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Virtual Worlds Crossing the Digital Divide
Paul Hollins, Dr. Daniel Livingstone, Anna Peachey

This event took place on 21st November 2008 at 9:00am (09:00 GMT)

Graphical 3D virtual worlds (most notably Second Life) are being increasingly adopted and adapted for use in higher education – recent reports indicating that over 50 UK HEIs are exploring the use of Second Life in teaching. Can virtual worlds be used to better reach-out to students disengaged with formal education or do they simply create newer and more challenging barriers, locking more students out? Will the use of 3D virtual environments in education become a divisive technology, with alternative "equivalent" learning experiences for those excluded, or can they be made inclusive?

Ideas to be explored: Some claim that virtual worlds can provide richer experiences and greater engagement and participation in blended or distance learning. But complex graphical user-interfaces and challenging orientation experiences can also dissuade students - and exclude some altogether. Requirements for more powerful hardware and for high-speed internet connections may also entrench existing digital divides, questioning their use in education. How can virtual worlds be employed to gain the maximum benefits of improved participation and what is best practice for employing virtual worlds in education? Can development of "3D web" standards or integration with existing text based technologies help?

Structure of session and activities: A brief introduction will outline some of the challenges presented by virtual worlds and note that solutions will require innovation in pedagogy and learning, the creation of suitable standards and in integration with existing learning technologies. Facilitators will then take turns to briefly outline their own position and invite debate. Additional issues, notes and key points which arise will be recorded live into the presentation materials, for electronic distribution and to seed continued debate after the conference. The material generated during the symposium will complement pre-prepared position statements including resources relating to issues addressed. A pre-prepared resource collection will be available online during the symposium, and will invite further comment and contributions – enabling all participants to actively contribute to a shared understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities.
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