Friday, May 14, 2010

Virtual environments in the classroom

Our core focus at ProtonMedia is to help life sciences companies create high-performance workplaces that allow their people to speed collaborative decision-making and knowledge transfer online.

But because at the end of the day our technology is built around 3-D virtual worlds, we're always interested in what's happening in the vw bubble. Virtual environments are not just for the enterprise, and avatars are not just for the movies. You can also find them in high schools and middle schools. But just like virtual environments for business, there's no playing games.

In Suffern, N.Y., for instance, 2,500 middle and high school students are learning math and foreign languages in a virtual world. Social studies students are experiencing what it was like to immigrate to the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century by creating a virtual Ellis Island and role playing.

The New York Times covered this story last week. It's an interesting article, and a few things struck me as I read it, namely:

1. Mainstream media continues to make ironic mention of PowerPoint. In this case, it's being used as a back-up for a school teacher's lecture because the Second Life platform had glitches!

2. Our kids are finding it boring to learn in the ways us grown-ups did with lectures and slides. This tells me that by the time our kids hit the workplace and are sitting in front of their PCs (if PCs even exist at the time), they're going to practically DEMAND to be using virtual environment applications. It's like what the Internet is to Gen Yers. They grew up on it, and they expect it at the workplace. The old ways of rolling out training and learning applications (Flash-based page turners) has got to change to accommodate this younger generation of future business workers and leaders.

3. Virtual environments can open a world of possibilities. If entire enterprises were using more tools like this Ellis Island simulation and more virtual 3-D workplaces like ProtoSphere, what would be the effects? If you're BP, for instance, would it perhaps make it easier and faster to come up with solutions for the Gulf oil spill or other huge environmental issues?

4. Video game was used three times. Game was used seven. Does the fact that the mainstream media still refers to these platforms as video games, aid to the stigma that already exists out there about these kinds of applications? I believe it does.

It will be interesting to see whether and how this school continues to use virtual environments as part of its curriculum. Will other schools catch on? Will virtual environments be as commonplace as computers in the classroom one day? What are your thoughts?

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