Category: Second Life

Study: Tough Times in RL Lead to Greater Second Life Satisfaction

An interesting study by Edward Castronova over at Indiana and Gert G. Wagner at Berlin University of Technology came out this summer in the social sciences journal Kyklos. Castronova and Wagner examined life satisfaction ratings from the 2005 World Values Survey and another survey of life satisfaction among Second Life players. Subjecting both sets of data to regression analysis showed correlations between difficult problems in real life leading to a more intense time online. Here’s their abstract:

We study life satisfaction data from the 2005 World Values Survey and a 2009 survey of users of the virtual world Second Life. Among Second Life users, satisfaction with their virtual life is higher than satisfaction with their real life. Regression analysis indicates that people in certain life situations, such as unemployment, gain more life satisfaction from “switching” to the virtual world than from changing their real-life circumstances. Thus, an unemployed person can become happier by visiting Second Life rather than finding a job. Correspondingly, problems in real life are positive predictors of intense use of virtual life.

It’s one of those “I could have told you that,” studies. The importance of the study is, now you can say “Research shows that people with real life difficulties tend to gain greater satisfaction in virtual worlds.” Castronova sums it nicely on the Terra Nova blog:

We are not finding any causal effects here, just correlations. What’s noteworthy is the magnitude of the correlations. Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the “biggies,” like health, employment, and family relationships. (By the way, in case you didn’t know, money does not make you happy.)

He has a link to his copy of the study here. The official journal link is here.

References:

Castronova, E. & Wagner, G. E. (2011, August). Virtual life satisfaction. Kyklos  64(3). 313-328.
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Beyond Second Life

Tony Bates refers us to an article in the Chronicle by Jeffrey Young: After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds.

The article details the challenges universities have faced when trying to integrate SL into lessons. Consequently, they are exploring other venues for instruction that offer more controls and fewer distractions.

Sometimes this leads to additional problems. Few companies in this specialty are as established as SL’s parent, Linden Labs. Some have gone broke, taking virtual classroom space with them when the plug was pulled.

A couple of promising efforts either underway or coming this year include Open Cobalt from Duke University, funded by the NSF and the Mellon Foundation, and OpenSimulator which leases virtual space for instructional purposes.

Several initiatives are out there to offer classroom space to educators at no cost to them. Young notes Aaron E. Walsh over at Boston College hosts about 2,000 educator accounts on Education Grid, a world devoted to online instruction that Walsh set up through his project, the Immersive Education Initiative. The mix on Education Grid is about 80% university profs and 20% secondary teacher accounts. The IEI leases space from OpenSimulator.

To counter the academic exodus, SL now offers a version of its software universities can host on local servers, which effectively prevents outsider access and the ability for students to wander over to red light districts.

It’s interesting to see the idea mature from a fanciful notion, to gritty reality, to something tailored for specific educational needs. For instance, initially universities set up virtual spaces identical to real world lecture halls. This resulted in unwieldy virtual space that was hard to navigate. It’s also interesting to see the day coming when SL will be considered “old hat” by professors and students, who will be using newer, more robust environments geared specifically for virtual education from the ground up.


No Need to Reinvent the Wheel to Revolutionize Educational Video Games

(Fellow blogger Tom DeRosa and I are trading posts this week. He runs the excellent blog, I Want to Teach Forever. Be sure and take a look at his book, too.  Details after the article – JR)

I am not a gamer. I don’t own any consoles, and the only game I play with any regularity is Tetris online. When I look at video games today, I usually see them through the eyes of an educator. This is why I’m so convinced that everything we need to make paradigm-shifting educational video games that kids will actually play has already been created. Instead of starting from scratch, educators need to team up with innovative video game studios and merely tweak the powerful learning-based game models that already exist.

My revelation came over winter break as I was visiting my family in New Jersey. What was to be a very busy holiday turned into a week of me sitting on my Dad’s couch, sick as a dog. My father has an xBox 360 and regularly plays games that involve running around and shooting things (first person shooters or FPS in gamer parlance), none of which I’ve had interest in. This year he was focused on a game that was very different, where he was given a wide open world with innumerable choices and methods of achieving goals and completing tasks: Fallout 3, widely regarded as one of the best xBox titles ever (if not best video game ever).

It is a mix of first person shooter, role playing game (RPG), puzzle (in the vein of Myst or Riven) and open-world exploration (like a single player Second Life) on a scale that by all accounts is hard to find elsewhere. In this game, you make decisions that change your character, and who you are changes the possibilities of what you can do.  You solve difficult problems, most of which have more than one answer. It’s the kind of thinking that we want students to do in school, that we know they need for college and beyond, but it often gets buried beneath rote memorization and test-prep strategies.

