I am currently taking a “Virtual Worlds” course online with the Univeristy of Manitoba. The synchronous aspects of the course have taken place almost entirely in Second Life with a few side trips to Metaplace and World of Warcraft. We have spent the first 4 weeks getting to better understand virtual worlds, how they work, what others have done, etc. We will soon be moving into the phase of the course where we discuss the potential use of virtual worlds in school and specifically for instruction.
Although I can see (and have seen) many interesting uses of the virtual worlds in schools, I am not sure we optimize this technology when we completely remove it from our real world space as we do now in Second Life and others. I recently finished reading The Daemon, and in this sci-fi book the author creates a world in which virtual worlds are part of the real world. One of the antagonists wears special glasses that contains a CPU and heads up display which allows the virtual worlds, and elements in them, to be overlayed on the real world. Specialized gloves allow for the user to interact with the virtual worlds but in the context of the real world. I am not particularly concerned about the type of glasses, or gloves, or other hardware that makes this possible (I am sure we will evolve good solutions sooner rather than later). What interests me is how we can take the best of the virtual worlds and combine them with infinite possibilities into our real space.
For educational purposes, I think this will bring us to a real example of augmented intelligence that Ray Kurzweil discusses in The Singularity is Near. I can imagine teachers creating and managing layers of virtual worlds (similar to data layers in Google Earth) that students and others could interact with. Project based simulations (similar to quests in WoW minus the violence preferably) could be set in the real world with actual characters, real time information and feedback, and shared and published deliverables.
I know we still have some work todo on the hardware and software front to make this happen. And who knows what it will actual come out looking like. However, as I see these pieces coming togther, I can’t help but wonder about the power my “networks” will have and what the “networks” for students will be like in the near future. I believe, tha it is more or less agreed upon in the progressive education commons that schools are not teaching in a way that is relevant to the changes we are seeing in modern society. I see virtual worlds either helping to bring schools rushing forward or creating an even greater digital divide.