Champlain Experiments With 3D Learning Environment

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How can a mask, costume, or in other words – an online avatar, leverage our ability to immerse students in authentic job-related environments? How can “masking” their identity and immersing them in a virtual world provide them with rich and relevant practice before they acquire real-world employment? How can the use of a 3D virtual environment more realistically mirror the real-life occupational demands of special care counselors, real-estate brokers or network technicians in ways that a classroom simply can’t? How can we implement lab environments for students within programs at Champlain’s Continuing Education department that would allow them to virtually practice in an authentic way, without the contrivance of in-class role-plays and case studies? How can this environment then be modified to answer the real-life occupational demands of graduates from our programs? A possible answer: Second Life.

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The team at Champlain’s Continuing Education department is highly interested in emerging educational IT in an effort to support, promote and innovate in all of our teaching and learning activities. We are happy to announce that we have been awarded a SALTISE (Supporting Active Learning and Technological Innovation in Science Education) mini-grant for the purpose of building an initial virtual learning environment to be used as both a virtual campus for our department and as a platform for building authentic work simulations. The current proposal is for the initial set-up of a virtual counseling space in which students enrolled in our Special Care Counselling AEC would have the opportunity to don the mantle of either the “client” or “professional” and complete lab or role-play assignments from any location. This type of virtual learning platform has not been hitherto developed or used for any course at Champlain College, and should provide a wealth of data concerning the efficacy of virtual platforms as learning tools.

In any event, it is projects like these that make our work truly exciting, as we attempt to blend the worlds of education and online gaming. Often, it is difficult to simulate the “real-world” work environments of occupations that our programs target. Teachers are often forced to resort to text-based case studies which do little in simulating real work scenarios because they are detached from the authentic environment of the occupation. Teachers can also elect to take students on field trips, but as is often the case, visiting students cannot participate in the job-tasks during their studies, often being forced to simply observe professionals going about their duties. Internships are often used at the end of our programs, but are limited in scope and amount of experience/time in the position. Furthermore, when students engage in case-studies or role-plays, they are well aware that their partners are not real special care counselling clients or network administrators. By building a virtual environment, we come one step closer to the “real” working conditions and provide the following learning outcomes and tools that would not be possible in a face-to-face setting:

  1. Deeper authentic immersion in the target work environment
  2. Deeper authentic immersion in the target professional role (removing the student mask and donning the counsellor mask in the form of a 3D avatar – a double-blind)
  3. Asynchronous lab environment used for mandatory and optional assignments
  4. Immersive practice space for students, open 24/7
  5. A low-cost Course Management System (CMS) that can effectively replace Moodle, D2L, and others
  6. An experimental lab for teachers and a platform for blended and distance courses
  7. The first, non-physically invasive and authentic Deweyan “Experiential Alternate Learning Environment” (ALE) available for any of our programs at Champlain.

You can visit our new virtual campus on www.secondlife.com at the following coordinates: Bassett 210, 108.

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Stay tuned for further developments, screenshots and student testimonials as our project gets underway in April and May. Interested parties may also peruse the SALTISE website for more details and blog posts. The final presentation of the virtual learning space and the results from the brief research will be presented at the summer 2015 SALTISE conference on the 2nd of June, at John Abbott College.