Fallout 3 represents a world of well-designed, immersive, and most importantly popular video games that have most or all of the structural elements that make learning possible. These elements are now fairly common in top games:

  • Players make decisions that effect not only themselves, but the world around them.
  • Players are faced with multi-step problems that require logic and reasoning skills.
  • Collaboration and cooperation is encouraged (if not required).
  • An engrossing story creates a context that’s fun and far different than their school-influenced concept of “learning”.
  • Players are given small, specific tasks to complete, keeping meaningful goals in clear sight.
  • Each small task completed is often part of a bigger picture, and each one opens up the possibility for other tasks that keep the player going.
  • Most tasks or problems have multiple solutions.
  • A comprehensive, fairly automatic system tracks players’ achievements, and can be referred back to at any time.
  • There’s some level of freedom to explore and to choose which tasks they will do first (or at all).
  • Often, tasks require or would be made easier with background knowledge of a subject players might not already know about. They are often forced to look up and learn about these topics if they truly want to reach their goals.
  • Players are encouraged to go back and replay part or all of the game differently in order to reach measurable goals.

If you replaced the word “players” with “students” above, wouldn’t this list appear to be the features of an excellent, high-achieving classroom?

The immersive video game of today encourages, even requires learning and higher order thinking. The structure is there. More importantly, let’s not forget that these games represent the most popular and ubiquitous games available, with a generally bigger audience than movies and TV shows.

The only thing missing is for educators to partner with the studios to incorporate content across the curriculum, taking advantage of what’s already there. Isn’t that what the best teachers always do?

This is a guest post by Tom DeRosa, aka “Mr. D” of I Want to Teach Forever. You can find more ideas, resources and inspiration for teachers on his blog, or in his book Ten Cheap Lessons: Second Edition.


Five Video Games for ESL and Language Development

Kathy Sargent, outgoing editor for TechEdge, (who is a great editor and has done a remarkable job over the years as Director of Communications for TCEA) recently accepted my article on “Virtual ESL” for the next issue. This post expands on the article with games suitable for ESL and the ongoing development of English skills. Certain video games are particularly well-suited to language acquisition and development, a point I made here a couple years ago. There is a heavy dollop of personal opinion in the assertions below, and I welcome dissenting views. Some of these suggestions are relatively expensive, some are free, and all but one are available online.

  1. Second Life
    Second Life
    has a long history of educational adaptation, and the idea of using the environment for ESL purposes was adopted early. Like many efforts with no external motivations however, some formal ESL initiatives have fizzled over time. One still going strong is the Second Life English Community. Founder Kip Boahn had a nice article profiling his work in Forbes a while back. Players from almost 100 different countries regularly gather for such online ESL activities as phonetic treasure hunts through SLEC.

    The global reach, open nature, and ease of use offered by SL, (not to mention the fact it’s free), have helped academics around the world key in to the platform for language training. Since avatars can type or talk over a simple computer connection, engaging native speakers in an interesting 3D environment that is not overly taxing to most hardware results in an ideal environment for language learning.
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  2. World of Warcraft.
    Of the millions of players frequenting the popular MMORPG, you might be surprised to learn there are some engaged in educational activities amidst all that medieval fantasy action. The most famous group devoted to exploring pedagogy in WoW is the guild Cognitive Dissonance, run by Lucas Gillespie and Peggy Sheehy. Lucas’ blog EduRealms follows his educational efforts in the game.

    It is very easy to start up groups and guilds in WoW, and while Asian gold farmers have annoyed North American players in the past, Dr. Edd Schneider over at SUNY-Potsdam gained considerable attention in 2007 for suggesting WoW was a promising platform for ESL in Asia, provided stateside supervised guidance was included.
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  3. My Word Coach
    Although available for the Wii, the DS version of My Word Coach offers players an easier time writing, with its included stylus and touch screen. Plus, the “DS factor” makes it more portable and affordable for classroom or after-school use. It’s not promoted as an ESL product, but the vocabulary training couched in a gaming environment works just as well for non-native speakers.
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  4. Webkinz
    The popular children’s game tied to collectible plush dolls offers a restricted communications feature. “Kinz chat” uses basic sentence elements for players to communicate. While Webkinz probably is not suitable to older ESL students, for the younger crowd it offers a fun and relatively painless way to introduce English. It’s also offered in 12 other languages, so gamers can play in their native tongue as well as the Queen’s.
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  5. Whyville
    Whyville
    is the free online world designed for children learning, and it has an impressive pedigree with corporate and government sponsorship stretching back several years. Although its strengths lie in STEM games and activities, one of the key features of Whyville appealing to teachers is the sanitized chat feature where cursing is automatically edited out.

