CEC Theses and Dissertations

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Date of Award

2013

Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computing Technology in Education (DCTE)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Paul F. Marty

Committee Member

Laurie P. Dringus

Abstract

This study explored how avid users of Second Life (SL) experience and make meaning of informal learning activities in virtual art museums and similar cultural spaces through their avatars. While recent literature has laid the groundwork for studying student engagement and formal learning, the lacuna of research bound by the historical traditions of qualitative research design has done little to ease the skepticism surrounding the value of virtual worlds for learning.

Within the context of museological discourse, virtual museum learning experiences have the potential to shift viewing practices as well as how meaning is generated, interpreted, and disseminated. Technical, conceptual, and methodological barriers to studying virtual worlds remain. Another goal of this study was to demonstrate the potential of hermeneutic phenomenology, particularly my conceptualization of virtual hermeneutics, to study virtual worlds.

Hermeneutic phenomenology has the potential to make practical understanding of the informal learning process in SL explicit by providing an interpretation of this process. The challenge lies in applying the philosophy behind the methodology to the changing reality of virtual worlds. It is only by studying these experiences in context and situated within virtual spaces that we can expand our understanding of the avatar-mediated informal learning process.

Findings from this study show that in-world informal learning experiences can, in fact, be studied on their own terms. Furthermore, rich textural data can not only be extracted from exclusively in-world interaction, but collaborative relationships can also develop with no actual world contact. These experiences and interactions can lead to experiential learning, but also transformational learning where the avatar-identity can affect users' actual world viewing practices and meaning making.

It is not so much the technology per se that can affect change, but rather identity exploration, diegesis, and relationship building afforded by the technology. Albeit some learning outcomes were observed, affective outcomes and cognitive strategies, including metacognitive skills, were more frequently described by participants. Due to the complexity of assessing such outcomes and the present obsession with quantitatively measurable outcomes in formal education, it is unlikely that SL can or will be used outside the scope of informal learning in the near future unless formal education undergoes social reform.

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