This is the second in a series of guest blogs on innovative developments in online learning in Ontario post-secondary institutions. (The first was examples of hybrid learning.)
In this post, Judith Tobin of Contact North| Contact Nord focuses on examples of virtual worlds and simulations, and mobile apps. Here is her guest post:
In my previous guest blog, I highlighted examples of online and hybrid learning innovations in Ontario post-secondary institutions that were serving as vehicles for bringing new ideas into the classroom, such as restructuring class time, collaborative learning, and changes in the teacher/student relationships. This time, I have focused on applications of leading edge technologies, including virtual environments, simulations, and mobile apps. These technologies are just beginning to have a role in learning and considerable research and experimentation are taking place to determine their optimal contributions. The innovations below explore student learning and responses, while working to make the technologies easy to use and flexible.
Virtual Worlds and Simulations
The Virtual World Design Centre at Loyalist College in Belleville has been working with virtual environments for a number of years, using the open source software Second Life (http://secondlife.com) since 2006. They have recently adopted the Unity 3D authoring tool as they find it more adaptable for educational purposes.
Virtual worlds are successful in education because students identify with the characters and the situations portrayed and so become active participants in the events on screen. The learning from these experiences carries over into real life applications. In an award-winning and educationally successful project, the staff in the Virtual World Design Centre created a virtual border crossing at which students’ avatars take on the roles of border crossing guards, interviewing travellers who present challenges of documentation, prohibitions, smuggling, and difficult communication. The virtual traveler interviews take place in class and each encounter is then analyzed by the entire group so that best practices are identified. Applications for completely online learning are being investigated.
The students at Loyalist found the virtual experience provided them with more than enhanced content learning; they also developed confidence, observational skills, and the capacity to respond to developing situations.
Other virtual environments created at Loyalist included a virtual hospital tour for secondary school students and a factory simulation for the repair of machinery for food processing. Experience in these virtual worlds prepares students for more effective and informed exposure to the real environments.
Carleton Virtual is an online virtual environment resembling the physical setting of Carleton University in Ottawa that was constructed to explore how virtual environment can be used to enhance learning. An English-as-a-second-language teacher used the virtual meeting space so that her students could practice language usage and collaboration skills in a risk-free environment. They used the virtual classrooms, meeting rooms, and other spaces, with many students participating more actively in the virtual spaces than in a face-to-face classroom. A virtual archeological site allowed students to better understand the archeological processes that create knowledge, when a visit to a functioning site was not possible.
At the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Oakville, students in the Veterinary Technician Program could no longer have access to live animals and cadavers for both ethical and health reasons. In response to this need, the Network for Innovation and Leadership in Education built a 3D dog skeleton with images that can be manipulated and disassembled. The skeleton was then built into a web-based learning tool as a complete package for online student learning, including mobile applications. The simulation is being tested for educational effectiveness.
In Fall 2012, all full-time, first-year students enrolled in the four-year Bachelor of Business Administration Program at Nipissing University in North Bay will receive iPads. Leading up to this innovation, pilot projects are being undertaken to explore applications for teaching and learning. For example, connectivity was set up so a professor could use an iPad while moving about the room and illustrating and annotating normally static PDF documents, then saving the revised slides for class distribution. Meanwhile, the students would use their iPads to add their own notes to the same slides. The first year of the iPad usage will be dedicated to introducing students to software for document preparation and research; more advanced learning applications will be developed over time to emphasize the collaborative and creative possibilities of the iPad.
Nipissing is also exploring the development of apps for mobile learning but, for ease of access and flexibility of revision, these would be web applications hosted on web servers that would look and function like apps.
Using mobile apps to encourage language learning and practice outside the classroom has been the focus of recent work at George Brown College. Extensive research is being done on student ownership of mobile devices and data plans, preferences for activities in mobile learning, and an instructional design framework to encourage active participation and extensive language usage. From this, a set of design principles for effective mobile learning was created. The Mobile Learning Specialist at George Brown would like to collaborate with colleagues in other institutions on mobile learning developments.
Research is an essential component of all these innovations as post-secondary institutions ponder and test how these technological and software advances can best be used to serve learners. They are often expensive and require technological and pedagogical sophistication to develop and implement. The educators want to be sure they are using them as tools for effective learning.
Thank you, Judith, and if anyone else would like to do a guest post of an innovation in online learning at their institution, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more details on each application go to the following links:
Border Simulation – Student Learning in a Virtual World: Loyalist College
Simulations for Learning: Loyalist College
Carleton Virtual: Carleton University
A Simulation-Based Learning Tool for Students in the Veterinary Technician Diploma Program: Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning
Going mobile: Nipissing University
Mobile-assisted language learning: George Brown College
For more examples of innovation in online learning in Ontario, go to: Pockets of Innovation