AVALON

LEARNING

Resistance to virtual worlds and institutional ethics

Yesterday I presented our Avalon project at the University of HULL in the UK where my audience reacted quite strongly to the idea of using virtual worlds for education. Here are some of their concerns:

What happens if a student I have taken into the virtual world is abused? bullied? virtually raped or commits murder in the real world because influenced by the game like culture or has a bad experience in the virtual world (to which I have introduced him/her)?

What if a student commits suicide becuase of some incident of which I am not aware has taken place in the virtual world? How can I control what studens use the world for (once I have introduced them)?

Who is legally responsible for what happens to students who have used a virtual world as part of a university course?

What about issues such as desensitivisation? How do we deal with students who become exposed to virtual world behaviour they are no longer able to distinguish what is appropriate in the real world?

What if the students become so immersed in the world they are unable to complete their university course requirements?

Another issue was the quality of the language/cultural information students accessed in the virtual world. I did explain that all learner activities under the project were created by teachers and monitored by them but here seems to be a general concern about the inappropriateness of much of what goes on in virtual worlds for education.

Many of these concerns took my quite by surprise and I did my best to answer questions based on our Avalon experience. However, I do not feel that was enough.

Last but not least (and this is more of a research question), I have noticed a pattern of higher resistance to virtual worlds for education in gamers. I think we could understand more about resistance if we could understand why this is so.

Any serious feedback to this discussion would be greatly appreciated.

 

 

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Personally I think people are confusing the tool wit the culture. Of course there is a gaming culture out there which can be more or less 'controversial', but the most recent scandal in Sweden related to an incident where a 20-year-old committed suicide 'live' in a public discussion forum. Do we forbid discussion forums? No! Rather I think it is important for educational instances to move into this domain so that issues start being discussed in an environment where responsible adults are present and can counter act some of the 'warped' things that are going on. The problem is not the tools but the culture, and this is where we are needed. In other words I think that arguments like the ones presented above are non-sensical: "the are problems in the playground during breaks so let's not be there". It probably makes more sense to move to the playground to show that there is an alternative presence. It's not the playground that is the problem but the culture, and the absence of thinking adults to provide alternative role models.

Hi Luisa,

Thank you for your post. I've copied and pasted it so as to be able to insert my responses. I realize you are looking for serious feedback and that my own comments may come across as a bit sarcastic. Please know that my thoughts here are sincere – just expressed in a sarcastic tone. As I read through the reactions you collected at your presentation, I was most shocked by the fact that your audience consisted of university professors/instructors? I think the sad truth we have to face here is a) many so-called educators have switched off the “learn button” - are no longer active learners, b) many so-called educators are themselves unable to think critically – likely due to having been schooled too much , and c) many so-called educators are afraid and ignorant of (learning) technology in general, which of course includes games and virtual worlds.  

What happens if a student I have taken into the virtual world is abused? bullied? virtually raped or commits murder in the real world because influenced by the game like culture or has a bad experience in the virtual world (to which I have introduced him/her)?

REPHRASED FOR THE SAKE OF REFLECTION--> What happens if a student I have enrolled in a school gets abused, bullied, raped or commits murder in the "real world" because he/she is influenced by school culture or has a bad experience at school (to which I have introduced him/her)?

What if a student commits suicide becuase of some incident of which I am not aware has taken place in the virtual world? How can I control what studens use the world for (once I have introduced them)?

REPHRASED FOR THE SAKE OF REFLECTION--> What if a student commits suicide because of some incident of which I am not aware has taken place at school? How can I control what students do at school (once I have introduced them)?

Who is legally responsible for what happens to students who have used a virtual world as part of a university course?

REPHRASED FOR THE SAKE OF REFLECTION--> Who is legally responsible for what happens to students who attend a university course?

What about issues such as desensitivisation? How do we deal with students who become exposed to virtual world behaviour they are no longer able to distinguish what is appropriate in the real world?

REPHRASED FOR THE SAKE OF REFLECTION--> What about issues such as loss of critical thinking and the tendency to reward mindless obedience? How do we deal with students who become exposed to school who are no longer able to distinguish between what is appropriate in the real world?

What if the students become so immersed in the world they are unable to complete their university course requirements?

