HETL Global Communities

Professors and Second Life: Technology Problems and Reasons for Persistence

May 23, 2014 in Volume 4

HETL Note: We are proud to present the May 2014 issue of the International HETL Review (IHR) with the academic article contributed by Dr. Stephanie Blackmon (University of Oklahoma, USA).Based on a qualitative investigation of the perceptions of a sample of university professors about the technology challenges involved in using Second Life for teaching and learning the author identifies four specific categories of barriers and proposes that despite the need to invest additional time and effort in mastering the technology, professors find the opportunities offered by such dynamic and interactive platforms, “worth the trouble”. You may submit your own article on the topic or you may submit a “letter to the editor” of less than 500 words (see the Submissions page on this portal for submission requirements).

StephanieBlackmonPhotoAuthor Bio: Dr. Stephanie Blackmon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Oklahoma, with an emphasis in intercollegiate athletics administration. Her research areas include athletics and academics, teaching and learning, and online learning. She graduated with a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Alabama. Dr. Blackmore can be contacted at [email protected]

 

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Professors and Second Life: Technology Problems and Reasons for Persistence

Stephanie J. Blackmon

University of Oklahoma, U.S.A.

Abstract

The continued growth of online learning has brought with it opportunities to investigate the incorporation of new technologies to assist learning, and this paper explores the use of an online virtual world – Second Life (SL). While the use of online learning technologies can be exciting for both staff and students, these technologies can also be quite challenging as well. This article examines the challenges faculty experienced when using the virtual world of SL and provides insights into why they persisted despite encountering those challenges. A qualitative approach was used to explore faculty perspectives on the value of virtual worlds for learning and teaching, with the following key findings: faculty encountered challenges with equipment, with the virtual world itself (in-world challenges), university readiness, and student readiness. The study also found that many participants were unwavering when dealing with the obstacles they encountered, and the challenges did not seem to discourage participants from continuing to use virtual worlds.

Keywords: online learning, online education, virtual world, Second Life, distance learning.

Introduction

The use of social networking and online gaming has grown considerably over the past few years (Nielsen Wire, 2010), and this interest in online interaction has moved into the area of education. Approximately 30 percent of college or university students take at least one course in an online environment (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Although traditional formats for delivering online courses are still prevalent, some faculty are looking for new ways to deliver online courses. Cabanero-Johnson and Berge (2009) argue that digital natives, those people born after 1980, will look for more stimulating educational access via computer-based simulated learning environments. They suggest that because digital natives grew up with more exposure to various types of technology, these students “operate on a different worldview” and “are driven to interact, immerse themselves and become part of the electronic world they [have] come to know so well” (Cabanero-Johnson & Berge, 2009, p.293). Consistent with this view, many students expect a high level of technology immersion in their educational environments, such as virtual worlds – open-ended environments in which “users design and create their own objects” (Merchant et al., 2014, p. 30).Virtual worlds, for example the three dimensional virtual environment Second Life (SL) (created by Linden Lab, http://secondlife.com), are regarded as signs of “the future of human interaction in a globally networked world” (Livingstone & Kemp, 2006, p. v).

The use of virtual worlds in higher education has been investigated by the New Media Consortium, which conducted a study in 2007 and asked 209 educators about their use of SL. Of those asked, 39 percent had been using SL for six months to one year; 42 percent had participated in virtual worlds other than SL; 54 percent of participants, out of 104 open-ended responses, reported being involved, currently, in an education-related activity in SL; and 43 percent had taken a class in SL (New Media Consortium, 2007). Stoerger (2010) suggests that educators see immersive virtual worlds like SL as “powerful in that they enable students to learn through seeing, knowing, and doing within visually rich and mentally engaging spaces” (p. 3).

Background

Online learning represents a significant component of the higher education landscape, and educators and researchers continue to explore the value of new technologies for learning and teaching in the online environment. However, there is a gap between the use of these technologies and our knowledge of faculty members’ experiences with those environments. There is a need for more information about how faculty fare in virtual worlds such as SL and OpenSim (a three dimensional virtual platform started by OpenSim World, http://opensimulator.org) to help other faculty make informed decisions about whether or not these environments and other new forms of technology can add value to their learning and teaching outcomes. Also, in light of the challenges that come with using virtual environments, it is of value to examine professors’ reasons for continued use of these environments.

In an effort to understand the value of virtual worlds for improving learning outcomes and faculty members’ lived experiences with creating their persona in a three dimensional virtual world, a research study was undertaken using hermeneutic phenomenology, a qualitative approach (van Manen, 1990). The primary research question was: “What are professors’ perspectives on faculty persona in Second Life?” (Blackmon, 2013). SL was selected as the context of this study because of the large number of SL users (Atkinson, 2008) and existing research on its use in higher education settings. Warburton (2009) suggests that SL represents the most mature of the social virtual world platforms, and the high usage compared with other competing platforms reflects this dominance within the educational world (p. 416). The study included a plethora of data related to other aspects of professors’ experiences with SL. The author coded the data and found that participants answered the primary research question in addition to other questions, one of which was the question that guided the study presented here.

