Experiential learning is great but first-hand experience is not always easily available for the skills you need to acquire. This is especially true when you don’t have children but need to know how they develop and grow or you’re young, with your entire life in front of you, but you need to know how life is in your 50s, 60s and 70s. Making parenting decisions is always very straightforward when it’s someone else’s child. Giving up your family home to go into aged accommodation is easy from the outside looking in. The simulation of events like these is possible within a tool called My Virtual Life from Pearson Education, which incorporates two simulations within the one tool.
First, you get to experience the true ups and downs of parenting a child. After answering three short questionnaires covering personality, ability and activity preferences, you are given the joyful news that your baby has arrived. Catering to different ethnic backgrounds and relationship structures to simulate the rich diversity of today’s world, the software makes you one of the biological parents of your virtual child. You can choose if your partner is the other biological parent of the child or not. Characteristics and abilities are captured from these questionnaires but there’s also some element of randomisation thrown in to simulate the true complexities of genetics.
After the excitement of finding out if you’re the proud parent of a boy or girl, you embark on the first eighteen years of your child’s life. Many situations arise and many decisions are made along the way. You have to deal with your child’s unique character traits yet deal with the same situations every parent experiences (attachment, language development, forming friendships, puberty, etc.) to guide and teach your child the ways of the world. Sometimes, as in the real world, a curveball is thrown your way that is outside of your control, but has to be dealt with. This could be in the shape of a divorce or loss of a job, or may be connected with your child’s development in the form of dyslexia, a developmental delay or a need for glasses. Educational content is included to assist you with child development and issues that can and do arise. Just as in real life, the student’s parenting decisions are unable to be altered but they can review their decisions as they progress through the simulation.
Once your virtual child reaches eighteen, you move into a transition phase where you complete the same personality questionnaire as before but different ability and activity preference questionnaires more applicable to adulthood. None of the character traits are carried through from childhood to adulthood. Once this transition is complete, you become a fully-fledged adult, where you’re the person immersed in the simulation making life-changing decisions and important choices as you go. Again your alter ego has its own unique personality but also has to deal with standard life events (study choices, career choices, marriage/divorce, financial issues etc.) that get thrown at lots of us on the way to late adulthood. There’s also the possibility of physical and/or mental health issues arising that must be dealt with as you move forward.
The experience of seeing the effects of your decisions on your virtual child’s development and the consequences of your decisions on your virtual self can be invaluable for students who have not experienced these things first hand. Bringing these experiences into the classroom or online space in the form of discussions, group work and self-reflection allows students to unpack their experiences and work out the answers to many questions:
- Are they on the right track with their parenting decisions?
- Is their child’s development meeting the predicted milestones, or should they be concerned?
- Have they made good decisions that will stand them in good stead in the future?
Discussing their situation and that of others helps students to expand their experiences so they’re not just limited to their own simulations. Whilst teaching and supporting each other, they see first-hand the effects different personalities and life choices have on both child and adult development.
Pearson Education provides a handbook with the My Virtual Life software that details all of the age levels included within both simulations, and the options available at each of these stages. As the educator, you can customise many of these options to ensure your students get a full mix of choices they need to make and events that just happen. This allows you to change the focus of the simulation to meet your teaching needs and any required learning outcomes. Copies of the questions included in all of the personality questionnaires are also included.
Dr Didy Button is currently using this software for the first time in her first-year Nursing topic to assist students with lifespan development. Access is fully integrated through FLO, making setup and use easy for both students and teaching staff. Although the use of this tool has begun in Nursing, learning about all/part of the lifespan and how we as humans develop is an integral component of many degrees from a range of disciplines. If you are interested in more information or would like a demonstration, please contact Didy (Didy.Button@flinders.edu.au) or Jackie (Jackie.Cornell@flinders.edu.au).
Written by Jackie Cornell
Learning Designer – CILT