Saturday, April 2, 2011

MUVEs, Collaboration and Learning

The material I read this week presented several aspects of the use of multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) in learning. The authors gave me a better understanding of this technology and of its applications in different contexts. With this understanding I believe I am better equipped to evaluate the use of MUVE when creating learning offerings for my students.

The article by Bers (2008) placed the use of educational 3D technology in a comprehensible context for me. Bers described a learning continuum that goes from a person learning individually to learning as part of a community. She discussed the concept of constructionism, both as a learning theory and as a strategy that uses educational technology as a tool in learning. Under constructionism, people learn by creating and communicating. Learning can be expanded by utilizing technology, not only to support the individuals as they build their own artifacts, but also to enable learners to work with each other and make use of their collaboration to construct knowledge. The author gave examples of where this learning-by-doing-with-others concept appears to work well in a MUVE (Zora and ACT). Bers’ article led me to conclude that MUVE technology should be considered when the goal is for the learners to build their knowledge as a community, instead of on their own.

Even though the article by Gee (2008) concentrated on games and learning, I was particularly interested in his discussion of the impact collaboration and interaction among individuals can have. For instance, having other people interpret the learner’s experiences can benefit the learner. Gee also elaborated on how people can distribute work among themselves and then collaborate to solve problems and create knowledge more effectively than they could on their own. In addition, the use of collaborative cross-functional teams, where each member contributes a different expertise, can bring the team’s performance to a higher level.

Wallace presented several interesting conclusions regarding collaboration and MUVEs in his talk (2010).
  •  People from high-context cultures (Asian cultures, for instance) favor text-based environments over virtual 3D environments, and prefer asynchronous over synchronous communications.
  • A mix synchronous and asynchronous technologies is preferable in courses that use a MUVE.
  • Virtual environments that represent real-world spaces are preferable.
  • The avatar a person chooses can shape their interaction in a virtual world
  • Highly sociable people are more willing to collaborate with avatars that are different from their own identity.
Just having a need for learners to collaborate does not mean that we create a MUVE for them to do so, however. This was the key point I derived from the presentation by Ussery (2010).

During her talk, Ussery discussed a course she designed and developed in a MUVE called Second Life. In this course, each student creates an avatar and participates in activities “in world” that help them collaborate with each other and learn concepts such as goal-setting, team-building and negotiation. The students interviewed as part of the presentation were very positive about the use of Second Life in the course. They praised the flexibility, the increase in interactivity and the improved communications the Second Life afforded them. Nonetheless, other than an enhanced sense of presence, I did not see much benefit in using a MUVE in this course over other technologies that could have supported the objectives in a similar way, at less cost and faster implementation time (e.g., forums or blogs). The lesson I learned from the presentation was: proceed with caution – even if a MUVE appears to be the technology to use in a course, evaluate other technologies to determine if they can better support the need for creating the course in the first place (probably not the message Ussery was trying to convey).


Bers, M. (2008). Civic Identities, Online Technologies: From Designing Civic Curriculum to Supporting Civic Experiences. Civic Life Online: Learning How Digital Media Can Engage Youth. Edited by W. Lance Bennett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 139–160. Retrieved on March 27, 2011 from

Gee, J. (2008). Learning and Games. The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. 21–40. Retrieved on March 27, 2011 from

Ussery, J. (2010).  Expanding Educational Realities – Exploring Interactive and Immersive Learning Experiences.  Retrieved on March 28, 2011 from

Wallace, P. (2010). Some of My Students Are Not Human! Avatar Interaction and Collaboration in Virtual Worlds. Retrived on March 28, 2011 from

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