The Potential of Virtual Learning Environments

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Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)

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The Potential of
Virtual
Learning Environments

by

Demetri Orlando

for

Emerging Issues for Educational Technology Class


Professor J.
D
.

Knode

Johns Hopkins University


August 18, 2004

Intro
duction

T
his paper examine
s

educational
virtual reality
gaming
technology in
three

parts:

1
)

a

rationale for using
VR

technology in educ
ation
;

2
)

examples of
educational
and commercial
VR games

currently

being used
;

3
)

a
reas for improvement in
the
technology

and pedagogy

of
VR games

for education
.

The term
Virtual Reality

is used to describe
many types of technology,
such as
:



a
3d
computer program
,

simulation, or role
-
playing game



game
s for TV
-
attached

console
s

like
the

X
-
Box
, GameCube, and PlayStation



computer systems with special input/output devices such as sensor gloves, visual display
helmets, multiple

screens

or large
video
screens,
resistance/feedback devices
, etc.



computer
-
controlled machines in which the user

is inside of or connected to the machine
or simulator such as amusement park VR rides or cockpit flight simulators
.



For the purposes of this paper,
the following definition will suffice:


A human
-
computer
interface in which the computer creates a sensor
y
-
immersing environment that interactively
responds to and is controlled by the user


(Jog

& Withrow, n.d.)
.

I am particularly interested in
networked or multiplayer VR environments.
I will focus on VR with desktop computers as
opposed to helmets or other
more immersive technologies, because desktop VR

is most
accessible to schools.

VR

computer
programs

can be divided into
several

genres

including
:



action/adventure games
(e.g.

SOCOM

or
Halo
)



fantasy
/
role
-
playing
games
(e.g.

Dungeons & Dragons

or
Roma Victor
)



simulation
/strategy games

(e.g.

F
light
Simulator
,
Madden NFL
,

or
The Sims
)



non
-
game

environments
(e.g.
VX Interactive

or
ActiveWorlds
)


Although games

are by defin
ition fun and non
-
productive
,

in

an
educational

setting games
sh
ould have

a
productive
outcome



student learning.
I shall

refer to
these

educational

VR
games

as
virtual
learning
environments

(VLEs)
.

Part

1
: Rationale for
U
sing
VLEs

in
E
ducation

VLEs

can
promote

constructivist
learning goals because

they are
engaging,
interactive,
self
-
paced, and student
-
centered.

VLEs

can present authentic or real
-
world tasks, “messy”
problems, multiple paths to solution, and connections between content areas.
VLEs

can al
so
include

learning goals traditionally accomplished with direct
-
instruction teaching methods.
Instant feedback, assessment, and assistance avatars
provide students with valuable performance
feedback
.
Well
-
designed
VLEs

could

promote higher
-
order thinking
skills.
Whether teaching
from a constructivist or instructivist pedagogy,
VLEs

have
great
potential.


One myth which needs to be dispelled is that
learning should be fun
.
Education
is often
interesting and engaging
, but it is not necessarily fun. Indeed, m
any learning experiences require
great mental
and emotional
effort. The development of
VLEs

should be approached with this in
mind.

There is nothing inherent to
VLEs

which precludes the possibility of requiring focused and
persistent mental

effort
. For exa
mple,

Harvard researcher Chris Dede comments on the
simulation game

River City
:


V
ideo games and the River City course differ in important respects. If
video games are ultimately about entertainment and fantasy
--

"Slay the dragon
and rescue the princess,
" as Dede put it
--

River City is rooted in real science. The
curriculum conveys specific, academically targeted content related to biology and
ecology. Its aim is to teach what many middle
-
school teachers say are concepts
that are particularly hard to imp
art to their students: How to pose scientific
hypotheses
and how to design an experiment

(Rosenblum, 2004)
.”



My interest in virtual reality games stems from the belief that this technology holds great
promise for engaging students in valuable learning ex
ercises. Thinking of this technology as
merely fun & games detracts from the possibility of adopting it for educational purposes.
As this
technology finds its way into schools it will

also

be
necessary for

teachers to help students adjust
their expectation
s for interacting in this environment. Most students
probably only experience

VR in highly entertaining game settings. Approaching it with an educational intent will require
realigning the learners’ expectations.

