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March 20, 2008

The Future of Virtual Worlds for Education Goes to Washington

NMC CEO Larry Johnson (Larry Pixel in Second Life) is on his way to Congress to provide testimony to the House Sub-Committee on Internet and Telecommunications. The topic of the hearing is on the potential of virtual worlds. Larry asked some of his colleagues to outline some thoughts and suggestions that he might consider in putting together his written testimony. Below is my note to Larry and below that Larry's initial communication.

Larry: I'd second Richard's call out! Congratulations.

From my own experience, I think it is important to preempt the twin derision which usually starts with a dismissal of 'serious gaming' as simply fanciful/delusional. As Richard suggests this is an exercise in re-imagining the possible. The second element to preempt is the notion of binary choices between the 'real' and the 'virtual'. If you can change the formulation to insert the boolean logic of an "And" statement then I think not only have you helped to educate those who might be interested in listening to your written and/or oral testimony about the 'reality' of the current (and future) generations' orientation to social and gaming networks... more important... is the opportunity for you to speak on behalf of all of us in higher education to ask policy makers to engage personally and directly in these environments.

When will we have 'constituent hours' in SL equivalent to the now hundreds of faculty who are keeping office hours in SL as a preferred modality. When will we have routine town hall meetings to encourage civic engagement and education among the population equivalent to our peer to peer student study halls that are held daily for freshmen chemistry and physics recitations. When will we have a SL CSPAN commitment (with federal funding) to public dissemination and education equivalent to the open electronic poster sessions that are hosted in SL on research topics. When will we see federal support for building 'live' historical sites of the American civil war of Virginia or the American civil rights movement in Alabama as part of the mission of the Federal Parks or the Capitol equivalent to the work of urban historians in the academy and local historical societies who are helping to re-invent the past in the construction in SL life of historical moments in the life and times of their local cities. When will we see support for major investment to bring the Smithsonian and other federally supported museums into an authentic and active learning (and building) experience based on a virtual worlds platform but also extending to an infinite set of opportunities around social networking so as to expose generation of the future and audiences around the world to experience (in some form) the treasures of the museum world.

Larry, take the opportunity to place on the record the need to do more than simply chronicle where we've come from. Paint them (and the record) a picture of where we're going and how impactful and transformational the journey could and should be.


Dear NMC Emeritus Board members,

I have been asked to present testimony on the current state and future potential of virtual worlds to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on April 1st, just a couple of weeks from now.

The subcommittee is interested in understanding what is happening across the virtual landscape, including spaces like Second Life, Wonderland, and others that the NMC and its members have been investigating, especially as it impacts the sectors of education, not-for-profits, healthcare, and business and commerce.

It is a bit humbling to consider just what to say when asked to speak a topic as broad as this, more so when asked to present the perspective of education. What encourages me is all the work NMC members have been doing in this area for the past couple of years -- I feel all that work gives us a tremendous foundation upon which to convey a clear vision for virtual worlds to this very important and influential group -- and a great opportunity to articulate that vision. In many ways, given the mix of institutions in the NMC, our collective voice is the voice of higher education, and I hope to present a rational and well-balanced perspective, one that represents all of the institutions that make up the NMC well.

To that end, I ask your help. Where do you see this emerging landscape heading? What do you see as the most important thing for legislators to understand as they consider where it may be going and how it might impact society? What is the essential "big idea" we should try to convey in this forum?

In short, would you say if you were in my shoes?

I hope you help me think this through, and if you are willing, please take a few moments and send your thoughts to me directly at johnson@nmc.org.

I will be writing a short paper that will be submitted as part of the Congressional Record, and plan to weave the examples and comments you send throughout that piece as I try to present a tapestry of ideas that reflect some sense of the reality and potential of virtual worlds absent the hype and hyperbole that the popular press has fostered. We plan to share that paper with all of you when it is complete. We will also put it up on the website in a CommentPress format so that the issues and ideas embedded in it can fuel continued discussion.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve Univ.
Cleveland, OH
March 20, 2008

Posted by lsg8 at March 20, 2008 07:21 AM and tagged

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