Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Design and Implementation of a 3D Multi-User Virtual World for Language Learning

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Design and Implementation of a 3D Multi-User Virtual World for Language Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

One of the best ways to learn a foreign language is to be exposed to real situations in which it must be used to communicate (Genesee, 1985; Nieminen, 2006). Considerable advantages can be obtained by introducing collaborative activities (Zhang, 2010), promoting the participants' interaction with the environment and other members of the community. Nevertheless, the context must be somehow controlled; otherwise boredom or frustration might impede learning (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990).

A sound alternative to get the required level of linguistic immersion without losing control over the learning process are 3D multi-user virtual worlds (3DVWs). A 3D multi-user virtual world provides a shared, realistic, and immersive space where learners, by means of their avatars, can explore, interact, and modify the world (Bell, 2008; Calongne, 2008; Dalgarno & Lee, 2010; Dickey, 2005; Dillenbourg et al., 2002; Eschenbrenner et al., 2008; Girvan & Savage, 2010; Kallonis & Sampson, 2010). Furthermore, 3DVWs offer a rich environment in which learners can strongly interact with each other, increasing student's motivations for language learning (Andreas et al., 2010; Chittaro & Ranon, 2007; Hendaoui et al., 2008; Kluge & Riley, 2008; Lee, 2009).

Being immersed in a real environment and being able to interact with members of the educational community is not enough to learn a new language. As in any learning process, instructional design that focuses on specific learning outcomes is very important. In relation to learning outcomes, The Instituto Cervantes in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages states that the "communicative language competences are put into operation with the completion of various activities that include language comprehension, expression and interaction. These activities can be classified as passive (reading, listening) or active (writing, speaking)" (Instituto Cervantes, 2002). When students communicate in a foreign language, they should demonstrate literacy in all those four essential skills (Hinkel, 2006; Nation & Newton 2009).

Our project is inspired by Language Learning projects that already use 3D Virtual Reality Technologies (Avatar Languages, 2009; Three Immersions, 2008; Koenraad, 2008; Shih & Yang, 2008) that simulate real environments and in some cases, real situations to promote speaking skills. We conceive the 3D learning system as a whole, as an integrated set of technological and pedagogical issues that are tightly related to one another, having to be dealt with them independently but under a unifying light. This dual nature of our work will be reflected in this paper, in which we will describe both, the didactical developments as conceived, in the first place, and how they eventually have been brought into life by means of existing 3D technologies enhanced with our own developments. An analysis of existing related work will complete this schema. Finally we present a preliminary evaluation of our learning environment in terms of motivation, immersion, and participation in collaborative activities.

Related Work

Current instructional design models encourage active, rather than passive learning; they are based on constructivist theories whose central assumption is that humans create knowledge as opposed to acquiring it (Dewey, 1916; Ertmer & Newby, 1993; Vrasidas, C., 2000). Within the constructivist theory, there are two prominent schools: personal constructivism and social constructivism (Vrasidas, 2000). The former states that knowledge is constructed in the head of the learner, these principles follow Piaget theories. The latter assumes that knowledge is constructed in communities of practice, through social interaction (Vygotsky, 1978). Both schools emphasize the influence that the environment has on learners (Jonassen, 1994; Wilson, 1997).

Nowadays, information and communication technologies provide mechanisms to design and develop environments which facilitate the construction of knowledge and support personal and social constructivism (Perkins, 1992). …

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