In the process of investigating the many mini-games out there, a couple of nifty titles rose to the top. The advantages to using online mini-games for ESL include the fact that teacher supervision is not as heavily needed as it is for the above examples. On the other hand, mini-games typically focus on a much narrower skill set, and kids may tire of them quickly.

A couple of my favorites in the mini-game category included Word Frog, which is a neat way to drill antonyms and such, ala Number Crunchers. I also enjoyed Grammar Ninja,which drills identifying parts of speech in a playful way.

New Issue: Journal of Virtual Worlds Research

A new issue of Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is out. This issue’s focus: Pedagogy, Education, and Innovation in Virtual Worlds. Click here for the journal’s home page, where you can access current and past articles. James Paul Gee has a paper in this issue entitled Games, Learning, and 21st Century Survival Skills. Many of the other articles focus on Second Life in education. There is one on Quest Atlantis. JVWR is published by the Virtual Worlds Research Consortium, a Texas non-profit.


The Art of Marriage Proposals Through Gaming

We Aggies know a thing or two about proposing to our beloved, especially if she is an Aggie too. (Alas, my wife is from Louisiana, where everybody professes loyalty to LSU, whether they attended that fine school or not.) There is one tree on the A&M campus in particular, the Century Tree, that has a tradition of serving as a pop-the-question spot for thousands of couples. Here’s a YouTube video of one such marriage proposal. (If a woman is lucky enough to be or snag a member of the Corps of Cadets, as in this video, she gets quite a bit of extra pomp and ceremony throughout the entire wedding process than the average Aggie these days. The Corps has dwindled from comprising the entire student body back in the day to a couple thousand or so students now.)

There have been many other creative proposals at TAMU over the years (probably mostly by guys who weren’t in the Corps (see parenthetical above)). During my graduation ceremony, for instance, an Aggie awaited his beloved to descend from the podium, her diploma in hand, before going down on one knee. The MC had been briefed ahead of time and paused in calling out names to wish them well, and everybody in the coliseum whooped and hollered for the couple.

Another story that comes to mind dates back to when a thriving hot air balloon business existed in College Station, and Kyle Field was left unlocked and accessible most of the time. The fellow had friends buy hundreds of paper plates, and had them spell out the Marry me? question on the bleachers so she could read it as they floated over in the balloon.

So, Aggies know a thing or two about proposing to their sweethearts. But there are lots of neat stories about guys finding creative ways to pop the question. I recall one fellow hiding the ring in a box of Cracker Jacks and setting up a picnic for his girlfriend on a cliff overlooking the ocean. After the couple finished off the meal, for desert he handed over the box, and waited nervously for her to open the “toy surprise.” She reared back her arm to toss the packet over the cliff, willing to carelessly toss away what was usually a cheap trinket. He went ballistic, grabbing her arm and yelling, “Wait!” She opened it, and was surprised, but it was a close call and he almost lost an expensive diamond engagement ring.

Guys dating women who like games seem to consistently hit upon the idea of sneaking marriage proposals into the game. Several men over the years have popped the question through crossword puzzles, convincing complicit editors to run rigged games. Here’s one example.

But finally, we have a real gaming geek story. This fellow re-programmed his girlfriend’s game so a ring and wedding cake appeared upon reaching a certain score. Bernie Peng ported over a copy of Bejeweled to the Nintendo DS, and gave it as a present to his girlfriend. There is no official version of Bejeweled for the DS, you see, so this was something special for her. Ordinarily such shenanigans might be frowned upon by corporate, but PopCap Games (owner of Bejeweled and other popular casual titles) turned it into a publicity event.

There have been marriages in virtual worlds, notably in Second Life and World of Warcraft. Somehow, cheating in marriage garners more publicity. But electronic marriage is old news, since any enhancement to communication leads inevitably to more social interaction. The book, The Victorian Internet, detailed a legal marriage performed at a distance via telegraph and Morse Code. But as video games continue to gain a stronghold in the public psyche, look for more social interactions like marriage, and social research, online.