REPHRASED FOR THE SAKE OF REFLECTION--> What if the students become so immersed in school that they are unable to ever again enjoy learning?

Another issue was the quality of the language/cultural information students accessed in the virtual world. I did explain that all learner activities under the project were created by teachers and monitored by them but here seems to be a general concern about the inappropriateness of much of what goes on in virtual worlds for education.

REPHRASED FOR THE SAKE OF REFLECTION--> Another issue is the quality of the language/cultural information students access at school. I expained that all learner activities at school are created by teachers and monitored by them, but there seems to be a general concern about the inappropriateness of much of what goes on in school education.

Last but not least (and this is more of a research question), I have noticed a pattern of higher resistance to virtual worlds for education in gamers. I think we could understand more about resistance if we could understand why this is so.

*Gamers who dislike virtual worlds such as Second Life tend to be critical of the graphics, which are poor in comparison to many video games. Moreover, SL has no predefined objectives like most games and therefore confuses or disinterests many “gamers”. Regarding the resistance to the presence of any learning aspect in virtual worlds or games, I think we can, among other factors of course, contribute much of that to time spent being force-learned in schools.

*Believe it or not, where I am now living, it is possible to confront such paranoid resistance to more commonplace tools such as Facebook, YouTube and the Internet in general. I think such educators are acting as hard-headed roadblocks to desperately needed change. They will either learn to see the light or slowly but surely be made irrelevant by the tides of change, which like a deep ocean, will at some point totally drown them.

*I also smell a bigger issue here, namely the need/desire for certain educators to be in total CONTROL.



Thank you both for your comments and I agree with what you say by how do you answer the main question I was faced with:  "Who is legally responsible if something happens to the students as a direct result of something I have taught them/shown them and over which I do not have ownership rights?"

 

;-)

 

 

I was about to reply in a similar vein to Kip, but he has already said most of what I would have said.

 

Any environment has its dangers. Students have been bullied, raped and even murdered on real university campuses In the USA there have been several shooting incidents on university campuses, where students have been shot dead or severely injured.

 

I am surprised by the uncritical nature of the questions raised at your presentation. Why are virtual worlds singled out for criticism? The Web as a whole can be a nasty place if you visit certain types of websites – those that display brutal forms of pornography and child abuse and those which show you how to make a bomb and incite you to terrorism. Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been used for bullying and stalking. You can even get hit by deep vein thrombosis if you spend too many hours sitting at a computer: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3441237.stm

 

Coming back to your question, "Who is legally responsible if something happens to the students as a direct result of something I have taught them/shown them and over which I do not have ownership rights?"

 

Does this not also apply to the Web as a whole? I maintain the ICT4LT website at http://www.ict4lt.org, which is aimed at language teachers and students. It has over 1000 links to materials that I have identified as being useful, but over which I have no control. I do a link check every week, using Xenu Link Sleuth, but this just tells me if the site is still there. It does not tell me if the content is still the same. On one occasion I found that a link I had to a bilingual (French-English) corpus of legal terminology ha changed into a pornographic site – but the URL was unchanged: corpus-juris or something similar. On another occasion I found that the contents of a site had changed into a sinister site for would-be terrorists. EUROCALL’s original URL (eurocall.org) was grabbed by a cybersquatter back in when we failed to renew our domain registration on time. A German pornographer grabbed it while our backs where turned and for a while it became a site advertising European CALL girls. See my article, Dodgy links. Virtual worlds are much the same. A landmark I had to a fantastic SL sim of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia suddenly changed. Overnight it became a virtual sex site.

We all have this problem. I have a disclaimer at the ICT4LT site that reads

 

“The ICT4LT website contains numerous links to external websites containing information that we consider relevant to ICT and language learning and teaching. Some of the external sites are managed by educational institutions and some are managed by commercial enterprises. We make every effort to check that the links to external sites function correctly and we also check that the contents of the sites to which we make the links are appropriate to the aims of the ICT4LT project, but we cannot ultimately be held responsible for the contents of external websites. We will remove immediately any links to sites that are found to contain inappropriate or offensive material or to sites that appear to be in breach of copyright. If you are a website owner that does not wish a link to your site to be made, please contact us and we will remove the link.”

