Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Evaluation Framework for Collaborative Educational Virtual Environments

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Evaluation Framework for Collaborative Educational Virtual Environments

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the past few years and due to the evolving growth in networking and telecommunication technologies a number of interactive Virtual Environments (VEs) have been developed.

To discern VEs from typical software applications, they can be defined as interactive, multisensory, threedimensional, computer synthesized environments (Barfield et al., 1995). Three-dimensional (3D) VEs come with varying features; however, typically most provide three main components: the illusion of 3D space, avatars that serve as the visual representation of users, and an interactive chat environment for users to communicate with one another (Dickey, 2005). Specific types of VEs can be distinguished based on their use or purpose. A Collaborative Virtual Environment (CVE) is a computer-based, distributed, VE or set of places. In such places, people can meet and interact with others, with agents, or with virtual objects (Churchill et al., 2001). CVEs are powerful and engaging collaborative environments for e-learning, because they are capable of supporting several important learning objectives (Chee & Hooi, 2002). These objectives include experiential learning, simulation-based learning, inquirybased learning, guided exploratory learning, community-based learning and Collaborative Learning (CL). It is probable that CVEs will play an important role in future education due to continuous enhancements in computer technology and the current widespread computer literacy among the public. To keep up with such expectations, elearning systems have gone through a radical change from the initial text-based environments to more stimulating multimedia systems.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

This paper focuses on a specific category of CVEs that aims to support CL. We call these environments Collaborative Educational Virtual Environments (CEVEs). Figure 1 clarifies the position of CEVEs in relation to CVEs and VEs in general. In CEVEs the users can undertake different roles and rights; the learners should not be passive, but should be able to interact; they should support various e-learning scenarios and they should have common features with a physical space. Furthermore, the educational interactions in the CEVE should change the simple virtual space into a communication space. This means that users should be provided with multiple communication channels, which enable them to interact with each other, inside the virtual space.

CL is group-based learning, regardless of whether this takes place face-to-face, via computer networks, or a through a mixture of both modalities. According to Petraglia (1997), a technologically sophisticated CL environment, designed following cognitive principles, could provide advanced support for a distributed process of inquiry, and facilitate advancement of a learning community's knowledge as well as the transformation of the participants' epistemic states through a socially distributed process of inquiry.

There are many important benefits to using Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) in education (Bruckman & Bandlow, 2002). Therefore, the combination of collaborative e-learning and CVEs (i.e., CEVEs) seems to be an effective solution for supporting CSCL processes. However, there is no concrete and focused evaluation framework which can assess this combination. The evaluation phase in a software application's development cycle is an important and difficult task of paramount importance (Turner & Turner, 2002). Through expedient evaluation, software houses can cut down on development cost and time. Evaluation can also aid in the demonstration of a software application's benefits to funding sources and can improve its overall effectiveness and appeal. Better evaluations can lead to better designs, based on users' and experts' recommendations and suggestions. Moreover, according to the above definition of CEVEs it is obvious that the evaluation of a CEVE needs a different approach than that used for a typical VE. …

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