Preparing Student Sojourners for Cultural Immersion in Multiple User Virtual Environments

Preparing Student Sojourners for Cultural Immersion in Multiple User Virtual Environments

Peter Galante (University of Wisconsin-Stout, USA) and Kevin W. Tharp (University of Wisconsin-Stout, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijsodit.2012070104
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Abstract

This paper examines the results of student reflections of their interactions in Second Life (SL) which were prompted by required class related activities. The research methodology used was qualitative meta-analysis based on a grounded theory approach. A theoretical framework based in a constructivist epistemology was used to examine cultural and pedagogical implications of introducing students to a virtual environment as part of a classroom experience. Data was gathered from two different populations, one consisting of undergraduate students utilizing SL as a pedagogical tool for learning visual literacy elements in an introductory photo class, the other consisting of graduate students in a Learning Technology course exploring SL to understand its potential for teaching and training. Examination of student reflections revealed remarkably similar results between groups with respect to their immersion into the SL environment and related culture. Analysis of the student reflections provide insight into pedagogical preparations that should be considered before introducing students into a Multiple User Virtual Environment (MUVE).
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2. Literature Review

Immersive learning pedagogy is not a new paradigm, as the significance of context, application, and practice have been well documented throughout history, principally through apprenticeships, cooperative education and on-the-job training. In the 20th century, unprecedented forms of distributed education, role playing, case studies and simulations have become common forms of immersive education.

Immersive learning is utilized for preparation in the professional fields of teaching (Nieto, 2006) and medicine (Mak, Watson, & Hadden, 2011) to train students to be prepared for careers that often find practitioners in situations where they are working in locations where they are alien to the local culture. Similarly foreign exchange student programs at all levels deal with this issue on a recurring basis. Many such programs have adopted procedures where the sojourning student is placed with “host families” or paired with a “buddy” who are members of the local culture to assist them in their process of acculturation. Other programs provide opportunities for interaction with people from the sojourner’s own or more similar culture who are going through similar circumstances through resources such as international student organizations. Each of these types of program leverage social constructionism to aid the individual in making meaning of their experiences in a “new” culture. In some cases the relationship is cultural member/non-member and in other cases it is mutual non-member. In either case there is a social relationship that aids in developing meaning and context through shared experiences. As immersive education has an extensive theoretical base, it is practical to view MUVEs, through that well documented lens (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2008).

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