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CNET: How Virtual Worlds Are Changing The Classroom

A report by CNET News focuses on a shift in traditional teaching methods, and specifically highlights the use of virtual worlds called multiuser virtual environments (MUV...
A report by CNET News focuses on a shift in traditional teaching methods, and specifically highlights the use of virtual worlds called multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) in the classroom setting. According to the report, MUVEs make up a genre of games that “inspire children to learn about math and science”, while at the same time offer a structured environment with specified rules for behavior, yet without defined rules for actions. These interactive virtual worlds are designed to "provide problems to solve that don't involve slaying monsters", but rather "compel kids to figure out the issues to succeed in the environments or have time to socialize." A number of MUVEs are discussed in the report, including Whyville, an online community developed by Numedeon that boasts a userbase of 1.6 million since its launch in 1999. The game allows players to complete activities and games as a way to earn “clams”, a type of virtual currency that can be used to personalize their in-game characters. In addition, some teachers have begun to use the game as a vehicle to teach real world subjects. For example, when a disease called Whypox began to spread throughout the virtual world, players were inspired to learn more about how to combat the virtual illness. "When Whypox first hits, they start saying 'Achoo,' and it interferes with their chat, which is obviously very important,” commented Cathleen Galas, a teacher who used Whyville and the spread of Whypox to teach children about epidemiology, the study of infectious diseases. “So they are interested in finding out what it is and what they can do about it." Other MUVEs discussed include Indiana University 's Quest Atlantis, a new MUVE that focuses on an ancient culture which will be introduced into 50 new classrooms in the fall, and Harvard University's River City, a virtual world set in the late 1800s where children must play and discover why the residents are falling ill. "Instead of teaching slash-and-slay mentality, River City teaches kids to be scientists through the technology," said Edward Dieterle, advanced doctoral candidate in learning and teaching at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. Interested parties can read the entire article for more interesting information on MUVEs, including quotes for educators, other examples of how teachers have used them in their classrooms, and how, with the growing concern of online predators, do children remain safe while participating within a MUVE.

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