The Social Life of Virtual Learning
“Perhaps our generation focused on information, but these kids focus on meaning -- how does information take on meaning?" - John Seeley Brown
Early in their seminal work on knowledge management and social learning--The Social Life of Information, John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid, point out that, “learning requires more than just information, but also the ability to engage in the practice.”
Brown/Duguid further illustrate the active nature of learning by outlining the (action-oriented) steps required for a “newbie” to effectively utilize, integrate, and understand a knowledge base existent within a Community of Practice (CoP) or learning community:
- Become a member of a community
- Engage in its practice
- Acquire and make use of its knowledge
When learners fail to be actively “engaged in the practice” they will, in turn, be excluded from the “local topography” of the practice, as well as the opportunity to “understand the CoP from the inside out”—both of which are crucial in the transformation of information into meaning.
Actively Constructing Knowledge in Virtual Reality Learning Environments
“Shifts in students’ learning style will prompt a shift to active construction of knowledge through mediated immersion.”-Chris Dede
Constructivist-based learning, according to Dr. Seymour Papert, “is grounded in the idea that people learn by actively constructing new knowledge, rather than having information 'poured' into their heads.”
Moreover, constructionism asserts that people learn with particular effectiveness when they are engaged in constructing personally meaningful artifacts (such as computer programs, animations, 3D modeling, virtual reality or robots)."
Technologies like virtual reality, especially for Gen Z students', provides avenues that allow them to engage in a social, collaborative, and active learning environment. The theory of constructivist-based learning is even more powerful when placed in a social and immersive context like that provided by virtual reality.
Virtual reality, especially when combined with storytelling, allows the student to participate in the story, develop empathy to experiences outside their current realm of understanding and allows them to be fully immersed in their own exploration and learning.
"The experience of participating in a story, as teller or audience, is typically that of being caught up in it while it is being told...Stories convey meaning about the social context and identity of the teller and audience. However, stories also have an effect on that identity and context." --John McLeod
How Irish Students Use VR in the Classroom
“...students are eager and excited about the project, queuing outside the classroom door in the morning.” -St. Kieran Principal Esther Lambe
Students at St. Kieran’s, a school in the Irish town of Broughal, recently went on a field trip to Clonmacnoise, a nearby site with historic ruins. Nothing unusual or exceptional about that, right? This sort of thing happens in schools around the world, right? But wait--there’s more!
What makes this school field trip unusual is what the students did when they came back to the classroom. The students, part of a virtual reality pilot program in Irish schools, used the MissionV platform to create a virtual model of the Clonmacnoise in OpenSim and then viewed it using Oculus Rift headsets.
A key element of course design that is often overlooked: designing opportunities (both digital and analog) for students to create social bonds (through interaction) is equally as important as the course content or technology used in a project based learning activity.
In this virtual Clonmacnoise example, these 10-12 year old students utilized both technology (maths, scripting, 3D modeling, programming), creative (archaeology, history, design) and social skills (project management, collaboration, face-to-face interaction) in a constructivist-based project to create a virtual reality experience.
“What it [VR] offers as a tool for creating worlds and experimenting with some of the ideas underpinning logic and programming that make it exciting — together with the incredible community of users and their creations.” -Tom Chatfield
In short, all learning is rooted in relationships. Not technology. Social interaction will continue to be at the heart of any effective constructivist-based or virtual learning environment. I'll explain more about how to use virtual reality as a pathway to learning in my next blog post.