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., 2010) and one on 53 empirical studies (Mikropoulos & Natsis, 2011). Compared to the one-dimensional, text-driven digital learning spaces, students liked using such learning environments better because of the ability to move freely around the 3D VW space, to socialize with avatars, and to experienee virtual field trips and simulation situated in the learning content and context. Over half of the student participants from Campbell's (2009) and Cobb, Heaney, Corcoran, and HendersonBegg's (2009) studies said they would use this or similar technologies in their future teaching.
On the other hand, these reviews also reported some negatives about using 3D VWs for education due to perceived educational value, technical issues, steep learning curves, and inappropriate content and behaviors. Some students were unwilling to accept or adopt 3D VWs for education because they did not see its value as an educational tool (Lambert & Kidd, 2008) and did not take it seriously (FitzGibbon, Oldham, & Johnston, 2008). …