Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Virtual Worlds - Real Experiences

There's a lot of hype about virtual worlds. Everyone is excited about SecondLife, Whyville and other virtual environments. Many organizations are rushing in to mount a virtual museum in one of these simulated environments. What why are we doing it? How can virtual environments provide real learning experiences?

This blog posting is intended to get you thinking about the vast potential of virtual environments. So let's look at an example.

Art Conservation Training

As most of you know, hands-on training is the best way to learn. There is nothing like direct observation and interaction with objects. Virtual environments provide some of these same advantages. Let's discuss a scenario where a museum might want to teach museum visitors about conservation and restoration.

The museum might set up a gallery in a virtual environments. The gallery might be stunning in design. Vaulted ceilings. Windows that provide natural lighting. Perhaps even a small fountain above a koi pond. But a closer look can show problems that threaten the irreplaceable objects in the collection.

A painting might be poorly situated so that the sun in the afternoon falls upon it. A collection of wood and hide drums may be placed near the fountain. One of the drums may show signs of biological damage caused by humidity.

Visitors and students could be asked to walk through the gallery and look for problems. Once a problem is found, the visitor could click on it to get more in-depth information. A museum educator could be present so that visitors and students can ask questions. Students could team up to identify problems. Finally, everyone could gather together at the end of the session and a museum curator could join the group and give a short talk on the museum's conservation and restoration efforts.

What makes this a useful experience? How could your organization use a virtual environment to teach? Why might this kind of experience be especially useful when instructing children?

Please use the comment feature on this blog to post your comments and responses. I'll follow up in a few days with some of my own answers.

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