How Virtual Worlds Help Real Students: The River City MUVE

Following the interview Chris Walsh did with Dr. Dede, I got the chance to see he and his team present on the River City MUVE. I’ve read about this project, and Dr. Dede for some time, so it was great to finally see it presented and discussed… and to be able to ask a question of the panel as well. You can see many of the slides presented in Julie Lindsay’s flickr stream, where I found this picture, which was much better than any I managed to take with my CoolPix L3 and my Treo. The notes below were live blogged on my MacBook and I’m leaving them largely as they are.

Chris Dede: Let’s not start with the technology and look for a problem to solve… Let’s start with the problem.

Technology is doing three things at once:

1. Changing the skills we want from students.
2. New methods for teaching and learning.
3. Changing the characteristics of learners in the classroom (because of how they use technology outside of school).

Great short video to introduce their preso… a bit glitchy though. Brilliant… kids using laptops, cellphones, and video games… and then using chalk… and then going to work in a high tech workplace. Excerpt from a panasonic commercial.

Some review about the way education got it wrong in his generation.
Some review of Friedman’s The World Is Flat.
Also review of The New Division of Labor.

You can major n anything, but you better come out with complex communications and expert decision making.

He’s focusing on 21st Century Skills
- Problem finding before problem solving.
- Making Meaning Out of Complexity
- Comprehension as a team (to make meaning out of complexity)

We can’t teach this skill completely in the real world, because part of what we have to teach in the 21st century is not just how to collaborate across a table – but how to collaborate with someone at a distance in a virtual environment – just as we don’t need to teach the dewey decimal system, we need to teach what to do when you get 2 million hits on Google.

Interfaces for distributed learning.
- World to the desktop
- Multi-User Virtual Environments
- Ubiquitous Computing (the inverse of MUVEs)

Most people associate MUVEs with MMORPGs like WoW – or like SL. As we study those games, there are findings relevant to education.
- The range of users has widened.
- People spend a lot of time exercising an alternate persona (it’s very engaging)
- The learning processes are active (mentoring etc.)
- The content and the skills that people are learning are garbage.

So how do we take this powerful engine with junk in it and do something worth while?

For seven years they’ve tried to do that with the River City MUVE. They try to substitute meaningful content and keep the elements of engagement.

They hope to get to the kids who give up on themselves and give up on science (the hardest thing that they teach).

Students go back in time in the River City environment…

Another great video introducing the environment.

Dede sat down during the video. A grad student got up to speak. Edward Dieterle? They are trying to get River City into classrooms.

Styles are theoretical constructs… wow new idea for me and it went to fast. Maybe I can link to it later. Ah, learning styles? Here… he cited:

Sternberg, R.J. (1997) Thinking styles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Media based learning styles… I’m a bit tuned out.

Active learning based on experience…

Some description of the characters in the game… the mayor, the reporter… opportunities for reflection (that goes beyond just explanation… students are expressing their understanding through multiple pathways).

Another speaker… Diane Jass Ketelhut. She’s been with the project almost seven years, too.

She cited the speak up survey, which showed that parents felt schools are not preparing students for the 21st century.

New pedagogies and tools
New Pedagogies
-Scientific Inquiry
-Situated Learning

New Technological Tools
-Simulate Authentic tools.
and more…

What does river city offer?
- Scientific Inquiry
- Avenue into the technological skills and intersts of students
- A non-linear approach to learning
- Situated learning experiences without leaving the classroom!
- Ability to explore identity as a scientist

Virtual Experimentation
- Students change one factor about the world.
- THen, they check to see the effects on water pollution, hospital admissions, etc…

And they can revert time (and other magical things) because its simulated. Kids could never do this sort of controlled experiment in real life.

Inquiry has a positive effect on learning.
Students like the elements of inquiry – having their own question to solve etc.
They like being “like a real scientist.” It’s like real life to them even though they know it’s fake.

Another video (this is well planned out) – student focus groups. Great. Are these online somewhere?

Awesome: “I can experiment without getting a whooping.” (Middle School)

They tapped into teachers well trained in the inquiry process to see what they have to say about River City.
- Raised student awareness of inquiry*
- Student-centered experimental design most valuable element
- Best instruction elements-develment of research skills.
- Would teach River City again.

Priceless: “My school should make sure that the science teachers are good and the computers are always working.” (3rd Grader)

She was engaging. Dede’s back up.

Extended Metaphor: Learning is more like bonding than sleeping. (I don’t know if I really captured this.)

We need to expand the ways we teach to handle the variety of ways people learn. Our measures of success are much more difficult to measure than, say, being a doctor. A flu shot works or not, regardless of socio-econmic status or language skills.

Learning technologies are more like clothes than fire. You can’t just stand near them to get the full effect… they have to be tailored.

Now the bar has been set high by the activities students do outside the classroom… and they recognize that sitting and listening doesn’t work. (I’m having a small moment of hallelujah right now – I’m glad I’m involved in this… I slept through far too much of my schooling… in retrospect, though, I wish I had been talking to the people around me more.)

Dede: We looked at what to do with students who do best with direct instruction when we put them in a learn by doing environment. (I’d LOVE to hear more about this. It makes me think of Fiona Littleton’s research that seemed to say that gaming is not a good way to learn for non-gamers. Also, my own students, especially AP students, complained for this reason.)

Now he’s talking about wellness and personal health… and things he knows and doesn’t do. He has the information and he still doesn’t do it. Unlearning isn’t just intellectual… it’s emotional, it’s social… a cohort of people learning together and providing emotional and social support for one another. They try to create that kind of community for students who are unlearning in River City. He says we have it here at NECC, but we need that everyday. Very eloquent talk off the top of his head.

Q & A: It’s Windows only.

I asked more about supporting students who have adapted to directed learning.
- Support from their group (of three)
- Supplemental “workbook” materials
- They get engaged and learn even if they don’t realize it

River City is a 17 hour curriculum and i’s not teacher proof. They wrote the score, the teachers are conductors, and the students are the musicians. We embrace variety… you wouldn’t want a room full of musicians playing trumpet.

Question: Is there potential for distance learning with River City.
Dede: Yes, but the distinction between face-to-face learning and distance learning is going to disappear. All learning will be blended. (He explained this so well… I said “wow” outloud.)

They have used River City in teacher education classes… they invited folks to talk to them more if they are interested in that.

Q: Are you working on future content or updates?

Session link: How Virtual Worlds Help Real Students: The River City MUVE

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