Home > STEM, Virtual Worlds > New 3D Worlds and the Digital Divide

New 3D Worlds and the Digital Divide

Education today is unequivocally being divided into two groups: those who integrate and utilize new and emerging technologies, and those who do not. Unfortunately, the world of technology is moving so rapidly, it is becoming increasingly difficult for teachers, much less students to keep up with the changes. Among the newest technologies evolving for use in education are 3D virtual worlds. These new immersive environments provide new avenues for instruction, but also bring new challenges.

In many ways, technology can help teachers and administrators bridge the divide in preparing economically disadvantaged students for careers in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the high speed of change in technology can actually increase the divide between the haves and have nots. As more education moves to an online environment, students will be required to maintain an internet access point. The NAEP discovered that students who have access to free and reduced lunches are also significantly less likely to have access to a computer at school or outside of the regular school day (as cited in Education Week, 2004). Interacting in a virtual world requires a level of computer proficiency that would not be easily attainable without regular access to computers, especially outside of the school environment. It will become increasingly important for educators and institutions to find ways to reduce the growing divide in access to the tools necessary for creating 21st century learners.

On the other hand, 3D virtual environments create an opportunity to provide education on a global scale. As O’Driscoll (2007) discusses, the online #D learning environment creates a “Death of Disctance” that can allow students to find exceptional teachers and classrooms that might not be available to them locally. Simulated 3D environments also provide an opportunity to engage students in a constructivist learning environment through scientific visualization as discussed by Yair, Mintz, and Litvak (2001) helping to create a constructivist learning environment in subjects that are normally restricted to textbooks and non-interactive sources. These environments give the educator the opportunity to truly become a facilitator of learning as they create the actual world in which the students will be interacting.

Interactive 3D environments are a new and powerful tool for educators to use with a new generation of digital natives. They can help students interact with worlds that have previously been unreachable. However, these environments also help us understand how wide the gap has grown between those with access and those without, and the need to find creative ways to close the gap.

Education Week. (2004, September 21). Technology in Education. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from Education Week: http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/technology-in-education/

O’Driscoll, D. T. (2007, March 22). Learing in Three Dimensions.

Yair, Y., Mintz, R., & Litvak, S. (2001). 3D-Virtual Reality in Science Education: An Implication for Astronomy Teaching. Retrieved March 4, 2011, from Stanford university: http://www.stanford.edu/dept/SUSE/projects/ireport/articles/3D/JCMST203293.pdf

Categories: STEM, Virtual Worlds
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