23 February 2010

Using Virtual Worlds to Learn About This One

This guest post is contributed by Pamelia Brown, who writes for the blog associate degree. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: pamelia.brown@gmail.com.

Second Life has already proven to be a valuable way to teach psychology students to diagnose mental health ailments and interact with avatars that can mimic real-world problems. But virtual psychology isn't the only area being utilized by the program.

The University of Arkansas is using Second Life to design model hospitals that might one day be used to guide the layout and building of real-world counterparts. Spearheaded by Dr. Craig Thompson of the computer science and engineering department and Dr. Fran Hagstrom of the rehabilitation, human resources and communication disorders department, the movement seeks to use a Second Life hospital as a way to track and monitor the hundreds of hypothetical situations that face real doctors and nurses every day. For instance, the SL hospital could be used to monitor how inventory is used and how storage closets are designed for nurses and aides. That's the kind of thing that would be expensive and almost impossible to measure in the real world, but the cost-free SL hospital only needs the investment of time before its results can yield dividends.

Similarly, Arkansas State University bought a chunk of land (digital islands cost real-world cash) to re-create its campus online and teach a variety of classes including art history. The methods used are similar to the ones I've noted when it comes to teaching psychology: By pushing students to create situations they'd face in the real world, they wind up with a better understanding of the concepts.

These are just the beginnings of what it will mean to teach via a virtual world, but it's clear that the future of the field is a bright one.

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