In the last few years there has been increasing chatter in the technical press about virtual worlds. By virtual world here I mean on-line, game-like environments of varying graphical realism which are more free-form than most games. If you've heard of any virtual world at all, it will be Second Life
, which has generated more than its fair share of press (good, bad, incoherent), but there are all sorts of such projects, some of which have had the misfortune to go public during a teetering economy, like Metaplace
. There are many others, some commercial, some free, of varying technical assumptions and computing requirements.
Some educators have gotten very excited about these virtual worlds as a platform for teaching, but not always with great success it seems to me. It's not clear how a literature class, say, is improved by logging in and staring at a screen. Indeed, if you're taking almost any class where you're getting face time with an instructor, getting mediated access to that same instructor doesn't seem to make much sense, with the possible exception of a 3d computer design class (many of these virtual worlds let people create and sometimes even add programs to in-world objects).
That said, it does seem like these tools are useful for distance learning situations, especially if you have some sort of voice chat available. For example, I've attended talks by astronomers in Second Life. And in the last year or so I've noticed that some companies have started to offer foreign language instruction in-world, a task for which virtual worlds seem very well suited. Again, especially if you have voice chat available, you get a convenient "face to face" situation (if only metaphorically — some people actually find that more comfortable than just voice chat) plus you can reasonably expect to drop people into contextually appropriate situations for conversation practice, like a cafe, a grocery store, etc.
Do people think there are ways Greek and Latin instruction and interaction could be profitably pursued in virtual worlds?