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New virtual environments for socializing

David Croteau, music teacher at the distance education services of the Center de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM), gave us a guided tour of the Gather.town virtual environment that he uses with his elementary students.

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With the pandemic, actual social contact is limited, but the need to interact and chat with people is well and truly present. For the past few weeks, teacher David Croteau has been using the Gather.town virtual environment with his students. He has seen their motivation and level of engagement grow rapidly. 

Beyond videoconferencing platforms such as Teams and Classroom, new virtual environments promoting human contact are beginning to be deployed. Although they are not intended for schools, more and more teachers are appropriating them.

These virtual environments, like Gather.town, Kumospace, Inspace.chat and others, all offer similar functionality. The users who connect to it transform into an avatar and can "circulate" in space. When they meet other avatars (therefore, people), the microphones and cameras activate and they can chat privately together, without creating a general cacophony. Large group discussions are also possible.

The Profweb site recently published an article which details several of these environments.

Gather.town

For their part, the École branchée team turned their attention to Gather.town after teachers have testified of their use in the Facebook group ICT in education. It must be said that with its allure of video games from the 1980s, it has something to please elementary and secondary students, as well as teachers nostalgic for that time.

The free version allows up to 25 people to move around and interact at the same time, which is suitable for multiple class groups. The environment can be built from existing models. It is also possible to create a whole new “virtual world”. Indoor (library, cinema, classroom, etc.) and outdoor (park, playground, etc.) spaces are available. Smart objects can be placed in the world, they can lead to documents or websites.

David Croteau, music teacher at the distance education services of the Center de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM), offered me a guided tour of the virtual environment he created in a few hours. While he discovered Gather.town with friends, he quickly saw potential for use with his students. They have been attending the virtual school full-time since the start of the 2020 school year. They come from different primary levels and mostly have special needs.

Gather.town environment developed by David Croteau.

“This kind of environment offers a different way of interacting with each other. Even when students work as a team, they see the other teams around them. They have the impression of being really together in the same place. It's an opportunity to break loneliness. I really see it as a perfect tool for socialization, especially for distance school students, ”he says. As the tool is accessible even outside of school hours, he has also noticed that students meet there to discuss in the evening or on weekends.

In his "virtual world", David has recreated practice rooms for different musical instruments, a traditional classroom with a whiteboard, a cinema room for listening to videos related to the subject, and so on. Students can then move around according to the tasks they have to accomplish.

The teacher has the possibility of placing himself in “spotlight” mode to address the whole group. No matter where they are in the environment, the students then hear his instructions. The teacher can also "force" students to follow him when moving from room to room.  

David Croteau is still in Gather.town discover and explore mode, but he certainly intends to continue using it. He already sees other possibilities, in particular to allow pupils from different classes to interact with each other.

In this regard, the Virtual School of the Center de services scolaire de Laval has recently started to use the digital tool to bring all the students of the school together during recess.

Some instructions for use were deposited in the digital kit of the CSS de Laval.


Dimension (s) of digital competence related to this article
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About the Author

Martine Rioux
Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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