Best Practices in Virtual Learning Environments
Dictionary.com defines best practice as “the recognized methods of correctly running businesses or providing services” (World English dictionary section, para. 1). When based on principles, the same activities that constitute best practices in “traditional education” will, usually, translate well across any medium chosen for course delivery. For a course to be of value, it has to answer a need – successfully. This is where Instructional Design (ID) becomes important. It is the analysis at the beginning that will help determine the “consumer’s” need, and how best to address that need. Piskurich (2006) states that one of the benefits to employing ID is that it helps to identify the best practices for content delivery, essentially identifying the best manner for the target audience to successfully acquire the intended knowledge.
Additionally, listing course prerequisites is vital and should, almost always, be mandatory. Piskurich (2006) further suggests that course prerequisites are important for, both, the instructors, as well as, the students. With a well-developed set of expected prerequisite skills and knowledge, the instructor(s) have a fair understanding of their students’ ability, and what kind of material they will be able to utilize with their students. At the same time, potential students have an understanding and fair expectation regarding what information will be covered in their course. Students that are reviewing course prerequisites can make informed decisions whether or not a course is too basic, too advanced, or just right.
Factors for Success in Virtual Worlds
Andrea L. Foster (2008) reported that educators experienced in utilizing the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL), for distance education have stated that “…communication among students actually gets livelier when they assume digital personae” (p. 12-13). Foster also reports that one educator, that teaches a freshman English composition course via SL, suggested that educators getting started in SL should be open to the idea of allowing students to have some control over the course in order to maximize student engagement. Other suggestions include eliciting feedback and suggestions from other educators and students. From a personal standpoint, this author believes that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is essential in order to keep the audience engaged. Having experienced SL conferences where the main means of communication between the presenter(s) and the audience have been either text chat (only), VoIP, or a combination of both, it is very easy to say that this author found it more engaging to utilize VoIP with the occasional text chat for a side conversation/question. Additionally, the use of multimedia such as video and/or presentation slides definitely helped to create the opportunities for increased audience participation.
Application Becoming Reality
The Simulations and Virtual Reality course that this author is currently participating in has really expanded the thought process regarding how to approach the final capstone project, and which tools, skills, and objects will be needed in order to develop a successful product. This author had already settled on creating a course within Moodle, an open-source Learning Management System (LMS), entitled, “Developing Immersive Virtual Learning Environments”. However, participating within the 3D world of SL has taken the original concepts to a whole new level of possibilities.
For the final project of the Simulations and Virtual Reality course this author intends to create one of the lessons for his final capstone course. Beginning with basic best practices, this author will develop a detailed syllabus that will contain course prerequisites, course requirements, and technical requirements for the final capstone course. Within SL, this final project will have to make use of multi-media viewers, a magazine and brochure shelf in order to provide external links to various learning objects, and text and voice chat. Additionally, this author plans to explore the benefits of possibly utilizing SLOODLE which is an open-source project that has integrated SL with Moodle, and may be found in SL at: SLOODLE TeleHub and Fountain: 128, 128, 22 (SLOODLE, Home section, para. 1).
Best practice. (n.d.). In Dictionary.com’s online dictionary. Retrieved from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/best+practice
Foster, A. L. (2008). Professor Avatar. Education Digest, 73(5), 12-17. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=28755255&site=ehost-live
Piskurich, G. M. (2006). Rapid instructional design: Learning ID fast and right. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.
SLOODLE (n.d.). In Sloodle.org’s open source project. Retrieved from http://www.sloodle.org/moodle