A Comparison of 3D Collaborative Virtual Learning Environments: OpenSim vs. Second Life

A Comparison of 3D Collaborative Virtual Learning Environments: OpenSim vs. Second Life

Apostolos Mavridis, Andreas Konstantinidis, Thrasyvoulos Tsiatsos
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/jec.2012100102
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This paper focuses on 3D Collaborative Virtual Learning Environments, examining the state of the art in both open source and proprietary software. Issues pertaining to the use of open source Collaborative Virtual Learning Environments are discussed, rationalizing the choice of executing a collaborative learning scenario in Second Life. The scenario is then presented and evaluation results assess the appropriateness of the chosen platform with regards to its technical and pedagogical affordances. Finally, students’ suggestions and reactions towards such a novel didactical approach are discussed.
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Collaborative Learning (CL) is a general term used for the description of educational practices based on the simultaneous cognitive and mental effort of multiple students or/and educators. Students share a common goal, depend on each other and they are mutually responsible for their success or failure.

Research (e.g., Vygotsky, 1962) has led to several educational theories, such as those of constructivism and social learning. Vygotsky, who is the main supporter of social learning theories, states in the basic principles of his theory that “learning and developing is a social, collaborative activity”.

Contemporary research (i.e., Bruckman & Hudson, 2001; Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye, & O'Malley; 1996), has proven the effectiveness of utilizing collaborative learning in specific situations in comparison to other educational practices (e.g., competitive or personalized learning). It seems collaborative activities centered on a cognitive goal and supported by experts, result in the more meaningful and efficient acquisition of knowledge.

The potential pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning, in general, are multiple and varied. Through this pedagogical approach, students can be stimulated to negotiate information such as abstract, ill-defined and not easily accessible knowledge and open-ended problems. Also, collaboration enables the discussion of complex problems from different perspectives and supports learners in the elaboration, explanation and evaluation of information in order to re- and co-construct new knowledge or to solve problems (Veerman & Veldhuis-Diermanse, 2001).

The main problem in the application of collaborative learning is the lack of engagement, which can be attributed to the absence of interactivity and challenge. Failing to stimulate learners, makes the collaborative experience unattractive and discourages progress. To counter this issue our main purpose is to exploit the advantages of Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVEs).

A CVE is a computer-based, distributed, virtual space or set of places. In such places, people can meet and interact with others, with agents, or with virtual objects. CVEs might vary in their representational richness from 3D graphical spaces, 2.5D and 2D environments, to text-based environments. Access to CVEs is by no means limited to desktop devices (Churchill, Snowdon, & Munro, 2001), but might well include mobile or wearable devices, public kiosks, etc.

From studying the pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning, we can surmise that the most important factor in designing a CVE is the catering for immersion. Immersion happens through four processes of engagement: interest, involvement, imagination and interaction (Burbules, 2004). For the digital generation, these four aspects are to some extent shaped by their engagement with technology and the media. Therefore, educators seeking to attract and retain student attention will have to learn from what makes those environments so appealing to contemporary students.

Compared to tools supporting traditional teaching methods, CVEs have many advantages (Bruckman & Hudson, 2001). In addition to supporting real time distance learning, advantages can vary from student motivation and amusement to the simplification of the development of cognitive models from complicated or abstract material. CVEs let users experience environments, which, for reasons of time, distance, scale, and safety, would not otherwise be available, especially to those with disabilities (Muller & Koubek, 2002).

In addition, CVEs could be useful for supporting Complex Learning approaches. According to Guglielman and Vettraino (2007), “Complex learning represents the hybridization of environments, languages and interaction in a learning community composed of the whole world wide web” (p. 1). The contribution of a CVE to this hybridization is the support of distance learning and collaboration services along with traditional lectures in a class of students.

This paper focuses on a specific category of CVEs that aims to support Collaborative Learning. We call these environments Collaborative Virtual Learning Environments (CVLEs). According to Bouras and Tsiatsos (2006), a CVLE can be defined as an environment in which:

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