Virtual Worlds as a Context Suited for Information Systems Education: Discussion of Pedagogical Experience and Curriculum Design with Reference to Second Life

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1. INTRODUCTION

As the knowledge economy evolves, the increasing use of Web 2.0 and Virtual Worlds in business and the general population means that Information Systems (IS) Education must keep pace with current developments and anticipate future developments. The eager adoption of Web 2.0 has brought a range of innovations into mainstream use, such as user generated content, content sharing, socialising, community building, being interactive and collaborative. While we acknowledge that debate exists regarding the definition of Web 2.0, including whether it is anything more than just a marketing term, we use the term Web 2.0 to refer to the trend towards interactivity and interconnectivity in the World Wide Web (O'Reilly 2006; Web 2.0 2009).

1.1 Virtual Worlds: Immersion and Presence

Just as Web 2.0 evolved from the original World Wide Web, Virtual Worlds extend many aspects of Web 2.0 into a 3D Web-based environment. As a technology that is distinct from other Web-based applications, one appealing definition of Virtual Worlds is as "online environments that have game-like immersion and social media functionality without game-like goals or rules. At the heart is a sense of presence with others at the same time and in the same place" (Constable 2008). In this context, Witmer and Singer (1998) define presence as "the subjective experience of being in one place or environment, even when one is physically situated in another" (p. 225) and immersion as the perception of being "enveloped by, included in, and interacting with an environment that provides a continuous stream of stimuli and experiences" (p. 227).

Fenn et al. (2008) regard public Virtual Worlds as an emerging technology that will become increasingly influential over the next two to five years. To date, perhaps the most common uses for Virtual Worlds have been as socialising and networking forums for individuals (Sarner, 2008), as marketing or training platforms for businesses (Abrams, 2007; Second Life Business Communicators Wiki, 2008), and as educational and research environments for academics (Harris, Lowendahl, and Zastrocky, 2007). However, there are powerful pedagogical utilities of Virtual Worlds that are not yet fully evolved or utilised and are thus worthy of consideration.

1.2 Constructionist Pedagogy in Virtual Worlds

Some of the more important and often challenging aspects of teaching are to help students cultivate intrinsic motivation, critical thinking skills, autonomous learning skills, and knowledge/skill transfer between learning domains and applications (Krause, Bochner, and Duchesne, 2003; Woolfolk, 2006). One way to address these challenges, and a current trend in education, is Papert's constructionist method of teaching, which is related to Piaget's constructivist learning theory, and Vygotsky's socio-constructivist theory (Ackermann, 2004). These developmental learning theories consider knowledge creation and skill acquisition as active and interrelated processes (Woolfolk, 2006).

Papert's constructionist (Harel and Papert, 1991) educational method places students as active participants in the learning process with teachers as facilitators, and emphasises the utility of a socially demonstrable learning process in which students' learning is enhanced when the outcomes are publicly viewable and are shared/communicated with others (Ackermann, 2004). In order to implement this approach, several guidelines are recommended (Driscoll, 2000):

(a) the learning context must be personally relevant to the lives and future prospects of the individual students;

(b) the learning should be explorative;

(c) the student should be given a chance to both participate in groups and demonstrate his or her knowledge individually; and

(d) the instructor should guide and facilitate learning without spoon feeding students.

1.3 Relevance to Industry and the Interests of Younger Generations

Correspondingly, Virtual Worlds provide a unique environment and set of tools which Generation Y students find relevant and appealing due to their status as digital natives. …