Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Life as an Avatar: Whyville, WebKinz & More


Part two of the virtual worlds assignment was to investigate My first comment that I feel compelled to make is that I am definitely NOT part of the target market for this application. That being said, there are some pros and cons to the environment worth mentioning.

  • Definitely designed for the younger age range, as opposed to Second Life and others.
  • Great for learning about banking. The "bank" teaches about checking, savings and CD accounts as well as the idea of earning interest on your "clams" and "pearls".
  • Some games provide other lessons as well. For instance, the WhyEat Food Challenge helps users to learn about nutrition and the Girl Game Clubhouse gives girls the confidence to design and play games.
  • The Chat license is a great introduction into online safety rules and procedures.
  • There is no sound in the game. This makes accommodations for special needs children highly lacking.
  • Getting started is somewhat confusing and the "tour" is not much help.
  • Chat is confusing. There is no instructions on how to chat and it seems like meeting up with friends is difficult.
  • Creating a Face is also difficult especially since many of the parts are expensive. I have a face but I'm still not happy with it.
Here is a picture of me (Robin611) in the Girl Game Clubhouse. I'm the one on the pink carpet...

As far as educational uses in the classroom, I think that it has limited application probably in a computer lab environment for lower grades (K-2) but beyond that would be difficult to implement as part of a technology-integrated curriculum.

While not part of the assignment, I have been wanted to check out WebKinz for a while. In my opinion WebKinz has most of the advantages of Whyville but without the cons. Sound and text are nicely integrated, there is a very user-friendly introduction, there is no need to "create your face" because your avatar is your pet and the user interface for games and chat is very to easy to use. While there doesn't seem to be the concept of bank accounts and CDs, it does keep track of your "KinzCash", let you find employment and earn a salary, and has lots of educational games like Math Trivia and more. Like Whyville, you can shop and it uses the grown-up concept of a "shopping cart" to buy house parts, pet food and such.

The negatives that I can deduce are: 1) There really isn't a "Home" page per se. You always have to keep bringing up the "Things to Do" menu to move around. 2) Whyville has a much nicer method for understanding the online safety guidelines with the "Chat License" concept. WebKinz doesn't have an equivalent. 3) You have to buy a WebKinz pet or code in order to play.

From an educational perspective in the classroom, each student would need to have at least one pet (which requires a purchase). Like Whyville, this would probably be best in a lab environment for younger children but it's much easier than Whyville to direct students to certain areas within the virtual world. For instance, you could specify that they have to go to Quizzy's corner to play Math games today. The lessons learned would include basic skills (in a drill-n-kill type of implementation), keeping track of funds, and taking care of a "pet" (learning responsibilities like providing food, being aware of other's happiness, etc...).

Other Virtual Worlds
There are lots of other virtual worlds worth investigating. This directory gives a good overview of each one and provides a link to the site. While I didn't sign up for any others, the ones that caught my eye for future investigation are:
  1. Club Penguin - a virtual world designed to let children play and interact with one another in a moderated and safe enviornment. I've heard of this one before and my understanding is that it's a lot like WebKinz.
  2. Disney's ToonTown Online - a MMORPG designed for ages 7 and up. Knowing what ToonTown in Disney World is like, this environment, while not described as a virtual world, could offer potential learning opportunities. Not surprisingly, this is not free. So, this limits its usefulness in the classroom.
  3. Kaneva - combines social networking and media sharing in the setting of a 3D virtual world. Not one that I had heard of, but it caught my eye because it focuses more on content sharing versus traditional virtual worlds. Probably for older kids.
  4. Minyanland - a virtual community that provides entertainment and educational opportunities. Spotlighted on this K-8 Educational Technology Resources page, it looked pretty interesting.
  5. Not listed in the directory, but possibly worth checking out are: Build-a-Bearville and Beanie Babies 2.0.
  6. Quest Atlantis - A 3D learning environment designed to be entertaining and educational, as well as develop character and values.

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