Teaching Higher Order Skills in a Virtual World

Students standing outside of green building on MSIT island.

Another question about virtual worlds and learning.

How do you get learners to engage in higher order cognitive skills (e.g., abstraction; synthesis; evaluation; experimentation; reflection) in a virtual world?

Virtual worlds are ideal for placing a learner into a problem solving situation. For teaching higher order skills it is always good idea because it requires the learner to apply multiple levels of thought to a situation.

For example, a learner can’t decide the best method of running a business without synthesis of concepts, without experimentation or reflection. Running a business in something like Second Life is inexpensive and better way to teach business concepts than having students run an actual business in Real Life with big bucks. Another example is putting out a fire or arranging traffic flow in a building or a city street.

Student interaction is another great way to foster higher order thinking skills. When students interact with each other, they have to engage in higher order skills, especially if the students are involved in a thought provoking discussion or solving a problem. Here are two exercises that provide some opportunities to apply higher order skills.

The first is to ask the students to create a “green” structure within some cost and time constraints. They then must research what it means to have a “green” structure and how to solve some of the problems with the concept of “Green” in an economical fashion. Where to put solar panels? How to deal with wind power when it can mean an ugly structure in an otherwise beautiful setting? Does the initial cost off set the long-term savings. The students need to make trade-offs, compromises and synthesize different information to come up with an effective structure and then defend that structure while giving a tour of it. In this case, through the application process (building the building) they are actually applying higher order skills to solving the problems and trade-offs that arise from the creation of a truly green building while balancing aesthetics.

As mentioned before, another activity is to give students money in a virtual world and let them run a virtual business. This exercise requires many higher order thinking skills.

Additionally, I was recently told a story about a Spanish teacher who immerses her students in a 3D Spanish town for the class period. She indicated that her students became better writers in Spanish because the writing was richer and more personnel than previously with the virtual world because the students were engaged in the Spanish environment and had a richer experience. The richer experience was reflected in their richer writing (in Spanish). This obviously enables higher order skills such as reflection and synthesis.

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Posted in: Second Life 3D worlds

Leave a Comment (2) ↓


  1. koichi October 28, 2008

    I don’t think it will be too long before this kind of thing really hits the mainstream. People lovvve learning (and I say people very loosely), teaching sells, and pretty soon people will be more open to the idea of virtual spaces. Great article!

  2. Danah S. October 28, 2008

    This is a very interesting topic. There are some great ideas to use in classrooms and I think in a world where technology is such a big part it’s not right if we as teachers do not include it in our classrooms. It is amazing to see students using technology and how engaged they are.

Karl Kapp
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