RE: [xmca] zopeds and virtual learning environments

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Sun Jan 07 2007 - 08:53:20 PST

Here is what I struggle with in reading the posts about virtual education (admission - virtual environments are a large part of my life because my son is a total gamer - he spends a great deal of his free time in WarCraft, and I have to admit I don't understand a damn thing about it) - it seems virtual education, from what I am deciphering at the moment, is taking increased cooperation as sort of an end-in-view for the educational project. And it is true, I watch my son and his friends show increased cooperation and commitment when dealing with the game. But do we treat cooperation as an end point or as a tool in the learning process. I think this is an important question, especially when dealing with the types of process based education which virtual approaches to education suggestion.
Now there is no doubt that certain types of virtual environments increase interest, but again, isn't interest only a tool in the learning process, something to drive it forward, but drive what forward. One of the biases that I am coming from here is that I don't believe you need to teach people how to cooperate and work together, that this is something we do naturally when we are working towards a goal that we are interested in and/or is important to us. One of the things our current educational system does I many times think is teach us how not to cooperate with each other (based on the Malthusian concept of limited resources and necessity for an elite class). To tie this back a little bit to the Cobb-McClain article, one of the reasons I thought the linkages worked was because members of different levels along the education spectrum believed that they were working together towards a goal that was important - and it was very carefully circumscribed within the results of high stakes testing.
But back to virtual learning environments - are they too separate from real life to have any ongoing educational impact? In other words, should process based education be more concerned with not only having people cooperate, but cooperate in a way that helps the group meet concrete, real world needs? Do you run the risk that if education is not more directly tied to everyday life, real communities, and projects that actually improve the quality of life as it is lived, that they are simply narcicisstic enterprises? This is one of the things I don't see in the virtual worlds of gamers. Getting back to my son, I see him cooperating as a member of a guild within the game, but I don't see it transferring for him or his friends to the real world, or everyday life. To use Bronfenbrenner terms - how do you create linkages between these virtual environments and everyday life (and I wonder if having students solve virtual, everyday problems will really answer this - because they are still problems of a made up world). How do virtual worlds move past the interaction between gamer and game and towards a more transactional orientation to the everyday world at large.


From: on behalf of Jay Lemke
Sent: Sun 1/7/2007 11:03 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] zopeds and virtual learning environments

I am very pleased to hear from people on xmca who are interested in
these issues of online environments, learning, identity, etc.

I sympathize with Mike's challenges facing 200 undergrads (how do you
"face" 200 people??), and ultimately there are some serious issues
regarding mass higher education that universities have been refusing
to deal with for a long time now. I don't think anyone really
believes that lectures to 200 people are any better than having them
watch a video of the lecture. Really good lecturers do manage
sometimes to feel the mood of an audience (think how is an "audience"
different from a classroom learner, or a small-group learning
partner) and respond live in real time, and once in a while there is
even some verbal interaction ... but these exceptions hardly justify
a system which we all know is meant to subsidize faculty time for
research by short-changing undergrads who lack the power to protest
effectively (or maybe they don't, as we saw in the early 70s before
the economy conveniently clamped down on all deviation from someone's

Large-scale multi-user online environments offer a different model
for scaling across interaction group-sizes. They generally allow
people to network with one another, building on old biological and
cultural foundations for this, pairwise and in various groupings that
interconnect in much the way ordinary social life and smaller scale
societies do, so that information, knowledge, practices, styles, and
fads propagate without a central control agency (or centralized power
hierarchy) directing this. (Of course MMOs do have power elites,
starting with the "owners", and all social systems seem to evolve
status differentiations that get hierarchized to some degree.)

An MMO model, whether free-space like SecondLife, or more organized
and specialized like the gameworlds, is not a good place to try to
"deliver" uniform curriculum content to large numbers of clone
"students". On the other hand, they are great places for social
learning, apprenticeships, exploration, and the kind of learning
people often do in ordinary (non-school) life, in museums and zoos,
libraries, etc. When the environments are enriched by simulation
media (which I am guessing is what the geology example entails),
there is all the more to be done, chatted about, and learned. But
what is really learned is how to learn in, with, and from a social
community, without someone telling you what to do, what to learn,
when, and how.

I think an xmca or CHAT-SIG presence in SL would be a great idea,
certainly for research and discussion. It could be another node for
connecting people who are doing various concrete projects there, and
without doubt CHAT is a good starting framework for thinking through
many of the relevant issues.

