world designed by Linden Labs for Adults 18 and older. Teen second life is intended for teens to use as a social platform to make and communicate with friends, play, interact, learn, and create. The platform allows users to develop their own avatar, as a virtual representation of themselves. The platform is also user driven, so members can design content from buildings to grass blades for use in the game. The platform differs from a video game in that there is no defined goal for play. Users can essentially do what they wish while following teen second life's terms of service. Users can interact with other members for free, but to attain land and objects there are fees involved. Second life works vigorously to ensure that all members are between the ages of 13-17. The only adult members allowed in Teen Second Life are Linden Labs administrators and developers and educators that are granted permission through Linden Labs. All adult users are identified in a distinct matter.
Application and Examples
Using Teen Second Life , an international 3-D virtual world that enables teens from age 13-17 students from a Brooklyn High school were able to participate in lessons on physical science. After being awarded the Motorola Innovation Generation Grant, Cathy Arreguin, a curriculum developer from the Global Kids organization  assisted in developing a new curriculum for the freshmen physical science class at the High school for Global Citizenship . The goal of the endeavor was to allow educators to use second life as medium to engage students in the fields of science, technology and programming. As an introductory task, educators used Teen second life to serve as a supplement to traditional face to face courses.
One project asked students to conduct a trash dump survey. Students toured a virtual replica of Naples, Italy and interacted with programmed chat bots. The chat bots were designed to represent different perspectives; from varying socio-economic status, ethnicity to varying in gender. The robots talked about the environment and allowed the students to experience what a scientist would have to do when conducting a survey. The students were then told to make a comparison to their real life trash disposal and create a comic, to tell the story of what they learned by exploring the city of Naples.
Example 2 In another project, students were asked to explore a coal mine in a project based on fossil fuels and mining. The assignment allowed students to study data and develop ideas about alternate sources of fuel, an important aspect of the science curriculum. During the project students were asked to collect data on the amount of real life waste produced. Then students used teen second life to attribute that information to a virtual brownstone to calculate the carbon footprint of the household. The project was designed to allow the students to think about individual energy consumption within a household.
Whyville  is an educational virtual world designed for use by preteens. It is accessed for free via the Internet. The registered users or citizens of Whyville interact with each other in a simulation based environment. In this virtual world, citizens learn about topics ranging from the art, geography, business and science. Whyville is designed for users to play games, role play and chat in a virtual world that was designed for the purpose of education. Whyville is sponsored by government, corporate and non-profit entities.
Applications and Examples
In 2007 Whyville received funding from the Texas workforce Commission to help users 14-15 learn about bio technology and expose them to career paths in this field. The Texas Business and Education Coalition Biotech advisory team, San Antonio Manufacturers Association San Antonio Acadamies, Kelly Aviation Center and Texas biotech and advanced manufacturing companies contributed funding for educational content in Whyville.
whyville Texas challenge was a contest where teachers could sign-up students to play educational games in Whyville Bioplex and Whyville Plane Works to win prizes and encourage students to learn about different career areas.
Whyville Bioplex allows teen users to learn about vaccines. In the virtual world, the users learned how to develop a vaccine against whypox a virus that is similar to the flu and caused avatars to break out with red spots if they were not treated properly. Users were exposed to the field of drug design and the elements involved in creating vaccines for ailments
Whyville Plane works is an area of Whyville that allows users to build planes. This allows users to become familiar with the field of aviation and aspects involved in designing aircraft. This experience allows users to engage and interact in an area that they most likely would not have access to in the real world.
Educational Benefits of Virtual Worlds
-More interaction among students -Students put at ease -Engaging environment -More opportunities for learning -Students more willing to take risks
Implementing Virtual worlds into the classroom
In order to implement virtual worlds into the classroom it is important to analyze the needs of the organization. Analysis of the types of goals that need to be accomplished can help determine if the use of virtual world would be beneficial to the organization. It will be important to understand if the use of teen second life will provide a benefit to the curriculum or if its use would be optional. During the needs assessment the needs of the students and the needs of the faculty should be addressed.
Following a needs assessment, there needs to be an analysis of budgetary costs and training time. In regards to budget, the factors that need to be accounted for are development and user privileges. For maximum user privilege there is a fee per membership. This needs to be counted into the assessment for a complete idea of what implementation of second life involves. The curricula should be analyzed to determine the type of access required.
Another aspect that needs to be factored into the planning is the cost of a developer. For ease in developing learning environments, it is recommended that a developer be hired to create virtual learning environments within the teen second life platform. Rather than relying on volunteers or fellow educators, a developer can be paid to focus on the fast execution of developing specified content. The cost of hiring the developer as well as the fees required for using land and resources within teen second life would have to be factored in.
Staff training will be a necessary step to initiating the implementation of virtual worlds into k-12 education. Educators will need to learn how to use the second life environment. Learning how to travel from island to island, customize the avatar and if necessary develop user content are all steps that need to be learned by the educators. It will be ineffective for the educator to instruct students in an environment in which they are not well versed.
Using virtual worlds like Teen second life, second life, and Whyville educators can be very creative in developing classroom curricula. For instance if budgetary concerns restrict the process of having a class related field trip, an exact replica of a location can be visited in second life. Also if an educator wanted students to understand a concept that occurs in a dangerous location, it is possible to do so in a virtual world. Virtual world simulations can be mapped out to compliment most lesson plans and provide an enlightening experience for the learner. The use of virtual worlds allows for a different type of distance learning environment. The learning environment is more versatile and no longer limited to simply message boards and discussion threads. Currently educators are using virtual worlds like Second life to hold online classes completely conducted in the virtual environment. This is becoming a new trend in adult education and it won't be long before the k-12 sector catches up. With more virtual k-12 schools developing, virtual worlds are becoming useful tools for distance learning.
Czarnecki, Kelly (2008). Virtual Environments and K-12 Education, A Tour of the Possibilities -Part 1, MultiMedia & Internet @ Schools v. 15 no. 4 (July/August 2008) p. 14-17 Retrieved October 28 from http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/hww/results/getResults.jhtml?_DARGS=/hww/results/results_common.jhtml.33
Czarnecki, Kelly (2008). Virtual Environments and k-12 Education, A tour of the Possibilites -Part 2 MultiMedia & Internet @ Schools v. 15 no. 5 (September/October 2008) p. 12-16 Retrieved October 29 from http://vnweb.hwwilsonweb.com.ezproxy.cul.columbia.edu/hww/results/getResults.jhtml?_DARGS=/hww/results/results_common.jhtml.33
Teen Second Life Homepage, retrieved October 29 from http://www.teensecondlife.com
Whyville Homepage, retrieved October 29 from http://www.whyville.net