Empirical Evidence and Practical Cases for Using Virtual Worlds in Educational Contexts

Empirical Evidence and Practical Cases for Using Virtual Worlds in Educational Contexts

Hyung Sung Park (Korea National University of Education, South Korea) and Young Kyun Baek (Korea National University of Education, South Korea)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-729-4.ch013
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The purpose of this chapter is to offer practical ideas and cases for educational use of the Second Life® virtual world with Web 2.0 based technology. Virtual worlds with Web 2.0 technologies have many methods for testing users’ experiences about and mutual understanding of other people, extending limited human capacities, and improving valuable skills in educational contexts. Through these activities, learners may receive positive feedback and beneficial learning experiences. In this chapter, the authors introduce three cases and provide empirical evidence for effective usage within three educational contexts: 1, offering a field trip in virtual space, 2 switching gender roles in the Second Life® virtual world to understand opposite genders, and 3. Object-making and manipulation activities to improve spatial reasoning.
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In the past, classroom pedagogy for teaching and learning was characterized by one-way communication, teacher-centered instruction, and textbook-centered delivery of single-media information to students whose role was that of a passive receptor. The evolving nexus of Internet communication and classroom pedagogy is now being altered by two primary foci (Becker & Henriksen, 2006): the rise of social software with social networking power based on Internet communication technology and the move towards collaborative, constructivist-based teaching and learning methods (Barsky & Purdon, 2006). Interactive technologies through the Internet provide opportunities to create rich learning environments that actively involve students in problem solving and exploring based on motivated attitude. The future learning culture will include toys, games (Kafai, 2005; Prensky, 2001), virtual worlds and activities influenced by the advent of information technology (Park, Jung, & Collins, 2008).

The world is changing rapidly from an information society to a knowledge one as the amount of knowledge explodes through development of information communication technology (Park & Baek, 2007). Accordingly, technology based on Web 2.0 is offering the opportunity to lead each individual and group to effective learning in the knowledge society. Web 2.0 is a supporting tool that combines ease of content-creation, web delivery, and integrated collaboration activity. Web 2.0 supports sharing, engagement, and collaboration. Learning becomes an organic action that is directed and driven by the learner as a perspective of constructive learning. Also for the teacher and trainer, the Web 2.0 phenomenon has meant a widespread move toward new teaching methods to supplement or replace traditional ones.

Web 2.0 is a set of economic, social, and technology trends that collectively form the basis for the next generation of the Internet - a more mature, distinctive medium characterized by user participation, accessibility, and network effects (O’reilly & Musser, 2006). There are a number of Web-based services and applications that demonstrate the foundations of the Web 2.0 concept, and they are already being used to a certain extent in education. These services include blogs, wikis, multimedia sharing services, content syndication, podcasting and content-tagging services. Many of these applications of Web technology are relatively mature, having been in use for a number of years, although new features and capabilities are being added on a regular basis (Anderson, 2007).

A virtual world based on Web 2.0, including participants, sharing, and collaborating, has brought interactive technologies into learners’ homes and they have been received enthusiastically. They are tools for supporting human needs. Computer technologies such as games, simulations, virtual worlds, and computer-assisted design programs all enhance the productivity of their users. A great deal of active research (Aldrich, 2004; Garris, et al., 2002; Malone, 1981; Morales & Patton, 2005; Park, et al., 2008; Prensky, 2001, 2004; Sanders & McKewon, 2007; Sanders & McKeown, 2007; Shaffer, 2006; Slater, et al., 2000; Squire, 2007) about virtual worlds, computer games and simulations has been conducted examining the educational effects and availability in such situations, which influence the entire society in terms of lifestyle, as well as the play culture of children. A virtual world based on the Web 2.0 in education offers highly immersive, interactive, colorful, visually oriented, fun and generally exciting features. We need to change our teaching methods to enhance the skills that future citizens will need in a digital society. Children and young people are introduced to virtual worlds via videogames, and the ways that they interact with technology may be changing ways of learning and the production of knowledge (Gros, 2007). Garau (2003) comments about the role of virtual worlds recent works of cyber fiction have depicted; in a not-so-distant future, the Internet will develop into a fully three dimensional and immersive data-scope, simultaneously accessible by millions of networked users. This future virtual world is described as having spatial properties similar to the physical world and its virtual cities will be populated by digital proxies of people.

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