Enhanced Interaction in Mixed Social Environments

Enhanced Interaction in Mixed Social Environments

James Oliverio (Digital Worlds Institute, University of Florida, USA) and Dennis Beck (Digital Worlds Institute, University of Florida, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-808-6.ch009
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Abstract

We introduce the term ‘mixed social environments’ as a strategic learning construct to augment student interaction when utilizing virtual world environments such as Second Life in the classroom. While an increasing number of institutions are investigating the use of virtual world environments for enhanced learning, at present there are at least three major areas that are underdeveloped: interdisciplinary research, documentation of best practices, and exploration of the use of mixed social environments. In the spring of 2007, a new interdisciplinary research seminar addressing these aspects was offered at a large American university. We present an overview of the resultant learning artifacts, outcomes, and research questions in hopes of helping to inform best practices, expand interdisciplinary research, and assist in the design of future mixed social environments for enhanced learning.
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Abstract

We introduce the term ‘mixed social environments’ as a strategic learning construct to augment student interaction when utilizing virtual world environments such as Second Life in the classroom. While an increasing number of institutions are investigating the use of virtual world environments for enhanced learning, at present there are at least three major areas that are underdeveloped: interdisciplinary research, documentation of best practices, and exploration of the use of mixed social environments. In the spring of 2007, a new interdisciplinary research seminar addressing these aspects was offered at a large American university. We present an overview of the resultant learning artifacts, outcomes, and research questions in hopes of helping to inform best practices, expand interdisciplinary research, and assist in the design of future mixed social environments for enhanced learning.

INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT

For the purposes of this chapter, games and other interactive graphical scenarios that consist of multiple environments (compared with a single-focus virtual reality simulation such as flight training in a virtual cockpit or emergency room training inside a simulated hospital) are referred to as virtual world environments (VWEs) due to the large “world-like” scale of the virtual reality they create. Games are broadly defined in the literature and may cover a wide range of educational purposes. User-driven VWEs (pronounced “vyoo-eez”) can often be considered games and have great potential for teaching and learning (Foreman, 2003). As a VWE, Second Life (SL) affords a sense of social interaction, visual indication of level of participation, and 3D models for instruction or simulation—all factors that can be utilized for enhanced learning environments. This potential flows across various academic disciplines. In spring 2007, a new course utilizing SL entitled Interdisciplinary Research Seminar was offered as a collaborative effort between a professor of biomedical engineering and a professor of digital media at the University of Florida’s Digital Worlds Institute.

This chapter frames a context for the course from the gaming, virtual reality, and simulation literature; provides an overview of the learning artifacts produced and research developed in the course; and suggests potential future directions for researchers and practitioners who are interested in exploring mixed social environments (MSEs) as a means of merging traditional and virtual classroom spaces. We define a MSE (pronounced “mis-ee”) as a physical space wherein multiple scales of screen display and simultaneous points of view of a shared VWE can be seen, heard, experienced, and collaborated upon by persons physically present in the space, in addition to remote participants. Both personal and group displays are integrated into the space in such a way as to allow simultaneous social interaction among those in the physical space of the room and multi-perspective displays of the participants’ virtual interaction in the VWE.

Key Terms in this Chapter

World of Warcraft: A class-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game developed by Blizzard Entertainment. It is the fifth Blizzard game and is set in the Warcraft Universe, a fantasy setting introduced by Warcraft: Orcs & Humans in 1994. World of Warcraft is set four years after the events at the conclusion of Blizzard’s previous release. (Wikipedia, 2007f)

Interdisciplinary Research: Research efforts that bring together the humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences to develop and enhance a broad understanding of particular populations, cultures, or other related areas of research. (NCCS, 2007)

SimCity: A real-time strategy/simulation computer game created by game developer Maxis. There are four versions: the original SimCity (1989, later renamed SimCity Classic), SimCity 2000 (1993), SimCity 3000 (1999), and SimCity 4 (2003). All of the games were re-released with various add-ons including extra scenarios. In addition, SimCity Classic is available for a palm-connected organizer and on the SimCity.com Web site as Classic Live. (Wikipedia, 2007d)

Virtual World Environments: A virtual world is a computer-simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact with via avatars. This habitation usually is represented in the form of two- or three-dimensional graphical representations of humanoids (or other graphical or text-based avatars). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users. (Wikipedia, 2007e)

Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG): A type of computer game that enables hundreds or thousands of players to simultaneously interact in a game world they are connected to via the Internet. Typically this kind of game is played in an online, multiplayer-only persistent world. Some MMOGs are played on a mobile device (usually a phone) and are thus mobile MMOGs or MMMOGs or 3MOGs. (Wikipedia, 2007b)

Research, Education and Visualization Environment (REVE): A multi-purpose social and learning space that features a 52-foot-wide immersive display screen, allowing local participants the opportunity to engage a VWE at near-life-size scales. The REVE allows students and faculty a multiplicity of perspectives that promote creativity and interdisciplinary achievement within the classroom.

Best Practices: Processes and activities that have been shown in practice to be the most effective (Delwiche, 2006; Keesey, 2007).

Mixed Social Environments: Meeting places, such as the Polymodal Immersive Theatre (PIT) in the Digital Worlds Institute’s REVE, that allow both proximal social interaction typical of traditional classroom or auditorium settings and simultaneous shared display of virtual world environments in which the physically present persons can also interact virtually.

Second Life: An open-ended virtual world created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab. Its foci are socialization, economic activity, and non-profit interactions. The creation of former RealNetworks CTO Philip Rosedale, Second Life gives its users (referred to as residents) tools to shape its world. (Wikipedia, 2007c)

Flow: Concept developed by Csikszentmihalyi (1990). “The mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing.” Flow is the feeling of complete and energized focus in an activity, with a high level of enjoyment and fulfillment. (Wikipedia, 2007a)

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