College students that self-select themselves for virtual world learning activities value the experience (as well as believe virtual world learning activities contribute to their understanding of course materials). Further, virtual world educational simulations can be used in a variety of ways, including: [campus-like] online discussions; virtual guest lectures and events; immersive role playing; serious games; realistic case studies; “walk-through” textbooks; student prototyping; and, more.
Still, there are significant individual and institutional barriers to more widespread use of virtual world learning simulations. Individual [student] barriers include:
- Time constraints (that limit a student’s ability to experiment with the platform);
- Lack of a “robust” enough computer/laptop (to facilitate the rapid rendering of a virtual world); and
- Since virtual world learning simulations are rarely used by faculty, there is less incentive for students to devote time to learning about a platform that will not be widely used during their academic program of study (read: no “network effect”).
Institutional barriers to the more widespread use of virtual world learning simulations include:
- Challenges “selling” an emerging (versus established) technology in tight budgetary times;
- No technical support owing to no substantive experience with the platform (leading to the need for instructor-users to be their own developer, tester, and help desk); and
- [As stated above…] No institutional “network effect.”
Despite the barriers to the more widespread use of virtual environments, the use of 3D virtual world environments and equipment (like 3D headsets, user facial expression detectors, user motion detectors, etc.) is slowly but steadily increasing. In addition, the students that participate in the virtual world learning activities on the Tulane SCS Metaverse provide positive feedback like:
- I think it is an awesome addition. I love the idea of real time discussions.
- This is my second experience in the virtual world and I think it should be offered in every class. It makes the class more interesting.
- …The virtual world presentations were more interesting and caused me to ‘want’ to read and learn. I found myself wandering into other buildings [not related to my class] where I discovered and learned [from different course simulations].
- Keeping studies interesting is a factor that will lead to a higher success rate. I see this evolving into something great for education.
- As a result of my previous participation in other course virtual world learning, it was with great anticipation that I elected this classwork option again. Initially, I was drawn to the notion of experimenting with new concepts in learning. Also, given my strong interest in architectural, web development and design, I foresee my involvement in virtual world applications.
- I participated in the [VW] learning in a prior semester and like that it was different from traditional learning. I do like to try new learning experiences when they are available.
The Tulane SCS Metaverse site was launched to focus attention on virtual world learning simulation affordances. In addition, the site includes use examples and resources for students and faculty interested in learning more about virtual world simulations and serious [read: educational] games.