Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Barriers and Enablers to the Use of Virtual Worlds in Higher Education: An Exploration of Educator Perceptions, Attitudes and Experiences

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Barriers and Enablers to the Use of Virtual Worlds in Higher Education: An Exploration of Educator Perceptions, Attitudes and Experiences

Article excerpt

Introduction

Interest in the use of virtual worlds in teaching has been maintained since their first wide scale use in the 1980s (Warburton, 2009). However, despite the persistence of interest, and with the development of many teaching facilities in virtual worlds, teaching in these environments has not become mainstream, and the numbers of educators using this environment for teaching is in fact decreasing. This is evidenced by the number of underutilized and disused builds that are seen in virtual worlds. When exploring virtual worlds such as Second Life, and looking for interesting or useful education sites to visit, another avatar may not even be encountered when visiting these spaces. What has become of the islands which have been reduced to virtual dust when their rent has lapsed or of the privately hosted virtual worlds sitting idle on their own dusty corner of a server? Why has so much effort gone into the development of these sites for them only to be discarded? After the considerable investment of resources in virtual world learning spaces, it might be expected that the use of virtual worlds would have reached the "plateau of productivity" on the Gartner Hype Cycle (Linden & Fell, 2003). However, recent analysis suggests they are still in the "trough of disillusionment" from which point, many new technologies fade into disuse unless maintained and their use progressed by a dedicated group of users and innovators (Fenn, 2008).

Virtual worlds are able to provide a diverse and relatively inexpensive environment compared to bricks and mortar, suitable for authentic learning experiences, potentially removing the tyranny of distance for students studying away from campus (Ritzema & Harris, 2008). They accommodate a range of learning styles (Bonk & Zhang, 2006) and provide risk-free access (Bronack, Sanders et al. 2008) to dangerous, complex or expensive environments (Monahan, Ullberg & Harvey, 2009). When teaching in virtual worlds, Steve Bronack and his colleagues describe the utilization of presence pedagogy, grounded in social constructivist theory, in which students and instructors become part of a community of practice, where all have the potential to be learners, teachers, peers and/or experts (Bronack, Sanders et al. 2008). This encourages reflective learning and engagement in the process (Boulos, Hetherington et al. 2007). If the pedagogy is sound and the initial investment of time and resources in developing the learning environment has been provided, why then are these spaces under-utilized or abandoned, and further, why have they not been mainstreamed? This research aims to identify issues that influence academics in their decisions about whether or not to use virtual worlds in their teaching, whether they are already using them or contemplating using them in the future. This article presents the results from a survey investigating educators' experiences and plans for future use of virtual worlds in teaching, and the issues that influenced these decisions. Two of the researchers have been involved in the development and teaching of higher education courses in virtual worlds since 2007.

Literature review

In 2007, the Horizon Report predicted a two to three year time frame for the adoption of virtual worlds in education (The New Media Consortium, 2007). Similarly, the subsequent Australia New Zealand Horizon Report (Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2008, p. 6) enthusiastically identified virtual worlds as "spaces for truly immersive forms of learning and for a level of collaboration that is erasing traditional boundaries and borders rapidly." In 2008 and again in 2009, the Gartner hype cycle positioned virtual worlds in higher education at the peak of its hype cycle (Lowendahl et al., 2008) and the information technology research and advisory company famously predicted that 80% of Internet users would have an avatar in a virtual world by the end of 2011 (Stamford, 2007). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.