Virtual Worlds: Exploring Potential for Educational Interaction (ED-MEDIA 2008)

ED-MEDIA 2008 paper: Virtual Worlds: Exploring Potential for Educational Interaction.

Abstract: Interaction is widely accepted as essential for learning. The challenge of distance education is to overcome transactional distance through provision of appropriate opportunities for interaction. Asynchronous and synchronous computer-mediated communication via text, audio and video has done much to reduce transactional distance. 3D online spaces may offer further opportunities to reduce transactional distance but it will be necessary to identify the most appropriate forms of interaction to be included in learning environments using such spaces. As an aid to investigating possible applications of 3D online spaces in distance education some means of mapping out the territory to be explored is desirable. This paper proposes one such map and suggests examples of applications that might be explored in various areas of the map.

An excellent and very interesting presentation on the nature of distance education (DE). Apparently research that compares the quality of learning that happens through distance education vs face-to-face (F2F) shows no difference between the two.

The author considered the issue of transactional distance — e.g. the “space” (physical, psychological, etc.) between the learner and the teacher — which is often biggest in DE projects. However, there is also some transactional distance in F2F classrooms. How can technology, in particular virtual worlds, be used to reduce transactional distance on three levels of interaction:

  • Learner to content?
  • Learner to teacher?
  • Learner to peers?

Peter proposed a cube to visualise the interaction between learner and the three axes above. By conceptualising DE in this way it becomes easier to design DE environments (being able to actually design such spaces is a relatively new affordance; in the bad old days, DE projects relied on snail mail communication!)

If Kusasa, the Shuttleworth Foundation project, ever had to employ a  virtual world for learner activity, it would be based in the cubic block that represents high learner-to-content, high learner-to-learner and low learner-to-teacher activity.

Peter Albion

Author: Peter Albion (above), University of Southern Queensland, Australia

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