Engaging Students in a Computer Diversity Course Through Virtual Worlds

Engaging Students in a Computer Diversity Course Through Virtual Worlds

Yvonne Pigatt, James Braman
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4960-5.ch008
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Virtual world technology allows for an immersive 3D experience with rich content and interactive potential for students. Through this richness and interactivity, educators have abundant creative power to design and facilitate meaningful learning experiences and collaboration opportunities. In this chapter, the authors discuss one such initiative using Second Life as an educational space for a community college course activity to enhance student engagement. A brief literature review of the educational use of virtual worlds will be presented, which underpin our pedagogical methodology for the project framework. Focusing on a specific community college course titled “Diversity in a Technological Society,” the course goals and project requirements will be discussed. The chapter concludes with a detailed description of the proposed methodology for the next phase, recommendations, and future work.
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Student engagement is one key component in the process of learning and often coincides with attaining learning outcomes (Carini et al., 2006). There are many techniques to engage students and to spark additional interest in course topics. Some methods are aimed at classroom activities, while others are more aligned as homework or outside activities for practice and discovery. Student engagement can be achieved through the gamification of activities (Domíngues et al., 2013), flipped classrooms (Roehl et al., 2013), augmented reality (Dunleavy et al., 2009), virtual reality (Putman & Id-Deen, 2019) and mobile applications (Arnone et al., 2011), which are just a few methods using technology to engage students through active learning. Selecting the technology that best supports student learning depends on the instructional content and core learning outcomes. Certain course topics demand extra focus on specific skill sets and skill levels, while others are designed to sharpen skills in a more general sense. Technology in these courses can greatly enhance an educator’s ability to reach students and provide them with unique learning opportunities.

Within the community college environment, teaching a general education course can be challenging due to the diverse set of student skill levels, varied technology literacy, and course workload balance. This is compounded by differences in age and enrollment statuses compared to students enrolled in more traditional four-year institutions (Cohen & Brawer, 2003). Adding to this complexity are the many challenges faced when dealing with underprepared (Gabriel & Flake, 2008) or at-risk learners (Zheng et al., 2014). Reaching all students and keeping them engaged in the content and context of the class becomes increasingly complex and dynamic. Therefore, instructors need to be resourceful and open to change as new challenges arise. This also applies to the need to be resourceful and knowledgeable with and about technology.

With the many available technologies and web 2.0 sites available today, educators have a wide array of tools to use in the classroom. Social media for instance now permeates many facets of everyday life and social interaction. Society has grown accustomed to everyday reliance on many forms of digital information (Pew, 2009; Lenhart et al., 2010). However, some technologies do not work or fit well in some contexts, nor are they always appropriate for education. Using technology in the classroom poses its own set of problems and challenges. Instructors may not have knowledge about a particular technology, or even have the resources available. Computing resources, space and internet connectivity all pose potential problems. In some cases, students may be apprehensive of learning with a new technology or may have limited use of a particular resource outside of a school setting. While some schools may have open labs or computing resources available through the library, these can be a challenge to maintain or monitor since they are often outside of the instructor’s domain of control.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Minecraft: Is a 3D “blocks” based world that can be used as a game, a creative space or in a multi-player mode with other users. The program can be run on multiple device types offline, or setup to run on a server for other users to connect.

Script: A set of instructions or a small program designed to carry out a specific function or task. In Second Life the Linden Scripting Language is used (LSL) to make objects interactive.

Avatar: A 3D representation of a user within a virtual world. Avatars can take many shapes and forms such as a humanoid representation, animal, shape, or other figure which allows the use to interact within the world and with other users.

Educational Space: A web-based, 3D or virtual representation of a classroom or learning area. In relation to virtual worlds, an educational space is often related to the 3D area used for learning which can be represented in a myriad of ways.

Second Life®: A popular internet-based 3D world created by Linden Labs.

Virtual Reality: A term that can refer to a virtual representation of a scene or reality simulation in 3D. Virtual Reality can be viewed on a traditional display or using immersive VR goggles.

IMVU: Founded in 2004, IMVU is an online 3D virtual world and social networking platform. In 2014 there were an estimated four million active users. The main website is https://secure.imvu.com/ .

Educational Game: A game in which the main goal is a specific learning outcome. Educational games are often used to increase student engagement.

Multi-User Virtual Environment: Also known as a MUVE. This term can be used to describe a virtual world that can be used for a collaborative purpose where users can interact in real-time.

OpenSimulator: An open source 3D virtual world available on many platforms which is similar to the Second Life virtual world.

Social Networking Site (SNS): A website that is aimed at social interaction that often includes a public profile, ability to post user generated content and also to connect to other users.

Student Engagement: Increasing student interest, focus and, or motivation for a particular learning activity.

Virtual World: A virtual world often refers to an internet-based 3D or 2 ½ D environment where users can interact within the world or with other users through an avatar. Often virtual worlds are persistent environments where a large number of users can participate.

Twinity: Is an online 3D virtual world and social platform originally released in 2008 and considered by some to be a mirror world. The main website is http://www.twinity.com .

Active Worlds: Is an online 3D world and social space initially released in 1995. Similar to other online worlds, user can create and view 3D content, chat and explore. The main website is https://www.activeworlds.com/ .

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