CFP: TechEd 2009

Here’s part of a recent e-mail from Maureen Julian about an interesting conference coming up:

Dear Friends,

Our annual TechEd conference provides unique learning experiences to thousands of education leaders and practitioners from public/private K-12 schools, community colleges, and universities. This Call for Presentations is key to fulfilling the needs of our TechEd audience. TechEd’s mission is to highlight pioneering methods of delivering education in a learner-centered environment through effective uses of technology, learning communities, diverse learning styles, collaborative partnerships and innovative administrative practices.

Here are just a few examples of the topics our attendees are excited to learn more about!

Animation/Gaming
Nanotechnology
24/7 Learning
Facebook / Myspace & You Tube
STEM Education
Second Life…and more

For a complete listing of session themes, please go to:

http://www.techedevents.org/2009/?page=449

Submission Deadline is October 17, 2008

Seven Questions to Ask Before Using a Video Game In the Classroom

Today is the first day of school for most public districts in Texas. With that in mind, I’d like to offer seven important questions teachers should ask before using any videogame in the classroom. This list is based in part on a paper I delivered to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), 2005 Convention.

  1. Is the game’s cognitive load appropriate for your students? Many simple edutainment titles are aimed at younger audiences. Consequently, these titles are often inappropriate for older students, who will find them less of a challenge and potentially insulting to their intelligence. Conversely, modifications of such titles as those in the Neverwinter Nights series, or the Civilization series, might be beyond the abilities of younger audiences.
  2. Is the game easily modifiable? Many educational games on the market offer no capabilities for modification, giving teachers a “what you see is what you get” approach. Some games might have a higher level of adaptability for classroom use. For instance, a foreign language teacher can run a copy of The Sims 2 on her classroom computer and simply change the operating language, offering an instant immersive language environment for her students. Ideally, however, a game can be easily modified by the teacher, so that he can insert whatever objectives are needed into the gaming environment. Such modifications are more difficult and time consuming but doable, as seen in several examples for the Neverwinter Nights engine and Second Life.
  3. Does the game align with your standards (local, state, national)? Fortunately this question is increasingly being addressed by educational video game companies, as they realize that the purchasing of their titles in large quantities by schools largely hinges on this question. Look at the excellent job Tabula Digita is doing making sure their math games are aligned with state and national standards. Hopefully the company selling the product has already done the alignment for you, however your job as a teacher will be to make sure you know where the product lines up with the standards you are responsible for teaching. If nobody has done that previously, chance are good you will have to do it yourself if you need to justify using the game in your classroom to parents and administrators.
  4. Can the game present useful outcomes within a short time period? Class periods are generally short. Time spent on any lesson is perforce brief. Many excellent video games with learning potential are hugely complex and take hours to complete. However, you have just minutes in your class to drive home a point or two. Therefore you will need to eschew games that take an inordinate amount of time to develop their pedagogical points. Also, setting up a game and getting students going takes additional time, whether in a lab, on laptops, or on classroom computers. Setup and shutdown times will decrease the available minutes students can spend on the game and its learning objectives.
  5. Does the game train or teach? This is a critical difference classroom teachers need to fully understand. Most “serious games,” as they are commonly called, train players in something. This training may involve safety practices, industrial techniques, machinery operation, or a host of other skills. Academic games aligned to state standards will focus on testable outcomes and high stakes exams. Most teachers will not want to deviate from the standards they are required to teach, or at least have a ready explanation as to how the game is germane to their subject matter. For instance, a geometry teacher could certainly justify using a game that involves creating floor plans; a history teacher can find plenty of justification for the many Civilization mods out there; and a language arts teacher can justify the typing and reading involved in most any higher level game. Regardless, if a game actively seeks to teach academic content, its appropriateness for the classroom will naturally rise above a rival game designed more for work skill enhancement.
  6. Does the game track player progress? Videogames that keep track of the progress your students make will lift that burden off your shoulders. Ideally the game will offer reporting functions on each student so you can easily track their progress, and perhaps suggest remedial actions or advanced activities if a student is behind or ahead of the norm.
  7. Are the graphics and gaming quality on par with contemporary entertainment titles? It is certainly possible to buy educational games which fall far below the expectations of students used to higher quality offerings. Since studies show that nearly two-thirds of all households play videogames, it behooves us to use quality games in the classroom since our students will likely be used to high standards. It’s always good to pilot test any particular title with students you trust. If they like the game, it’s probably worth the investment to outfit a school computer lab or buy a site license. Dr. Brian Woodfield over at BYU noted how a teacher set up Virtual ChemLab on one machine in the back of her classroom, which eventually led to the school purchasing a site license. I do mini-studies with my own kids from time to time. Also, my paper on assessing higher order thinking in videogames might help pinpoint the pedagogical potential of games with which you are unfamiliar.

