College students were given the chance to ditch a traditional classroom for an online virtual world. Fourteen out of fifteen declined.
When Catheryn Cheal, assistant vice president of e-learning and instructional support at Oakland University, was designing a course on learning in virtual worlds, she thought the best way to research the topic would be to immerse her class into one such world. Her thought was that the “motivating factors identified in games, such as challenge, curiosity, control, and identity presentation” would help the course along.
The result: a course taught by using Second Life, an online environment.
While the interactive style could be fun, Ms. Cheal’s students worried they were having too much fun.
In her recently published study, “Student Perceptions of a Course Taught in Second Life,” Ms. Cheal wrote that the 15 undergraduate students enrolled in the course raised concerns that too much “play” in the assignments inhibited learning. The students also cited problems with the program’s slow speed and with challenges acclimating to virtual life.
Although Ms. Cheal admits that the sample size was small, she warns others to be careful when designing new courses that may use a similar approach.
“While there is potential for interactive and engaging education in virtual worlds, those possibilities may be negated if students feel lost with a difficult interface and hardware problems or if students characterize the virtual world as a venue for play incompatible with learning,” she wrote.