Session 5: Enhancing Learning in Virtual Worlds (1)

2nd Global Conference

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


Fusing Virtual, Digital, and Real World Experiences for Science Learning and Empowerment
Audrey Aronowsky, Beth Sanzenbacher and Johanna Thompson
The Field Museum, USA

Science entails asking questions and making observations, two activities that youth practice, if unknowingly, in their daily lives. Yet science is perceived by youth as inaccessible. Two museum digital learning programs have successfully combined digital, virtual and real world activities to increase scientific content knowledge and engender positive attitudes toward science among youth.

Conservation Connection is a program that utilizes a 2D virtual world, video blogging, social networks, and real world experiences to connect youth in Chicago and Fiji around the topic of coral reefs. Youth explore coral reef biology via the virtual world of WhyReef. Using the social network FijiReef, youth exchange blogs and videos with each other and marine experts, sharing knowledge gained and researching threats to reef ecosystems. Visits to museums, aquaria, and live reefs allow youth to observe threats to reefs and current conservation efforts. Combined, these elements provide youth with tools to collaborate and carry out conservation of Fijian reefs.

I Dig Science is a summer experience which employs 3D virtual worlds, satellite communication, and real world experiences to explore evolution.  Activities center on a synchronous paleontology expedition in Africa. Second Life replicates the end-Permian mass extinction expeditionary field research, allowing participant collaboration on activities that tests hypotheses, mimics excavation site tasks and enables the creation of virtual museum exhibits. Daily satellite calls from the real-world expeditionary team give teens a primary source of information and a venue to discuss their own hypotheses with experts. Museum activities also give teens the opportunity to examine fossils as primary data sources.

These multi-faceted approaches to science draw upon the unique way that virtual worlds and digital media combined with real world activities, can create a holistic environment in which youth participants become engaged in the scientific process, learn key concepts, and experience positive affect changes toward science.

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Virtual Worlds as Media for Learning in Distributed Work
Marko Hakonen and Petra Bosch-Sijtsema
Aalto University, Finland and Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden

Most of the current discussions in virtual world (VW) literature have not explicitly underlined the media’s usefulness for distributed work. Still, the notion of VWs’ ability to get their users involved in many kinds of activities over geographical boundaries is embedded in the reasoning in VW literature. A large amount of VW literature has a strong focus on technology, but few studies directly approach the question on how this new technology might be applicable for distributed work. This article addresses this gap and concentrates on the potential of VWs as a media for collaborative learning in distributed work.

We conducted a review of VW literature regarding different uses of VWs including collaboration and learning and compared that to interview data. The data consisted of 47 semi-structured interviews with VW users from different global and US companies who all had experience in using VWs for distributed work tasks.

The comparison of VW literature and user experiences on collaboration and learning in distributed work revealed some matches and gaps. The psychological and technological aspects of VWs were perceived to enable collaborative learning in interviews as well as in literature. As has been discussed in VW literature, many of the interviewees conducting distributed work perceived VWs to be especially beneficial in learning how to behave in hazardous situations or in multi-cultural encounters. The most important findings from the interviews were the possibility of transferring information and sharing of knowledge and expertise as well as benefits of asynchronicity in collaboration and learning. These topics have only slightly been touched upon in discussions on VWs in literature. For distributed work, however, the sharing of knowledge and expertise and asynchronicity are important aspects of collaboration and learning, which are often hindered by geographical distance and multiple time zones.

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Experimentation Not Simulation: Learning About Physics in The Virtual World
Anna Peachey and Greg Withnail
The Open University/Eygus Ltd, UK

This paper reports on the evaluation of a study to explore the use of the virtual world Second LifeTM for conducting real physics experiments, completed as a pilot activity for a new course development at The Open University. All HEIs within the UK are currently engaged in some level of activity in virtual worlds. However in such a young field there is a relatively scarce literature, and so small scale pilot projects are vital for exploring the pedagogical framework as well as the practical tools for supporting specific subjects within such an immersive environment. This study gave ten participants access to a small range of tools that enabled them to create experiments to explore the physics of Second Life using a cognitive learning approach. Data on their inworld activity was collected and compared against their input to a survey at the conclusion of the two-week study period. These results were triangulated using detailed follow up interviews with a smaller sample of two participants. The research found that students look for context and indicators of stability and reassurance during the experience. The majority of respondents indicated that they would be happy to participate in course-embedded Second Life activities of this type, albeit also expressing a range of reservations, providing valuable feedback for further development of the pilot tools and module framework.

Download Draft Conference Paper (pdf)