Friday, May 16, 2008

Education, Constructivism and Virtual Reality

Gloria D. Brogdon

The days of rote memorization education are gone. Constructivism learning is the key to
education in the 21st century. With the rapid developments in technology and availability,
there is a need for a generation of people who can analysis and reason in this age of
technological growth. The use of virtual reality in education cultivates constructivist learning. This type of education is key to the growth of our nation. The public educational system in the United States will be forced to change or continue to fall behind in the global educational system.

Introduction
In this technological era, most children have been exposed to technology since birth.
This exposure has created a generation of children who require a different mode of learning and dissemination of information. Because of the rapid pace and the non-linearity they receive information outside the classroom, many of them have difficulty handling the traditional linear classroom setting.

Using technology, delivers information in a non-linear fashion, this enables students to understand and learn the required information and skills to succeed in life, based on their learning style. It also gives them an upper hand in the familiarity of the usages of technology as they move into the job market.

Mark Lepper states, “The educational process in America has not kept up with the changing pace of technology. Although, most schools have access to the Internet, much the content of the lessons taught don’t involve the usage of computers as a daily learning tool for a specific lesson.” (1)

The disparity in the availability of technology and large class sizes among public schools in the U.S. creates an educational environment for limited learning. Many teachers must rely on the rote memorization method to disseminate information. This method of information dissemination only allows the learner to memorize the given information, oppose to having an in-dept knowledge of any given subject.

Constructivist Learning v/s Rote Memorization
The use of technology in the classroom fosters Constructivist learning. This type of learning enables students to become active learners, thus taking responsibility to learn concepts and facts for themselves.

Much of today’s education is still based on rote memorization learning, and not Constructivist learning. The rote memorization method of learning does not allow students to explore educational subject matter in-depth. Whereas, Constructivist learning is an inquiry based learning style that fosters in-depth learning. This method requires the student to construct his or her on knowledge by inquiry through in-depth research and practical application.

As early as 1929, Alfred North Whitehead argued that “the way students learn many things in school produces inert knowledge - knowledge that can be used to answer items on a school test but which is not available to the student when he or she is trying to solve a problem that requires that knowledge.” (2)

Constructivist Text Based and Non-text Based Virtual Reality

Text Based Virtual Reality
Text based virtual reality is a tool used in some classrooms around the country. Ann Pearson states, “Text Based Virtual Reality or MOO can be used in many different ways.

It is a fluid medium and is only limited by the imagination of the teacher, parent or student who uses it. Here are some obvious benefits: promotes literacy by encouraging reading and writing in a natural way; can be used as a way to communicate in real-time with people at a distance; can be used to teach descriptive writing and poetic expression;can be used as an environment in which to role play or act out plays;” (3)

This experience enables the student to become an active participant the learning process, thus creating an environment for constructivist learning.

One of the most recent creations in text based virtual reality is the WebQuest, created by Bernie Dodge and Tom March in 1998. They defined a WebQuest as an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet, optionally supplemented with videoconferencing. (4)

WebQuests are structured, well planned, and focuses on a specific topic chosen by the
instructor. Most often the WebQuest is conducted in a group setting, of 3 to 4 students. Each student assumes a specific role. They follow and complete the tasks presented to them in the web links provided in the section.

After each student has completed their tasks, they compile the information in a website, video, power point, or some other multimedia presentation.

Many WebQuests include the following elements: Introduction, Task, Process, Roles, Evaluation, Conclusion & Credits.

These elements enable the user to research information on the web, based on links the
instructor provides in the WebQuest. Although the WebQuest may have specific links
for research, the Quester may also utilize other links they find in their Internet research.

Non-Text Based Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology that allows a user to interact with a computer-
simulated environment, be it a real or imagined one. Most current virtual reality
environments are primarily visual experiences, displayed either on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic displays, but some simulations include additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers or headphones. (5)

Loeffler and Anderson define it,” as three-dimensional, computer-generated, simulated
environment that is rendered in real time according to the behavior of the user.” (6)

Morton Heillg was considered the “Father of Virtual Reality”. In 1957, he invented the Sensorama Machine. The world’s first visual reality machine. It was a 3-D motion
picture machine that the viewer could experience vibrations in the seat, stereo sound,
smell, and wind. His intention was to create the “Cinema of the Future.”

Heillg stated, "Thus, individually and collectively, by thoroughly applying the
methodology of art, the cinema of the future will become the first art form to reveal the new scientific world to man in the full sensual vividness and dynamic vitality of his consciousness."(7)

Non-Text Based Virtual Reality in Education
This type of technology is being used by students’ everyday. The video game systems,
such as PSP’s and Wii, are Non-Text Based Virtual Reality games. The user engages in
a virtual world. They are either playing against the machine, or an opponent. This
opponent may be in the same room, or on the other side of the world.

There a many possible uses for non-text based Virtual Reality in the education. As a
Constructivism learning environment, it has the potential for students to completely
immerse in the lesson they are studying. The same as they immerse themselves in video
games. This type of technology allows them to explore places and gather information
they normally would read in a textbook.

Through this exploration, they can be guide by a detailed lesson they researched prior to participating in the their virtual journey. This virtual reinforcement enhances the ability of the student to retain the information they are studying, because not only did they read the information, they experienced it.

“A basic concept in teaching,” according to Heilig, “is that a person will have a greater efficiency of learning if he can actually experience a situation as compared with merely reading about it or listening to a lecture.” (8)

Developing a Virtual Reality Learning Environment for Education
Virtual reality as an educational tool is a must. With the growth of video games, PSP’s, Wii, and other interactive games and virtual players on the market, it seems the natural course for virtual reality devices is in the classroom. It is apparent this generation is a visual generation, thus we must teach them at their level. The development and cost of these types of devices seems expensive, but as we reflect on the personal computer, as it first entered the market, it too was expensive. But look where we now.

We live in a visual world. If we are to compete globally, it is necessary to explore the use of this type of technology in the public schools.

Works Cited
(1) Lepper, Mark R. and Chabay, Ruth W. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and instruction:
Conflicting views on the role of motivational processes in computer-based
education, Educational Psychologist, 20:4, 217-230.

(2) Flavell, J. (1963). The developmental psychology of Jean Piaget. New York:
D. Van Nostrand.

(3) Parsons, Ann Head Gardener, Text-based Virtual Reality ESF Partnership Project.
Text Based Virtual Reality PART 1 Purpose and Potential GrassRoots
http://www.enabling.org/moointro.html

(4) Dodge, Bernie (1997). “Some Thoughts About WebQuests.”
http://webquest.org/search/webquest_results.php?language=en&descwords=&searchfield
=descrip&search=Search+SDSU+Database

(5) Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_reality

(6) Loeffler, Carl Eugene and Anderson, Tim, The Virtual Reality Casebook, New York:
Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1994.

(7) Heilig, Morton Sensorama (1962). Art Museum. Net
http://www.artmuseum.net/w2vr/timeline/Heilig.html

(8) Rheingold, Howard, Virtual Reality, New York: Summit Books, 1991

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