Educational media developers and researchers at the Cornell University SciCenter put on a workshop with sponsorship from the National Science Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania called the Taxonomy of Virtual Worls for Education. The workshop brought together virtual worlds technology platform developers, educators, educational media develepers, assessment and evaluation researchers, youth facilitaors, and teens from Philadelphia area schools for two days to discuss our practices in making and working with virtual worlds. This was an intensive meeting focused on creating a basic taxonomy of virtual worlds and virtual worlds features which could be used by each of the meeting participants as well as by media designers, businesses, attorneys, school districts, legislators, researchers, funding organizations, and others to better understand virtual worlds and how they can be used by K-12 educators for STEM learning initiatives.
There were several technology platforms/projects represented there including Second Life, Active Worlds (a strong supporter of educational virtual world developers and one a company that has been developing and supporting its platform for over twleve years), Cobalt (open source P2P, object-oriented platform developed at Duke University, built on Open Croquet), Project Wonderland (Sun Microsystems open source platform with strong audio-conferencing elements), Blue Mars (new platform from Avatar Reality, based on a popular 3D game engine), Digital Spaces (open source platform from Digital Space with strong physics support, used by DS in their development of 3D simulations for NASA), and Medulla (an open source toolkit from the Federation of American Scientists for building learning object extensions in various virtual world platforms).
The beginnings of the taxonomy that is being created will be posted online and form the basis for further development of information best practices and organizational strategies for creating, delivering, and assessing immersive education initiatives in virtual worlds. Hopefully, the taxonomy that’s developed will also help the NSF develop some of it’s own guidelines for evaluating proposals for work in this area.