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E-learning – the latest trends

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Virtual reality

Many academics are using the affordances of enhanced computer capacity and technology rich environments of virtual worlds (VWs) to engage with their students. "Changing virtuality" was a theme at ALT-C 2010, with papers exploring the use of VWs, for example to provide something that was missing in "real life".

Rudman et al. (2010) describe the use of the 3D multi-user virtual environment of Second Life (SL) to create a virtual genetics laboratory, to supplement the limitations of practical laboratory classes.

Other uses of virtual reality (VR) include synchronous and asynchronous lecturing, and group work, as discussed by Barker (2010).

Barker describes research on the use of VR with final year undergraduate computer science students, and makes the following observations:

  • Graphics are presently limited, and it is difficult to perform actions such as picking up objects.
  • Lecturing (the object of providing lectures simultaneously in SL and in reality was to give students the opportunity to view them either way, or to view a recording if they were unable to attend the event) creates problems for control, both of the real-time and the virtual lecture.
  • The anonymity of SL can be a drawback as it causes confusion when interacting with others if the learner has a different identity in SL.
  • Feedback and interaction is slow – students can feel inhibited asking questions in SL lectures, and the text chat facility is slow.
  • Group working is seen as the major benefit; students engage in much the same way as in the real world.
  • Tasks need to be realistic, with important lessons carried over to the real world.
  • While SL still requires considerable technical effort and personal support, it is unlikely to appeal to many as a teaching tool.
  • Accessibility remains a problem.