Apparently the BBC are going to launch a virtual world for 7-12 year olds called “CBBC World” in the Summer.

“Users would be able to build an online presence, known as an avatar, then create and share content.”

There are already many MMORGs around that some 7-12 year olds (especially boys I imagine due to their commonly used fantasy themes) know all about or use. And this generation will already be comfortable splitting their personality across avatars/profiles all over the Internet, so that’s an easy sell.

Traditionally kids of this age cannot participate in these virtual worlds due to their payment schemes and you need to hold a credit card e.g. World of Warcraft to pay for access, or they’re simply too adult (read: too boring) to be of any interest to a 10 year old e.g. Second Life.

Admittedly you can sometimes buy vouchers for subscription credits and Guild Wars is one example that is free to use and pretty successful (but has age restrictions that require parental consent if aged between 16-18).

“Those building CBBC World said the emphasis would be on safety and responsibility, with no chatrooms or facilities for building new parts of the virtual world.”

Surely the emphasis should be on learning through immersion? I would argue that as it will be part of the CBBC brand safety and responsibility will be built right in. If there’s one thing a parent knows about CBBC is that they’re a known and trusted service – it goes without saying that they’ll deliver on that aspect.

“Knowing that the BBC reads every message it receives on it’s children’s message boards…and looking at the volume of use they get, you can deduce (without me breaking any confidentially clauses) that the BBC has a huge moderation budget that the rest of the industry would be envious of.”

Benmetcalfe Blog

So is a virtual world, an educational virtual world, a sanitised uncommunicative risk free educational virtual world, a good thing? Or indeed a fun thing? What else is there when you’re 9 years old?

Without communication between players can it even work as a virtual construct? I guess “no chatrooms” doesn’t necessarily imply “no chat” between players but any chat between players is still chat, and I assume the reason for blocking that function is the same thing.

But aside from that the possibilities for content delivery in a world like this are endless. That’s what has to be right. Sure, kids could share content they’ve made themselves but how cool would it be to teach in a virtual world without your students knowing they’re being taught?

Each type of content could be presented in a virtual space. Consider:

  • A virtual movie theatre where you can key word search movie clips and buy them to carry around with your avatar. And watch them too of course.
  • A virtual exam building where 100’s of test exampapers are stored for you to browse and use a study aid.
  • A virtual adventure course where you have to hunt down 3D Maths activities and games that you have to complete before finishing the course. And there would have to be hidden games, accessible only to the most determined players on top of virtual mountains, deep in virtual forests or at the bottom of the virtual ocean.
  • Resource badges – collect and complete literacy and numeracy activities to earn enough badges for the right to enter a Virtual Tournament to win big prizes for your school.

…and so on.

I could see a whole product range of virtual constructs that contain content from many different publishers and developers being plugged into this world on a regular basis.

All it would need was an inclusive development, solid overarching quality control system and a decent API and the world could grow organically, presenting fresh educational experiences around every corner.