This session gave an insight into the work of creating Virtual World Learning Environments (VWLEs) by the Chant Newall Development Group (CNDG). According to the moderator, Mr William Prensky (CEO, CNDG), VWLEs are increasingly being used by educators to stimulate active engagement with the students, strengthen social interaction, and trigger creative thinking. Prensky opened the discussion by presenting the company. Four cases, which were later presented by other speakers, stood out as successful in solving common education problems with VWLEs. VWLEs have so far helped relieve the financial and physical burden of teaching large courses, helped attract students to enrol in STEM programmes, increased participation in laboratories, and enabled students to enjoy learning more. After the explanatory video, Prensky invited lecturers as practitioners from the field to share their experiences with integrating VR into their classrooms.
Ms Ann Rovetto (Department of Computer Technology, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, South Carolina, retired) talked about her experience of working with the CNDG. In her school a large number of students worked during the day and attended classes during the evening and at night. The impact of non-traditional attendance was minimised by using the VR classroom which enabled all students seeking a degree to graduate on time, instead of prolonging studies because they had to work.
Mr William Landing (Professor of Oceanography, Department of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University) explained why it is important for students in environmental sciences to get experiences that otherwise they could not. With all students required to take a natural science laboratory course, the University faced a lack of resources, space, and staff in the undergraduate programme. But the virtual classroom enabled the students to travel as far as Antarctica and even back in time. Virtual reality classroom enables students to learn by doing. Landing also noted that course participation has grown significantly. The course has become very popular as the students are able to do more things than normally available at the school or in the natural habitat of the state of Florida.
Mr Joe Calhoun (Director of Stavros Center for Economic Education, Florida State University) spoke about decision-making and role-playing for learning in the classroom. Calhoun gave an example of a traditional class with 500 undergraduate students out of which only 10 or 20 could actually do the activity, while others would watch. The VR classroom now allows all students to actively participate, every time. The second barrier Calhoun faced was thinking of situations or examples that would appeal to a wide variety of students while teaching. As the activity has moved to the Second Life, all of the students can have a shared experience and no one is left behind.
Ms Stephanie Dillon (Director of Freshman Chemistry Laboratories, Florida State University) gave an insight into attracting students to STEM subjects. Dillon remarked that chemistry was heavily avoided by students and the course was slowly dying out. She set out to motivate students to study chemistry through a course that was both a lecture and a laboratory at the same time. The learning materials were online, quite interactive with embedded materials, which made chemistry more approachable to the students. According to feedback from the students, the learning process is extremely popular with those who struggle with maintaining regular classroom activity, from student athletes to those working different jobs. The virtual reality gives the option of having a classroom anytime, anywhere.
The audience was also integrated into the session, when some participants joined the Second Life space. The panel agreed that VWLEs provide an exciting way of learning in the 3D immersive space where students can live through experiences they would otherwise never be able to have, such as visiting the surface of the Sun, the Easter Islands 500 years ago, or the interior of a giant human cell. These technologies can also connect students across faraway geographical places and contribute to achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs) without using hard, non-renewable resources; students only require an Internet connection.
By Jana Misic