Sunday, March 14, 2010

1.1, 5.3.4: Linking two posts together

Two great pieces in my Google reader account this morning, which I originally thought to comment on separately:
  1. The latest VLENZ (no.166), outlining the promising development of linking an open source MUVE (OpenSim) with Second Life; and
  2. a post from Tony Bates, "Will lecture capture replace asynchronous distance learning?" in which he (rightly!) criticises plans of one US provider's plan to facilitate distance education through recorded lecture.
At first I thought these were worthy of separate comment (indeed, they are!) But then I started to wonder whether it might be better to use one as the lens for commenting further on the other. The VLENZ piece is concerned with advances in technology and what it might enable technically, whereas Bates' post looks at what is possible technically and how it has been applied to learning.

In e-learning we need both advances in technology and a self-conscious approach to how that technology is applied for the purposes of teaching and learning. MUVEs emphasise interaction, 'presence', synchronicity, simulation, activity within a virtual environment where resources can also be freely shared. The 'video capture' initiative described by Bates emphasises access, the view and explanations of the expert, the ability to watch, listen, and revise.

However most academic learning takes place through the reflection and deliberation. It is only insofar as these activities are supported that either might be considered truly educative. As Bates indicates, there are volumes written on the effectiveness of asynchronous distance learning. We have substantial insight as to what rests within the 'black box' of distance education. The challenge is to draw on those lessons that they might inform how we apply new technologies; both the VLENZ and Riverside cases are both generally concerned with 'distance education', which has a considerable literature and a very mature practice. My concern is that fully immersive MUVEs might supercede the deliberate exchange that might take place through, say, online discussion boards - which are by nature more reflective: "Hey, let's all meet in the virtual forest. We don't need those old bulletin boards anymore!"

I remain convinced that MUVEs will find their place as an extremely important addition to the distance educator's toolset - but I have reservations about synchronous virtual exchange being somehow inherently better than asynchronous discourse. It is here that Bates' critique provides a good check-point for the technology; just because it can be done, doesn't mean it should be done. Maybe MUVEs could make lecture rooms redundant and lead to more collaborative and situated learning. We just need to ensure that we don't overlook any advantages that are inherent to less 'wizzy' solutions in the process of transfer, or assume that we need to learn lessons about pedagogy from scratch.

I'm excited about the activities of the VLENZ group. The link between SL and OpenSim should be celebrated. But we should also be thinking ahead about the potential contribution such technologies might make. By considering - deeply - what we already know about effective education, we can save ourselves a whole lot of unneeded learning and mistakes later.

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