Identity Construction Environments: Developing Personal and Moral Values Through the Design of a Virtual City

  • Umaschi Bers M
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We live in a society where concepts of self, community and "what is right and wrong" are constantly changing. This makes it particularly challenging for young people to construct a sense of self and to identify their most cherished values. Therefore, there is an amounting pressure in schools and society to create learning environments to explore these issues. Two research questions are at the heart of the work presented in this paper: What kind of learning environment will afford opportunities for young people to naturally engage in reflection and discussion about issues of identity, in particular personal and moral values? And, how can technologies have an impact on character and moral education? I propose identity construction environments as technological tools purposefully designed with the goal of supporting young people in the exploration of these issues. I first describe the design principles that distinguish these environments from other learning technologies. I also specify the learning experiences they do afford_ namely the understanding of identity as a complex construction composed by different elements, including personal and moral values. Then I present the conceptual foundations and implementation of the Zora identity construction environment. Zora is a 3D multi-user virtual environment that engages learners in the design of a graphical virtual city and its social organization. I describe a summer workshop conducted with a multi-cultural group of teenagers using Zora. They designed a virtual city populated with objects and characters representing aspects of themselves and their values. In this participatory micro-community those values were put to test. Finally I conclude with reflections and future work that points towards a new research agenda in the area of the learning sciences.

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  • Marina Umaschi Bers

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