Friday, June 19, 2015

Virtual friends in virtual worlds

This post is a reflection of my thoughts during week 2 of the Open University Childhood in the Digital Age online course.  This week we have looked at social media, gaming and virtual worlds.

One of the assignments this week involved watching a video in which Professor Lydia Plowman researched the way children learn through apps and games. Playing online appears to have many positive strengths, from learning new social skills to educational benefits, and she explained what parents can do to guide their children to unlock the learning benefits of technology as children learn how to learn by making their own choices and decisions.

Playing online not only provides creative opportunities and educational benefits for children, it also provides enormous possibilities for imaginative fun in virtual worlds, such as CBeebies, Music Worls and Moshi Monsters. Up to this point, I was not very familiar with any of these platforms which are aimed at primary school children, but I really want to investigate them, and possibly recommend them, to parents.  While both parents and children are enthusiastic about virtual worlds and online games, there are critics who are concerned about the risks of exposure to a wider community and worried that children have less time to spend on real-world play and more ‘meaningful’, face-to-face relationships.

What I learned this week is that in 2014 there were over 158 virtual worlds designed for children, with the top three for primary-age children being Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters and Habbo Hotel. In fact, an AVG Digital Diaries survey (2014) found that of the 6–9-year-olds surveyed, 46 per cent spent their online time playing in virtual worlds.  By solving a wide range of fun, daily puzzles they are able to gain new skills, including logic, spatial awareness, problem solving, numeracy and verbal communication.

Another thing that was discussed was how children can be anonymous in digital worlds in a way they can't in the real world.  They create new identities (avatars) so can invent and reinvent themselves in the different online spaces. Through virtual online play, children have access to a wider social community and can explore multiple aspects of themselves, including creating avatars that reflect their religion, culture and interests.

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