DERN, the Digital Education Research Network, is managed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in Melbourne, Australia. DERN is a network for, leaders, researchers and educators interested in the use of digital technologies for learning. It is not focussed on teaching and learning per se but is looking for robust research evidence of good educational practices. The specific research focusses of DERN are about teaching strategies, pedagogy and student achievement using ICT.
Because the uses of virtual worlds for learning can facilitate active participation, collaboration and simulations very effectively, recently DERN pointed us to a research paper, ’A taxonomy of virtual world usage in education‘, in which a taxonomy of virtual worlds for learning has been developed.
The authors of ‘A taxonomy of virtual world usage in education’ reviewed 90 academic articles on virtual worlds and found a pattern of categories that differentiated the use of virtual worlds in learning. The categories included items such as, who used them; what activities the users were performing, why and where; and specific research in learning such as case studies, usability, grading or evaluation (p. 4).
Virtual environments for education include virtual world, Multi-user Virtual Environments (MUVEs) such as Second Life and Active World, and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). A comparison table of virtual worlds, MUVEs and VLEs (Table 1 ) demonstrates that VLEs are dedicated to educational improvement whereas virtual worlds and MUVEs are similar and are often considered as one type. In this table it is presumed that an example of a virtual world would be the Sims game, whereas a MUVE would be World of Warcraft where players can interact on-line to attain goals. As there are many similarities between MUVEs and virtual worlds, the term virtual world is used generically in this paper, to encompass any online virtual environment that allows users to play, learn or interact. Activities implemented in virtual learning environments include Problem Based Learning, Enquiry Based Learning, Game Based Learning, Role Playing, Virtual Quests, Collaborative Simulations (learn by simulation), Collaborative Construction (building activities), Design Courses (Game, Fashion, Architectural), Language Teaching and Learning, Virtual Laboratories, Virtual Field Works, Attending lectures or classes.
The six categories of all the academic papers about virtual worlds for education presented in the taxonomy are interrelated and split into three levels as demonstrated:
In the conclusion, the reviewed literature demonstrates both advantages and disadvantages in using VWs.(read the paper for the full discussion) The development of VWs such as Second Life is still at the early stage. The potential and effective use and manipulation of these environments is still under research. A limitation of the analysis is that is has been performed early in the current trend for virtual world learning. Whereas it is useful to determine trends, educational uses, applicable learning theories and supporting technologies, these will undoubtedly change over the coming decade as researchers and educators become more adept at using the rich virtual world media.