Purposeful Tinkering: Experiential Preparation & Networking in Virtual Worlds for VR-Ready Educators

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Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Tinkering in virtual worlds is excellent experiential preparation to teach using virtual reality in the near future. What better way to prepare for the VR revolution than by engaging with a diverse, global community of practice, many of whom have a decade or more of in-world expertise to share?


Bethany is an instructional designer with eCampus at San Jose State University where she supports faculty in the effective use of current and emerging technologies. She previously worked for a company that helped many small private institutions to launch their online programs, and worked closely with both administrators and faculty developing courses for hybrid or 100% online. She has helped to implement content, to troubleshoot and maintain the LMS, to facilitate related technology training, to conduct course quality reviews, and she has also redesigned several existing 'orphan' courses. Bethany's areas of interest include instructional design & training, digital citizenship & literacy, the open source movement & crowd sourced knowledge (wiki), the Creative Commons, and any other forms of radical collaboration that are disrupting traditional education and access to information. She is also a volunteer with the Community Virtual Library and the project lead for CVL’s Hypergrid Resource Libraries project. She regularly attends virtual world conferences and events, as well as physical world conferences to spread the word about the exciting things educators are doing in-world. Her personal mission is to learn more about virtual reality and immersive learning by doing, and to motivate others to do the same! Bethany studied sociology at the University of California Santa Cruz and graduated with honors. She earned a master's degree in education, specific to online teaching and learning, from the California State University East-Bay.

Extended Abstract

Facebook recently announced ambitious plans to connect users with an easy to use social virtual reality platform coming in early 2020. This is a strong indication that teaching using virtual reality is closer than ever to becoming a truly mainstream practice. Many educators, however, mistakenly believe they have to wait until after the technology shakedown is complete or that they need special equipment to get started, but that’s just not true. Educators can get hands-on expertise in virtual world building and exploration right now with no special equipment needed. There is no better time to get serious about professional development using a vast digital makerspace where you can build relationships across institutions and disciplines.

More importantly, designing effective immersive learning experiences will require familiarity with technologies that will continue to quickly change and evolve. A fundamental knowledge of the long history of immersive learning in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim will be assumed. Getting into virtual worlds now will allow educators time to practice learning and adapting to a new environment and discovering new skills. The culture and affordances of virtual worlds is also entirely foreign. Not only will it take time and practice to acclimate to this new world, it takes an abundance of first-hand experience to be able to think broadly enough to truly leverage the possibilities with teaching. Educators without any experience or knowledge of how these readily accessible forms of virtual reality have been used for teaching the last decade are likely to be increasingly at a disadvantage in the near future. Tinkering in virtual worlds is an excellent form of intentional play and experiential preparation for this new reality, and it offers the adventurous educator the opportunity to network and collaborate with a community of like-minded peers far beyond what they’ll find at their own institutions local conference.

Presentation Description:

The presenter will be drawing from her own experience over the last year and a half of getting involved with virtual worlds, attending and present at virtual conferences, and meeting educators and librarians from around the world. She will introduce the audience to the Community Virtual Library, which has been advocating for real world librarianship in digital worlds for more than a decade. She will talk about how members of the Community Virtual Library are crowd-sourcing the exploration and evaluation of different virtual reality platforms, and she will also relay how important she’s found the culture of tinkering in a social virtual environment in her own learning.

The demonstration will also showcase the Hypergrid Resources Library the presenter has built that connects different virtual worlds in the OpenSim metaverse. In contrast to the proprietary world of Second Life, the free open source virtual world platform OpenSim are hosted on a decentralized system of servers all over the world.  Hypergridding is just the protocol that lets us “jump” with our avatar from one world into another, with worlds that are set as open to visitors.  

This presentation will be of interest to instructional designers and educators alike, as well as anyone with a general interest in virtual reality. Anyone involved in education who expects to design immersive learning activities in the future should be deeply familiar with the features, benefits, limitations, and history of virtual worlds in education.

Participants will learn what they can do if they want to get hands-on expertise in virtual world building and exploration, and start building relationships across institutions right now. Participants can use one of two laptops and try navigating an avatar to explore the library, chat with another participant in-world, and hypergrid jump to other locations. A third laptop will present a video slideshow with photos and video clips of in-world events. Also provided will be handout with QR code will let participants access a public Canvas course with more information about how to get started exploring virtual worlds for education.