Virtual tools enrich student instruction

Using a virtual environment for instruction is a valuable tool that teachers and parents should embrace, not fear. For more than five years, I have been helping teachers across the region build and connect virtual environments in their classrooms. When a secure virtual tool is utilized appropriately, it enriches instruction and leads to a deeper level of understanding.

In my professional development sessions, we use a tool called OpenSim. Eight different schools have been trained and currently 13 teachers are using the tool in their classrooms. The project, which is aligned with Common Core standards, has helped students understand the complexity of the Holocaust by providing a companion experience to the classic book, “The Diary of a Young Girl,” by Anne Frank. Using avatars, students experience the streets of Amsterdam in 1944, the secret annex and other surrounding areas that are detailed in the book. Personalizing and dressing an avatar is a very small piece of the project and some tools, like OpenSim, will only display shaded body features.

The teachers I have partnered with have reported an increase in student engagement, interest level and test score data. Earlier this year, Erie 1 BOCES was awarded a three-year $50,000 Learning Technology Grant by the New York State Education Department to continue its work with virtual environments.

As technology continues to evolve, educators and parents must evolve with it as partners. Students, as a rite of passage, will stretch and test the limits. That applies in all mediums, from books to computers. We must stand ready and willing to work together in building a new world, whether virtual or physical.

Andrew Wheelock

CSLO Model Schools Coordinator

Erie 1 BOCES, Fredonia