Evaluation Surfnet’s Pilot Active Worlds

September 2007, SURFnet in collaboration with ‘Kennisnet ICT op school’ started a pilot in Active Worlds. The aim of this pilot was to supply educational institutions with a demonstration environment in which they could explore the educational possibilities of this virtual world. The goal: provide an answer to the question of what the added value of virtual worlds could be for higher education.

Yesterday was the evaluation of this pilot. This meeting was intended for researchers/teachers to share their experiences with Active World and to ponder on future developments. 

The first part of the day was focussed on sharing experiences. The Hogeschool van Amsterdam, Hogeschool van Utrecht en Hogeschool INHOLLAND all shared their views on the pilot. After a short lunch break Kirsten Veelo shortly described her research on Open Source Platforms of virtual worlds and what this could mean for higher education. She mainly focussed on the platforms: OpenSim (open source Second Life) and Open Croquet (university build platform based on peer to peer architecture). In the future SURFnet will probably be able to supply higher educational instutions with demonstration environments on these platforms.

After this look into the future, Margreet van Berg kicked-off the panel discussion (the panel consisted of R. Slootweg (HRO), E. Mantel (TU Delft), M. Jongerius, P. Dirckx (Fontys) and I – I.J. Ploum).  We deliberated several issues concerning the implementation of virtual worlds in the classroom, and especially the role of the teacher in this ‘new’, hybrid environment.

Even though I wasn’t able to stay untill the end of the meeting, I still got an idea on how teachers and didactic researchers look at implementing new media in the classroom. It seemed as if teachers are scared to lose their position as respected authority, they also seem to prefer new media as an ‘add on’ feature and they’re struggling with the fact that students are (most of the time) better at using new media than they are. I suggested that the problem is not new media in general (or in this case virtual worlds), but it’s the way our educational system is organised. This system is build on a context public and privat life where two binary terms, where the teacher is the knowledge-supplier and the student the knowledge-gatherer. Today we live in a different kind of society where international and peer to peer knowledge sharing is public, and where information has become a (sometimes) free commodity. This recontextualisation of the classroom has its effects on the teacher-student relationship and the curricula of schools in general. I proposed that teachers as well as students should become more media literate. When both parties know what the impact/effects of new media technologies are, and they are able and willing to share their ideas on this topic, maybe than a more pleasant learning environment could be created for both the teacher as the student.

I won’t go into detail, but it seems as if didactic researchers and new media reserachers should put their heads together and reflect on ways to improve our contemporary education environment. I feel that there’s still a lot that can and should be done.


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