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International avatar interaction and student learning in immersive worlds

Demangeot, Catherine and Ramsay, Howard (2011) International avatar interaction and student learning in immersive worlds. In: 4th Conference on e-Learning Excellence in the Middle East, e-UAE University, 2011-01-30 - 2011-02-02. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper reports an initial exploration of the use of Second Life to host international student learning and avatar collaboration. It considers how students perceive an immersive environment and investigates the manner in which students interact and collaborate through their avatars. The paper describes the building of a seminar space on Second Life and the design and facilitation of two seminars in that space, before reporting the findings, derived from student interviews, the investigators’ reflective diaries and observations of the sessions’ video recordings. The findings indicate that while obstacles exist to the effective use of virtual worlds for this purpose, this evolving technology has significant potential. Students were generally sensitive to the emotional qualities of immersive environments. However, these environments require facilitators to use new tools for maximum learning effectiveness. The impact of using anonymous avatars on student communication and collaboration was mixed: some felt freer to contribute and ask questions; others felt the anonymousness and the absence of body language hindered their communication. Some participants were involved, in the absence of some of the usual cues, in trying to re-construct a context. Overall, the findings suggest that immersive environments call for new ‘rules of engagement’.