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Virtual worlds could play important role in future of learning

Virtual environments could be used for distance learning.
Virtual environments could be used for distance learning.
(Courtesy of Dalton Salvo)

Classrooms of the future could be held amid scenic mountain ranges, a coliseum or on the moon.

The possibilities are endless in a virtual world.

As cases of the coronavirus decline, schools are starting to reopen their campuses. But Dalton Salvo, a UC Irvine PhD candidate in English, believes that remote learning will continue to evolve and play an important role in the future.

“I see this virtual platform as being a way to improve the possibilities and access for some of our population that may struggle with just the good old-fashioned, in-person learning,” Salvo said.

For half a decade, Salvo has been studying how virtual environments immerse and engage users. When COVID-19 took hold last year, his work became all the more important as schools transitioned to remote learning.

Salvo is currently focusing on a virtual program called Breakroom, which was created by Sine Wave Entertainment and is similar to the popular game Second Life. The app is primarily marketed toward the business community on its website.

A virtual environment like this one could be used for remote learning.
A virtual environment like this one could be used for remote learning.
(Courtesy of Dalton Salvo)

Salvo believes that virtual programs like Breakroom improve on a few issues with remote learning, including lack of participation and attentiveness.

Salvo, who teaches classes at UC Irvine, pointed out that not all students may be comfortable with in-person schooling. This may include people living with disabilities or who have issues traveling to campus.

“Everybody’s more hesitant, less participatory, and it’s far more difficult to build that comfortable environment where you can just shoot ideas off of one another,” Salvo said of current remote learning.

”A primary obstacle also is just lack of attention. I find it hard to stare at video conferences and stay focused all day long. I personally don’t require my students to use their webcams. So it’s inevitable, but all of a sudden, you end class and there’s like two or three students that just checked out, they walked away and left their Zoom running.”

Dalton Salvo is developing a virtual environment for a symposium in May.
Dalton Salvo is developing a virtual environment for a symposium in May.
(Courtesy of Dalton Salvo)

Salvo said those issues may be resolved with a more immersive virtual environment.

In Breakroom, users create an avatar and use it to navigate through various virtual worlds. Salvo said the simple task of moving an avatar through the virtual space could make students more attentive.

“If you leverage the navigable possibilities of a virtual environment, you use a larger space and you’re not limited to a classroom anymore,” he said.

A class could start in a virtual auditorium, and students would need to move their avatar into independent breakout rooms.

“You can use very subtle elements of the space itself, and as long as you design your teaching strategies accordingly, you can actually necessitate somewhat of a more engaged participation from the students by building new mechanisms that actually require them to do a few things periodically throughout the duration of that class,” Salvo said.

Salvo is currently creating a virtual center for a conference in May. He’s also hoping to eventually design an entire class in Breakroom for his dissertation.

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