With the recent swarm of new toy-based virtual worlds for kids launching in the coming months, I was very happy to hear [via Virtual World News] that the MacArthur Foundation awarded the University of Indiana’s School of Education $1.8 million to expand their edu-virtual world/multiplayer online game, Quest Atlantis. The coming year will prove crucial in establishing the potential for children’s virtual worlds. This announcement is a big step toward realizing the vision of creating online virtual worlds for kids that are about more than mini-games, coins and buying stuff. Sasha Bara, QA developer, sums it up nicely:
“Do I really want the storytellers that are educating my children to be Sony, Blizzard, and Electronic Arts?” he said. “I think there are a lot of wonderful games out there that have good messages, but I think we as educators need to enter that market and start to develop compelling stories that kids will want to adopt.”
I spoke briefly about the need for educators to move into these spaces and become storytellers during yesterday’s Chillin’ at Club Penguin presentation at the OISE Dean’s Graduate Conference. Quest Atlantis is an excellent example of this in action. A captivating storyline woven into a good-looking virtual world that allows students and teachers to interact via avatars while engaging in quests that link directly to the curriculum. It’s Gee meets Vygotsky wrapped up in Dewey delivered via an epistemic game to the new wired generation.
The Quest Atlantis crew will be using the money to add staff and servers in preparation of an expansion to the game. Couple this with the recent announcement of funding for RezEd, a social network for educators using vws to teach and IBM’s display of interest via PowerUp and I think 2008 will prove to be the year edu-vws for kids will start gaining some territory in school computer labs, classrooms and (dare we hope?) home computers around the world.