One of the role-playing MMOs, GuildWars, has a different business
model, with no use fees, just the cost of buying the initial
software. I don't know if the publishers, NCSoft, might be responsive
to some sort of N-user software license offer. Buying software is
just like, and about the same cost, as buying a textbook. A lot to be
learned in any MMO about narrative, the future of communication, etc.
SecondLife, however, is probably better if you want a protected or
access-controlled environment to experience more course-centric
activities. As Linda and other noted, the managers of SL are very
researcher-friendly, and they have a designated contact whose SL-name
is Pathfinder Linden (aka John Lester).

I've participated in two of the Madison conferences and they are
great places for anyone on xmca interested in these issues. I was
also one of those invited into the Macarthur online forum, and it's
archives are probably public and still available.

I'd be very surprised if the average (male) UCSD undergrad doesn't
have gamer experience, and probably some MMO or at least multi-player
experience. As has probably already been noted, women do play a lot,
esp. in many MMOs (where gender is often not what it appears -- but
then where is it so??) and in spaces like Whyville (an exceptional
case being studied by Yasmin Kafai at UCLA) and the variations on The
Sims. If the UCSD campus is not building bandwidth as fast as it can,
you need a new IT master plan, and some new leadership -- a large
fraction of all university activities are likely to be conducted in
online environments 20 years from now, and no one is going to be
willing to sit in a lecture hall of 200 students unless the seats are
connected to VR-goggles! Higher education has really got to get off
its ass, or its ass will be handed to it sooner than it imagines. I
just wish I had a boot big enough to give a similar kick to the much
bigger butt of public school education, which is now totally obsolete
for its students and headed if anything back to the stone age (or at
least ancient Babylonia, which invented the system we're still using.)

