Virtual Worlds in Education Versus its Dangers

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Virtual world websites are similar to gaming as users in both create an account and then use an avatar (picture or drawing) to represent them and move around. They differ from online gaming sites as the user isn’t there to play a game but to interact with the other users.

While virtual worlds have massive chunks of positive if used properly, the temptations are plentiful and limited only by one’s imagination. Examples of these websites include Second Life (also Teen Second Life), Sims, Habbo Hotel and Small World. Virtual worlds in education play a healthy and efficient role in learning in our classrooms.

Virtual worlds are very elaborate, they may charge a fee for the service but many allow users to play for free. Virtual world activities involve cash or credits that participants can earn or purchase to buy virtual property or real privileges on the site. They can chat and make friends with other users and interact with them at various places in the community, just like the real world with stores, shops, clubs and public areas. There are as many opportunities for innovation and profit in virtual worlds as in the real world. People open nightclubs, sell jewellery, and become land speculators; thousands of “residents” make real life income from their virtual businesses.

Real world businesses like Adidas, IBM and Toyota have real presences in virtual markets. Maldives even set up an online “virtual embassy” to boost its tourism. Virtual worlds in education can be used to introduce students to different cultures, however this can be misused.

In virtual worlds there are easily accessible places that allow users to do (simulate) anything including that which would be considered immoral and/or illegal in the “real-world.” People cannot easily separate their virtual activities and personas from that which is real. Therein lies the danger.

How can you use virtual world as an educational tool without exposing students to its dangers?

From Professional Learning Board’s online continuing education course for teachers: Internet Safety: Protecting Children in an Online World

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