An Experiment on Anonymity and Multi-User Virtual Environments: Manipulating Identity to Increase Learning from Online Collaborative Discussion

An Experiment on Anonymity and Multi-User Virtual Environments: Manipulating Identity to Increase Learning from Online Collaborative Discussion

Richard N. Landers (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA) and Rachel C. Callan (Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijgcms.2014040105
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Little prior research has empirically examined anonymity in learning. In this study, we manipulated learner identity by experimentally assigning learners to participate in online discussion either anonymously or using their actual name, crossed with learning medium (OpenSim/Second Life vs. real-time chat), with the goal of determining if anonymous discussion in multi-user virtual environments (MUVE) provides unique value to learning (a 2x2 between-subjects design). Results from a quantitative hierarchical multiple regression analysis revealed both main effects: participants who were anonymous scored lower (d = -0.46) and participants discussing in a MUVE scored lower (d = -0.47) on the learning measure without interactive effect, suggesting that anonymizing participants during content-related discussion may reduce learning under certain circumstances. The authors suggest instructors encourage learners to represent themselves authentically in any VEs to maximize learning and also discourage instructors from adopting MUVEs if their only reason to do so is to host synchronous discussion.
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In a broad and comprehensive review of research conducted in the MUVE literature related to education, Kim, Lee and Thomas (2012) identified that 15 of the 65 papers in the interdisciplinary MUVE literature at that time focused upon its use as a communication space. This popularity can be largely attributed to two ideas. First, perception of social presence, which here refers to the degree to which a learner perceives himself to exist as fully present in the MUVE in the same way he or she feels present in a face-to-face interaction, is viewed as being a critical component to successful learning delivered at a distance (Lee, 2004; Wang & Lockee, 2010). Second, there is preliminary evidence to suggest MUVEs can be an effective medium by which to promote social presence through immersive simulation of real-life spaces and capabilities (van der Land, Schouten, van den Hooff, & Feldberg, 2011; Edirisingha, Nie, Pluciennik & Young, 2009). For example, feelings of presence are in part stimulated by non-verbal cues, which are more easily replicated with an avatar in a MUVE than in a chat room (Davis, Murphy, Owens, Khazanchi, & Zigurs, 2009).

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