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CMC Assessment 2

Anilan Hirasen


Aruna Seerpath


Sarisha Naidoo


Sasha-Lee Govender


Communication in Virtual Worlds:
The use of Virtual Worlds in Education

Introduction .................................................................................................................................................................. 2
Current Applications of Education in Virtual Worlds .................................................................................................... 3
Advantages and Disadvantages of using Virtual Worlds for Education ........................................................................ 6
Guidelines for the successful/effective use of Virtual Worlds for education ............................................................. 10
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................................................... 13
References .................................................................................................................................................................. 14


Virtual worlds have been around long enough for many to be aware of them. Over the years, they have
been used for numerous purposes. The use of virtual worlds for educational purposes has become a hot
topic, only relatively recently.
This has not stopped several schools and organisations from taking advantage of this advancement in
technology, and new educating technique.
In this paper, we explore the Current Applications of Education in Virtual Worlds, the Advantages and
disadvantages of implementing virtual worlds for educational purposes, as well as some Guidelines for the
successful/ effective use of Virtual Worlds for education.


Current Applications of
Education in Virtual Worlds


Virtual worlds seem to be emerging as facilitators for meeting places and learning environments for
students and educators.
In scientific fields, lectures are being supplemented with 3D virtual models. In the field of forensic
pathology, Second Life is being used to teach autopsy procedures. A University in Texas uses Second Life
as a tool to teach chemistry - with the use of virtual labs, experiments can be done with virtual chemicals.
Virtual worlds provide a more interactive and immersive learning process across all disciplines.
Baker, Wentz, and Woods (2009) found that the University of Derby’s SLLabs, which focuses on teaching
and research in psychology, have created a project known as the Virtual Hallucinations Project. It attempts
to re-create aspects of perceptual distortion experienced by individuals with schizophrenia. Avatars can
enter and move through a building, in which objects change appearance, and disembodied voices are also
Second Life has also been used at the London College of Fashion, to showcase their designs and final
projects, without the added cost of expensive fabrics and machinery.
The MAYO Clinic, a non-profit medical practice and medical research group, hosts events on Second Life,
which educates residents about different diseases.
Virtual campuses, virtual classrooms and virtual centres are becoming more and more commonplace in
today’s technology-orientated society. Some lecturers use this virtual world as a meeting place to host
their lectures with the use of embedded videos, eBooks, or 3D models. POC Centre, a research centre for
Emerging Neurotechnology (University of Cincinnati, Ohio) which is dedicated to provide care to patients
with neurological problems, has created virtual offices to discuss ideas, meet people, share methodologies
and compare research.
Virtual worlds also allow for simulated experiences. For instance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) in the United States created a virtual world to simulate the effects experienced
during and after tsunamis and hurricanes; almost any natural disaster can be simulated, allowing students
studying in these fields to understand the phenomena, causes and effects more thoroughly.
For students studying business, these worlds can be used to open a business and help them to get a feel of
how to create, maintain and manage these businesses. USC Marshall School of Business, in California, uses
the platform to allow students to do exactly this, while also creating a portfolio of rental properties, and
managing these properties.
Some countries are exploring the idea of replicating archaeological sites using virtual worlds for public
viewing, research studies and, of course, to assist students.
Stanford University has a virtual library in Second Life. The American Library Association (ALA) predicts
that virtual worlds together with cloud technology may result in traditional libraries becoming obsolete.
Cornell University’s Weill Medical College, in New York, is currently researching the possibility of virtual
worlds being used to help individuals affected by the World Trade Centre Bombings cope with posttraumatic stress disorder.


