Will I ever use virtual environments in my classroom? In short: I seriously doubt it.
I’m all for using technology to enhance communication. However, I am fundamentally opposed to using it as a replacement.
I have said it many times before: Technology should be used in education if and preferably only if it authentically enhances the experience. If technology is inserted into the classroom simply because it’s really cool and/or popular, but it does nothing really to enhance what the learning experience would have been otherwise, I think it should be avoided.
The most compelling reason I have heard so far as an educator to explore virtual environments is because if they become mainstream in the classroom, it would be a shame to suddenly need to play catch-up. There is truth to this idea, but a very limited truth, one that if broadly applied could really be used as an excuse to fiddle with just about everything. Why don’t we all spend hours a day on Facebook so we’re masters of the environment if it ever becomes the preeminent educational tool? We don’t because (a) we don’t believe it will and (b) we’re relatively positive it is not the best use of our time.
Furthermore, the concept of a virtual environment actually bothers me a bit. Not only do I think such an experience can become addictive, but I think it fosters a false sense of confidence in who you are not. In a virtual environment, if you want to be a pro-wrestler spy who is rich and suave, go ahead. But are you learning to be the best YOU that you can be? One of our jobs as educators is to help students learn how to maximize their potential. But it still has to be THEIR potential. And anything less will ultimately be very unfulfilling.