Empirical r
esearch into

the
use of
VR
games

in education

is relatively limited
.

Albert
IP
and Roni Linser

(
2000)

evaluated the use
of a
r
ole
-
p
lay
s
imulation
for assessment purposes
in
a
p
olitical
s
cience

class. Their findings

note the following anecdotal evidence:



W
eaker students participating in
the simulation understood the material

better than
weaker students in a control group.



For students with test anxiety
the simulation was better than a traditional examination

as
an assessment tool.



Students were highly motivated to participate in the exerc
ises
.


Other studies have found positive gains due to the visual nature of VLEs,
"If the subject matter is
complex and/or if learners have low prior knowledge, then visual displays increase
comprehension" (Carney and Levin 2002, in Okan 2003, p. 261)
.

Ku
rt Squire’s (20
04) doctoral
thesis “Replaying H
istory:
L
earning
W
orld
H
istory
T
hrough
Playing
Civilization III
,


also found
that students were highly eng
aged when participating in the program
.

Garris (2004)
in

the journal
Simulation and Gaming

also noted l
inks between motivation

and learning outcomes
.

Teachers’
anecdotal repor
t
s concur


A

British teacher describing

a VR product from

Caspian Learning

abo
ut the French Revolution writes,

“S
tudents move…
round a
n 18th Century French town. They bump into characters
such as the king, bishops etc. who impart information. They use this informa
tion
to carry out various tasks;

the better they perform in the task, the more game
features they get access to.

The reaction
from students has been amazing with
fantastic motivation levels and students competing against each other's scores, not
even realising the learning that this type of "immersive" learning environment
brings. Far from threatening the teacher's role in the se
ssion, the games
technology has meant that with the students engaged
,

the teacher can take a true
facilitator's role and concentrate on increasing knowledge. The level of interaction
between students and

the teacher was a joy to watch
.


(Muzzy Lane, n.d.)


Role
-
play and simulation games are not new to education. Tom Snyder Productions has
been producing highly successful role
-
playing simulation curricula for several years. Their
Prime
-
Time
-
Math

series is a good example… Students watch video snippets from a CD which
sets up a problem solving situation.
Then without any computers e
ach student takes a role within
a team, and the team must work together to solve the problem. This type of
e
ducational
product
could be
replicated in a software product in which all the students were participating virtually.
The goal is not to have students participating virtually, but that the software might improve the
learning experience by adjusting difficul
ty level to the learners’ needs, tracking everyone’s
progress, and enabling greater levels of cooperative participation.

The unique capabilities of computer
-
mediated learning environments add to the potential
benefit of

VR games for education. Simulations
allow students to make
mistakes in sa
f
e
environments (
Ip
,

2001)
.
Multimedia

capabilities can enhance students’ experience of content by
appealing to multiple senses

with an immersive environment
. I
mmediate feedback
, multiple

difficulty level
s, and
self
-
pac
ed

capabilities
create an individualized
learning

experience
.

Disney’s
ToonTown
, designed to be used by children ages seven and older,

is a good example of
a
n

immersive desktop VLE that adjusts itself t
o the participant’s proficiency level with artificial
intelligence algorithms.

This VLE contains multiple activities, resources, communications
technologies, and assessment within a unified environment.

More research is necessary, but initial indications f
rom research into VLEs


educational
impact are positive. This, combined with motivational gains, and the unique capabilities of
computer
-
mediated environments create a compelling rationale for extending the use of VLEs in
education.




Part 2:
Examples of

VLEs Currently in Use


V
irtual
learning environments

are

currently
used
in many
educationally

s
ettings
such as:



The military uses VR in many training situations such as
flight simulators
,
war
game simulations
, and
specialized maintenance training
.



Desktop VR is used in the
architecture

industry to assist the
design process
.



Given the complexity of airplane wiring, Boeing

Corporation

trains electricians
using
immersive VR
.



