Offering “online students the same realistic training experience traditionally provided by an in-person tabletop exercise” say Anne M. Hewitt, Susan Spencer, Danielle Mirliss, and Riad Twal (2009). They caution, however, that technology access and student support must be addressed prior to the successful implementation of virtual world simulations.
A tabletop exercise is a simulated scenario designed to test the response capability, for example an emergency evacuation or health-threatening pandemic. Tabletop exercises are used extensively “to practice response to and recovery from a wide range of incidents” where participants need coordinate in real time to formulate comprehensive response strategies of multiple agencies.
Hewitt, Spencer, Mirliss, and Twal (2009) established a number of goals for their virtual version of the tabletop, namely:
- offer a real world activity for students,
- permit synchronous collaboration among students on campus and from various geographical locations,
- apply basic course concepts in a problem-based learning format, and
- introduce complex systems in a systematic way.
With the goals in mind, they explored available alternatives for virtual simulations and found many readily available emergency preparedness training platforms. However, several either did not allow for customisation or required technical capabilities exceeding institutional capacity. Hewitt, Spencer, Mirliss, and Twal (2009) determined that Play2Train was the most promising option to conduct training in Second Life. John Lester, academic program manager at Linden Labs, states that "Second Life gives both students and faculty a new medium for exploring things like distance learning, experiential learning, simulation, and scientific visualization in a fundamentally collaborative environment"
Hewitt, AM; Spencer, S; Mirliss, D & Twal, R. 2009. Preparing Graduate Students for Virtual World Simulations: Exploring the Potential of an Emerging Technology. Innovate—a former official journal of online education of the Nova Southeastern University's Fischler School of Education and Human Services (FSEHS), Volume 5 (final), Issue 6, August/September 2009. Retrieved electronically 23 Oct 2011 from: http://innovateonline.info/pdf/vol5_issue6/Preparing_Graduate_Students_for_Virtual_World_Simulations-__Exploring_the_Potential_of_an_Emerging_Technology.pdf