A Comparative Study of Platforms for Multi-User Virtual Environments

A Comparative Study of Platforms for Multi-User Virtual Environments

Arda Tezcan (Macquarie University, Australia) and Debbie Richards (Macquarie University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-080-8.ch008
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Abstract

Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) have been found to be engaging and provide an environment in which the elements of discovery, exploration and concept testing, fundamental to the field of science, can be experienced. Furthermore, MUVEs accommodate lifelike experiences with the benefit of the situated and distributed nature of cognition; they also provide virtual worlds to simulate the conditions that are not doable or practicable under real world circumstances making them very relevant to many other fields of study such as history, geography and foreign language learning. However, constructing MUVEs can be expensive and time consuming depending on the platform considered. Therefore, providing the most appropriate platform that requires minimal effort, cost and time will make MUVE deployment in the classroom faster and more viable. In this chapter, the authors provide a comparative study of prominent existing platforms for MUVEs that can be used to identify the right balance of functionality, flexibility, effort and cost for a given educational and technical context. A number of metrics are identified, described and used to enable the comparison. Platform assessment was done in four main metric groups: communication and interaction, characters, features and education. Communication and interaction metrics are used to assess how the communication and interaction is done within the examined platform. Character metrics are employed to measure avatar and agent affordances. Features metrics are defined to compare what the platform offers in terms of technology. Lastly, education metrics are used to identify the value of the associated platform for educational purposes.
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Background

The classroom of the 21st century inhabited by digital natives requires new media and methods for learning. Not only have student behaviour and interests changed, society and the workplace has changed such that we must equip them for this brave new world.

Education, at the end of the 20th century, no longer prepares individuals for secure, lifelong employment in local industry or services. Rather, the rapid pace of technological change and the globalization of the marketplace have resulted in the need for individuals who have a broad general education, good communication skills, adaptability and commitment to lifelong learning.

Some fields of study are particularly at risk and in need of a technology-makeover.

Our view is that the form of science education we currently offer to young people is outmoded, and fundamentally is still a preparatory education for our future scientists. An advanced technological society such as ours will always require a supply of well-qualified research scientists, but this requirement will be met, as at present, by educating and training only a small minority of the population. On the other hand, the ever-growing importance of scientific issues in our daily lives demands a populace who have sufficient knowledge and understanding to follow science and scientific debates with interest, and to engage with the issues science and technology poses—both for them individually, and for our society as a whole. Without a fundamental review and reconsideration of the aims and content of the science curriculum, what we offer our young people is in danger of becoming increasingly irrelevant both to their needs and those of society. (Millar & Osborne, 1998, p.1)

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