In conclusion, any classroom intervention is worth serious consideration beforehand. Hopefully, these seven questions will help steer you toward quality products. Educational videogames are strong tools for teaching in the classroom. Judicious selection of appropriate titles may result in many positive results.

References:
Rice, J. (2005). Evaluating the suitability of video games for k-12 instruction. Paper presented to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), 2005 International Convention, Orlando, FL.

SL Event: "Stepping into Literature: Bringing New Life to Books through Virtual Worlds"

Got this in my e-mail today. Very interesting how virtual worlds like SL are being adapted for educational purposes in multiple ways. I particularly like the “artist conceptions” of fictional locations recreated in SL, allowing folks the opportunity to virtually visit a work of fiction.
On August 4th, 2008, and again on August 6th, Alliance Library System, in cooperation with LearningTimes, will offer a one-day conference exploring the possibilities of using virtual worlds to teach literature and to promote its appreciation for people of all ages.

The conference, entitled “Stepping into Literature: Bringing New Life to Books through Virtual Worlds,” will be held entirely in the virtual world of Second Life, allowing participants to attend from any location with a computer and a broadband internet connection.

Whether you teach literature, or are just intrigued by the potential for learning in 3D worlds, we hope you will join us for a meaningful exploration of the instructional possibilities.

Cost to attend is US $65 per person. For group rates (5 or more) write to john at learningtimes dot net

Click here to register: http://tinyurl.com/6ba6nq

Or visit the conference website at:

http://www.steppingintovirtualworlds.org.

Participants will take take part in a virtual book discussion, and take field trips into literature-based locations that have been created in Second Life. You may find yourself in an Edgar Allen Poe poem, visiting a “secret garden” or learning about gothic literature in an authentically spooky mansion.

Keynotes:

Beth Ritter-Gluth (Desideria Stockton in Second Life) will be the keynote speaker and her talk is on “A Vision for Making Literature Come Alive in Virtual Worlds.” She is the creator of “Literature Alive in Second Life” and teaches English and Women’s Studies at Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, PA.

The keynote author is Kim Rufer-Bach who will speak on “Using Virtual Worlds to Promote Real Life Literature.” Kimberly is co-author of “Creating Your World: The Official Guide to Advanced Content Creation for Second Life” (Sybex, October 2007) and is currently at work on “The Second Life Grid: The Official Guide to Communication Collaboration, and Community Engagement.”

Full conference schedule and registration information is available at the conference website, http://www.steppingintovirtualworlds.org

Or register now at: http://tinyurl.com/6ba6nq

Games Empower Learners: Gee’s Speech at GLS4

James Paul Gee over at Arizona State is renowned among educational gamers because he wrote what is widely considered to be the first scholarly book on educational applications of videogames: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003). Recently, he keynoted the 4th annual Games, Learning, and Society Conference. Michael Abbott over at Gamasutra caught up with him and detailed the meat of his speech here. Some excerpts:

Gee sees the current U.S. educational system as inadequate to the task of addressing the problems of an increasingly complex world. He stated that “21st century learning must be about understanding complex systems,” and he believes many video games do a better job at this than the antiquated sender-receiver teaching model that dominates American classrooms.

Passion communities encourage and enable people of all ages to do extraordinary things. Gee believes the ‘amateur knowledge’ that arises from this immersive involvement often surpasses ‘expert knowledge,’ and cited fantasy baseball as an example.

Other highlights:

- Passion communities give users power and control, not necessarily money.

- He cites a young lady who learned PhotoShop in order to make better clothes for her Sims characters, later for avatars in Second Life. She remains uninterested in fashion, though, preferring computers because they empower her.

- Gee cited the game Portal, which could be construed as a parody of school life, as a means of allowing players tools to construct reality in the game’s environment. RL schools should be like this, Gee mused. “Education isn’t about telling people stuff, it’s about giving them tools that enable them to see the world in a new and useful way.”

- Complex games engender involvement in whole new ways for players. Mods allow players to manipulate the environment in ways they see fit. Mods are tools allowing players to put personal play theories to the test.

Abbot sums up:

Gee clearly situates video games within an overall theory of learning and literacy with genuine power to transform students and equip them to address complex problems.

References:
Abbot, M. (2008, July 14). Analysis: Games create ‘passion communities’ for learning. Gamasutra. [Online]. Available: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=19389