Second Life– How Virtual is it? Scenes vs. Skills

Wooden  mechanical horse simulator during WWI.
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I recently got an email from a colleague who wanted to explore the idea of developing Second Life scenarios for educating nursing students.

What would be the educational benefits to students of using avatars in virtual reality scenarios as opposed to, say, in-person role play in the school’s hospital wing?

When you’re replicating real world situations for students, you want to be as close to reality as possible. In terms of student engagement and authentic learning, there is a spectrum of reality vs. abstraction that looks something like this:

1) Students are put in real scenarios, performing authentic tasks— (work study, clinicals, internships). This is as authentic an experience as it’s possible to give a student. They are in an uncontrolled environment where they have to adapt to unpredictable, truly urgent scenarios. They perform authentic tasks as they will do in the working world.

2) Students are put in rich, artificial scenarios, performing authentic tasks— (sim lab, role play). They are in a more controlled environment, acting out roles with semi-predictable co-actors, but performing authentic tasks (drawing blood, getting machine readouts, resuscitating patients, etc) as they would in the real world.

3) Students are put in abstracted artificial scenarios, performing abstracted tasks— (this is where I’d place something like Second Life). Students may be in simulated scenarios, but they are not performing authentic tasks. They are performing abstracted tasks, where the act of “drawing blood” is just clicking on a choice to “draw blood” and doesn’t teach the skills themselves. I remember taking an online CPR class where I had to MOUSE CLICK an unconscious patient 30 times per minute to demonstrate that I knew how to give CPR! ‘Nuff said.

4) Reading about it in a book. This is the most abstracted way to impart information. The student has to make meaning out of abstract language with limited context and no opportunities to perform authentic tasks.

I read this article¬†about a simulation that was built for EMT students to learn how to cope with a specific scenario. These EMT students arrive at a Second Life simulation where a woman is slumped over outside a nightclub. They must decide what actions to perform on the woman. To me, this sounds like a big, fancy multiple choice test— they learn which actions to perform and in what order. They do not get practice in performing those tasks.

The best BS Test you can perform is: “will this technology be more effective at teaching the desired outcomes than a real-life analog?”

Before you put on your virtual reality helmet– see if you can create an authentic situation where students are doing what they will do in the real world.

The old saying still applies: “Before you can have a Second Life, you have to get a First Life”.

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