Session 4: Community and Communication in Virtual Worlds

2nd Global Conference

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Monday 12th March – Wednesday 14th March 2012
Prague, Czech Republic


Facilitating community in the virtual learning environment
Shana Garrett
The Academy of Health Care Professions, USA

Working with students can be a challenging and often rewarding experience given their experiential differences and the virtual learning environment. In a traditional classroom, there are many opportunities to learn more about your students via classroom interactions, one on one conversation, non-verbal observations, as well as social engagements. However, in the virtual environment, such subtleties as face to face interactions are non-existent, as well as other modalities that leave several missed opportunities to create viable connections. In the virtual environment, the importance of communication and approaches to establishing communities are based on a creative vision of constructing a virtual environment that is dynamic and engaging in an effort to establishing and developing a positive working relationship for the online student.

As an online facilitator and administrator, my approach to working with students is multi-disciplinary consisting of different psychological approaches from which an online community is built that support virtual world pedagogy. By utilizing this informal community of practice, the instructor’s facilitation style lends itself to not only reinforcing the positive learning experience, but is also utilizing the team community approach to reinforce and support the individual community members in participating in class,. Furthermore, it also assists the virtual student in staying connected during the course as well as serving an information intervention when challenges arise during the learning session. Additionally, several techniques used in the courses to work with students have been developed to train various staff members who also work closely with the faculty members in order to provide another layer of connection and community to the virtual student. Having a separate training initiative has worked extremely well with at-risk students in both attention probation cases as well as those students who are experiencing beneficial to the team working at the institution to support the pedagogical efforts.


Transformative Learning Theory as a Framework for Designing Experiences in Virtual Worlds as Appropriate to Counsellor Education
Tom Edwards
Tabor Victoria, Australia

Counselling is a burgeoning profession in Australia with many undergraduate/post-graduate courses available. Nevertheless, there exists a creative tension between the need for learning in a relational and experiential context vs organisational/student expectations of flexible delivery at distance through on-line means. Virtual worlds provide opportunities to overcome some of these tensions and value-add to the educational process. Whilst the creation of avatars sufficiently complex to represent the nuances of human communication remain a challenge to teaching counselling micro-skills on-line, virtual worlds do provide significant opportunities for personal transformation through which students gain insight into the ‘change process’. It is also suggested that transformative experiences assist graduates when working with clients of diverse needs and backgrounds. However experiences in virtual worlds are not necessarily transformative, nor may they be transformative in a deep or positive way, nor in a manner appropriate to counsellor education. To this end Tabor Victoria, in conjunction with the ALTC/DEEWR, has embarked on a research project to use Mezirow’s Transformative Learning (TL) theory as a framework for the design of appropriate transformative experiences within virtual worlds. The process of TL has three stages: (1) a ‘disorientating’ experience; (2) self-reflection; and (3) a persistent change in attitudes/values/beliefs as opposed to simply a conditioned change in behaviour. A cohort of student counsellors has highlighted a range of possible transformative experiences and likely cognitive, affective and intuitive components which under-pin transformation. However, we speculate on the potential negative impact of increased cognitive load and limited frustration tolerance when beginning to use virtual worlds for transformative experiences. Experiential learning in virtual worlds is likely to provide important opportunities for counsellor education in the coming years. Not just as an adjunct to face-to-face learning, but as a modality in its own right able to provide experiences not available in the real-world.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)


Mixing Virtual, Real-World, & Digital Communication Elements to Create Successful Global Teams
Audrey Aronowsky, Beth Sanzenbacher and Johanna Thompson
The Field Museum, USA

Coral reef biodiversity loss has reached a critical moment as a result of human activity. In order to address this, awareness-raising and action must be both local and global. The museum-run digital learning program Conservation Connection created a virtual community and brought together teens in Fiji and Chicago to ignite their interest in the connections between species survival, biodiversity, conservation, and human communities. It serves as a model for creating global teams of all kinds in order create change and spur progress.

The two groups of teens were brought together by a mix of virtual world simulations and games, video production, social networking, and real-world activities. Via game play and simulations in WhyReef, a 2D virtual coral reef in Whyville.net, participants immersed themselves in the coral reef ecosystem to gain actionable knowledge in reef biology. They employed a Ning-based social network, FijiReef, to share videos and blog posts on the topics of coral reef biodiversity and conservation.  The social network served as a platform for teens to connect, collaborate, and share with each other as well as experts, in this case, marine biologists. Content acquisition was solidified and furthered by through real-world field trips to interact with ecosystems, the results of which were shared between the two disparate groups. Implementation of real-world conservation plans was the successful product of this varied mix of distanced digital interactions.

By blending several digital technologies with traditional real world activities, Conservation Connection was able to mimic the progression of engagement that is required for real world communities.  This global team, based on a generative culture of content-creation, increased participant understanding of biodiversity and global citizenship, and allowed team members in disparate locations to enter into active, social, and meaningful relationships with science mentors, their environment, and each other.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)