We don’t typically republish blog articles on Wonderblog, but I know many people are interested in empirical research that documents positive learning outcomes from use of virtual worlds, so I thought there would be significant interest in this article. For background, you might first want to read Nigel Wynne’s Wonderblog article on the COMSLIVE project or watch this news story that appeared on SkyNews at the end of December.
The author, Colleen McCants from the University of Nottingham, is a multimedia graphic artist involved in e-learning since 1993. As ‘Cowlean Minotaur’ in Second Life, she builds fantastical teaching sims for the University of Nottingham’s virtual campus, described on her builder’s blog.
Notes from the 9th Virtual Worlds in Education Forum: Presentation COMSLIVE
By Colleen McCants
Multimedia Graphic Artist, IS Learning Technology Section
University of Nottingham
The Wonder of Good Communication
Nigel Wynne, co-host of the Forum and Senior Academic in Learning and Teaching in the Faculty of Health at BCU, gave a synopsis of his research funded by JISC LTIG, ‘Communication Skills Learning within Immersive Virtual Environments’, which was concerned with deficits in nursing students’ communication, team working and delegation skills. According to the COMSLIVE website, poor communication is indicated in numerous unanticipated patient deaths and illnesses within the UK and US health care sectors. Basing the research around the null hypothesis that students would not benefit from learning scenarios in a virtual world, Nigel Wynne and Emma Winterman conducted exercises in the java-based, free and open source, Open Wonderland sim, in which student volunteers could explore teamwork productivity exercises designed to support adoption of collaborative skills.
Based within a randomized control trial research design, intervention group teams engaged in Wonderland patient scenarios. Interaction with virtual world patients was followed by physical world higher fidelity computerized mannequin based simulation activities. During these activities the performance of students who had experienced virtual world learning were compared with control group students who had not. Real world behavior of these teams was observed and rated. Given the assumption from the outset that the benefit of the scenarios would not be realized, they were surprised when intervention group students significantly outperformed control group students. Intervention group students found their virtual world learning experience both positive and indicated it was having a lasting impact on their behavior during clinical placements. Intervention group students showed improvements in such skills as practicing ‘paraphrasing’ and in showing assertiveness to change others’ behavior for a positive outcome. Using the telephony integration afforded by Open Wonderland, part of the virtual world scenarios involved using a ‘softphone’ within the sim to make a call to a tutor in the real world. During this telephone simulation students were able to practice having their requests understood and prioritized, using the Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation protocol.
Open Wonderland was found to be ideal for the learning and teaching scenarios from the development side, in that it could be run from behind a firewall, allowed LDAP authentication and enabled an ‘open art pathway’. Models from SketchUp, Maya and 3DS Max could be imported with relative ease, and the drag-and-drop insertion in-world of models from Google Warehouse was most useful. 3D assets created for a parallel teaching project, Virtual Case Creator, were imported, saving significant development time. Firefox worked as a browser in-world, enabling creation of monitor screens delivering real-time information via web browser windows. In practice they found the sim loaded quickly, slowed only by client specifications.
From 2011, use of the COMSLIVE sim will be mandatory for year one health care students. The Open Wonderland platform is scalable, allowing continued expansion of the virtual scenarios. Potential exists to support the Interprofessional Learning agenda and Objective Structured Clinical Examination testing.
Nigel introduced the talented team behind the development of COMSLIVE and VCC, Janine Dantzie and Tim Marquis. Tim chose to demonstrate his enthusiasm for the UNITY game development tool. Delivering games via web browser and allowing for an amazing level of detail, the creative pipeline he described was smooth and facile, and the support community the most helpful in his experience. In 2010, Unity won the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation award in the software category. Obviously, this is one to keep in sight. Features for the tool are reviewed here.