In Dede (2014)’s introduction, he poses the following important question:
"In order to make deeper learning possible on a large scale,
Fullan & Langworthy (2014) emphasize that deep learning tasks "re-structure learning activities from a singular focus on content mastery to the explicit development of students’ capacities to learn, create and proactively implement their learning" (p. 22). Referring to Brown and Thomas, Dede (2014) emphasizes how new media and tools facilitate playful learning or ludic epistemology, which encourages participation, creation, sharing and learning through the meaningful engagement (play) with digital technologies. Hence, in order to provide more opportunities for deep learning, Dede (2014) maintains that technology is a tool to promote deep learning and that by immersing students in authentic simulations such as multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) and augmented reality where students can meaningfully interact with digital objects, technology “empowers teachers to make better use of [deep learning] instructional strategies such as: case-based learning, collaborative learning, self-directed learning, the use of multiple representations and the use of diagnostic assessments” (p. 2).
While Virtual Reality (VR) is garnering much attention as the hottest thing in the entertainment industry, Villanueva (2016) is more enthusiastic about the possibilities that VR has for "stimulating social and political transformations”. In accordance with VR’s potential as a tool to promote social change, Darvasi (2016) identifies the numerous ways VR has been used to “help with autism, improve personal financial management, treat PTSD and manage pain.” Bailenson et al. (2008) describe how "VEs enable transformed social interaction (TSI), the ability of teachers and students to use digital technology to strategically alter their online representations and contexts in order to improve learning" (p. 103).
By getting up close and personal to the subjects, Villanueva (2016) highlights how "researchers have discovered that immersive virtual environments allow us to see, hear, and feel digital stimuli as if we were in the real world”. For instance, students can embark on over 100 virtual journeys from ancient Egypt to the surface of the Moon through Google Expeditions. On the same wavelength, Darvasi (2016) emphasizes Madary and Metzinger’s ardent belief that "VR technology will eventually change not only our general image of humanity but also our understanding of deeply entrenched notions, such as “conscious experience,” “selfhood,” “authenticity,” or “realness.”
Furthermore, Bailenson et al. (2008) outline some of the unique affordances of virtual environments for deep learning, which include: embodying agents that provide personalized one-on-one learning experiences, co-learning through the shared reasoning and dialogue of highly interactive agents, providing visualizations of complex information, synthesizing archived learning patterns to create behavioural profiles of learners and simulating lessons that are too dangerous or expensive to conduct (pp. 106-110).
While VEs contain an enormous potential to benefit 21st century learning, it does not erase the fact that technology is a double-edged sword. Consequently, it is important to keep in mind some ethical considerations for using virtual environments for learning with children and adolescents. Darvasi (2016) highlights how prolonged exposure to technology may induce “addiction, manipulation of agency, unnoticed psychological change and mental illness.” In fact, another concern with VEs is being the eventual inability to separate reality from the virtual environment. Darvasi (2016) highlights how long exposures to VR may bring about Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder, which exhibits how "VR’s capacity to blur the real and the unreal can also deepen the propensity children have to mix-up fantasy with reality.” If students fail to distinguish the real world and the virtual world, how will this affect their functioning in the real world?
While we can “like” and “react” to people’s posts, images or videos on digital social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, Darvasi (2016) points out how “limited and potentially superficial social interactions in virtual spaces may become normalized and we could collectively lose the knowledge and memory of the intricacies of face-to-face communication”. I will admit that although I have hundreds of friends on Facebook and follow a myriad of people on Instagram, I question how well I know these people or if I would actually go through the trouble of meeting some of them face-to-face and enjoying an actual conversation. While technology has the power to connect socially-inept people through online communities such as Facebook or Meetup, what are the consequences of the consequential diminishment of real world interactions? In relation to learning, what’s the point of actually going to school to learn in a physical classroom if there are DTPs where you can learn in the comfort of your own home with other online agents?
To push this question even further, Dede (2014) plays devil’s advocate and asks the time-old question concerning the role of the teacher: "Could DTPs eventually be used to enable auto-didactic learning so that the teacher was no longer necessary?” (p. 12) While we have blended learning environments or online learning environments like Coursera, there is still a professor who is facilitating thinking and discussions. In response to this question, Dede (2014) emphasizes the essentiality of the teacher’s role because "digital technology today will not have the sophistication needed to deliver the complex types of teaching and assessment that deeper learning requires, particularly in subject areas that do not have a narrow range of “right answers” to problems” (p. 12). In other words, while teachers can use VEs to facilitate deeper learning, teachers are still needed to implement appropriate instructional strategies and develop meaningful assessments to check if their students are understanding the “big ideas” and how they fit within the “bigger picture”, encouraging interdisciplinary learning and meaning connection-making. Ultimately, as the image depicts, teachers have a huge influence in their students’ lives – one that even computers cannot imitate or assume.
Similarly, Darvasi (2016) calls attention to how virtual environments “will respond to our body language, occasioning laser precise targeted advertising and neuromarketing, including the strategy of putting us in the very ads and commercials that we are exposed to.” For instance, I noticed how the cookies on my internet browser have kept track of my previous internet searches and is reflected through ads on my Facebook page that specifically target my ‘interests’. With regards to using VEs to promote deeper learning, Knochell and Patton (2015) warn that “unless educators take a lead in developing appropriate pedagogies for these new electronic media and forms of communication, corporate experts will be the ones to determine how people will learn, what they learn and what constitutes literacy” (p. 28).
With all of this in mind, it is evident that teachers cannot avoid technology since its presence is a ubiquitous part in our daily lives. Accordingly, Dede (2014) strongly maintains that “it’s hard to imagine that the nation’s educators could make a real shift toward deeper learning without reinventing their teaching tools and platforms to create new types of instructional environments in which students do their work” (p. 5). It is really up to the teachers to develop their professional capacity to use digital tools in effective and meaningful ways to promote deep learning opportunities for their students. This itself is a difficult task as it asks teachers to rethink and “unlearn” their beliefs about teaching, learning and schooling in general. But once teachers make this huge leap, they will be taking grand strides towards creating these deep learning opportunities and making the learning experience more relevant and meaningful for their students.