Thursday, December 25, 2008

One Year of Webkinz

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of Webkinz in our household.... Santa brought Zach and Hailey a Webkin last year. For those who are not sure what a Webkin is, you obviously are not related to a 6-year-old. In a nutshell, you purchase a stuffed animal (around $15) and it gives you a one-year subscription to an online virtual world, where you can build your pet a house with an infinite number of rooms, give the pet a job, tend a garden, interact with other pets and their owners, and play many different games.

What amazes me the most about Webkinz is that it serves as a great model for future educational simulation development. Kids love it... they are willing to save their money for months in order to earn the privilege to play. Once they are on, there is no central objective. Kids are allowed to explore whichever way moves them... and there are lots of places to explore! There is that interactive component where you can meet new friends (or meet virtually with your current, real-world friends). In these ways, it is like a younger version of Second Life.

But unlike Second Life, there is much more structure to it. The activities are planned, and you build up your inventory of items collected. You don't have to spend a lot of time searching before you are engaged in the content, and it isn't limitless, unlike Second Life.

Some might scoff at the notion of Webkinz being educational, and I wouldn't disagree. But that's not their purpose. And yet, just by creating an environment that is open to manipulation and experimentation, kids are learning all the same. My oldest daughter has given me mini tutorials on the best ways to acquire money, build a unique room, and master different activities.

Obviously, our options for simulations are not adequate, and right now, we as a state do not have the resources to develop the ones we need to supplement the content of the Iowa Core. But, that's not to say that Webkinz can't support the Core... it can. Supplementing the classroom curriculum with outside activity gives younger students an avenue to develop many of the 21st century problem-solving skills. And in the future, we can use Webkinz as a model for building those simulations that do align with our core content.

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