Sim g
ames

such as

SimCity

and Civilization
have
been used in classrooms

to
learn
about
systems

analysis and/or historical content
.



A

text
-
based MUVE named
MOOSE Crossing

has been used in classroom
s

to
promote

creative writing.



VR si
mulators are used in some
drivers
-
ed

instruction courses.



A professor of legal studies uses a videotape based simulation program
to

alter trial
variables to assess how his st
udents react to different sets of variables
.



Foreign l
anguage
p
rograms use
role
-
playing simulations

to improve students’
language skills.



A leadership training program,
Virtual Leader

is used in management training
. The
military has also developed
leadership training

for crisis situation
.



A company named
Cre
ated
Realities

Group has developed an Internet technology
VX Interactive

allowing users to share a virtual classroom space with avatars,
audio, chat, and file display.




Liberty
’s

Kids
” for grades 4
-
8 from Riverdeep Software uses a VR game
environment to teach about the Revolutionary War period.



MIT’s
Education Arcad
e

is also developing a product

to teach about the
Revolutionary War
.



A company named
Muzzy Lane Software

is developing networked multi
-
player
role playing games to teach content from various historic
al periods.


The c
urrent
l
evel of
t
echnology in
VR game development includes
realistic 3d graphics
,
multiplayer &

massively
-
multiplayer


network
ing, shared audio, and
interactive
avatars. Input
devices
are still primarily limited to

keyboards for PC games

and console controls for game
consoles.

Sophisticated input devices like sensor gloves/suits, helmets, cockpit machines, etc,
haven’t yet reached a price
-
point to enter the mass
-
market.

The development of VR

game

technology is most advanced in
the entert
ainment industry
and the US military
. Michael Macedonia (200
1
)

in “Games, Simulation, and the Military
Education Dilemma” describes the use of VR training in each branch of the military, and their
increasing use of this technology
.
A recent development in
the military’s approach to VR
training has focused on increasingly realistic algorithms

for game behavior and outcomes
.

“Full Spectrum Warrior was created by the Institute for Creative
Technologies, with help from the Army, to teach soldiers realistic str
ategies for
surviving what the armed forces call ''military operations in urban terrain.'' As a
result, the game is unforgivingly precise. The soldiers you command are
programmed to respond the way a real soldier would. There are no magic
weapons to bail y
ou out.” (Thompson, 2004)


This shift

to more realistic scenarios

indicates a growing awareness of the educational potenti
al
of VLEs


they are moving from the domain of entertainment into the domain of education.

Another trend worth noting is that some
pr
ogramming

architecture allows gamers to
contribute to game development by writing plug
-
ins or code to improve the game.

These
modifications are referred to as “mods.”

Writing in 2001, J.C. Herz noted that until recently in
networked first
-
person
-
shooter ga
mes, players preferred to play against each other, and not the
computer’s artificial intelligence opponent, because the AI programming was too easy to beat;
but then…

“…a fiendishly clever and intelligent AI opponent [was] written by a die
-
hard gamer.
The
ReaperBot was far
-
and
-
away the best Quake opponent anyone had ever seen.
The plug
-
in rapidly disseminated within the million
-
strong player population, which
quickly began hacking away at its bugs even though such modifications were
technically illegal. Nee
dless to say, these improvements in game AI were
incorporated into the core technology of first
-
person shooters to everyone’s benefit

including the software companies’. The salient point here is not that
Quake
has great
AI, but that its architecture, enabl
es distributed innovation to occur in a parallel,
decentralized fashion.” (Herz, 2001
, p.176
)


This ability

to allow participants to contribute to the very tool they are using should
also be considered in the development of educational games, especially si
nce educators are
predisposed to modify curricular materials to their needs. Enabling educators (or even students)
to enter variables, characters, scenarios, problems, etc into VLEs
could result in more richly
developed environments.
[
ActiveWorlds

has taken this approach
.]

