Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Toward Educational Virtual Worlds: Should Identity Federation Be a Concern?

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Toward Educational Virtual Worlds: Should Identity Federation Be a Concern?

Article excerpt


We live the most collaborative experience since the beginning of the World Wide Web, due to the easy manner in which one can connect with other users, resources, services and information. To attain things such as books we wish to buy, tuition fees we have to pay, or even the completion certificate of an online course we attended, we constantly face the need to use our identity, and ensure to other entities that they are indeed dealing with us. This raises ethical and legal questions about privacy, security and accountability, both for users and entities--in the use and sharing of their personal information.

Thus, it's strictly necessary to have management tools available that enable not only the certification and validation of users' identities, but also assure them that there will be a basic level of privacy when they share their personal information with other parties. This is why the existence of federations between entities, through the mutual agreement and establishment of policies, practices and common standards, proves to be of greater importance. The inherent advantages of these trust relationships are numerous and constantly cited on literature (Madsen et al., 2005; Shim et al., 2005; Smith, 2008).

In education, identity federation has also been a topic of interest for researchers (Linden, 2005; Hammerle, 2006; Aguirre et al., 2008), but it mainly addresses the use of web-based systems such as wikis, learning and content management systems, forums, academic portals, repositories, etc. Regarding 3D Virtual Worlds, some studies were developed within this field with emphasis on other perspectives, such as sociology (Lorentz, 2011), anthropology (Gabriels et al., 2011), and psychology (Aas, 2011). However, other studies show identity issues as barriers and challenges for students, staff and institutions in the adoption of Virtual Worlds for learning (Palomaki, 2009; Dalgarno et al., 2011), but we are left with a lack of clear evidence that supports the argument on why identity federation should be taken into account as one of the major concerns towards the widespread use of Virtual Worlds in education.

For that purpose, there is a need to understand in which dimensions of the educational process, identity federation technology has the potential to bring benefits. Students, teachers and institutional leaders feel somewhat unmotivated, unconfident and insecure in the development, management, support and assessment of classrooms or educational projects in Virtual Worlds due a broad range of factors related to identity issues. From time consumption (e.g., proliferation of students' and teachers' logins, passwords, roles and other data for different institutional systems, including Virtual Worlds; track, link and assess huge amounts of 3D data, as students' in-world access, classroom attendance and task progress; etc.), to costs (e.g., 3D resources development, interoperability and reutilization, copyright policies and licensing terms, etc.) and reputation (e.g., ethical and legal questions related with avatars' problematic behaviors, as inappropriate gestures and customization, in which privacy assurance and users' accountability are compromised).

In these and other dimensions that we will present afterwards, several identified barriers and challenges can be solved and/or minimized by identity federation technology. However, other ones will remain without a clear solution for teachers and institutions. For instance, in 3D distance learning classrooms, if on the one hand we can manage students' attendance based on their avatars' status, behavior and interaction during the class, logins' and logouts' time and zone, etc., on the other hand we can't fully ensure if the student behind the avatar is really who we think it is. That is a classical challenge, throughout the years, common to any social or group application to be implemented in the classroom, not just Virtual Worlds. …

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