Learner-centric learning and people we don’t know

I’ve been researching virtual worlds for Education.au’s Immersive Learning Unit and had an aha moment this morning in between hitting the snooze button on my N95 that I wanted to commit to pixels before it faded away in the morning routine.20/06/2009

The issue of risk management in virtual worlds as with so many other virtual spaces stems from the fact that there are people there we don’t know.

Would closed-off virtual worlds created within a school or institution solve the issue of risk while allowing for many of the pedagogical affordances such as collaboration, role playing, simulation building and modeling? Is there value in creating a safe space?

But just as we don’t settle for a LAN or a closed off portal alone to solve the issue of viruses, scams and annoying people on the internet — settling for a localised virtual world cuts learners and educators off from their most valuable learning resources: other people and their ideas and information.

These closed off environments also create funnels — someone other than the individuals using them decides what is relevant and valuable. If we’re truly going to move towards learner-centred teaching — then allowing a centralised authority to limit access to tools and information and decide what goes on a narrow portal is a ball and chain that has to be severed.

Virtual worlds are 3D representations of  web sites.   Each personal plot is a blog or MySpace page in 3D.  Each island or simulation a web site or a series of smaller web sites.  Some of these destinations whether 2D or 3D are fluid, unique, wonderful, valuable and some are dangerous, scary, spammy and flawed.  Why are they this way? Because they are created by PEOPLE and that’s what people are.

So, opting for a virtual world that is limited just to one institution is creating a LAN or a closed portal – not a virtual world experience.

If educators and learners are limited to password protected virtual portals or LANs — on the net or in the virtual worlds space — they are shut off from a universe of original thinking, unique experiences andopportunities to broaden their worlds.  Plus, it prevents both groups from learning the digital literacy skills they need to have to be fully realised as citizens of the 21st century.

Virtual worlds like the 2 D internet offer a wealth of experiences – one institution or jurisdiction cannot possibly create them all. And if they did, what a homogenous world it would be.

PS: You may be asking yourself – what’s up with that photo? It is of a group of valued friends/colleagues  (and our waiter) that are an important part of my life and constantly enrich it with their insights, knowledge, friendship and laughter.  I got to know them all in Second Life. So glad I didn’t get limited to a LAN or portal or single closed off island.