Angry but optimistic,


At 05:04 PM 1/5/2007, you wrote:
>hello mike and everyone
>i am working in SL with a university course and in SL Teenworld with
>a high school geoscience course that i am designing - i am also
>designing a 3-D virtual online simulation site to be used to train
>urban teachers at the Instituted for Urban Education in KC. i
>believe these virtual simulations are going to be used extensively
>for educational purposes - including training teachers or insurance
>agents or anyone else who needs to be able to problem-solve in fluid
>complex environments. these 3-D virtual environments are very
>social- as Anna asked- and i can design the 'group work' in these
>environments in much the same way that i would design a real world
>classroom --
>mike- i use SL because it is very friendly- as linda noted- to
>researchers- Linden agrees to give you a free island and there is a
>collaborative group -SLED- that is a great resource-but for my high
>schoolers- we will go to TeenWorld -- a much more controlled
>environment- you can control the access much easier- and there are -
>as linda noted- incredible resources available in SL teen world --
>the US Geological Society is in SL for instance-
>but i believe that it may be necessary if you get into a large
>program (like Sasha's Quest Atlantis) to design your own virtual
>world. i have written a grant to get funding for this for the
>GeoWorld program-
>as for research--how do these virtual environments impact the
>acquisition of knowledge and the useability of this knowledge in RL?
>when does the media impact (as Jay noted) - the gaming environment
>for instance- benefit the learning --with higher levels of
>engagement for instance- and when does it become a detractor from
>the learning and the knowledge acquisition and use? i design for
>student to use information learned in virtual worlds to be used to
>solve real world problems--- as a result i think this process
>should also be studied in relation to the design of the learning
>environment and the goals of the learners- i am also currently
>completing an article on using CHAT to understand online
>problem-based learning-
>i am also a member of the virtual instructor pilot research group-
>we are meeting in january RL as a result of an NSF grant- -- we are
>looking at defining the characteristics of tutors/ mentors/ guides
>in 3-D virtual environments- including how the virtual instructor
>characteristics impact the learner responses -
>i would also appreciate any ideas about meeting at gaming
>conferences or a new v-CHAT collaboration process --
>Donna L. Russell, Ph.D.
>Assistant Professor
>Instructional Technology
>Curriculum and Instructional Leadership
>School of Education
>University of Missouri-Kansas City
>(cell) 314.210.6996
>Hi Mike.
>Linden Labs (Second Life) gave me a semester free trial for the whole
>class. I eventually just sucked it up and bought an island (very
>expensive, but I run the doctoral program and buried the cost for the
>initial set-up and coaxed the masters degree program into splitting
>the monthlies). Since then, the grad. biz school (not to be outdone
>by Harvard) has decided it wants to look at using Second Life because
>of all the RMT stuff, I think (real money transactions). I asked them
>if they'd pony up so we could buy a bigger island. Membership in SL
>is free, but to build you need land, and land costs money (clever).
>Perhaps we could be more consortium-oriented in our dealings and
>invite other institutions as well. How about an XMCA island? Our
>Masters students recently had Daniel Pink come visit to view the
>projects they had constructed in response to his book, A Whole New
>Mind. My doctoral class had the pleasure of a visit last semester, in
>SL, with MIchele Knoble and Colin Lankshear, as we were finishing up
>their text, New literacies: Changing knowledge and classroom learning.
>Because SL can be quite raunchy, and because I'm at an extremely
>conservative institution, I decided to keep the island "off the grid"
>so to speak. You have to be invited there. Students can always roam
>about anywhere in SL they wish, of course. I've only formally taken
>them out to the New Media Consortium site during the wonderful couple
>of weeks of invited speakers and clever activities they sponsored
>last semester.
>Now...MMOs...a little different story. WoW (World of Warcraft) is
>$48 start up for an account (think: lab fee), I think, and $16/mo
>roughly (less than the cost of a movie date once a month). I "m not
>above requiring that, but I don't require it, partly because I'm not
>willing to take heat from my institution just yet. I have a subset of
>doctoral students interested in gaming, specifically MMO type games,
>and they have chosen to join me into WoW. We hve been there more than
>a year now. Some were already EVE or Everquest veterans. Of course,
>one of my doc students totally decimated my safe haven when he shared
>in class, the famous YouTube video of the Onyxia wipe (a large group
>effort gone bad) in which the raid master uses the F word about every
>other word. =sigh= Oh well, I"m tenured.
>I have been talking with Sasha about jumping a class into Quest
>Atlantis, which Sasha bills as an MMO, but which is an explicitly
>educational framework, as is Whyville. I think that makes it different.
>Constance et al have a researcher guild on a PVP WoW server. Doctoral
>students and researchers can join by nomination. There is an
>associated private blog/site that often (not always) is about theory,
>research, and observations about learning in WoW and to some extent
>other games.
>In the MacArthur web portal there is a terrific thread of discussion,
>still available I believe, on gaming, led by Katie Salen. It is
>accessible for viewing. I think the discussion has officially closed.
>I would direct you to our research blog, but the guild in which my
>students and I play (*not* a researcher guild, mostly JPFs) is in the
>midst of some "guild emo" (drama, emo = emotion) and the language is
>not PG rated as we all reflect on the situation we see going on (yet
>again). Talk about communities and tension...whew...makes the
>butchers, midwives, doctors, and artifical intell workers look civil
>and tame. LOL.
>Mike, come to Games, Learning, & Society in Madison in June. It's a
>great high touch conference.
>Perhaps we should all get our classes or doc'l students together
>virtually, if not IRL (in real life).
>Hope the jargon isn't too thick in this posting. I'm rushing because
>I"m still finishing the syllabus for the class that starts tomorrow.
>ps - the games/literacy class will next occur in Fall '07.
>On Jan 3, 2007, at 3:27 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
> > Linda & Jay--
> >
> > What do you do about teaching using costly mmogs to large classes?
> > Its a practical question we face and I assume others do as well.
> >
> > Donna is using Second Life. Same question!!
> > mike
> >
> > On 1/3/07, Linda Polin <> wrote:
> >>
> >> Funny, last term I had revised a class similarly. (Are you playing in
> >> Terror Nova, Jay?). Anyhow...I would also recommend the last third of
> >> TL Taylor's book, Play Between Worlds.
> >>
> >> On Jan 3, 2007, at 2:51 PM, Jay Lemke wrote:
> >>
> >> >
> >> > I have been away for a while, and too busy to participate much in
> >> > xmca lately, but noticed this message today. You might have a look
> >> > at a draft of a research proposal on my website
> >> > [click on New Additions to get to the
> >> link]
> >> >
> >> > It proposes comparing learning affordances and their uptake by
> >> > users in commercial computer games and in educational software.
> >> > There are references to several projects currently trying to make
> >> > virtual learning environments in the mold of multiplayer games, and
> >> > there is great promise in a social approach (guilds in online
> >> > gameworlds, studied by Steinkuehler at Wisconsin; Whyville, studied
> >> > by Yasmin Kafai at UCLA, etc.).
>xmca mailing list

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
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