Distributed computing in
knowledge networking environments takes advantage of the community’s collective wisdom…


Through knowledge networking, an emergent intelligence appears in which the
vi
rtual community develops a communal memory and wisdom that surpasses the
individual co
ntributions of each participant
(
Dede
, n.d., p.25
)



Game development tools for students such as
StageCast Creator
,
Alice
,
MediaStage
, and
MicroWorlds

engage students in higher
-
order thinking as they program their own virtu
al worlds.
3d modeling tools such as
Bryce
,
SketchUp
, and
Poser

allow the creation of sophisticated
charact
ers and environments.


VLEs
can also
allow students to explore situations which they might not otherwise be
able to experience. For example, VR sports games have been used with children with physical
disabilities.

“The virtual play study allowed the childr
en

[with cerebral palsy]
to take part in
volleyball and soccer, experience swimming in the ocean, play the drums, the
guitar, paint, draw or make a dance video. They would stand in front of a video
camera and their image would be inserted into a virtual re
ality situation and
projected onto a television screen.

…[John Alexander]

says
virtual

play changed
his life in three ways: "I became more physically active. I became more confident.
And now I have more common ground with my friends.
(Rynor, 2004
, p.17
)”




Researchers at MIT’s
Education Arcade

are on the forefront of VLE development for
education
. Their current focus is on a game named
Revolution

being developed to teach social
studies content of the Revolut
ionary War period

for middle school or high school
.

Players’
avatars interact with characters from that historical period. The Education Arcade also has ties to
a commercial development company,
Muzzy
Lane Software
, which has is developing a series of
simulation games
which
also teach historical content for high school. Their current offering,
The
Calm and the Storm
, teaches the history leading up to and including the WWII period

through a
complex simu
lation scenario
. Although this game does not include VR, its artificial intelligence
processing responds to
participants
’ decisions allowing them to play ou
t

various historical
scenarios.


Part 3:
Areas for Improvement in the Technology and Pedagogy
of
VLE

Technology

Recent technological advances including widespread broadband connectivity, increased
desktop processing power,
database interoperability,
and advances in artificial intelligence
programming
have made possible the development of sophisticated
VL
Es
.

Educational and
commercial

centers such as
MIT’s

Education Arcade
, the
Institute for Creative Technology
,
and
Harvard’s
River City

project,
are bringing together game developers,
programmers, and
academic content area experts
to work on the next generation of VLEs.


The currently available educational products do not have
as sophisticated graphics as the
graphics in available entertainment products. This disparity should be addressed.
The Muzzy
Lane product which has been written up in the press recently does not even include an avatar
-
based VR interface.

As companies deve
lop VLEs, t
he following areas
should be taken

under consideration…



In the current educational climate of standards
-
based learning and high
-
stakes
-
testing
VLE development will need to prove its worth by teaching targeted academic content
with measurable res
ults.



VLEs should promote sustained mental effort, the state of “
flow
,” and deeper cognition,
or as Okan (2003) writes, “
The habits of mind (study, analysis, reflection, contemplation,
and

deliberation) that are as
sociated with logic… D
eeper search vs. shallow
exploration
…as opposed to ‘The Butterfly Defect’

[the superficial flitting from one item
to the next].”



Student interaction with the computer
-
mediated environment
should

be tracked to

provide assessment data for the teacher.
Meta
-
d
ata
such as time spent on certain tasks,
paths taken to solutions,
resilience during problem
-
solving, etc., can be built into the
assessment functions of the VLE.



Assistance
a
vatars

should continue to be dev
eloped providing more useful assistance and
interactive features.



Natural l
anguage recognition

has huge implications for VLEs. When participants can
interact with the software using natural language a new level of interaction will be
possible.



Advanced i
nput devices
, viewing systems, biofeedback, and interactivity should all
continue to be developed to provide more immersive environments.



The graphic elements could be improved to provide more realistic
space, approaching
real world video realism.



Integrat
ion with
existing
real world data could provide extremely accurate modeling and
authentic situational scenarios.

(e.g. GIS databases)



AI programming

should be able to adapt to the evolution of the simulation scenario rather
than restricting it to the devel
oper’s preconceived notions of what might transpire.



VLEs should adapt to a participant’s learning needs
/style
.



