Bright Ideas

Learning in Virtual Environments

Institution: ,

Project Partners: Second Life

Implementation Date: January 2008

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Second Life is an online virtual world open to the public (although its demands for hardware and bandwidth are significant, access is free), and many universities jumped on the bandwagon early on to construct virtual simulations of their campuses for online tours, or even to host classrooms and conferences in a virtual environment. Where virtual environments really shine for teaching and learning, though, is when they are used to create more than just a standard lecture theatre or classroom, but a simulation – for architecture, machinery, or interpersonal situations that might prove dangerous to recreate in real life.

Ontario’s Loyalist College was a trailblazer in using Second Life to create simulations for military and law enforcement training, such as the border crossing simulation for the Canada Border Security Agency (CBSA) shown in the video below. Justice Studies students at Loyalist use the simulation to practise primary interview skills in a common classroom, but CBSA recruits were also offered access to the virtual border online.

As reported in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, using the simulated border crossing, Loyalist students posted impressive increases in final grade results for interview skills: grades increased 37% over a two-year period, and students reported increased confidence levels. CBSA recruits who used the simulations performed 39% better at their testing milestones than those who did not, and appreciated the immediate feedback.  Yet the resource-hungry Second Life platform caused severe technical issues for 20% of students, so in 2011 Loyalist created their own virtual environment platform using Unity3D, which runs in a browser and allows greater control over privacy and interactions.  In fact, Loyalist launched a subsidiary company, infiniteSpaces, to manage its client work for the governments of Ontario, Canada, the US Naval Postgraduate School, and others.

As technology improves and high-speed bandwidth becomes more widespread, simulations are likely to become more pervasive, for everything from virtual welding to robotic surgery.  Have you taught or learned in a virtual environment that worked for you?  If you have examples of other institutions using simulations effectively, please submit it as a “bright idea” too!

The learning in these spaces is amazing, and when we are working with 30% increases in success, there is nothing more memorable than that. - Ken Hudson, Managing Director, Virtual World Design Centre, Loyalist College

Key Contact

Name: Ken Hudson

Title: Virtual World Design Centre


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