Using Virtual World Technology as a Faculty Development Tool in Higher Education

Using Virtual World Technology as a Faculty Development Tool in Higher Education

Linda W. Wood (The Art Institute of Atlanta, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1963-0.ch008


Higher education institutions are constantly challenged with the task of educating a technology savvy generation of students. Colleges must be able and ready to meet the needs of these digital-age students. What are the perceptions of college faculty of using virtual world technology as a teaching tool in the classroom? The purpose of this chapter is to explore how virtual world environments can be used as a faculty development tool in order to encourage the use of virtual worlds as a teaching tool in the classroom. This chapter references research from a mixed methods study exploring college faculty perceptions of the adoption of virtual world technology into the classroom, which in turn, provides insight to the willingness of higher education faculty to adopt this type of technology. In addition, the final section of the chapter includes a suggested guide on how to create a virtual world faculty development workshop based in Linden Lab’s Second Life.
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Virtual learning environments offer opportunities for faculty to engage students in learning in an immersive way, simulating reality: “Delivering course material via a virtual environment is beneficial to today’s students because it offers the interactivity, real-time interaction and social presence that students of all ages have come to accept in our gaming rich community.” (Hodge, Tabrizi, Farwell, & Wuensch, 2007, p.105) Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs), such as Linden Lab’s Second Life, allow users to create their own character (avatar) and explore different simulated environments. Additionally, educators who have used Second Life in the classroom feel the students are more interactive and expressive in Second Life than they are compared to traditional online platforms (Appel, 2006).

While some of the literature does not specifically address the use of virtual world technology, it may be reasonable to presuppose that the same concerns that faculty have in regards to adopting new technology in general, could apply to virtual world technology. Immersion in the learning environment appears to have a positive affect on learning outcomes. Duncan (2005) states: “The greater the immersion of self in the learning process, the higher the intrinsic rewards derived from the experience.” (p.891) Kluge and Riley (2008) support the theory that colleges will need to consider adopting immersive methods of teaching in order to perhaps engage today’s college students. Furthermore, the authors point out that, “digital technologies not only change what students should learn, but what students can learn” (Kluge & Riley, 2008, p.128). Coffman and Klinger (2007) agree with Duncan (2005) and Kluge and Riley (2008) in that students tend to be more engaged in learning, when virtual world technology is used, since virtual world technology supports constructivist learning. Thus, it appears that using interactive technology (such as virtual world technology) as a teaching method is potentially a viable option to engage students in learning in an immersive way.

On the other hand, faculty perceive that there are barriers and challenges to adopting new technologies in general, which can possibly reflect on the potential to adopt virtual world technology as a teaching tool. Ertmer (2005), suggests that if faculty perceive there are barriers to an adoption of an innovation (such as virtual world technology) or have had a negative past experience with a technology innovation, then potentially that negative experience could possibly transfer to another technology innovation in the future. In addition, accessibility issues can be problematic when adopting emerging technologies in the college classroom. Unreliable and slow Internet connection, are cited as challenges in using virtual environments (Duncan, 2005; Kluge & Riley, 2008). Additional challenges include creating classes in virtual environments, which require knowledge and skills that many faculty in today’s higher education institutions do not possess, thus supporting the theory that the learning curve for faculty might be a high one (Kluge & Riley, 2008). Liability issues, such as students possibly being subjected to undesirable behavior by other participants in the virtual world, cost issues, and learning management issues, are all perceived challenges for faculty in using virtual world technology, such as Second Life, in their classes (Kluge & Riley, 2008).

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