Teaching and Learning in Online Virtual Worlds.
3D multi-user virtual environments can provide a highly immersive and socially interactive way of enhancing university teaching. Most major universities have ventured into immersive 3D virtual worlds. However, existing teaching and pedagogies may not be sufficient to inform good practice in these settings. Specific skills need to be acquired by teaching professionals to run effective learning and teaching ‘in-world’. The University of Derby evaluated the use of Second Life™ for teaching and learning in Higher Education by developing virtual teaching methods and an extensive virtual world teaching space. When traditional text-based content is blended with innovative student-focused methods, the result seems to be a shift from isolated study and tutor-led instruction to student-led highly interactive group learning. Methods of teaching need to be established that place the student at the centre of the learning by involving them in the experience itself. Virtual worlds are ideal for this and findings suggest they can offer high levels of student engagement and satisfaction although whether the academic benefits of such classes are equivalent to face-to-face or existing e-learning methods is not yet fully established. Teaching in virtual worlds within Higher Education is challenging, requires planning and continual development, needs a flexible attitude towards learning, and possibly requires relinquishing control to the learner at the risk of alienating some students. The potential benefits are increased immersion and engagement with learning activities. Given the existing use of virtual immersive worlds and the impact of the internet on teaching along with the likely expansion, increasingly educationalists have to rethink student – tutor contact in these innovative learning spaces.