In Search of SecondLife Nirvana

Article excerpt

Introduction

Teaching and learning are undergoing a paradigm shift not only with respect to constructive alignment with student needs, but also to the creation of an extended learning environment outside traditional classroom walls. Teams are a mainstay and bedrock element of a broad range of teaching and learning activities. Comprehensively supporting teams technologically, especially in global contexts, is not easy but can be exceptionally rewarding for all involved.

SecondLife (www.SecondLife.com) is a virtual environment (within which real-life experiences can be attained) that has a range of support opportunities for teams including aspects of visualization and sense of presence, as well as text and audio interaction. However, little is known about the reception of SecondLife in support of virtual team activities, especially in conjunction with use of a portfolio of other technologies.

The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) (Davis, 1989) and its successor, TAM2 (Venkatesh & Morris, 2000), have been widely utilized in understanding the reaction of individuals to different technologies. TAM (and TAM2) look particularly at aspects of perceived ease of use and usefulness. Extensions of TAM and TAM2 go beyond considerations of gender and experience to include aspects of enjoyment and interaction capacity on the road to understanding user attitude and intention, thus leading to user behaviour in team contexts.

The Hong Kong / Netherlands (HKNet) project has, over the past ten years, provided a structured environment in which virtual teams experience a variety of synchronous and asynchronous technologies. Teams go through a set of pedagogically-driven activities over an eight week period, resulting in delivery of an online electronic book. HKNet has been recognized for innovation in education (e.g., Genuchten & Vogel, 2007; Genuchten, Vogel, Rutkowski, & Saunders, 2005). The project provides a platform within which aspects of the impact and implications of group support technologies can be examined.

In this paper, we compare SecondLife to other group support technologies through an extended TAM lens in the most recent HKNet project (http://bohknet.tm.tue.nl/index.html). A portfolio of technologies including email, forums, videoconferencing, SecondLife, and MSN was provided for team support and subsequently evaluated. Results are presented and discussed. Suggestions for development and directions for future research are provided. Conclusions are drawn.

Background

Teaching and learning is undergoing a paradigm shift not only with respect to constructive alignment with student needs, but also to the extended learning environment outside traditional classroom walls becoming salient. E-learning is key to this transition and sustaining educational presence in life-long learning. Currently, there are many hurdles where a consistent problem is that much of what we have in terms of technological support is not well-understood, nor is it integrated in a fashion that can synergize extended use by a large number of educators and students.

Teams are a mainstay and bedrock element of a broad range of teaching and learning activities. Comprehensively supporting teams technologically, especially in global contexts, is not easy but can be exceptionally rewarding for all involved. A common problem in virtual teams is lack of presence and difficulty in sustaining interaction and developing trust, especially in multi-cultural circumstances. This is further complicated by the often fragmented nature of team support, both in terms of pedagogically-driven protocols and technological support. Seamless integration with a focus on scalability and sustained effort is paramount.

Technological support for teams has been conducted under a collection of names, such as Group Decision Support Systems, Electronic Meeting Systems, Group Negotiation Support Systems, Computer Mediated Communication Systems, and Computer Supported Collaborative Work (e. …