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Journal Article

GEARS a 3D Virtual Learning Environment and Virtual Social and Educational World Used in Online Secondary Schools  pp215-224

Jonathan Barkand, Joseph Kush

© Dec 2009 Volume 7 Issue 3, Special ICEL 2009 Issue, Editor: Florin Salajan and Avi Hyman, pp191 - 316

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Abstract

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) are becoming increasingly popular in online education environments and have multiple pedagogical advantages over more traditional approaches to education. VLEs include 3D worlds where students can engage in simulated learning activities such as Second Life. According to Claudia L'Amoreaux at Linden Lab, "at least 300 universities around the world teach courses and conduct research in Second Life." However, to date, VLEs have been very limited in use for K‑12 education. One option for secondary schools was developed by Game Environment Applying Real Skills (GEARS) and can be used in online or traditional schools. The 3D VLE is named ARC: The Impending Gale. This program has been used successfully for over a year as part of the Lincoln Interactive online curriculum. ARC allows students to create their own custom avatar and enter the educational environment. The actual content of the game differs depending on the subject the student is taking. Current courses include earth science, geography, pre‑algebra, and spanish. The 3D VLE experience is designed to serve as a reinforcement of the concepts learned in the traditional lessons. The game environment itself has been very well received by students primarily because many of the continued development features were derived from student suggestions. One unique feature that was most requested was the inclusion of voice chat. Voice chat was only added as part of the ARC headquarters where students were able to meet before going out into the game world for their own specific content. The students are also highly motivated to progress through the content. ARC has been a great success for Lincoln Interactive and its parent company the National Network of Digital Schools. The social aspect of ARC was limited, and the ARC Headquarters prompted a plan to create a 3D Virtual Social and Educational World (VSEW) for the 15,000 students that had access to the Lincoln Interactive curriculum in 2009. With the inclusion of a social component, the concept of an online community was evaluated. Garrison's et al. (2000) Community of Inquiry framework is used to explore the Lincoln Interactive Community. The VSEW contains a 3D social space with custom avatars, chat, Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) communication, social objects in the form of community musical instruments, and a tutor zone for teachers. In 2009 four educational games are included in the VSEW. These educational games focus on basic concepts in the three disciplines of math, social studies, and language arts. Garrison et al, (2000) Social Presence, Cognitive Presence, and Teaching Presence are each explained in regards to the VSEW. Both ARC and the VSEW are implemented, and as of November 2009 they are currently being used by students. While there is still much to learn and explore in regards to 3D VLEs and Social Worlds, practical application by GEARS in an online secondary school has been positively accepted by faculty and students. National Network of Digital Schools: http:nndsonline.org Lincoln Interactive Curriculum: http:www.lincolninteractive.com Game Environment Applying Real Skills: http:gears.nndsonline.org 3D Virtual Social and Educational World: http:www.learnwithfriends.com.

 

Keywords: VLE, game environment, virtual learning environment, online, GEARS, virtual world, online community, social environment

 

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