Second Life in the Psychology Classroom: Teaching and Research Possibilities

Second Life in the Psychology Classroom: Teaching and Research Possibilities

John E. Edlund (Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, USA) and Jessica L. Hartnett (Gannon University, Erie, PA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijicst.2013010104
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Abstract

This article focuses on the advantages of using online virtual environments such as Second Life (SL) to assist in teaching and research. Although instructors have used SL to supplement the in-class experience in various fields including Information Technology, Communication, and English, few have used it widely for the teaching of psychology. The authors first present a best practices guide for teachers looking to incorporate SL into the psychology classroom. Next, an easily adaptable and readily modifiable class activity for illustrating research methods in an Introduction to Psychology classroom is introduced. The study demonstrates how this activity can generate research data to further students’ and instructors’ research agendas and enhance learning.
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Introduction

Second Life (SL) is a free, Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) virtual environment in which the user creates an avatar and interacts with other users within a variety of user-generated virtual environments, termed “destinations,” in which the avatars can interact. These destinations are constructed to look like a beach, a shopping mall, or anything else one can imagine. Involvement in SL can be as simple or as elaborate as the user wishes, although more elaborate play can involve making purchases for avatars using actual money.

Although SL is widely used for leisure purposes, colleges and universities have embraced it for a variety of educational purposes, including teaching and recruiting. In this paper, we review some of the related literature on the use of SL as a teaching tool and present a best practices guide for teachers looking to incorporate SL into the psychology classroom. We then introduce a novel and easily adaptable classroom activity that can improve student learning of research methods while allowing for the collection of meaningful research data.

Using Second Life as a Teaching Tool

Instructors have used SL to supplement the in-class experience in various fields including Information Technology, Communication, and English among others (Mayrath, Traphaga, Jarmon, Trivedi, & Resta, 2010). Research efforts have concentrated on comparing face-to-face classes to classes taught completely online and supplemented with SL (Lester & King, 2009). University admissions professionals have created virtual representations of their universities to act as a recruitment tool, provide high school students with the opportunity to virtually visit their campus, and interact with potential and current students as well as recruiters (schools using SL include: Hamilton College, Indiana University, Yale University).

Whereas other disciplines have demonstrated the integration of SL into teaching, psychology instructors have yet to widely embrace the use of online virtual environments (see, however, Baker, Wenz, & Woods, 2009, for a primer on using SL in the teaching of psychology). Although research providing quantitative support for specific SL activities for psychology classes is lacking, there are a few notable examples, including the development of an environment that simulates the experiences of a person with schizophrenia (Yellowlees & Cook, 2006).

As SL has been used as a teaching aid in other disciplines, we believe that SL has the same potential for psychology, particularly as it illustrates research methods and the growing trend of replicating established psychological findings within virtual environments. Examples of such research topics include self-disclosure in virtual environments (Guadagno, Swinth, & Blascovich, 2011; Joinson, 2001), self-presentation strategies for online dating (Ellison, Heino, & Gibbs, 2006; Guadagno, Okdie, & Kruse, 2012), social exclusion in virtual environments (Eisenberger, Lieberman, & Williams, 2003), social influence tactics in virtual environments (Eastwick & Gardner, 2009), the relationship between real-world social norms and the social norms in online digital realms (Yee, Bailenson, Urbanek, Chang, & Mergert, 2007), and participation in online role-playing games and mental health (Longman, O’Connor, & Obst, 2009).

As such, the present paper attempts to remedy this gap and add to this body of literature by first providing a brief best practices guide for psychology instructors who wish to incorporate SL into their courses. Next, an example of a specific SL exercise is described. Finally, we discuss the results generated by the SL exercise and how SL can be used to supplement student and faculty research agendas.

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