Symposium Gaming in het Onderwijs, Leren in een Virtuele Wereld

by Paul Maharg on 28/09/2009

Earlier this month I was in the Netherlands, den Haag, at the Haagse Hogeschool, giving a workshop on SIMPLE at the wrap-up conference of the Cyberdam project.  I was invited by Diny Peters who, with Pieter van der Hijden, is one of the key movers in the project.  I call Cyberdam SIMPLE's sister project in the Netherlands.  It’s a great initiative, funded by the Dutch government, to take forward gaming and simulation approaches to all levels of education – not just higher education. 

The conference was in Dutch (except for my bit of course), and it was an interesting experience to sit in sessions, watch the slides, and piece together what was being said from word & slide, understanding things if they were spoken s l o w l y.  Possibly akin to the experience of our students when they first sit in a law lecture.  Or reading music a grade or two above your sight-reading level.  Huub Spoormans, Dean of Law in the Dutch Open University, opened proceedings, while Wilfred Rubens (good blog, here) gave us an overview of virtual worlds & learning.  Rubens focused more on Second Life than games themselves, showing for example the Merlot learning environment in SL, and the interfaces between SL and other comms platforms, eg Twitter.  We saw re-creations of campus buildings, grounds etc – very impressive prim stuff, but I have to wonder about the prediction about how this would motivate students.  ‘Social presence’ is a critical factor in learning within institutions (as it is for teachers teaching), but SL skews the relationships in odd ways (I know this is a huge generalisation for a pretty complex topic…).

Just as I was noting this, Wilfred asked us to turn to our neighbours in the lecture theatre and consider the place of social presence in online environments.  Kees van Haaster and Gary Asselbergs (author of a very interesting Cyberdam game called Border Crossings) were mine.  We discussed it in the lecture, and I argued that social masks such as one adopts in SL can actually inhibit learning of certain things.  The safety zone created by such mediated images, eg, might actually work to increase law student reliance on the ‘mask of expertise’, when we want students to develop their own bodily voice and expertise arising from their own bodily actions.  In this respect surely the self-determination theory of learning (Ryan & Deci) actually is a double-edged sword for SL designers?  Interesting lecture by Wilfrid –  slides here (Dutch).

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