According to Minocha and Reeves (2010), Second Life is the most popular 3D VW in the domain of
education. Baker et al. (2009) discovered that more than 100 universities in the United States and other
countries rent or own virtual land in Second Life.
In addition to Second Life, there are many other virtual worlds that can be used to facilitate education. A
description of these VWs follow.
OpenSim is an open source, multi-platform and multi-user 3D application server that can be used to create
virtual worlds. OpenSim is said to be the most recent forerunner in terms of choices of tools for creating
virtual environments.
Association (2013) talks about WiloStar3D, which is a virtual school that offers distance education using
virtual worlds. It is a home-schooling learning environment which employs a constructivist approach in
which students learn to interact in virtual worlds. It improves reading, comprehension, and problemsolving abilities.
Open Wonderland
Kaplan and Yankelovich (2011) indicate that Open Wonderland is a toolkit, for developing 3D worlds, which
focuses on open standards and extensibility; enabling collaboration with emphasis on synchronous
Gardner, Gánem-Gutiérrez, Scott, Horan, and Callaghan (2011) explains how Open Wonderland provides a
rich set of objects for creating environments which support applications such as word processors, web
browsers and document-presentation tools which can be used to facilitate education.
Active World
Dickey (2005) states that Active Worlds (AW) is a client-server application which allows developers to
create unique 3D virtual worlds for users to visit and interact within. The River City Project was developed
using Active World at Harvard University. Association (2013) mentions that the River City Project simulates
a city besieged by health problems. Students are organised into small groups and can investigate causes
behind people getting sick using technologies that track clues and symptoms. They then investigate the
causes of the diseases. Students develop and test hypotheses through experiments and extract conclusions
from the data collected.
ScienceSim is a virtual world that enables customizable physics and optimizations to achieve better
scalability. It can also serve as a test bed for data visualization and control of science experiments like
fusion reactions, biomedical applications, geophysical and intelligence analysis.
Short (2012) describes Minecraft as multiplayer sandbox video game based in a virtual world modelled on
the real world. Minecraft can be used to facilitate education in biology by perhaps developing a model of
the human body, and allowing learners to travel through the body to view the various body parts and
aliments within the body. Learners can also be tasked with curing these sicknesses by solving puzzles; this
ensures an interactive and immersive learning experience.
Virtual Worlds can be used in many other learning areas as well. The use of video games in classrooms
could definitely help to introduce and integrate the use of other media to assist in education.


Advantages and Disadvantages
of using Virtual Worlds for


Advantages of using Virtual Worlds for Education
Virtual Worlds and education are two terms one does not often hear in the same sentence or even
conversation. And while there have been a few success stories in various parts of the world, the use of
Virtual Worlds for education has certainly not reached its full potential. Virtual Worlds, if utilised in the
correct way, could possibly be a valuable educational tool; resulting in numerous advantages for both
educators and learners.
A Virtual World provides a more interactive environment and allows learners to visualize or enact learning
scenarios through interactive engagement. This type of interactive environment allows students to imagine
and build their own objects within the virtual world. In doing so, students can hone creative skills.
Furthermore, through the use of Virtual Worlds, students can actually develop and improve their technical
skill set. The exciting environment of a Virtual World encourages students to participate in activities and,
the more time spent doing so, helps them become more technologically comfortable and skilled.
Communication in Virtual Worlds, such as Second Life, is not limited to interaction between student,
teacher and fellow class mates. Students can also connect with people from all over the world; providing a
more open and collaborative environment. Virtual Worlds offer students the opportunity to contact and
connect with other students, educators, experts of specific areas or anyone who may share the same field
of interest as them. This is especially beneficial in exposing students to a diverse environment, allowing
them to broaden their knowledge at a global level, gain insight into the opinions and ideas of a variety of
people, learn about other cultures and skills, and even assist students in exploring and confirming
information and ideas they may have.
Educators too benefit from such a collaborative environment and can learn or improve both their
technological and pedagogical skillset. This can easily be achieved through their interaction with other
educators and experts in Virtual Worlds; allowing for the sharing of thoughts, ideas, advice and lesson
plans to make for a potentially more effective and improved educational experience.
Virtual Worlds provide a more immersive experience and provides a more constructivist approach to
learning in which the teacher sets the tasks and the student engages in higher thinking activities to solve
problems themselves. In this way, teachers serve as facilitators rather than problem solvers.
Educators can create activities for learners which teach difficult and boring concepts in unconventional
ways – removing the lack of appeal in such activities. This allows students to participate in activities or
experiences that would normally be impossible to undertake in real life. This is often accomplished by
simulations such as being inside the object that you are learning about or travelling to a country or historic
landmark that students would otherwise not be able to visit. This method of teaching is more likely to
engage and retain a student’s attention and knowledge with its visual richness. Students may more easily
be able to recall the things they have seen and activities they have done.
In relation to the above, the cost of experiencing something in a Virtual World is far less than it would be in
real life. Most students do not have jobs, and the majority of those who do, usually have part-time jobs
with relatively low pay. Travelling to another country, for instance, is not feasible for a student who
perhaps may never get the opportunity to do so in their lifetime. Virtual Worlds allow these experiences to
be both possible and affordable.
Students are able to maintain anonymity if they wish to do so, which encourages them to be themselves.
Apart from anonymity, students who are shy and hesitant to comment or ask questions in a class
environment might feel more at ease to do so in a virtual world. According to Baker et al. (2009), using an