 

The BBC handles the problem this way: http://www.bbc.co.uk/help/web/links/

 

Check your Web links regularly, and check your SL landmarks regularly!

I think I'm still a bit confused.

1) Are we not speaking of adults? (students attending a university course?)

2) Can this not be solved with a simple disclaimer and a bit of guidance?

* It's also important to remember anyone experiencing something negative online or in Second Life can simply:

a) log out of Second Life

b) press or kick the shutdown button

c) unplug the computer from the wall

d) disable the computer system at its core via use of a voodoo doll ;)

Thank you, Graham, I was hoping you would comment on this one.

 

There seems to be, from the conversations I have had at Hull, a new trend for universities to turn away from open source and to create and support environments over which they have full control. Is that something others are aware of?

 

I guess one solution is to provide all students with a disclaimer information sheet which they can sign or something. 

 

And yes, for some reason, virtual worlds seem to attract more fear and get picked on more than other internet platforms. And yes, we are talking about adult students but from the conversations I have had it would seem that UK universities feel like they have an obligation to protect their undergraduates. Perhaps it is a national culture issue we are dealing with. I am not British ;-(

 

And Kip, thanks for the voodoo computer doll. That made me laugh.

 

 

 

and I was also thinking...

if I were to use a picture of a voodoo computer doll which in the context and culture we share is obviously a joke, what would happen if a student didn't get the joke and said we were instigating violence against property....

 

jokes and humour rely so much on shared knowledge and culture...

 

but what happens when you are working with a students from different cultural backgrounds...

@Luisa:

Very simple, an opportunity for discussion would come about - in other words, an opportunity to clarify and perhaps learn a different perspective or something new.

 

The fact that we are speaking of university students here is VERY TROUBLING. I mean, come on... Those students have no doubt already seen/experienced most anything an "offline" disconnected member of academia might want to protect them from.

 

What "REALITY" are these educators in...?  And what "REALITY" are they trying to help prepare students for? Socalled "real life" does not come with 24/7 nothing-but-Disney filters...

 

This is the same sort of paranoid safeguarding which plagues much of the USA (K-12 and also often at the univ. level) and ultimately, in my opinion, contributes significantly to the dumbing-down of the overall population.

I agree with what Mats, Graham and Kip have said but I think before criticizing these educators, we need to know why they are reacting like this. Is it because they themselves think virtual worlds are dangerous places and not suitable for students or are there regulations in place in the UK that would make them liable for anything that happened to the students due to being exposed to virtual worlds by their teachers/tutors. If it is the former, the educators need a course :-) If it is the latter, I can understand them and I would look at what kind of regulations exist for Internet use at universities and how educators who use the Internet or web tools in class have solved this problem. It might also help to show them how other universities in the UK (and there are plenty who are involved in SL projects) have handled this.  

 

I work with adults starting from age 16. Although, most of them use the Internet all the time, I do remind them that they might come across inappropriate content just so they can't say I didn't. I often compare the Internet to a city. Every city has areas that you'd rather want to avoid. In your own city, you know where these areas are and you are careful (unless, of course, this is where you really want to go). 

 

When I create online course material, I include a warning note like on this page in Task 3, which involves watching a Youtube video:

 Note: This particular video has the embed function disabled, so you will watch it directly on Youtube. Keep in mind that there might be culturally inappropriate content or ads on the same page. You can adjust the window in order to only see the video. 

Thank you Nergiz and Kip, again.

 

I think it might be something to do with the university regulations in place. Apparently there have been previous bad experiences with using facebook with official university courses.

 

Yes, it would be interesting to know how other UK universities are handling this.

 

Anyway, thanks for all you suggestions. I think this is something we are going to have to bear in mind if we want virtual worlds to become more mainstream (or perhaps we don0t ;-)).

Picking up one of Nergiz's points, I am not aware of specific legislation in place in the UK that would make teachers liable for anything that happened to the students due to being exposed to virtual worlds. On the other hand, there is an increasing trend towards seeking legal redress if things don't turn out the way you want them to. I can recall cases where students (or probably their parents) sued universities when they did not get the exam results that they expected/wanted.

