Educational Applications of VEs A Position Paper Seth Chaiklin University of Aarhus
Interests in VEs
My primary interest in VEs is to explore their use in educational contexts, especially at the university level. I would like to use them as (a) devices to supplement student/teacher interaction and collaboration beyond the face- to-face classroom teaching, (b) devices to present materials that could be used in educational contexts (e.g., museums), and (c) devices to support distance learning or collaboration between remote sites.
A special interest in this context is the "spatial metaphor." I work with a relational theory of knowledge, which fits well with the spatial metaphor. Thus, VEs can be seen as a way to potentially and literally construct knowledge. Conversations and social interaction are important, but in an educational context there is also an interest in capturing, recording, formulating the results of these discussions. To distill out some conclusions. VEs could be a useful device in that process.
An intriguing feature of current VEs is that they are programmable. Unlike many other computer-based programs, the scope of the actions are not so clear. With wordprocessors, spreadsheets, simulators, and composing programs one has an impression of the basic functions and possibilities that are available (even if one never learns to use half of them). With VEs, we have the possibility to create activities, principles, and structures that cannot always be anticipated by the users. Thus, it would be a mistake to view a VE as a more or less delimited domain of action.
An important implication of the preceding point is that a VE is defined primarily by its content, by the meaning of the world and the activities that can be accomplished in it. In other words, the "spatial" metaphor alone is not a defining feature of VEs, the concept of praxis is equally important. VEs are designed as dungeons, offices, natural worlds, museums, and so forth. It is not just "space" that is being used, but also our knowledge of what practices are being carried out in those spaces.
Continuing this line of thought, one can see that discussions of design principles for VEs must also incorporate discussions of the practices that one wants to support in these environments. In educational contexts, learning motivation must be based on the content which one is working with. A critical feature of VEs is that they can be used to support and focus work on the content that brings people together. In an educational context, the ideal would be that the VE is transparent to the user. That is, one does not want to use much time and energy having the user both to learn and to use the system. If there are obstacles or difficulties, then they should be intentionally built into the system. Are there special kinds of designs that would be especially useful in educational contexts?
The best thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from (attributed to Andy Tannenbaum). The workshop announcement uses "soft" words like guidelines and recommendations, and even softer goals might be appropriate such as "identifying fundamental questions" or "formulating interesting topics for further exploration.
Suggestions for Discussion Items
My only experience with webbed VEs is limited to the discussion/annotation forum for this workshop. I also have some limited experience with using MOO-based systems, and have presented a 90-minute introduction of the main features of MOO to a group of multimedia researchers. I have about five years experience in using telecommunications in educational and informal projects. Seth Chaiklin Institute of Psychology University of Aarhus Asylvej 4 8240 Risskov DENMARK Tel: +45 89 42 49 78 Fax: +45 89 42 49 01 email@example.com