Educators sour on virtual worlds

Interior of the Educator Commons store on OSgrid’s Wright Plaza. (Image by Maria Korolov.)

Educators are souring on virtual worlds, as evidenced by declining participation in online forums, in virtual conference attendances and education-related destinations on the Second Life grid.

For example, Second Life Educators, the forum for educational organizations and educational use of Second Life, shows a dramatic decline in the number of messages over the past decade.

Number of messages each month in the SL Educators mailing list.

Another discussion group, the official Second Life Educators forum, has only had 214 posts since it launched in 2013.

There was also a decline in the number of attendees of the annual Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference. This is the biggest annual event for Second Life educators, with attendance as high as 3,500 people in previous years.

This year, only 800 people attended the conference, which was titled “Legacy.” Next year’s conference, by the way, is titled “VRevolutions.”

Watch “VWBPE 2017 Legacy Panel: A Look Back” below:

 

Second Life has made some mistakes when it comes to serving its education community, such as the mismanagement of the educators’ discount.

But high prices weren’t the only problem educators had with Second Life. Other issues, such as problems with usability, have not been addressed. Moving to OpenSim addressed the pricing issue for educators, while offering a greater degree of control over the environment and its users, but didn’t solve the fundamental usability problem.

As a result, the use of virtual environments like Second Life seems to be in decline.

“Educators still using the environment appear to be those who are comfortable with the environment,” said Kevin Feenan, the founder of the Rockcliffe University Consortium. “What you see now is more selective and targeted use by a smaller sub-set of the educational community.”

Feenan said he would like to see more features to support collaboration and event management.

“There needs to be better crowd control tools available,” he told Hypergrid Business.  “Better capabilities to share files, images, video, sounds, and links. Improved import and export capabilities including import and export of collaborative and group work projects.”

The lack of mobile support is also a stumbling block.

““We need to create virtual world activities that rely on low-cost phones or computers,” said Kurt Winklemann,  an associate professor in the Chemistry Department at Florida Tech. “This will allow more students, such as those in rural areas and low-income situations, to access the virtual worlds.”

Meanwhile, the numbers of students who are experienced virtual reality is already dwarfing the entire user based of Second Life and OpenSim combined.

(Image courtesy Google Expeditions.)

For example, more than 2 million students have gone on Google Expeditions, as a result of Google’s push to get free virtual reality kits into the hands of educators around the world. The company started out with low-cost cardboard viewers, but has since added more durable plastic viewers as well.

A competing platform, Nearpod, has about 2 million students every month logging into the platform to access virtual reality content, according to CEO Guido Kovalskys.

Virtual reality is also attracting big-name content producers, including the Discovery channel, as well as many other studios, museums, and other organizations relevant to educators.

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Nuela Ada

Nuela Ada is a UK-based technology writer. She is also the founder of InspireIT, a free global mentoring program for young girls and women studying or interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

  • Graham Mills

    It may be worth drawing attention to the sterling work done by the Virtual Worlds Education Round Table which continues to meet in SL and provides a useful forum for networking with other educators. Details here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/101630374387475211030

  • Educators may be souring on SL (and I would argue that a large portion of the educators previously in SL – including myself – soured on SL seven years ago when SL announced the end of the educator discount). Still, I believe the suggestion that SL is somehow a bellwether for all educational virtual world use is patently false. Use of the OpenSimulator platform to stage educational virtual world simulations continues to be a popular choice for instructors (owing to the affordability, ability to create private FERPA-compliant grids, and the available in-world building tools). Further, it is the OpenSimulator Community Conference (@ http://conference.opensimulator.org) that is the premier
    conference for educators using OpenSim (and educators appeared to be well represented at the OpenSimulator Community Conference last year). Finally, in order for the [OpenSim-based] educational use of virtual worlds to continue to grow, I believe OpenSim needs
    a viewer that can be integrated into learning management systems as a third party app (see the article @ http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2017/02/prof-asks-opensim-viewer-devs-to-help-schools). https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c21a23bdc55ba796781d7a316b3123721959784ccc0b40d273f65a5037754c35.jpg

  • Linda Rogers

    I’d like to add to Kay’s comments below that SLMOOC has been a growing mixed reality event also. I just think VWBPE and SL are not the only games in town that educators are using as Kay and Graham point out, also the development of Sansar and High Fidelity hangs heavy over our heads as the “other shoe” waiting to be dropped that will certainly rock the existing SL community.

    On another point, I used to buy into the argument that SL possibly had a prohibitively steep learning curve. I didn’t find it too hard but I didn’t try to learn everything in a day or a week either so I wasn’t sure how that affected students who needed to accomplish tasks in a set period. At that time when I started my own (music) project in SL, I hadn’t played a computer game since PacMan on Commodore64 so I had nothing to compare SL’s complexity to in those early days (2006). Then I took a New Media course that involved exposure to a multi-player online roleplaying environment (Lord of the Rings Online), the type of game played by millions of students. It was incredibly more complicated than SL, I spent hours trying to accomplish the tasks needed for my course while gamer savey millenials were able to do things much more quickly, so I really dispute the idea that SL is too complex for most students to navigate.

  • Edward Tarber

    I think the decline is only partially based on mismanagement, but the requirements of educators have changed, too. There is demand for better integration of virtual worlds into other learning environments (and vice versa), e.g. MOODLE.
    This year’s SLMOOC already demonstrated a lot of these requirements and solutions for the educator’s problems.
    One path is the introduction of web based virtual worlds running entirely inside the browser. No installation and shallow learning curves allow for a quick assessment by educators and easy introduction to students.
    As everything is based on HTML you can include the virtual world “view” into any existing web page.

    I am developing such a platform for several years now and have presented it at the Virtual Worlds Education Round Table and SLMOOC 2017. Introducing new features, like improved document management and handling is quite easy and I am always interested in new ideas for improving the platform.
    You can try out things (without any registration) at:
    https://cyba.world/location.html?locationid=800000004&dl=true

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/796e45e5ec78db3f35ab5079fbf55073150d996eff4f40f6c5a782cef6a5dd64.png

  • millayFreschi

    Second Life is a Social Virtual Environment. For applications in education that rely on the community and social aspect, or commerce, I don’t think there’s a better option. I like using other platforms that don’t have the steep learning curve but still allow for interactivity, easy document/screen sharing capabilities, video, file sharing, etc. for most educational applications. For courses in business, event planing, hospitality and that ilk, Second Life has it all.

  • I know this is mostly focused on SL but come check out Immersive Terf at http://www.3dicc.com. Education is a large part of our business and we offer a substantial education discount. Plus we have all the tools you need for a terrific virtual classroom.

    • gholden

      Hi Ron. Waiting to hear back about testing your pilot…..

  • gholden

    At some point the possibilities provided by a virtual platform can become a disadvantage. The Immersive Technology program at our school continues to flourish using Active Worlds. It serves the purpose without a high learning curve and all the “distractions” and pitfalls of an adult-oriented platform. Unfortunately this observation will continue to be ignored by teachers enamoured with the platforms that house their own social networks and virtual relationships. It will continue to be impossible for 3D virtual spaces to become mainstream in education until and unless this is recognized and addressed.