Multi-User Virtual Environments: User-Driven Design and Implementation for Language Learning

Multi-User Virtual Environments: User-Driven Design and Implementation for Language Learning

Julie M. Sykes (University of New Mexico, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-822-3.ch016
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Various features of multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) make them promising and, potentially transformational, contexts for the development of second language (L2) skills. While there has been a surge of interest in the use of MUVEs for language learning, there is still a relatively small body of empirical evidence that supports our understanding of how these immersive spaces can best be utilized for second language education. After a brief introduction to relevant research on MUVEs and language learning, this chapter is divided into two primary sections. The first section describes one component of a larger empirical study of the first MUVE built specifically for learning Spanish pragmatics. The following section utilizes the empirical findings, combined with lessons learned from classroom implementation, to suggest design considerations for those wishing to implement MUVEs in the language classroom. While the specific focus of the chapter is language learning, the findings are intended to be generally applicable in other disciplines as well.
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Participation in MUVEs is no longer considered merely a hobby or extracurricular activity. Rather, it is a significant, international cultural practice that contributes to an overall shift in the perception and construction of reality, including the political, economic, and social choices people make outside of virtual contexts (Castronova, 2005, 2007; Thorne, 2008). When considering the role of MUVEs in language learning, we must conceptualize them as more than merely practice spaces. Instead, the perspective taken here advocates a move towards transformational educational practice; this makes use of the emerging digital spaces in culturally relevant ways while allowing for learner construction of knowledge.2 Prior to our primary discussion of the empirical study and design considerations presented in this chapter, this section briefly presents relevant background information to frame our discussion of MUVEs in language learning. This includes a review of L2 research relevant to the current project as well as a description of three prominent types of MUVEs. Ten general, potentially beneficial, characteristics of MUVEs for second language learning are also discussed.

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