Is that a revolution I hear? Some educators say Immersive Education -- virtual worlds and game-based learning technology -- can reform the way students are taught. Others call it a natural and necessary evolution. Still others call it heresy that has no place in education whatsoever. Only time will tell for sure, but at least one thing is certain: The initiative is stirring up the status quo and has academia talking about the future of online learning.
Immersive Education combines interactive 3D graphics, commercial game and simulation technology, virtual reality, voice chat, Webcams, and rich digital media with collaborative online course environments and classrooms. Unlike traditional computer-based learning systems, the virtual learning environment is designed to immerse and engage students in the same way that today’s best video games grab and keep the attention of players.
The technology supports self-directed learning, as well as collaborative group-based learning environments that can be delivered over the Internet or using fixed-media such as CD-ROM and DVD.
This is exciting new ground for many educators, but it’s also a cause for concern among some teachers about its disruptive potential. Critics question the effectiveness of computer simulations for education, while others are worried that introducing video games as learning tools in schools will diminish education.
Learning.now blogger Andy Carvin has an interesting post about whether video gaming belongs in the classroom, which was discussed by a panel at this year’s South By Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSWi). The forum, entitled Let's Get Serious: Could Video Games Replace College?, included panelist Eliza Gold, of the University of Texas at Austin’s Digital Media Collaboratory, who explains, “As engaging as videogames are, it makes sense to apply some of it to schools and learning. Part of what makes it hard for students to be motivated is because what’s taught is taught out of context… It’s possible that videogames could be used to help people learn curriculum in a real world sort of way.”
In some instances, teachers feel that their jobs may be threatened. One question that is often raised is, “Will immersive education replace teachers?”
On the contrary, as a collaborative tool, Immersive Education has the potential of fostering a deeper connection between student and teacher and a richer teaching environment. It liberates the teacher to become a more effective teacher instead of simply a lecturer.
In fact, some studies indicate that students can learn faster and more effectively using these types of technology. It can be argued that studying in a virtual reality environment is better than learning from a book because the virtual world, when properly constructed, is highly interactive, engaging, visual, and full of rich and interactive educational materials.
Immersive Education is developed by the Immersive Education Initiative, a non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia, and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices, platforms, and communities of support for virtual worlds and game-based learning and training systems.
Members of the Immersive Education Initiative participate in any one (or all) of 10 focus areas. These activities are chaired by faculty, administrators, and doctoral students from the Grid Institute, Boston College, Amherst College, MIT Media Lab, and NASA.
Virtually all types of higher education institutions offer online curriculum, adding to a substantial growth in online learning. Immersive Education will play an integral role in the future of online education because it offers richer, deeper, and more meaningful learning experiences than are possible with traditional online classes.
The technology gives participants a sense of "being there," which in turn provides educators and students with the ability to connect and communicate in a way that greatly enhances the learning experience.
— Aaron E. Walsh, Director of the Grid Institute