West Virginia looks to Second Life

West Virginia educators can now turn to Second Life for professional development.
West Virginia educators can now turn to Second Life for professional development.

On Dec. 21, 2009, the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) launched a definitive online resource for potential and current educators in West Virginia called Teach West Virginia. The WVDE uses this resource to educate teachers and the public about our 21st century learning program, Global21: Students deserve it. The world demands it. In addition, the web site provides information on available routes into the teaching profession within West Virginia. The WVDE projects that a large number of the state’s educators may reach retirement eligibility over the next decade as West Virginia is home to one of the nation’s oldest teaching work forces.

Teach West Virginia looks to be a part of the answer to this potential pitfall as it focuses on recruiting educators by providing potential candidates with fully interactive maps that display the approved teacher preparation programs and job opportunities throughout the state. It also features an interactive menu that lists the West Virginia professional teaching standards and most of the state’s certification requirements. Professional development resources are located within the “Ways to Grow” section that includes information about National Board Certification, advanced credentials and free eLearning courses offered to teachers employed within West Virginia for the purpose of certification renewal and specialized training.

Within this new resource, the WVDE has developed a unique and groundbreaking virtual world on the internet’s largest 3D virtual community, Second Life. This world is being created through a partnership with West Virginia University’s College of Human Resources and Education. Pamela Whitehouse, assistant professor of Instructional Design and Technology, is directing the production of a virtual space for Teach West Virginia, which showcases many of the things that are unique and wonderful about teaching in the Mountain State.

Visitors currently may interact with avatars of representatives from the WVDE, explore a movie theater, and participate in an interactive scavenger hunt designed to highlight state professional teaching standards. The movie theater features virtual refreshments and video clips about issues relevant in a new age of education while highlighting many of the ongoing events and initiatives going on at the WVDE. The scavenger hunt takes users on a journey through classrooms from traditional styles of the past into the progressive Global21 classrooms of today. Along this journey, visitors collect clues to progress through the interactive game. The clues educate visitors about West Virginia’s professional teaching standards and how each standard applies to a new style of learning and classroom instruction for the 21st century. At the end of this journey, users are assessed on what they have learned and rewarded for their efforts by winning a virtual Global21 T-shirt for their avatar.

There are plans to expand this virtual world into more of a virtual universe in the months and years to come. Future efforts include the development of a hot air balloon ride that allows users to visit a representation of every school in West Virginia. Such efforts also will create spaces where prospective and in-service teachers may share virtual lesson plans and participate in high quality professional development. There are even possibilities to link this virtual world to other educational resources that are already available within Second Life.

“The possibilities of this virtual world appear to be endless,” said Nick Hardison, a developer of the Teach West Virginia virtual world. “If you can think it, you can do it in Second Life. This community allows developers to take a snapshot of any real-life classroom situation or even some imaginary scenarios and put them to practice in a world where users may experience learning without actually being in a traditional classroom.”

Educators and designers such as Whitehouse and Hardison are tasked with testing the limits of new virtual environments to find unique and useful ways of providing teachers and students with experiences that advance a technological mindset in education. Efforts like these provide academic institutions, current teachers, and prospective educators with new ways not only to share their experiences, but also to develop scenarios, visualize methods, and put them into practice.

Over time, this virtual world will effectively educate the public about the educational profession in West Virginia, spark the interest of potential teaching candidates, and create new ways for educators to conduct professional development. Professional development in this virtual world will be designed to allow more collaboration between teachers and connect teachers to students from across the state and around the world in high quality project-based learning experiences.  While the Second Life project is still in its beta testing stages, it may currently be accessed through a valid eMail request. The Teach West Virginia virtual world is scheduled for an official launch to the public this summer.

The Teach West Virginia web site and Second Life virtual world were made possible through the creative and collaborative efforts of the West Virginia Department of Education’s Division of Educator Quality and System Support and grant funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. The Second Life project may be accessed on Teach West Virginia. Comments and feedback about the initiatives mentioned throughout this article may be submitted to the WVDE.

Robert Mellace is the coordinator for the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Professional Preparation. He can be reached at 304-558-7010, or rmellace@access.k12.wv.us.

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