avatar provides a sense of semi-anonymity which may allow students to speak more freely. This could
encourage students to create and maintain strong relationships with other students and teachers
and, should they meet face-to-face, improve their confidence due to a level of familiarity that has already
been established.
Baker et al. (2009) also suggests that real-time chat allows users to view conversations as they are
happening which allows students the opportunity to review the discussion and construct opinions and
ideas before they comment. Students are thus encouraged to think about what they are saying before
actually saying it.
Another great advantage of using Virtual Worlds for education is distance learning. Not only can students
access the Virtual World from their homes, but rather anywhere they have access to a computer and the
internet. Students who live very far away from conventional educational sites, as well students who cannot
afford them, are offered the opportunity to participate and learn through using Virtual Worlds.
Furthermore, Virtual Worlds accommodate a significantly larger amount of students than a traditional
learning institution. Additionally, disabled students are able to easily access content without having to
leave the comfort of their homes.
Students have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from these mistakes, without these mistakes
actually discouraging them. Moreover, it could prevent students from making those and similar mistakes in
real life. This also allows for a more experimental type of learning, where students will be less afraid to try
new things and explore new ideas and opportunities.
Learning is self-paced, therefore faster students can work faster, and slower students can work slower
enabling them to better understand their work. In this way students may feel less pressure and be less
intimidated by fellow classmates. Furthermore, using a Virtual World can assist students in finding their
personal learning style. By being exposed to various learning styles – visual, auditory or kinaesthetic –
students may discover which is best suited to them.
Disadvantages of using Virtual Worlds for Education
While there seems to be a multitude of advantages, not everyone views virtual worlds for education in a
positive light. Like any type of technology, Virtual Worlds have a number of disadvantages that must be
considered by users, more especially, in the context of educational use.
One of the main concerns of using Virtual Worlds in education is the high cost associated with software
and hardware requirements. According to Duncan, Miller, and Jiang (2012), virtual worlds, such as Second
Life, require hardware and software with high specifications because they are based on 3D technologies
which require such specifications to optimally work in. This includes graphics cards and a substantial
amount of RAM. Duncan et al. (2012) goes on to explain that internet broadband speed is also a critical
issue concerning the use of Virtual Worlds and that a slow internet connection could severely affect the
virtual experience because of lagging as well as the possibility of computers freezing or crashing due to the
high power usage. It can thus be said that these expensive requirements are not always feasible or
accessible to students and educators.
Harris and Rea (2009) reinforce the idea that the necessary computing resources must be accessible. This
could be problematic in that Internet access is not available to all students, more specifically, when not at
school. Additionally, many students may not be able to afford a computer or an internet connection.
Furthermore, being able to participate in Virtual World activities requires a certain level of technical skill,
which many under privileged students do not have. These technical skills are necessary in order for
students to really benefit from the virtual world. Acquiring these skills, in most cases, require both time

and effort, and students are left to figure this out on their own through trial and error. Students may thus
become frustrated and discouraged in using Virtual Worlds.
In conjunction with the above, educators too require the necessary skills in utilising Virtual Worlds
effectively as an educational tool. Many educators lack adequate technical skills and Virtual World training,
which leads to a poor implementation of this technology. This, in turn, fails to provide a suitable learning
experience for learners. Educators, who are not well familiarised with the Virtual World they are using, will
be unable to provide support and guidance to their learners causing confusion and frustration to both
Another disadvantage of using Virtual Worlds in education is that it may lead to a decrease in students’
real-world communication and social skills. Students may be become too comfortable in a Virtual World;
hiding behind an avatar, and may be unable to apply these skills in real life. This may cause difficulty in
interacting with people
For many students, experiencing something in a Virtual World may lead to unrealistic expectations of real
life situations. People, places and occurrences can be very different in real life compared to the way that
they are portrayed in Virtual Worlds. Learners may be unable to recognise and comprehend the
differences between real world and virtual world situations, and may not be adequately equipped to
handle situations accordingly.
Exercises and activities set in Virtual Worlds may result to students not taking learning and activities
seriously because of the game-like, fantastical environment. Students may think of the Virtual World as a
game rather than a learning environment and, in doing so, they may not realise and utilise the full
potential of its educational value.
Most Virtual Worlds offer various other features that are not educational. Students may be easily
distracted by these features and find it difficult to concentrate on learning or participating in educational
tasks. Students may also be overwhelmed by the plethora of possibilities that they are exposed to, leaving
them unable to focus their attention on specific educational objectives. This could also cause students to
procrastinate, especially since they have the opportunity to work at their own pace.
Students may get bored and not actually complete the work. They may seem like they are participating,
when they actually are not. This could make it difficult for educators to determine whether students are
actually learning or partaking in other activities. According to Duncan et al. (2012), the more students learn
and participate virtually, the more difficult it becomes for educators to monitor their educational progress.

