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Journal of Virtual Worlds Education: inaugural issue

Just a quick heads-up of the launch of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Education. Published by The Center for Virtual Worlds Education and Research, there’s a mix of research and discussion papers covering a wide gamut.

Check out the main JVWE website or view the first issue here.

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Journal of Virtual Worlds Research Volume 3, Number 1 released

I’m a big fan of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research – it’s not just because they’re one of the few journals around devoted to the topic, but it’s the variety of articles in each issue.

The latest volume is titled The Researcher’s Toolbox, so as you’d expect its focus is research methodologies. That said, there’s plenty of different topics to sample. I’ll showcase the couple of the articles over coming weeks as I hopefully get time to read them.

In the meantime, here’s the full list of articles:

Editor-Chief′s Corner

Virtual Worlds, the IRB and a User’s Bill of Rights
Jeffrey M. Stanton .

Peer Reviewed Research Papers

How to approach a many splendoured thing: Proxy Technology Assessment as a methodological praxis to study virtual experience
Lizzy Bleumers, Kris Naessens, An Jacobs

dint u say that: Digital Discourse, Digital Natives and Gameplay
John Grantham

A Design Research Approach to Developing User Innovation Workshops in Second Life
Remko Helms, Elia Giovacchini, Robin Teigland, Thomas Kohler

What are users thinking in a virtual world lesson? Using stimulated recall interviews to report student cognition, and its triggers
Lyn Henderson, Michael Henderson, Scott Grant, Hui Huang

Applying Constant Comparative and Discourse Analyses to Virtual Worlds Research
Peter Leong, Samuel R. H. Joseph, Rachel Boulay

Learning spaces, tasks and metrics for effective communication in Second Life within the context of programming LEGO NXT Mindstorms™ robots: towards a framework for design and implementation.
Stewart Martin, Michael Vallance, Paul van Schaik, Charles Wiz

Conducting Empirical Research in 3D Virtual Worlds: Experiences from two projects in Second Life
Shailey Minocha, Minh Tran, Ahmad John Reeves

eLab City: A Platform for Academic Research on Virtual Worlds
Thomas P. Novak

Process, Paratexts, and Texts: Rhetorical Analysis and Virtual Worlds
Christopher A. Paul

Interviews within experimental frameworks: How to make sense of sense-making in virtual worlds
CarrieLynn D. Reinhard

Using Design-Based Research for Virtual Worlds Research Projects
Antonio Santos

Research Papers

The Neil A. Armstrong Library and Archives: That’s One Small Step for a Virtual World Library, One Giant Leap for Education!
Shannon Bohle

Encouragingly, the editors are putting out a second volume of this theme due to the volume of submissions received.

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Meth apartment in Second Life

This story appeared originally on our sister-site Metaverse Health.

UCLA have undertaken a fascinating study within Second Life, using it as an immersive environment to replicate scenarios around methamphetamine use and the triggers those scenarios provide in relation to cravings and potential for relapse.

Read the full details here, plus there’s a short introduction video here. The preliminary outcomes of the study showed that the simulation is proving more effective for cue exposure than traditional methods such as videos and use of drug paraphernalia such as needles, syringes and preparation implements. There’s planned future research on looking at what treatments work best to reduce cravings, using the simulation as the benchmark measurement.

Aside from the obvious benefits this approach is going to bring for improved treatment interventions, some other key points need to be made:

Simulation is more than hospitals: There tends to be a focus on the use of virtual worlds to simulate hospital and paramedical environments. Those aspects are very important, but being able to replicate community environments where problematic behaviours occur, is an equally rich vein to mine as a health professional.

Virtual can be better than real: One of the preliminary outcomes mentioned was that the simulation demonstrated better cue exposure than just interacting with drug paraphernalia. This seems a little counterintuitive, but with illicit drug use in particular, the environment surrounding the use is a pivotal component, so replicating such an environment, if done authentically, is going to beat a counselling room with syringes and spoons every time. There is an enormous number of health issues where the same applies, meaning that not only can costs of interventions be lowered in some circumstances, but efficacy can also be improved.

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Diabetes, Second Life and health outcomes

This story appeared over at Metaverse Health originally.