Health and Safety legislation in the UK has become a lot stricter in recent times, but I doubt that it extends (yet) to Health and Safety in virtual worlds. It has, however, been discussed: see this document from the UK Health and Safety Executive (2007):

http://www.hse.gov.uk/horizons/virtual.pdf

Here is a typical statement re Health and Safety from the University of Bristol - nothing here on virtual worlds:

http://www.bris.ac.uk/safety/policy/responsibilities/students/

I am more inclined to believe that the lecturers need education in what virtual worlds are all about - as Nergiz suggests. Their concerns probably spring from ignorance.

I am also inclined to agree with Kip's statement: "I also smell a bigger issue here, namely the need/desire for certain educators to be in total CONTROL." One reason for the popularity of closed VLEs in education is that they enable educators to control what they present to the students. See Stiles M. (2007) "Death of the VLE? A challenge to a new orthodoxy", Serials, The Journal for the International Serials Community 20, 1: 31-36: http://uksg.metapress.com/link.asp?id=55k7732dthrq6gk1

I picked up this topic in the ICT4LT blog:
http://ictforlanguageteachers.blogspot.com/2008/08/death-of-vle.html

I was flattered to receive a comment by Mark Stiles in which he wrote: "I see VLEs increasingly being used for attempts to control learning and learners. I think Web 2.0 and beyond offer the opportunity for learners to wrest control of their own learning back from the institution and for educators to innovate their practice."

This is the abstract describing Mark Stiles' article:

"The VLE has become almost ubiquitous in both higher and further education, with the market becoming increasingly 'mature'. E-learning is a major plank in both national and institutional strategies. But, is the VLE delivering what is needed in a world where flexibility of learning is paramount, and the lifelong learner is becoming a reality? There are indications that rather than resulting in innovation, the use of VLEs has become fixed in an orthodoxy based on traditional educational approaches. The emergence of new services and tools on the web, developments in interoperability, and changing demands pose significant issues for institutions' e-learning strategy and policy. Whether the VLE can remain the core of e-learning activity needs to be considered."


Regards

Graham

#12 is definitely relevant to this discussion, but many other predictions as well.

Bob Dylan's thoughts here are also worth revisiting...
"And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'."

21 Things That Will Be Obsolete by 2020

Inspired by Sandy Speicher’s vision of the designed school day of the future, reader Shelly Blake-Plock shared his own predictions of that ideal day. How close are we to this? The post was written in December 2009, and Blake-Plock says he’s seeing some of these already beginning to come to fruition.

1. DESKS
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

2. LANGUAGE LABS
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. COMPUTERS
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: ‘Our concept of what a computer is’. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we’re going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can’t wait.

4. HOMEWORK
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. THE ROLE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS IN COLLEGE ADMISSIONS
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn’t far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION AS A SIGN OF DISTINGUISHED TEACHER
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn’t yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won’t make you ‘distinguished’; it’ll just be a natural part of your work.

7. FEAR OF WIKIPEDIA
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself.

8. PAPERBACKS
Books were nice. In ten years’ time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the ‘feel’ of paper. Well, in ten years’ time you’ll hardly tell the difference as ‘paper’ itself becomes digitized.

9. ATTENDANCE OFFICES
Bio scans. ‘Nuff said.

10. LOCKERS
A coat-check, maybe.

11. I.T. DEPARTMENTS
Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade’s worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT — software, security, and connectivity — a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. CENTRALIZED INSTITUTIONS
School buildings are going to become ‘homebases’ of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. ORGANIZATION OF EDUCATIONAL SERVICES BY GRADE
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. EDUCATION SCHOOLS THAT FAIL TO INTEGRATE TECHNOLOGY
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modeled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

15. PAID/OUTSOURCED PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN (professional learing networks) in their back pockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide professional development programs. This is already happening.

16. CURRENT CURRICULAR NORMS
There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE NIGHT
Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. TYPICAL CAFETERIA FOOD
Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. OUTSOURCED GRAPHIC DESIGN AND WEB DESIGN
You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade — in the best of schools — they will be.

20. HIGH SCHOOL ALGEBRA 1
Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we’ll have finally woken up to the fact that there’s no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and I.T. in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. PAPER
In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

 

 

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