Empirical Comparison of 3-D Virtual World and Face-to-Face Classroom for Higher Education

Empirical Comparison of 3-D Virtual World and Face-to-Face Classroom for Higher Education

Xiaofeng Chen (Department of Information Services, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE, USA), Keng Siau (Department of Business & Information Technology, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO, USA) and Fiona Fui-Hoon Nah (Department of Business & Information Technology, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, MO, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/jdm.2012070102
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Abstract

Many higher education institutions have set up virtual classrooms in the 3-D virtual world. In this research, the authors assess the relative effectiveness of a 3-D virtual world learning environment, Second Life, compared to traditional face-to-face learning environment. They also assess the effects of instructional strategies in these two learning environments on interactivity, perceived learning, and satisfaction. The authors’ findings suggest that learning environment interacts with instructional strategy to affect the learners’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Specifically, when interactive instructional strategy is used, there is no significant difference for perceived learning and satisfaction between the 3-D virtual world and face-to-face learning environment. However, when a direct instructional strategy is used, there is a significant difference for perceived learning and satisfaction. They also assessed whether or not technology helps increase learner and instructor interaction. The result suggests that in interactive instructional sessions, students experienced a higher level of classroom interactivity in Second Life than in face-to-face classroom.
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Introduction

Delivering education over the Internet is growing in popularity and gaining in importance. Higher learning in 3-D virtual worlds is a relatively new phenomenon that has attracted much attention from educators of higher education institutions (Hew & Chueng, 2010; Herold, 2009; The New Media Consortium (NMC), 2007; Salmon, 2009; Warburton, 2009). A NMC survey (2010) indicates that “many educators are starting to see very practical and effective uses of virtual worlds.” Pioneering research on 3-D virtual worlds has started to be pursued by researchers and 3-D educational software implemented by higher educational institutions.

A 3-D virtual world is a rich, immersive, and highly scalable environment (Siau et al. 2010b; Zhao et al., 2010). A class conducted in a 3-D virtual world differs from a traditional Web-based class due to the following features: 3-D visualization, use of avatars to represent class participants, sense of presence for the learners, and creation of context-specific learning (Calongne, 2008; Warburton, 2009). The 2007 Horizon Report states that campuses and businesses have established virtual locations in virtual worlds for learning and exploration, much like they were creating Web sites a dozen years ago.

Proserpio (2007) argues that we are teaching a whole new generation of learners -- a virtual generation of students. The Pew Research Center released a survey report in 2007 that highlights the characteristics of “Generation Next.” The most important feature of the next generation is that they are highly technology-oriented: (i) they use technology and the Internet to connect with others, (ii) they frequently use social networking sites, and (iii) they embrace new technologies. These surveys suggest that “Generation Next” is more keen to interact with others using technology than the older generations. This study investigates how learners and instructors interact with each other and how interactivity in virtual world education, a technology-enabled learning environment, influences learning performance.

The three key theoretical paradigms in learning are behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism (Haseman et al., 2002; Sims, 2003). Studies in education research have shown that Internet-based learning environments can help to achieve the goals advocated by constructivists by actively involving students in the learning process, promoting interactions among learners with their learning environments, and increasing student collaboration (Tsai, 2001). Constructivist learning is a mainstream idea in education in the twenty-first century (Kirschner & Bruggen, 2004). The 3-D virtual worlds can potentially be used by educational institutions to help promote the constructivists’ assertions and increase learning performance for the virtual generation of learners.

There are five categories of instructional strategies in traditional classroom education: (1) direct instruction, (2) indirect instruction, (3) interactive instruction, (4) independent study, and (5) experiential learning (Gallen & Bold, 1989; McNeill & Wiles, 1990; Seaman & Fellenz, 1989). Two of the most important and widely used instructional strategies are the direct instruction and interactive instruction. These instructional strategies affect the learners’ performance. Although many educators have started to set up learning environments in virtual worlds, there is no guideline available to help them design effective instructional strategies in virtual worlds because there has been little research on the relative effectiveness of virtual worlds for learning, and how the interaction of the learning environment in virtual worlds and instructional strategies affect learning performance.

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