using virtual worlds and games

During Learning Technologies earlier this year I listened to several seminars on the use of virtual worlds and game devices with the work of the Royal Navy and Imperial College London being of particular interest. Imperial College were using Second Life as part of their medical training and the Royal Navy were using the PSP as a delivery mechanism on submarines. During the 90’s I’d worked on a number of educational cd-rom projects many of which used games and games theory but back then it wasn’t titled game based learning and there wasn’t anything as accessible as Second Life. Worlds were painstakingly created by filming actors against blue screens and creating lavish backgrounds to place them against. The results were fantastic and still look good today (even if they are at 480×640!). Even since then I’ve been interested in Game Development and I think it is fantastic that the Royal Navy have taken the PSP as a learning device. In the past 10 years the growth of game development courses has been rapid and they are providing some interesting opportunities for students. This is also combined with the increased access to getting content onto the game devices, its like a return to the days of the spectrum where people were coding games from their bedroom! This led to several people making their fortune and setting up fantastic companies like the Darling brothers who set up Codemasters. Who doesn’t remember Dizzy!

As well as Second Life there are a number of other Virtual World development tools, some of which are suited for e-learning. We’ve been using the Thinking Worlds tool for several months with our own development team and also students from Norwich University College of the Arts. I’m really impressed with the results from a technical, gaming and learning perspective. There are people who will find the development tools have a steep learning curve when compared to the traditional tools that they have used but in the hands of a games designer we’ve been able to rapidly produce things! I say things because I’m not sure what to call them, learning module, game, serious game, simulation, virtual world? Perhaps its all of these things? There have been challenges along the way as we’ve got to grips with using a new tool and understanding how to get the best from it. The reaction from clients has been really interesting, they can’t believe how quickly they can be developed when they see how it works the depth of the resources. Personally I’ve found the best part of the process has been seeing how the games designers are part of our e-learning development team. There have been numerous press releases and statements about how the skills of games designers are far reaching, including a recent one from NESTA and TIGA. In our experience we know that this can work, interactive design, games design, instructional design – maybe its just design? Design for an audience, design with a purpose and design with an outcome in mind? I know that our team are increasing their skills and are great designers and not just graphic/interactive/instructional/games* (*delete as appropriate).

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