Investigating VW alternatives to Second Life, for educational applications
Last week, I focused on education related uses of the premier Virtual World application – Second Life. This week I am looking into other Virtual World environments that are being used for education and instructional applications.
There are dozens of Virtual World applications in existence today, and some have areas devoted specifically to use by/for education. There are also a handful of VW apps that are intended solely for use in the educational field. Of these many tools, I was surprised to find only one application (Edusim3D) that appeared to me to be worthy of serious consideration. All of the other applications and information I came across left me with the impression that none of them offered anything truly worth considering in comparison to the highly functional known entity that is Second Life.
Here are the few Virtual World applications (other than Second Life) that I felt warranted mention here following my exploration into this category of tools:
Edusim was one of the few applications I came across for which there was a respectable set of easy to access information. While it is consistently referred to as a whiteboard based virtual world tool, it would appear that it can function outside of the whiteboard environment. The Edusim home page states, “Edusim is a 3D multi-user virtual world platform and authoring toolkit intended for your classroom interactive whiteboard (but equally powerful on the students laptop or desktop computers!)”. This YouTube video provides a nice overview of Edusim. This page from the Edusim site offers “5 ways to use Cobalt – Edusim in the Classroom”. This Video explains how to get started with Edusim, and this Wikipedia Edusim page provides further information.
Edusim was developed using the Open Croquet Consortium's application tools. Per their website's Welcome message, “Croquet is a powerful open source software technology that … can be used by experienced software developers to create and deploy deeply collaborative multi-user online virtual world applications on and across multiple operating systems and devices.” This page provides insight into other projects under way utilizing the Croquet application tool set.
3D Learn (www.wilostar3d.com)
This is a unique fully functional application of Virtual World technology, focused specifically on home schooling. As stated on the site's main page, “WiloStar3D LLC is a privately held immersive education company [providing] interactive 3D learning environments for K-12 students. WiloStar3D owns and operates WiloStar3D Academy, a Nationally recognized SACS/CITA accredited full-time school for homeschool students.” This page provides a further overview of the application. While this is certainly a robust and highly functional utilization of the technology, it's niche focus is too narrow to warrant further coverage here.
I learned of Active Worlds years ago, and was impressed to learn that they have an area specifically focused on education – “AWEDU”, which is what made me feel compelled to mention it here. Here is the AWEDU web page: http://edu.activeworlds.com/. There is a tour of some of their education sites available there (but it requires installation of software, learning how to navigate it, and doing your own investigation). Unfortunately, I simply could not find much discussion on their site or on the web that really illustrated the productive education-specific use of this app, and was left with the impression that it has been used very little for this purpose.
There are quite a few Virtual World environments on the Internet, and many tools under development to facilitate the creation of Virtual Worlds. After spending hours investigating these sites and tools, the bottom line for me is that Second Life is easily the most functional and worthy Virtual World environment for educational use. The wide array of available examples, related resources, and potential uses for Second Life is simply unmatched by any other tool set.
I look forward to getting acquainted with hands-on use of Second Life next week. We'll take a closer look at how easy it is to get started with the app as a user, whether it still requires a good deal of computing power to get acceptable performance, and what it takes to establish your own Second Life “island” presence.
Before closing, I want to ask – do you know any other Virtual Worlds that are being used productively in educational applications? If I've missed anything important in my research, I sure would like to know, and to bring it to my reader's attention. Of course, any other observations about these types of tools are welcomed as well. Thanks.