The Boston University Medical Center continues its work on health and virtual worlds, succeeding in gaining a US$950,000 grant from the US National Library of Medicine. The funding is for a study on the efficacy of using Second Life for Type 2 Diabetes education with African-American women versus more traditional face-to-face interventions.

You can read more detail on the study here, but there’s one key strength of the study that stands out for me: quantitative health data. Each participant will have cholesterol and ‘diabetes control’ blood tests taken before and after they receive the education sessions, as well as blood pressure readings.

The results of the study are likely to be be groundbreaking: either virtual worlds-based interventions for diabetes will be shown to be effective, or a very large challenge will be laid down to virtual worlds advocates if the results aren’t of the quantum expected. This is a study to watch.

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Body image study: last chance for participation

Back in January we promoted a study being undertaken by Doctorate student Jon-Paul Cacioli on body image in virtual worlds (the study participants need to be aged 18 or over and be male). Click here for the survey link

The response over recent months has been good be Jon-Paul needs a few more people to take part in the survey:

We have introduced an amazon gift voucher of $100 which will be randomly drawn from all participants who entered after data analysis is complete. If individuals have already entered prior to the prize they can email me at jcaci@deakin.edu.au and I will add them to the draw.

Thanks for your help

So why not jump in and assist in developing the body of knowledge in an area we all know fairly well – the results could be interesting to say the least.

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An endless map

It’s safe to say that one of the most discussed areas of virtual environments is the link between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’. Like any philosophical debate, there’s a minefield of perspectives, preconceptions, research and outright conflict. So to attempt an objective discussion on ‘mapping’ the parallels between the two spheres is quite an undertaking, and that’s what Dmitri Williams has done.

I’ve spent the past six weeks digesting Williams’ lengthy piece titled The mapping principle, and a research framework for virtual worlds. Attempting to summarise the whole is nearly pointless and I’d strongly recommend taking the time to read the whole paper, as it addresses some key issues that are far from resolved.

What’s particularly appealing to me with the paper is its direct dissection of some of the hyperbole around the validity of mapping the real to the virtual, and the commitment to a research framework that may help drive some higher quality research into the future. The framework amongst other things recognises a key issue in virtual worlds research – comparing like with like:

Therefore a strong assumption of this framework is that we cannot automatically treat virtual worlds as equivalent to one another. The reasons for this lie in the concepts of code and social architecture… behavior in virtual spaces is governed by software as much as by laws, markets or social norms. In real space we take it for granted that we can walk but not fly, or talk with people who are in hearing distance. These abilities and limitations are not safe to assume in virtual spaces where the affordances and limitations of human actions and interactions are whatever the code says they are. Indeed, they may all be flipped. Code may also control who can interact with whom, when and how.

To the seasoned virtual worlds observer this may seem self-evident, but the development of well thought out research frameworks assists those for whom virtual environments are a subject for investigation and more specifically those who have no significant experience with virtual worlds but recognise their value for expanding knowledge. As Williams says: “the field of virtual worlds research is poised to take off”, and work like this is going to help ensure the momentum has some sort of guidance system.

It’s also worth spending some time sifting through the comments on the paper’s blog post on Terra Nova, as there’s some significant commentary and debate on the paper and related issues.

Over to you: if you’re interested in virtual worlds research, do you see the fleshing out of the mapping concept a worthwhile pursuit?

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Educators and Second Life: local research

Between August 2009 and February this year, Holmesglen’s Kenneth Rankin (SL: Ken001 Silverfall) undertook some research in Second Life as part of his Master of Education studies at the University of Southern Queensland.

It’s a fascinating snapshot on the state of play in regards to educators and Second Life, and includes some substantive recommendations for the future that may generate some debate. More on that later, but first the data:

Research context

After reading some of the results, I took the opportunity of contacting Kenneth, to ask him for some background and clarification of specific results:

TMJ: When was the research undertaken, with whom was it conducted, what was the sample size and the overarching research methodology?

