In the late 1970s, Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw of the University of Essex developed the first MUD (multi-user dungeon/domain/dimension, depending on the source) to facilitate multiplayer role-playing games run over computer networks (Bartle, 1999; Dourish, 1998), allowing groups of individuals to build virtual realities collaboratively. Despite limited visual and social cues, immersion in text-based virtual environments have the capacity to support thriving virtual communities that demonstrate characteristics of traditional communities, such as love, hate, friendship, and betrayal (Rheingold, 1993). Advances in computational power and network connectivity have driven the evolution of MUDs, resulting in diverse human computer interfaces such as MOOs (object-oriented MUDs), multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs), and massively-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), among others. The present article focuses primarily on MUVEs. Although MUVEs are commonplace to gamers (i.e., players of EverQuest, Doom, and Madden NFL), the affordances of this interface are rarely utilized for substantive teaching and learning. This article will discuss how MUVEs can be used to support the situated and distributed nature of cognition within an immersive, psychosocial context. After summarizing significant educational MUVEs, we present Harvard University’s River City MUVE (http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/rivercityproject) in depth as an illustrative case study.
MUVEs have been used in education for:
Creating online communities for preservice teacher training and in-service professional development (Bull, Bull, & Kajder, 2004; Riedl, Bronack, & Tashner, 2005; Schlager, Fusco, & Schank, 2002).
Engaging science-based activities while promoting socially responsive behavior (Kafai, 2006),
Helping students understand and experience history by immersing them emotionally and politically in a historical context (Squire & Jenkins, 2003).
Promoting social and moral development via cultures of enrichment (Barab, Thomas, Dodge, Carteaux, & Tuzun, 2005).
Providing an environment for programming and collaboration (Bruckman, 1997).
Creatively exploring new mathematical concepts (Elliott, 2005).
Engaging in scientific inquiry (Clarke, Dede, Ketelhut, & Nelson, 2006; Ketelhut, Dede, Clarke, Nelson, & Bowman, in press).
Regardless of content and intended user group, all MUVEs enable multiple simultaneous participants to (a) access virtual contexts, (b) interact with digital artifacts, (c) represent themselves through “avatars” (in some cases graphical and in others, text-based), (d) communicate with other participants (in some cases also with computer-based agents), and (e) take part in experiences incorporating modeling and mentoring about problems similar to those in real world contexts (Dede, Nelson, Ketelhut, Clarke, & Bowman, 2004). Table 1 summarizes significant educational MUVEs active in the past few years, their learning goals, their features and capacities, and their corresponding URLs.
Key Terms in this Chapter
MUD: A virtual environment that supports the simultaneous participation of multiple users in a text-based game.
Avatar: The dynamic, virtual embodiment of a user while he or she is within a virtual space.
Distributed Cognition: The scientific study of cognition as it is distributed across internal human minds, external cognitive artifacts, groups of people, and space and time.
Situated Cognition: The scientific study of cognition as a phenomenon that occurs in the course of participation in social contexts.
Physical Distribution of Cognition: A distribution of learning, reasoning, and memory between an individual and his or her tools, objects, and surround.
Social Distribution of Cognition: Distribution of cognition among individuals through collaborative, social interactions.
MUVE: Multi-user virtual environments that enable multiple simultaneous participants to (a) access virtual contexts, (b) interact with digital artifacts, (c) represent themselves through “avatars,” (d) communicate with other participants, and (e) take part in experiences incorporating modeling and mentoring about problems similar to those in real world contexts.
Virtual Agents: A program, often represented as a person or animal, whose automated interactions provide the semblance dialogue.
Symbolic Distribution of Cognition: Distribution of cognition through symbol systems such as mathematical equations, the specialized vocabulary having to do with a field of work, and representational diagrams.