I know that if you write a blog, you will get criticism, and it’s been a good week for that, what with the Tapscott and William’s response and the reaction to my posting about virtual worlds. I really do welcome your comments, positive or negative, and usually I am happy to let the comments speak for themselves.

However, I am going to defend my comment that Jeffrey Young’s article was ‘excellent’. Yes, it may not have been comprehensive in its coverage of exciting virtual world applications, but it raised some issues that I have had for some time about virtual worlds. Here’s what I wrote in response to the responses:

In response to Frustrated Reader and Liz, I thought it was an ‘excellent’ article because it focused on the need to move virtual worlds from what are still a very limited set of applications into the mainstream of education.

At the moment, developing virtual worlds requires more time and specialised programming knowledge than most instructors have time for. The article also discussed what doesn’t work well in virtual worlds, and that is trying to replicate a physical classroom.

The problem is not the concept of virtual worlds, but imagining what they are possible of doing in educational terms, and then building easy-to-use tools that enable virtual worlds to be easily integrated into a wider educational experience.

I recognise that some valuable work is being done to explore the potential of virtual worlds for education, but too often virtual world applications seem self-indulgent in that they satisfy the needs of programmers rather than learners.

What do I mean by an authentic educational virtual world? One that focuses on learning outcomes that can be applied not only in virtual space but also in the physical world. There is no need for this to be authenticated institutionally, but learning is the name of the game.

Yes, I do think that virtual worlds have tremendous potential, and yes, some good work is going on, but it needs to come out of the fringe and into the mainstream, and I don’t see that happening yet – which is why I liked the article.

So, please keep your comments coming – but I do reserve the right to reply occasionally!


  1. Thanks for your response Tony.

    I agree that researching the ways that virtual worlds contribute to learning is extremely important. It is one of my key interests, particularly in my role as co-chair of the interdisciplinary and international 2011 Gordon Research Conference on Visualization in Science and Education. At least one of our sessions will specifically address learning and community-building in virtual worlds. Here is the link to the 2009 agenda. . We are just beginning to plan the program for a year from July.

    However, I think that many critics like Young (both inside and outside of education) miss the bigger picture. Second Life is not just a platform to be tested. It is a community, and any analysis or project that does not address and take advantage of the unique affordances of such an international and interdisciplinary environment is well wide of the mark. It’s the equivalent of working at a university and never leaving the campus or engaging with anyone outside the boundaries, whether local or with other educational institutions worldwide.

    My explorations in Second Life (since Nov. 2006, intensively since Nov. 2007) have included forming friendships (and in many cases collaborating) with dozens of talented and creative avatars from education, business, art, film, music, technology, and much more. There are entire television networks with a wide range of shows, most of which are available online and from iTunes. No other virtual world has anything remotely close to these opportunities at present. SL is currently the one virtual community that everyone who is interested in using 3-D space for any purpose needs to be a part of. End of story.

    I applaud the exploration of other virtual spaces, and I do a lot of that myself. But anyone who frames the choice as leaving Second Life for better alternatives is at best misguided and at worst doing damage to the potential for adoption of virtual worlds by more conservative folks in all sectors. It’s not about the technology (which will evolve both in and out of SL), it’s about the community.

    Educators who come into Second Life without connecting with the community and helping their students to form connections need help in understanding what I’ve been explaining above. I and many others are ready and anxious to provide that assistance. Mr. Young did not speak with enough SL residents to figure this out. That, and the damage such uninformed commentary can do in the minds of those who are ambivalent about technology in general, were my major complaints about his narrow report.

  2. I have spent the last year and half looking at, researching, and discussing virtual worlds in general, and Second Life specifically in education. Providing students with an opportunity to explore, learn, and collaborate in virtual worlds is an experience that should not be overlooked if possible.

    If I were an educator considering Second Life I would first try to find out what is already there that may apply to the course, discipline area, or specific learning objective..before trying to create it myself..chances are it’s there. With over 30,000 sims and growing Second Life has a wealth of content available for educators already.

    When I first started reviewing universities in Second Life I have to admit I was a bit perplexed. I could see what they were doing for marketing in Second Life, but it wasn’t always so easy to see how they were applying the tools of this virtual world for education. Now I know..these students were dispersed, they were actively involved in projects, they were collaborating and they were taking advantage of the learning opportunities available on Second Life..which as a platform for education is what you want to see.

    Perhaps they were touring places like David Ramsey’s maps, SciLands, role playing, engaging in discussion groups, or managing a business to learn about entrepreneurship. The opportunities are their to quickly start up these types of engaging learning activities.

    Reality is these engaging learning opportunities are there, it does not take a programmer to design them, while companies such as IBM, the US govenment, people like DB Bailey (David Denton), collaborations such as that between USC and Cairo University discover the tremendous advantages of Virtual Worlds we will still be discussing the learning curve, the need for programming and “spinning’ over the minutia ..when we really need to “just do it..”

  3. I have spent 15 years developing online virtual worlds. The sad fact is that the educational community cares only about reinventing education and is incapable of understanding the design principles of virtual worlds.


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