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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Learning Objects in Virtual Worlds

Learning Object Repositories (LORs) have emerged as more collaborative and participatory than ever before, thanks to the nature of Web 2.0. The learning objects (LOs) have more variety and they encourage sharing, personalizing, and storing. In many cases, the LORs are inter-institutional, which is to say that they were created by more than one entity, often as a collaboration within a consortium. For that reason, the LOs have needed to be multi-purposable, as well as reusable.

The virtual world, Second Life, offers numerous educational institutions an opportunity to create highly effective sims (islands). The learning objects developed by one educational institution are often utilized in other islands, often because the same design team has created many "builds" for numerous clients.

1. Virtual labs. A wide variety of learning objects exists within virtual labs. The objects are representational of real lab equipment, and they provide an opportunity for an immersion experience or a simulation. For example, on Nanotechnology Island, there is a virtual observatory in which visitors can look through a robotically controlled telescope.

2. Information kiosks. Second Life sims often feature objects that look like computer stations or workstation touchscreens. They allow the visitor to click on them and obtain information. Often, the visitor clicks the object and is taken out into the web, where there is information not yet incorporated into the island itself. For example, the University of the Pacific's visitor and orientation center allows individuals to click on their information kiosk. The kiosk contains a link to an external website, where the information is housed.

3. Calling cards. Calling cards let visitors share information about each other. A calling card is a digital object containing information -- often contact information - about each other. They can include information, capabilities, skills, even something to wear.

4. Community outreach LOs. Often it is possible to incorporate a learning object that automatically sends an instant message or designates as a "friend."

5. Simulations. Participatory, with larger community of distributed resources. For example, there are places within Second Life which allow individuals to build their own simulations, and to place interactive objects there. In this case, the builder is interacting with Learning Objects (LOs), and working within a larger asset base of distributed resources. An example is an emergency room simulation that allows health professionals and nurses to become familiar with equipment and procedures.

6. Visualization tools. Perhaps the most innovative of learning objects, these tools allow users to perceive and "see" the physical world in a new way. They can magnify (in the case of microscopes and scanning electronic microscopy in the CDC Island). They can also distort, as in the case of the Health Info Island's vision impaired kiosk, where visitors are able to enter a "cave" where they are only able to see in the way that a seriously vision impaired person might.

7. Force of Nature experiences. LOs that allow one to experience being in the eye of a hurricane, on the wave front of a tsunami, or within an EF-5 tornado, are some of the new force-of-nature immersive experiences.

8. Touch-based Learning. Some learning objects allow individuals to learn by using touch. This can occur with a touch screen, or perhaps with joysticks. The touch screens are particularly useful with respect to learning how to use equipment that has similar equipment and techniques.

9. Streaming Media. Learning objects allow individuals to watch presentations while chatting and posting comments. The experience is very immediate.

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