This week’s readings made me feel uncomfortable about the technology involved in VR but also left me wondering about its possibilities in the classroom someday in the near future. To ease my discomfort I reminded myself of the quote from Gee’s article, “The research question here is: how could we use video games to achieve a marriage of “in game” goals (the goals that flow from an academic area of from the teacher) with students’ personal goals and learning styles, for use in school learning and for learning in other contexts?” As Dede says the “characteristics of students are changing as their usage of media outside of academic settings shapes their learning strengths and preferences”. (Dede, 2014, p. 3) So, then the question is not why provide deeper learning opportunities with employing technology but how do we do it. VR, digital teaching platforms and immersive authentic simulations seem to fit the bill.
VR, digital teaching platforms and immersive authentic simulations function as the primary instructional environment versus traditional “eyes up front” classroom space. This new kind of classroom learning infrastructure is very exciting, especially for an IT teacher as myself. Dede explains the three major functions a full-fledged digital teaching platform serves, first each student and teacher uses a computer that is connected to a networked digital portal that includes an interactive interface. Teachers get to set up the experience by creating lessons and assignments using the administrative functions. Second, a digital teaching platform provides the curriculum content and teaching and learning assessments all in digital forms, no need for paper. And third, digital teaching platforms supports real-time, teacher-directed interaction in the classroom. This system is demonstrated with the three examples Dede uses to show what the digital teaching platform might look like.
Immersive authentic simulations really piqued my interest and reminded me most of the virtual games my nephew and niece play in at the moment. Both MUVEs and Augmented Reality offer realistic simulations for students to be fully immersed in giving a sense of game playing. Gee says “…the view is that humans think and understand best when they can imagine (simulate) an experience in such a way that the simulation prepares them for actions they need and want to take in order to accomplish their goals.” EcoMUVE and EcoMOBILE both provide examples of these types of simulation activities that allow students to explore realistic, three-dimensional environments. These simulations adds newness to classroom learning and motivation. Gee points out that video games are profoundly motivating for game players. Solving complex problems seems to motivate players to play for hours on end. In EcoMUVE, it seems that the same level of motivation can occur even though the content of the simulation is based on science ecosystems.
What caused me great concern and somewhat uneasiness was the immersive virtual environments and the collaborative virtual environments. I remember once seeing a TV show reporting on the addiction of people who played the game Second Life. It showed examples of adults who “lost” touch with reality and were addicted in playing in a virtual environment of fantasy and make believe. Even then I thought about how easy it would be for young children to be easily pulled into a virtual alternate reality. The Bailenson et al. article outlined in detail how some of these environments work. There is some uneasiness for me when there are ethical considerations that need to be considered with certain technological usages. Virtual reality is where I start to feel very unsure about its benefits with young people. On the one hand, Tilt Brush, the 3-D art creation tool sounds benign and amazing, I am still worried about psychological damage learning in a fully immersed 3-D world might do to the line that divides reality from fiction or the illusion of embodiment. This especially is disturbing for me as using virtual environment equipment (head-mounted display) cancels out his/her physical real world and consequently it is easier for him/her to become enveloped by only the synthetic information where sensory information from the physical world it cut off.
Virtual environments seem to have great potential when it comes to enhancing student teaching and learning through simulation, immersive environments and game playing. I am not opposed to such new technologies but I am worried about the consequences of long-term and prolonged exposure, how the minds of students will take in diverse and rapidly changing virtual worlds and what will happen to students’ social skills. I will take the road of caution and say that the potential of virtual worlds to engage students into deeper learning cannot be taken lightly or easily without keeping in mind consequences of inviting them into these new kinds of worlds.