Overall, the use of Virtual Worlds in education comes with both costs and benefits to both students and
teachers. If utilised correctly under a firm set of guidelines, Virtual Worlds could prove to be tremendously
advantageous in the field of education. There are, however, various issues and problems that must be
carefully considered pertaining to its use. The future of education will, with no doubt, evolve as more
educators and students become more open to Virtual Worlds and adapt to its use in education.


Guidelines for the
successful/effective use of
Virtual Worlds for education


Virtual Worlds are currently taking centre stage in the world of entertainment, gaming, law enforcement
and even education. With education, implementing Virtual Worlds come with some controversy and risk;
such as security, physical and behavioural risks (Korolov, 2014). Hence, it goes without saying that
guidelines are required to ensure the successful and effective use of virtual worlds in education; not only
to ensure safety and security, but to enable an active and productive educational environment.
When it comes to safety and virtual worlds, it is not surprising that educators find the concept uneasy
simply because they have little or no training with using Virtual Worlds in education and, more
importantly, there is a great fear that students will be exposed to inappropriate material within these
worlds. In the case of the Virtual World Second Life and its application in education, Johnson (2008) notes
a feature that can be used to ensure safety amongst students. To prevent malicious content from being
exposed to students (for ages below 17) on Second Life, Teen Second Life may be used, commonly known
as the “Teen Grid”. The Teen Grid has no connection to the mainstream Second Life grid for adults. This
ensures the security of students and control by teachers within the virtual teaching space.
Even though the obstacle of a safe learning environment may be overcome, what still remains to be
resolved is the pedagogy of such an environment. Bronack et al. (2008) has explored this concern of virtual
pedagogy within AET Zone (a Virtual World designed to support students) and has cited that at the
Appalachian State University (USA), the college of education has developed a conceptual framework to
support education in virtual worlds. The foundation of the framework is based on the following aspect:
learning occurs through participation in a Community of Practice i.e. a community of practice is a group of
people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they
interact regularly (Oliver & Carr, 2009). Within the Virtual World, there is/are always others, humans or
avatars, that are trained (or programmed) to interact with learners, disseminate class content and provide
guidance on such content within a virtual context.
The following points serve as a foundation for Virtual Worlds in the context of education (Bronack et al.,

Learning takes place through participation in a Community of Practice i.e. group of students who
share an enthusiasm or a passion for an area of education, and learn how to do it better as they
interact regularly with the virtual world and with others within the virtual world.
Knowledge and abilities are socially created, and learning is social in nature in a Community of
Practice i.e. education takes place in a symmetric context where learner input and interaction is
encouraged and required for an immersive learning experience that would rarely be found in a
typical classroom.
Learners advance through stages of development from novice to expert under the guidance of an
experienced and discerning educator or tutor and among likeminded associates in the Community
of Practice. This game-like environment induces enthusiasm within leaners to participate in
educational activites as they already have familiarity with a digital gaming platform.
An identifiable knowledge base that is both common in nature and also distinct to specialties
emerges from a focused activity within the Community of Practice
All educators establish a set of principles reflecting attitudes, beliefs, and values common to the
Community of Practice. Within a virtual world, these principles will be very subtle to leaners, yet
effective and successful in a virtual world where learners possess a feeling of command and
authority. However, this feeling of command should be carefully monitored by educators.

As a result of following these basic principles, the virtual environment serves as a robust space in which
effective learning communities may be assembled and nurtured.
Adding to the above, while following these principles it is also important to provide an appealing
environment that promotes learner engagement. Allowing leaners a sense of control within a virtual world
gives the freedom to learn by experimentation and establish their own personal learning styles. Along with
Virtual Worlds, educators can utilize blended models as a tool to incorporate different facets of a syllabus
into a virtual learning environment.
It must be noted that these guideline are subject to modification based on economic, geographic and
demographic factors. However, the differences in these factors may also provide a unique and
customizable learning experience which will only add to the successful implementation of Virtual Worlds
for education.


Although the merits of using Virtual Worlds for education are substantial, many are against the integration
of virtual worlds into teaching models and syllabi. However, the future benefits of taking advantage of this
technology vastly outweigh the possible drawbacks. “In some ways implementing emerging technologies
like virtual worlds, is akin to vaccinations. Like a vaccination, it will be a little painful in the beginning, but
its benefits are incalculable” (Collins, Bently, & Conto, 2008). Students that are currently attending learning
institutions are most likely part of either generation y, or generation z. People belonging to these
generations are described as having grown up with technology, from a very young age. Technology is
therefore, a part of their everyday lives. Integrating more technology into education will undoubtedly
encourage users to participate more, while still retaining their attention.

Education must progress, as other sectors have, in terms of technology. Almost every company requires
some technical skills of their workers, therefore not integrating new technologies into educational content
is more likely to hinder learners than help them,


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