Apr 23 2007

How Does Online Gaming Fit into Higher Education Technology?

Increasingly, higher education is going digital. And it's not just in terms of distance learning, which can help bridge geographic gaps between instructors and students in different parts of the country. Now the same thinking is being applied to the virtual classroom.

So, how do we bridge the gap between the traditional classroom and Web-based 3-D platforms, which offer teaching in dynamic and engaging but unpredictable ways? It's a tough question, and one that colleges and universities must answer.

In “Can Virtual Classrooms Deliver Concrete Results?,” EdTech delves into the role that online worlds and avatars can play in higher education. Some educators and researchers believe these types of massively multiplayer online games can help struggling students learn. The debate is an ongoing one. Early iterations of these MMO games and 3-D classes haven't adequately met academic requirements, but these new forays into virtualized learning seem to help keep students engaged. Some experts, including Lauren Gelman, believe these games can democratize learning. Gelman is the associate director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School and dean of the New York Law School's State of Play Academy. She hopes that these games will make it easier to teach a wider variety of topics by making educators more accessible and not bound by institutional and geographic boundaries. And of course, for the IT professional, there's the task of keeping bandwidth-hungry virtual classrooms safe from latency problems and cyberhackers.

A growing number of educators are bringing computer games into their curricula. “Gaming In Education,” explores how schools are turning computer games into classroom learning tools. Take the University of Minnesota, for example. Journalism professors Kathleen Hansen and Nora Paul turned a Dungeons & Dragons–type game into an exercise to teach journalism students about the fine art of sourcing. In the game's medieval setting, students must interview sources who divulge answers to timid or cocky interviewers. And at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, economics professor Jeffrey Sarbaum enlisted a team of more than 40 software developers, graphic designers, artists and content editors to create an educational game.

But it's not all fun and games on campus. With tight budgets and growing enrollments, schools are looking to business intelligence systems to help make better strategic decisions and recruit and retain high-achieving students. That's exactly what Rick Burnette is doing at Florida State University. As director of student information management, he is also a master sculptor of data. He has built a system for integrating data about Florida State's 40,000 students into a single business intelligence platform. For our cover story, visit “The Michelangelos of Data".

These two major trend lines – business intelligence and gaming – demonstrate two ways innovative schools are attempting to tackle gaps in
understanding and learning.

Editor in Chief

So what is an avatar?

The word “avatara” in Sanskrit means “descent,” and typically refers to the descent of a god onto Earth for some specific purpose. The bodily manifestation of the god on Earth is the avatar. In the realm of gaming, however, avatars are usually the representation of an individual in the computer game setting. For example, in the movie “The Matrix,” the lead character John Anderson is represented in the digital realm by an avatar called Neo, who possessed supernatural powers.