Tuesday, October 7, 2008

MUVEs

As is a ritual at Kern, we had our learning session and it was my turn to present. I chose to present on MUVE, a concept that most Kernites had not heard off. You must have come across multi-user virtual environments (MUVE). This concept developed from multi-user dungeon/domain/dimension (MUD) to facilitate role-playing games. A few examples of MUVE are Doom, MAdden NFL, EverQuest, Second life and so on. MUVEs can be used for training, shopping from home, multi-player games, and education.

Let us look at the features of a MUVE.

  1. Users have access to virtual contexts.
  2. Users can explore digital artifacts.
  3. Users can represent themselves through avtaars.
  4. Users can communicate with other users.
  5. Users can get or give mentoring and guidance for 'problems' that exist in the real world.
What are the advantages of MUVE? MUVEs provide authentic learning conditions, create experiences that cannot be experienced or 'lived' in the real world, and allows us to monitor or capture learning. Educational MUVEs are inquiry-based learning that encourage conceptual understanding. The basic assumption is that there is no one right answer. There are several answers and some of them are more appropriate than the others. Typically, learners gather information offline and their experience is presented through a report or diary for others to read and discuss. It is believed that educational MUVEs should not solely rely on the virtual world. Students must have access to instructors or teachers also.

Let us look at a few examples of MUVE in education.

Example 1: Revolution is a multiplayer role playing game where students experience history and the American Revolution. They participate in a virtual community residing in Williamsburg, VA on the eve of American Revolution.

Example 2: Whyville is a graphical MUVE designed for children between middle childhood and adolescence. Whyville users or citizens access Whyville through a web-based interface to communicate with old friends, learn math, science and history through interactive activities, and build online identities.

Example 3: River City is designed for children in middle school science classrooms. These children travel back in time and use the 21st century knowledge, skills and technology to resolve 19th century problems.

After my presentation, I threw some questions at my audience. As is always the case with Kernites, we came up with some interesting insights. Given below is the summary of our discussion.

This learning solution will be best suitable for learners who need to experiment with new concepts and try out new skills. It is useful as learners will be able to see the consequence of their actions in a real time situation. It will also be useful for those people who need to interact with each other to arrive at conclusions and solves issues. Educational simulations are closed ended and though the learner thinks that he/she is in control of their learning, they are not.
In the case of MUVE, learner control is higher. There are several alternative paths that the visitor can take. Each time you enter the environment, your experience will be different. It is a huge challenge to ensure that learning happens in an educational MUVE.

An interesting write up on MUVE:
In the computer lab at her elementary school, Consuela was threading her way through a complex maze. The maze was not in the lab but in the "Narnia" MUVE (a text-based MUVE developed around the stories by C.S Lewis). Her classmates and fellow adventurers Joe and Fernando were "with" her in the maze, utilizing their Web-TV connections at their homes, as was her mentor, a small bear named Oliver (in reality, a high school senior, interested in mythology, who assumed a Pooh-like avatar in the virtual world of the MUVE). Mr. Curtis, the school principal, watched bemused from the doorway. How different things were in 2009, he thought, with students scattered across grade levels and dispersed throughout the city - yet all together in a shared, fantasy-based learning environment a full hour before school would even start! (The school building opened at the crack of dawn to enable lab-based web use by learners like Consuela, whose family had no access at home.)

"The extra effort is worth it," thought Mr. Curtis. Seven years into the technology initiative, student motivation was high (increased attendance, learners involved outside of school hours), and parents were impressed by the complex material and sophisticated skills their children were mastering. Even standardized test scores - which measured only a fraction of what was really happening - were rising. Most important, young girls such as Consuela were more involved with school. Because of their culture, Hispanic girls had been very reluctant to approach adult authority figures, like teachers, but the MUVE altered that by providing a costume-party environment in which the children's and teacher's avtars, wearing the "mask" of technology, could mingle without cultural constraints. "I wonder what the generation will be like in high school - or college?" mused Mr. Curtis.

Source: C. Dede, Emerging Technologies and Distributed Learning in Higher Education


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