The Support of Virtual 3D Worlds for Enhancing Collaboration in Learning Settings

The Support of Virtual 3D Worlds for Enhancing Collaboration in Learning Settings

Christian Gütl (Graz University of Technology, Austria and Curtin University of Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-898-8.ch016
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Abstract

Collaborative learning activities apply different approaches in-class or out-of-class, which range from classroom discussions to group-based assignments and can involve students more actively as well as stimulate social and interpersonal skills. Information and communication technology can support collaboration, however, a great number of pre-existing technologies and implementations have limitations in terms of the interpersonal communication perspective, limited shared activity awareness, and a lack of a sense of co-location. Virtual 3D worlds offer an opportunity to either mitigate or even overcome these issues. This book chapter focuses on how virtual 3D worlds can foster the collaboration both between instructors and students as well as between student peers in diverse learning settings. Literature review findings are complemented by the results of practical experiences on two case studies of collaborative learning in virtual 3D worlds: one on small group learning and one on physics education. Overall findings suggest that such learning environment’s advantages are a promising alternative to meet more easily and spontaneously; and that an integrated platform with a set of tools and a variety of communication channels provides real life world phenomena as well as different ones. On the negative side, there are usability issues in relation to the technical limitations of 3D world platforms and applications, which reduce the potential for learning in such collaborative virtual environments.
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Introduction

In the beginning of the 21st century, our knowledge-driven and globalized society demands more than ever to adapt continuously skills and knowledge but also soft skills become increasingly important, such as the ability to communicate and collaborate in a multidisciplinary and intercultural group. Thus, modern instructional design, learning goals and processes as well as appropriate learning environments must support this situation properly. Not surprisingly, new educational strategies have been developed, which emphasize self-directed learning, collaborative learning, experiential-based learning, active participating and content creation (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Rogers, Liddle, Chan, Doxey, & Isom, 2007). By narrowing down to collaboration in the learning process, activities apply different approaches in-class or out-of-class, which range from classroom discussions to group-based assignments. Such learning settings can involve students more actively as well as stimulate social and interpersonal skills. (Smith & MacGregor, 1992; Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye, & O’Malley, 1996; Stacey, 1999)

Information and communication technology can support collaborative learning and enable participation of students who are geographically dispersed. A great variety of technologies and applications have been invented and implemented over the last decades which are described elsewhere, such as in (Craig, 2007; Jacobson, Kim, Miao, Shen, & Chavez, 2010; Redfern & Naughton, 2002; Safran, Helic, & Gütl, 2007; Stacey, 1999). A remarkable emerging trend is envisioned to make a convergence between the real and virtual world using enhanced forms of communication and intelligent information access. Along these lines, combining a set of technology trends, such as Semantic Web, Social Web, Media Centric Web, Pervasive & Ubiquitous Web, 3D Web, may further enhance and stimulate collaborative learning activities (Silva, Rahman, & El Saddik, 2008).

One of the promising and powerful technologies in the context of communication and collaboration for online learning communities are virtual 3D worlds, which have become increasingly popular within the last few years. Although virtual reality and immersive worlds have been active research fields for many years, technology was not ready for complex application scenarios until recently. Since then, massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) such as ‘World of Warcraft’ or massively multiplayer online worlds (MMOW) such as ‘Second Life’ have not only attracted a myriad of virtual inhabitants but have also resulted in real money turnovers. It is estimated that 80 percent of active internet users will have some sort of online presence in virtual worlds by end of 2011. New business opportunities, however, are opposed by the fact that some 90 percent of commercial virtual world projects fail partly because they focus on technology rather than on the users’ needs. In order to avoid the same pitfalls of past e-learning solutions by just applying new technology to traditional learning approaches, multidisciplinary research efforts are required to develop new collaborative learning for virtual 3D world settings. (Gartner, 2007; Gartner, 2008; Gütl, 2008; Kumar et al., 2008; Jacobson et al. & Chavez, 2010; Kappe & Gütl, 2009; Redfern & Naughton, 2002)

This book chapter focuses on the nature of collaboration both between instructors and students as well as between student peers and how virtual 3D worlds can foster the collaboration process in diverse learning settings. First a theoretical overview of collaborative learning and how technologies - specifically virtual 3D worlds - can support such learning settings are provides. Based on these theoretical findings, two case studies of collaborative learning in virtual 3D worlds are discussed: one on small group learning and one on physics experiments.

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