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The design of inclusive curricula for multi-user virtual environments: A framework for developers and educators
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Denise WoodDenise Wood
Increasing access to Information Communication Technologies and a growing awareness of the importance of digital media literacy have led many educators to seek innovative solutions to harness the enthusiasm of ‘net gen’ learners while also enhancing their ability to collaborate, communicate and problem solve augmented by digital technologies. One of the emergent trends in response to these demands has been the shift away from traditional models of teaching to more flexible approaches such as the use of multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) designed to facilitate a more collaborative and participatory approach to student learning. At the same time, international initiatives such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, Education for All and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities have highlighted the importance of ensuring that such teaching and learning environments are inclusive of students with diverse needs. Many universities are also responding to a widening participation agenda; a policy focus which aims to increase both the access and success rates of students from low socio-economic backgrounds. Educational technology has long been regarded as a means by which students who may be isolated by disability, geographical location and/or social circumstances can gain access to such learning opportunities. The growth in the use of MUVEs combined with increasing access to mobile communications opens up new opportunities for engaging students from diverse backgrounds through virtual learning environments. Yet despite the potential, there are many challenges in ensuring that the very students who are most able to benefit from such e-learning technologies are not further disadvantaged by a lack of attention to both the technical and pedagogical considerations required in the design of inclusive e-learning environments. This paper reports on the findings of research funded through an Australian Learning andTeaching Council Grant, which aims to increase the opportunities for learners to participate more fully in education through an accessible multi-user virtual learning environment. The paper draws on ethnographic research, trials of undergraduate courses and a framework that can guide educators and designers in developing curricula that maximises the pedagogical affordances of e-learning technologies such as MUVEs, while also addressing the needs of diverse learners.