VLEs should promote social
-
educational goals including cooperation, ethical behavior,
and civic
-
mindedness.



VLEs should include groupware tools
so that participants can view and edit files within
the environment.


If implemented, these items would contribute
to
robust virtual learning environments. When
educational products achieve the same level of technical and graphical sophistication as
entert
ainment products, they will be that much more motivating and interactive.



Conclusion

Virtual

Reality

Learning Environments
may be the next

step in the development of
educational courseware and distributed learning.

As the
Brown University
Exploratory

web site
notes,


Just as film began by mimicking theater, today's Web
-
based courses imitate our
traditional course models.


VLEs open the potential for a new paradigm of e
-
learni
ng combining
elements of
constructivist pedagogy,
distance
-
education, knowledge management,

and
communications technologies
.

The limited research available

on VLEs

indicates positive
outcomes
for weaker
students

or

when
the

material is complex

or highly
-
vi
sual
;

as well as
positive motivational
effects

for all students
.

M
ore
empirical
research is necessary to evaluate

learning outcomes for

newer, more sophisticated VLEs.
Developers
should target specific
content and learning outcomes
,

and include

built
-
in as
sessment tools.

There is great potential for
creating engaging and effective learning tools aligned with 21
st

century learning goals.



References

Dede, C (n.d.).
Emerging Technologies and Distributed Learning in Higher Education
. Retrieved
July 17, 2004
from George Mason University web site:
http://www.virtual.gmu.edu/SS_research/cdpapers/hannapdf.htm


Garris, R.,

et al.

(2002)

Games, motivation, and learning:

A research and pra
ctice model.
Simulation & Gaming
,
33
(

4
)
, 441
-
467
. Retrieved August 16, 2004, from EBSCO
Academic Search Premiere database.

Herz, J. (2001) Gaming the System,What Higher Education Can Learn from Multiplayer Online
Worlds. Retrieved August
16, 2004, from E
ducause web site:
http://www.educause.edu/forum/ffpiu01w.asp

IP
, A.

& Linser, R. (
200
1
)

Evaluation of a Role
-
Play Simulation in Political Science.
Assessment
, Jan/Feb 2001. Retrieved August
16, 20
04, from EBSCO Academic Search
Premiere database.

Jog, N., & Withrow, G. (n.d.) Definitions. Retrieved August 18, 2004, from Human Interface
Technology Laboratory web site:
http:/
/www.hitl.washington.edu/scivw/EVE/IV.Definitions.html

Macedonia, M. (2001) Games, Simulation, and the Military Education Dilemma. Retrieved
August
16, 2004, from Educause web site:
http://www.edu
cause.edu/forum/ffpiu01w.asp

Muzzy Lane web site discussion board. (n.d.) Retrieved August 15
th
, 2004 from Muzzy Lane
web site:
http://www.muzzylane.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=25


Okan Z. (
2003) Edutainment: Is Learning at Risk?
British Journal of Educational Technology
34(3) 255
-
264.
Retrieved August
16, 2004, from EBSCO Academic Search Premiere
database.

Rynor, B. (2004)
Virtual CHILD'S
P
lay: Letting
D
isabled
K
ids in on the
G
ames
.
The Otta
wa
Citizen
;

The Citizen's Weekl
y
[Style Section]
. Retrieved August 18, 2004 from Lexis
-
Nex
i
s.

Squire, K. (2004)
Replaying History: Learning World History through playing
Civilization III
.
Doctoral thesis, Indiana State University. Retrieved August 19, 2004

from University of
Wisconsin web site:
http://website.education.wisc.edu/kdsquire/dissertation.html

Thompson, C. (2004).
The Making of an X Box Warrior
.
The New York Times Sunda
y
Magazine
,
August 22, 2004
.
Retrieved August 22, 2004 from the New York Times web
site:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/22/magazine/22GAMES.html

Wang, A.

(n.d.) Using Commonsense Reas
oning in Video Game Design. Retrieved August 10
,
2004 from MIT Media Lab Software Agents Group web site:
http://agents.media.mit.edu/projects/videogame