3D Virtual Worlds as Art Media and Exhibition Arenas: Students' Responses and Challenges in Contemporary Art Education

Article excerpt

3D virtual worlds (3D VWs) are considered one of the emerging learning spaces of the 21st century; however, few empirical studies have investigated educational applications and student learning aspects in art education. This study focused on students' responses to and challenges with 3D VWs in both aspects. The findings show that most participants had positive learning experiences and attitudes toward 3D VWs as an art medium and an exhibition arena after overcoming a steep learning curve. They recognized that creating virtual art as well as viewing and critiquing it during art exhibits in a global virtual setting were great advantages for concept learning and art education. They also raised a concern about actual implementation in K-12 classrooms. The data shed light on how art educators and teachers can take advantage of the affordances of 3D VWs for teaching contemporary art in a digital age. Recommendations for future studies are provided.

Recently, popular online 3D multiuser virtual worlds (3D VWs) such as Club Penguin (for kids), There (for teens and adults), and Second Life (SL) (for teens1 and adults) have attracted different age groups/users, including researchers, educators, and students. These networked virtual worlds provide 3D virtual spaces where a user, called an avatar (a visual representation of a human being), can easily show his/ her presence while meeting and conversing with other users/avatars in remote locations synchronously or asynchronously. Users are required to have an updated computer with a high-speed Internet connection and to install a free browser after registering to become residents in the selected virtual environment.

Combining the features of online gaming (desktop virtual reality) and social networking (social media), these popular 3D VW environments are characterized by hyper-real visual imagery, unique immersive power, intensive interaction, and user-created content (Lu, 2008). Such 3D VWs are alternative online/distance learning environments (Annetta, Murray, Laird, Bohr, & Park, 2008; Gaimster, 2008; Inman, Vivian, & Hartman, 2010) and emerging 21st-century learning spaces for the digital generation (Smart, Cascio, & Paffendorf, 2007). However, many educators, including art educators, lack knowledge and resources to apply the new capabilities in specific content areas using sound pedagogy (Annnetta, et al., 2008). Few empirical studies have thoroughly investigated the educational applications of such 3D VW environment or addressed student learning in the context of art education. These problems should be investigated and resolved to fill gaps in research and practice.

The main purpose of this cross-cases study was to generate initial empirical data for art education by investigating (1) art education students' responses to a 3D VW as an art medium and exhibit arena, (2) their perceived learning within 3D VWs, and (3) their willingness to adopt VWs in future art practice. In this article, I present the findings and make recommendations for future research and practice.

3D VW Literature in K-1 2 and Higher Education

Reviewing 15 empirical studies. Hew and Cheung (2010) reported that educators in K-1 2 and higher education often utilized 3D VWs as spaces for communication, simulation, and experiential learning. They also found the main research interests were centered on students' social interaction, affective domain (attitudes and satisfaction), and learning outcomes. Studies showed that using a personal avatar seemed to be a successful way for elementary, secondary, and undergraduate students to communicate and interact with others (Dickey, 2005; Edirisingha, Nie, Pluciennik, & Young, 2009).

Hew and his associates also reported that most students in these studies had positive satisfaction with and attitudes toward using 3D VWs during their learning process. This finding is consistent with two later reviews: one on 27 empirical studies (Inman, et al. …