It has been noticeable from the increase in related posts across numerous ed sector discussion groups, that the use of virtual worlds as educational spaces is on the rise. One of the notable commonalities of these spaces within many of the virtual world spaces I have explored, and in many of the posts I have read on the subject, is, however, that they often either re-create the physical campus or are representationally institutional.
Given that so many of the virtual platforms being employed for educational purposes are free of narratives imposed by the platforms themselves, enabling teachers to form their own stories, it is incongruous to see institutions importing these physical learning spaces into the virtual environments when such a richer narrative could be presented. As the following suggests, these spaces can fall far short of the expectations of students.
“students were in no rush to take up the opportunities on offer in the pre-planned, pre-built facilities, but had to be forced to use areas purpose-built for their courses with the threat of graded assessments for virtual activities” (Herold, 2012, p.5)
The use of supportive narratives that create positive emotional states will not only facilitate learning but will develop in students a sense of attachment to that learning space (Graetz, 2006). Creating spaces that students must be forced to engage with can therefore only be counter-intuitive to supporting learning. It behoves virtual world educators to consider that the traditional classroom, whether in the physical or the virtual world, does not encourage student engagement. And though this does not discount the possibility of engaged learning in such spaces I would agree with the argument that “engaged learning is an emergent property of learning spaces and environments that are designed to provide affordances that actively encourage such engagement.” (Thomas, 2010, p. 503)
Rather than brick and mortar, eyes to the front environments, opportunities arise to develop social environments, enabling emergent properties such as social space that “underlies conceptions of social constructivist practice, collaborative learning and engaged learning” (Thomas, 2010, p. 506). Instead of imprisoning learning inside physical world type structures, educators should be free to bring their creativity to the fore by developing learning spaces that motivate and inspire. Being part of a collegiate community and entering its physical learning space should create a sense of excitement about learning and so it should be in virtual learning spaces.
As Graetz (2006) points out, coherence, complexity, legibility and mystery are four cognitive determinants of environmental preference, but he also suggests an additional concept; enchantment. Surely it is virtual worlds above most other learning spaces that afford us the opportunity to enchant our students.
Featured Image: Screen grab from the Literacy Project – A game-based immersive environment for developing literacy skills developed in Open Simulator.
Graetz, K. A. (2006) The psychology of learning environments. EDUCAUSE Review [online], 41 (6) pp. 60-75. [Accessed 7 June 2021].
Herold, D.K. (2012) Second Life and academia – reframing the debate between supporters and critics. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research [online]. 5 (1), pp. 1-22. [Accessed 7 June 2021].
Thomas, T. (2010) Learning spaces, learning environments and the dis’placement of learning. British Journal of Educational Technology [online], 41 (3), pp. 502-511. [Accessed 7 June 2021]