For those educators and tech-savvy explorers ready to take on the growing frontier of virtual worlds, a new hub–RezED–now exists to make the journey to alternative realities a little easier.

Launched in beta mid-March, RezEd is a comprehensive resource on everything virtual for educators, students, and those simply interested in what these increasingly popular 3D worlds are all about. 

RezEd was developed by Global Kids–an independent nonprofit organization that creates programs to enrich school environments through global education, community building, leadership development, and personal skill building–and is a community of practice that brings attention to all aspects of online learning. It spans virtual worlds through various digital media resources, weekly best practices, guest moderated discussion, and twice-monthly podcast interviews with youth, educators, and experts in the field.

Visitors to the site can learn about many virtual places and topics, such as Second Life, K-8 virtual worlds, virtual gaming in education, research on the sociology and ethics of virtual worlds, working with the incarcerated, and virtual fieldtrips.

Barry Joseph, director of the Online Leadership Program for Global Kids, says that even though there have been a number of efforts to expand this field beyond a listserv through blogs, wikis, and in-world events, these "fractured initiatives" have not yet reached the full potential for a "cohesive and effective community."

"Global Kids sought to develop a host of accessible resources and combine them with the latest social computing tools within a single virtual center: the Hub for Learning and Virtual Worlds [RezEd]," explains Joseph.

Before this virtual hub, Global Kids advanced virtual learning through programs aimed at providing students with 21st-century skills.

For example, in 2000, Global Kids launched the Online Leadership Program (OLP), which organizers say has reached millions of youth around the world demonstrating how digital media can promote international education and civic engagement.

In 2004, Global Kids founded the High School for Global Citizenship in Brooklyn, which has been recognized by U.S. Department of Education officials as one of the city’s leading small schools.

Along with these student-centered programs, RezEd "is a community that makes accessible and practical the type of research being done by many and connects them with practitioners in the field to inform their work," says Joseph.

"At the same time, the community of practitioners can support one another through sharing best practices and the latest information about this work."

Global Kids applied to the first open call for proposals by the MacArthur Foundation, administered through the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC). More than 1,000 applications were received and RezEd was one of 11 grants approved.

The funds from the grant allowed Global Kids to launch RezEd and draw on the resources found within the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning grantee pool of researchers.

As of press time, this recognized social networking site catered to more than 700 members, its organizers say, and is growing by the day.

RezEd helps newcomers to the virtual experience through guides and toolboxes, but also has a variety of materials for veterans of the virtual scene.

Here are resources highly recommended by Joseph and RezEd for educators who want to know more about virtual learning:

Podcasts
– Barry Joseph and Rafi Santo from Global Kids, along with Otis, a Global Kids Youth Leader, traveled to the fourth annual Games, Learning, and Society Conference, in Madison, Wis., to produce a RezEd special conference overview, exclusively featuring the learning and virtual worlds elements.
http://www.rezed.org/page/page/show?id=2047896%3APage%3A11112

– Peggy Sheehy is a middle-school information specialist facilitating the Ramapo Islands Project and one of the first school-based educators to use Teen Second Life in the classroom.
http://www.rezed.org/forum/topic/show?id=2047896%3ATopic%3A4731

– Larry Johnson speaks to RezEd about his recent testimony before Congress on Virtual Worlds. Larry Johnson is the chief executive officer of the New Media Consortium (NMC).
http://www.rezed.org/page/page/show?id=2047896%3APage%3A10659

Best Practices
– "Best practices in walking the line between guided and self-directed learning within a socially-situated IT learning program for girls"
http://www.rezed.org/forum/topic/show?id=2047896%3ATopic%3A6778

– "Leveraging Social Networks within a Virtual World to Teach"
http://www.rezed.org/forum/topic/show?id=2047896%3ATopic%3A514

– "Taking Down Jail Walls: Using Technology and Virtual World Programs to bring Opportunities to Incarcerated Youth"
http://www.rezed.org/forum/topic/show?id=2047896%3ATopic%3A9298

According to Joseph, current projections show that in 2011, 20 million teens–or 53 percent of the teen population–will be using virtual worlds, and a growing community of educators and nonprofits are interested in using these online spaces for education, advocacy, and social change.

"We do not anticipate virtual worlds [will] fade away," says Joseph, "and, if anything, they will fracture into new forms, as did the web, to make the phrase ‘virtual world’ an archaic phrase describing a variety of ways in which people will one day interact in 3D environments and 2D graphical social environments."

In September 2008, RezEd will launch its first print magazine. The publication will be feature a variety of experts from the field weighing in on the issue of ethics and virtual worlds as well as offering commentary from the RezEd community itself.

The site also will begin featuring various "youth voices"–podcasts from young leaders around the world using virtual worlds in classrooms, museums, libraries, and juvenile detention centers.

Links:

RezEd

Global Kids

The MacArthur Foundation

HASTAC