Posts tagged Virtual world

Reflections on Immersive Virtual Learning


Bartle (2004) demonstrated that players often can pose unreasonable demands upon the design of virtual worlds, or sometimes design changes can create unintended and undesirable consequences among the players. In educational virtual worlds, formative evaluation should occur regularly and frequently to assess the learning potential of the current system state.
One of the foremost benefits of virtual worlds is its ability to reach higher levels of immersion more readily than other learning platforms. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) introduced the concept of flow as a state of absolute engagement or absorption in an activity, resulting in an optimal learning experience, which has been shown to have a positive impact on learning. There can be such a thing as too much immersion right away, however, and in some cases scaffolding may need to occur to ensure different types of participants properly assimilate the immersive experience.
One of the chief mistakes many teachers make when starting to use virtual worlds is simply replicating the classroom environment in the online space. There is little sense to creating virtual desks in a virtual room with a virtual whiteboard if it already exists in the real world. The power of the virtual world is that it provides a collaborative space where constructivist learning activities can take place, in ways that are difficult or simply not possible otherwise. For learners to achieve the flow state, they must be actively engaged.
In some techno-cultural milieus it may be inappropriate to expect learners to participate in different types of immersive environments. The digital divide can play a significant role in who has necessary access to the types of technology-based learning employed. Pedagogically, the paradigm shift that comes from teaching in a classroom to teacher in an constructed immersive environment requires both training and experience before effective instruction and learning may occur. This is one of the greatest challenges, ensuring that the virtual environments are used optimally, but it is an important one as virtual environments are continuing to become an important part of children’s social and online lives (Beals & Bers, 2009).
Bartle, R. A. (2004). Virtual worldliness: What the imaginary asks of the real. New York Law School Law Review, 49(1), 19-44.
Beals, L., & Bers, M. U. (2009). A developmental lens for designing virtual worlds for children and youth. International Journal of Learning, 1(1), 51-65.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975). Beyond boredom and anxiety: The experience of play in work and games. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Virtual Ability


When we talk about teaching in virtual worlds, we’re not just talking about an extension of classroom practices in a virtual setting, but adopting a completely different paradigm and approach to instruction. One important consideration that can’t be overlooked is how the students react in the virtual setting; the teacher must be aware of and sensitive to their needs.
It can be astonishing to some to learn that accessibility is a very real issue in virtual worlds. The Virtual Ability Island in Second Life illustrates how different people with different disabilities react to the virtual world setting. In some cases, citizens who are wheelchair-bound in real life are not comfortable walking around in the virtual world setting, and may opt to roll around in a modeled wheelchair instead. It’s remarkable how some people identify themselves in certain ways, and these aspects become an integral part of their self-image.
In other cases, virtual worlds are able to break down the barriers some feel in the real world. Those with speech impediments may find it easier to communicate through typing. Different assistive tools available on the computer can ease the transition into a virtual world setting, and provide a level of comfort that facilitates an improved learning experience for the student. Some of these may include speech recognition software, text-to-speech applications, and alternative user interfaces.
Virtual worlds are a fairly new technology for educators. Best practices are constantly being developed, studied, analyzed, evaluated, and revised, and the sophistication of this technology will only increase with time. As with any technology, it is evolving and changing rapidly, and the greatest challenge will likely be trying to keep up with the latest advances. It is ultimately the teacher’s responsibility to be aware of their students’ unique needs and tailor instructional measures to provide the optimal experience for the learners.

Social Presence and Immersive Environments


Virtual worlds are considered immersive environments, and as such, it’s not unexpected that the element of social presence plays a rather important role. Virtual worlds have an advantage over traditional forms of distance learning in this area, since the avatar is represented by many of the familiar visual and social cues humans are used to. In Aragon (2003), social presence is defined as the “degree of salience of the other person in the interaction and the consequent salience of the interpersonal relationships” (p. 59). Immediacy, or the “measure of psychological distance that a communicator puts between himself or herself and the object of his/her communication,” can be conveyed by physical proximity formality of dress, physical proximity, facial expressions, and other nonverbal cues, as well as verbal (p. 59). This can apply directly to virtual worlds, since players are given control of all these social conveyances, and it is important because it lends to the immersion of the game.
What’s interesting, however, is that some research suggests the human interface control is not as relevant as one might think. A study in Aymerich-Franch (2010) revealed that participants who played a game by using their whole body did not experience any significant difference in presence or emotions than participants who played with a joystick. This implies that body-dependent systems such as the Wii and Kinect may not necessarily be more “immersive” to players, if we define immersion as a combination of social presence and emotions, and that we should look to other attributes when determining what makes one game more immersive than another. I would suggest that we should look more at the content of the virtual environment itself, than the human interface used to connect to it.
In another article by Lin (2010), an exploration of gender differences on game enjoyment is examined, as well as personal identification with the character. I feel this article misses the point, particularly when it claims that players are more likely to enjoy a game when the character they are playing is “morally justified” in the story or plot. In other words, a hero fighting for some sort of moral good. This seems logical, until one realizes that some of the top selling games like Grand Theft Auto don’t fit this mold, though one could argue that much of the villainous violence in these games follow a storyline causing the player to sympathize with the character. The genius of games like World of Warcraft is that both sides have sympathetic characters and heroes, and reasons for engaging the rival. The article sidesteps this issue by admitting that yes, some players are the opposite — even a significant number — and attempts to explain why. It seems self-contradictory.
I’ve been sporadically on Second Life since 2005, though only started taking it seriously since 2010, taking time to identify important locations, learn some scripting, and so on. I figured this was all worthy of a “rebirth” so I ditched my old character and created a new one. I think Second Life profiles are an important, yet perhaps underused element of social presence in a virtual world. They can serve to tie the avatar to a real user behind the screen.
People are a lot more prone to do things in Second Life they wouldn’t normally do in person. This is really nothing new, and applies to virtually all communication on the Internet. I think there is a degree of accountability that comes into play and prevents some severely offensive behavior when avatars are specifically identified with real people, but when there is full anonymity, it is rather chaotic and anarchic.
Aragon, S. R. (2003). Creating social presence in online environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2003(100), 57-68.
Aymerich-Franch, L. (2010). Presence and emotions in playing a group game in a virtual environment: The influence of body participation. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 13(6), 649-654.
Lin, S. (2010). Gender differences and the effect of contextual features on game enjoyment and responses. Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, 13(5), 533-537.

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