Intentions to Use Virtual Worlds for Education

Article excerpt

1. INTRODUCTION

The social networking capabilities of Web 2.0 have facilitated the use of the Internet and the Web much more as a collaborative platform than it was just a few years ago. In addition to information dissemination, advertising, and sales transactions, the Web is rapidly becoming popular as a place to conduct meetings, teach or take a class, interact virtually with others, or just socialize online.

Three-dimensional (3-D) social networking environments, or Internet-based virtual worlds, have been emerging rapidly since 2003. A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment created with two- and three-dimensional graphical representations of a physical space. People interact with one another via avatars, which are graphical, 2- or 3-D representations of a user. The virtual world environment is an immersive, virtual reality space. The most well known Internet-based virtual world today is Linden Labs' Second Life (2009), a 3-D virtual world where users can socialize using voice and text chat. Virtual worlds are attracting attention in industry as well as academia for their potential to enhance online education and societal communities (Baxter, 2008; Cross, O'Driscoll, and Trondsen, 2007; Gartner, 2007; Lohr 2008; Ringo, 2007; Sarvary, 2008).

This study examines college students' intentions to accept and use virtual worlds as a learning platform. The focus on current college students is very relevant as evidence suggests that virtual worlds are becoming more prevalent in business, potentially affecting this population when it graduates and enters the workforce.

1.1 Background

Many companies, most notably IBM, are already investing strategically in the three-dimensional (3-D) Internet technologies that enable virtual worlds for business and for education (Lohr 2008; Ringo, 2007; Sarvary, 2008). Gartner, Inc., a leading information technology research and advisory company, presented its forecast for the future value of virtual worlds at its 2007 conference, stating that by the end of 2011, 80 percent of active Internet users and Fortune 500 enterprises will be participating in some form of virtual world (Gartner, 2007). They project that the community-related and collaborative aspects of virtual worlds will be of most value to corporate Internet users, while transaction-based, commercial activities will be of less importance. While they propose that the collaborative and community aspects of virtual worlds will be significant, they also caution companies to invest carefully, as the technology is young, and will continue to develop and mature.

1.2 Existing Research

There is a growing body of academic literature that explores the use of virtual worlds and avatars in business (e.g., Kock, 2008; Arakji and Lang, 2008). V-commerce, or Virtual Commerce, describes the integrative use of the 3-D Internet and virtual worlds to market products and services. Arakji and Lang (2008) developed a framework for organizations to measure the potential business costs and benefits associated with having a virtual presence in a virtual world. Barnes (2007) has recently developed a research agenda to examine the effectiveness of advertising towards intent to purchase. With more than 100 virtual worlds currently in existence online, new 3-D Internet environment models are emerging as opportunities to explore new integrative marketing channels. Barnes' research is among the first to empirically test the potential for avatars and virtual objects to influence trust and the intention to make purchases online in a 3-D virtual world.

Similar to how v-commerce models extend from e-commerce, v-learning can be viewed as an extension of e-learning (Baxter, 2008; Cross, O'Driscoll, and Trondsen, 2007). Cross, O'Driscoll, and Trondsen (2007) propose ways in which the capabilities of virtual worlds may be used to enhance existing learning models. Besides the well known value of the Internet for electronic collaboration and anytime/anywhere learner and teacher participation, virtual worlds provide the new element of an augmented reality. …