There were two good blog posts on virtual words for kids that caught my eye this week. 360 Kid’s Scott Traylor reports the 2008 New York Toy Fair was one of the best in recent years, with “…at least twelve new or relaunched social networking / virtual world destinations for children. Some have an offline component, like a stuffed toy complete with a code to unlock an online destination. Others had a device that would connect to your computer via the USB port.”
I’m sure not all of these are stand-outs by any means but one, the ME2, really does appear to break new ground. Though the ME2 website only offers a tantalizing glimpse (“Coming Spring 2008” and a few unremarkable screen shots) the video demonstration made it clear why Scott describes this as a “giant leap forward.”
In a nutshell, kids becomes Me2 citizens not by dinging mom or dad’s credit card each month, but through a one-time purchase ($36) of a GPS device. Yep, that’s right, GPS. This pocket-sized gizmo allows you to earn points to spend in-world by moving. What a radical concept! Need a new stereo for your virtual crib? Time for a few trips up and down the stairs. Want to pimp your virtual ride? Better get the bike and head out for a lap or two around the neighborhood. How cool is that?
Meanwhile, Lee Wilson of Headway Strategies and the Education Business Blog wrote an excellent update on virtual worlds and learning in the March issue of Cable in the Classroom magazine. In Virtual Worlds = Real Learning he reports “There have always been scientific concepts our children should experience that are too dangerous, too expensive, or too time-consuming for school. For these activities – some of the most thought provoking in science – we have had to settle for lectures and reading. Virtual worlds change this equation.”
I couldn’t agree more. Though virtual worlds — or any game genre — is not a panacea for all students, subjects or situations, in the right hands they can be used to offer an experiential learning environment that is difficult to provide any other way.