KR:

· Data was collected during Nov 2009 via a web based questionnaire on SurveyMonkey.
· 79 persons responded, but 14 did not fully complete the survey. Analysis was conducted on data collected from 65 persons.
· The survey was undertaken only by educators who had at least one avatar in Second Life.
· Background: The technology adoption cycle, described by Rogers, shows the adoption of technology in various phases of adopters. First are the Innovators, then the Early Adopters, the Early Majority, the Late majority and finally the Laggards. Most technologies will enter mainstream use only if they can cross ‘the chasm’ between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. Second life has been predicted to remain in the Early Adopters phase until 2013 when it is expected transition into the Early Majority phase.
· The main question to be answered by this research was “what can be learned from the experiences of the Second Life Early Adopters to facilitate the move into the Early Majority phase?”
· The topic was: “The collection and analysis of avatar experiences in order to provide conduct and appearance guidelines for educators adopting Second Life”.
· The research was a cross-sectional, qualitative, non-experimental design. The survey consisted of 29 questions with a mix of open and closed questions.

TMJ: Were there any results that surprised you?

KR:

· 38% of educators have no real-world code of conduct.
· 74% of educators have no real-world appearance code.
· The main reason to lose the ‘newbie’ look was originally thought to be as a deterrent to ‘griefers’. It was found that people lose the ‘newbie’ look in order to increase credibility and to display experience.
· Female avatars appear to be the target of more griefing incidents than males and are specifically targeted for sexual griefing. 17 males reported 6 non-sexual incidents and zero sexual incidents (35%), while 48 females reported 23 non-sexual incidents and 9 sexual incidents (66%). This was a surprise in an environment that was expected to be female friendly and gender neutral.

The full results

· The respondents were 74% female, average age just over 47, mainly from Nth America (54%) then Asia/Pacific (31%) and Europe (15%)
· Highly experienced group with more than half having over 3 years of Second life experience.
70% of educators use multiple avatars (accounts).

Recommendation: Educators should aim to have a single purpose for each of their avatars. The most common singularity of purpose is to provide for a private avatar and a professional avatar.

62% of employers provide a real-world code of conduct (CoC)  for employees

23% of employers have extended their RW CoC into SL

6% of employers have an SL CoC

43% of employees believe that a CoC is required in SL and 43% believe that it is not required.

26% of employers provide a real-world appearance code for employees

6% of employers have extended that RW AC into SL

5% of employers have an SL AC

8% of employees believe that an SL AC is required and 89% believe that it is not required.

Recommendation: The Early Majority will look for greater structure and guidance in SL than that required by the Early Adopters. A CoC and an AC should be considered as facilitation factors to assist more educators to adopt SL.

Recommendation: Educators should not be dissuaded from the adoption of alternative forms and appearances for their avatar. Appearance, however, does need to be appropriate for the educational context, especially when representing an organisation.

Recommendation: Each avatar should have in their inventory, a collection of appearances or outfits that are appropriate to their range of educational contexts and functions.

89% of respondents chose human form in Second Life

6% represent themselves in the opposite gender.

44% have some form of name relationship with their avatar

79% have some form of appearance relationship with their avatar

Recommendation: Care should be exercised when selecting the name of the avatar at the account creation stage, as this is one of the few aspects of the avatar that cannot be changed later

66% of avatars have lost the newbie look within 1 month.

The main reason to lose the newbie look is to increase credibility and to display experience.

12% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the RW person

40% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the RW place of work

53% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the person’s RW position or role

Recommendation: Educators should exercise discretion with the information provided through the avatar’s profile. This information should be checked against the purpose of the avatar, the code of conduct and the privacy guidelines of the employer.

Of the critical incidents reported, 58% were of a positive nature and 38% were of a negative nature.

Recommendation: Educators need to be made aware of the ‘big 6’ SL community standards, the range of positive and negative incidents that can occur in SL and how to manage these incidents. Educators also need to be aware that griefing of a sexual nature does exist and appears to be specifically targeted at female avatars.

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This research provides a great deal of insight into the educator demographic in Second Life. A lot of the results aren’t surprising, but as a whole they do provide some fascinating launch points for further discussion. So over to you: whether you’re an educator or not, what stands out for you in the results? Do you agree or disagree with the recommendations put forward?

A big thanks for Lindy McKeown for the heads-up.

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