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The web, Web 2.0, Web 3D – can educators keep up?

From a straw poll of institutions with which we work it would appear that only a minority of “teachers” make any significant use of the “read-only” Internet to carry out the basic functions of “looking stuff up”.
It will be surprise that a tiny percentage are engaging with the rapidly evolving tools of the read/write web, sometimes called web 2.0, through the use of tools such as Moodle which encourage connections, discussion and collaboration between users through discussion forums and real-time “chat” facilities.
To stick with Moodle for a moment, the rate of evolution and development of this open-source tool has been amazingly rapid and since last year, when the UK’s Open University adopted the platform for much of it’s on-line learning provision it has been roaring ahead. Indeed the OU has recently made a lot of courses available for free through its Learning Space initiative Take-up in schools, colleges and work-baed learning has, predictably enough, been patchy with the most extensive application coming through committed individuals who are prepared to put a good deal of unpaid time into proving the case.
Now, the virtual world of the 3D web is emerging and again, educators around the world are seeing the potential for rich immersive learning experiences in virtual environments such as Second Life. Already over 100 real-world universities (including Harvard) have built campuses in Second Life.
My concern with much of what has been happening thus far in Second Life is simply the replication of classrooms rather than the creation of really rich learning environments, with convincing simulations, etc. I can see that classrooms might well give a useful first stage bridge between the real and virtual worlds and makes fairly traditional learning available to anyone with a fairly new computer and fast internet access. And yes, there are a whole load of issues about access and the growing divide between those with and without such access in there.
Vicki Davis posted this really enlightening overview of where we are and where we may well find ourselves going.
It really is worth a read and includes some enlightening videos.
My conclusion is that as virtual as the worlds of Moodle chat and Second Life may be, the learning that happens there is as real as any other learning and there are significant benefits in terms of access, engagement and social interaction which make for compelling learning experiences.

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