Friday, April 17, 2015

Blended Learning and Virtual Worlds

Michail Filioglou, EDRASE
Blended learning comprises by two distinct phases, the synchronous  and the asynchronous one.  A lot of attention has been recently given to the asynchronous part, with researchers trying to apply contemporary educational methods in distance learning. But there is a lack of research on the synchronous part.

When we are referring to the “synchronous part”, we are usually talking about the face-to-face meetings that the trainer has along with the trainees. This can happen at the beginning, during and/or at the end of the training. Another option is to use “Virtual Worlds”.
In the web-site of the “Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education”, a global grass-roots community event focusing on education in immersive virtual environments ( is written that: “A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a unique environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create ideas irrespective of time and space. Virtual worlds can be either 2D or 3D. They may be co-located or distributed. The core aspect that defines a virtual space is that a virtual environment provides a uniquely shared space for emerging relationships and serves as a foundation for the development of knowledge creation and sharing”
They also give some examples of virtual Worlds, which include :

  •  Second Life, 
  • OpenSim, 
  • Unity,   
  • Pinestest, 
  • World of Warcraft, and   
  • Eve Online.

The above mentioned virtual environments are segregated from WebEx, Sococo, VenueGen, and other platforms which are focused on more utilitarian purposes to a closed audience.
This is because virtual worlds are characterized by an open social presence, where the direction of the platform’s evolution is manifested in the community.
Out of the 28 Virtual Worlds Working Group (VWWG)  Australian institutions, 25 are using Second Life, 14 Open Sim and 7 are using other platforms, such as Vastpark, iSee, Unity3D, Quest Atlantis and three customised VWs for their own needs (Gregory et al. 2011). There is a variety of disciplines using VWs, with the most dominant in Education (22), Health (15), Business (12), Science (7) and a range of other disciplines (25), including history, art, sociology, law, engineering, architecture, visual and performing arts, tourism, hospitality, construction, languages, pharmacy, social and behavioural studies. There are approximately 200 students per HIE studying through a Virtual World.

In a recent research by Morrison et al.(2012)  it is referred that the influence of avatars on user trust in computer mediated communication environments is an issue which needs further research. 

The authors claim that this gap in literature should be addressed because many e-learning environments utilize computer mediated communication tools as first-order mechanisms to support distance learning student-teacher interaction. In their study they investigated whether or not there exists some effect from the uses of avatars on individual perceptions in computer mediated communications. Their results suggest that the use of avatars associated with trustworthiness affects trust development and  the perception of trustworthiness.
Another big study presented in Australia ( Gregory et al., 2011)
Showed that the use of virtual worlds in Australia’s Universities has become widespread. It is reported that the key things that they are using VWs for , are:
Research; providing students with virtual experiences unavailable to them; meetings; tutorials; social media; inter-professional education; ethical decision-making; experiential learning, collaboration; role-play; simulation; guest lectures' web-quests; excursions; tours; scenario based training; building; scripting; authentic assessment; programming behaviour of avatars and objects: interfacing VWs with motion capture suits and cybergloves; design and implement distributed spoils games.
Some challenges that remained unresolved are:

  • Technical and financial support;
  •  bandwidth;
  •   acceptance;
  •  accessibility;
  • lack of vision;
  • preparation of materials;
  • many people on the one sim at the one time:
  • timetabling;
  • learning curve

·         Gregory, B., Gregory, S., Wood, D., Masters, Y., Hillier, M., Stokes-Thompson, F., Bogdanovych, A., Butler, D., Hay, L., Jegathesan, J.J., Flintoff, K., Schutt, S., Linegar, D., Alderton, R., Cram, A., Stupans, I., McKeown Orwin, L., Meredith, G., McCormick, D., Collins, F., Grenfell, J., Zagami, J., Ellis, A., Jacka, L., Campbell, J., Larson, I., Fluck, A., Thomas, A., Farley, H., Muldoon, N., Abbas, A., Sinnappan, S., Neville, K., Burnett, I., Aitken, A., Simoff , S., Scutter, S., Wang, X., Souter, K., Ellis, D., Salomon, M.,Wadley, G., Jacobson, M., Newstead, A., Hayes, G., Grant, S. & Yusupova, A. (2011). How are Australian higher education institutions contributing to change through innovative teaching and learning in virtual worlds? In G. Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown, & B. Cleland (Eds.), Changing Demands, Changing Directions. Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011. (pp. 475-490).
·         Morrison, Rodger; Cegielski, Casey; Rainer, R. Kelly (2012) Journal of Computer Information Systems;Fall2012, Vol. 53 Issue 1, p 80

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