The prior study mentioned above had been undertaken to obtain faculty members’ feedback on their lived experiences with faculty persona in SL. Coding and analyzing the data from that study revealed that participants shared very valuable information about their lived experiences with virtual world technology, and the topic of technology challenges was brought up by each participant across interviews. The conversation about technology challenges and virtual worlds has not been exhausted, as participants did not discuss these challenges as if they were accepted trifles; they discussed them as present, palpable issues with which virtual world users must contend. The purpose of this subsequent study was to share those lived experiences about professors’ virtual world technology challenges and provide their perspectives on why they continue to use virtual worlds. As with the previous study, the goal was not to criticize any particular type of technology or virtual world. The goal of the study was to provide participants’ insights into some of the challenges they encountered and sometimes overcame when using one specific virtual world, SL.

Literature Review

In Dolan’s (2011) study of online isolation among adjunct online faculty, several faculty members wanted to stay on at their respective institutions because of the “state-of-the-art course platform” (p. 70). This suggests that some professors teach online courses or implement online tools because they want an opportunity to work with new technology, and that faculty members were willing to endure the isolation of their work environment for the opportunity to work with new technology. Similarly, a professor from Schulte’s (2010) study saw the opportunity to use new technology as a chance for growth, stating, “I look at what I’ve learned technology wise here and I know that I am a much more marketable person because of what I know and what I’ve done” (p. 14). Panda and Mishra’s (2007) study showed that new technology motivated some faculty to explore teaching online. Participants in Hiltz, Shea and Kim’s (2010) study also felt that teaching online provided a positive opportunity to work with new technology, and one participant discussed “the challenge of the technology” (Hiltz et al., 2010). Three dimensional virtual worlds such as SL are part of the new technology that some faculty use for their traditional and online classrooms.

Educators’ Experiences with Second Life

Some educators experienced challenges when delivering courses, or parts of courses, in SL. For example, faculty in the School of Allied Health and Life Sciences at the University of West Florida recognized the potential of SL, but they were concerned that in-world technical issues would diminish student engagement (Sutton, White, Mbizo & Stewart, 2010). The study showed that about half of the students who completed an activity in SL had navigation and installation problems (Sutton et al., 2010). While the Sutton et al. (2010) study also showed that students who did not experience technical difficulties enjoyed the course, there were still legitimate concerns about the effect of technical problems on student engagement.

Other educators recognized the possibilities of virtual worlds. For example, in a study on U.S. and Turkish students learning Turkish and English, respectively, students felt that SL provided them with opportunities to practice their language skills and get exposure to real-life social situations where they practiced their language skills (Balcikanli, 2012). Muir, Allen, Rayner and Cleland (2013) also highlighted the opportunities SL provided for real-life immersion. For example, their study of pre-service teachers discussed how students created classrooms and mock students within SL (Muir et al., 2013). Although the pre-service teachers needed time to adjust to the virtual world and deal with the challenges of controlling avatars, they were able to use SL to mimic real-world classrooms and scenarios (Muir et al., 2013). Likewise, Sierra, Gutierrez, and Garzon-Castro (2012) found that even though students experienced technological challenges with SL, they still appreciated the real-life experience the medium provided.

Virtual World Challenges

Other researchers have investigated the challenges or barriers involved with virtual world teaching and learning. In Duncan, Miller, and Jiang’s work on virtual worlds (2012), they indicated that problems with Internet connections (speed and broadband), in-world distractions, and technology overload were among some of the barriers involved with using virtual worlds. Technology overload was consistently an overwhelming feeling that students experienced in virtual worlds, particularly when moving through activities without the guidance of a professor or tutor. Some of the other challenges included the inability to monitor students’ behavior and ensure engagement with educational activities. Virtual world simulation sometimes does not measure up to more realistic forms of simulation; students’ perceptions of their learning are higher than their actual learning when compared to students who did not use virtual worlds (Duncan et al., 2012).

In the context of virtual worlds, games are learning and teaching activities that “include elements such as goals, achievement levels, and reward systems” (Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennicutt, & Davis, 2014, p. 30);studies of game-based and virtual world environments showed that “games and virtual worlds are suitable” for “knowledge-based, abilities-based, and skills-based” learning outcomes (Merchant et al., 2014). Bayne (2008) noted a different type of challenge when using virtual worlds in the form of “intellectual uncertainty” (p. 203). Although Bayne indicated that this uncertainty is not always negative, it is certainly challenging for some faculty and students. Warburton (2009) and Duncan et al. (2012) have discussed the barriers of virtual world use in higher education. Some of the barriers Warburton (2009) noted were issues with time, structured collaboration issues, technology/technical problems, and problems with fluid identities (particularly the problem fluid identities may cause with “accountability for actions”) (p. 422).

Research Methods

In a prior qualitative study by the author, professors’ perspectives on their personae in the virtual world SL were explored. The main research question was: “What are professors’ perspectives on faculty persona in SL?” (Blackmon, 2013). Sub-questions included: “How do faculty negotiate their personalities and person[ae] as professors when making persona decisions in an immersive virtual world, and how do faculty negotiate their person[ae] when interacting with students in SL?” (Blackmon, 2013). During the interviews for the initial study, however, it was found that participants also shared valuable insights on their lived experiences with virtual world technology in general. It was then decided to use a qualitative research approach to further explore what the data indicated about the challenges faculty had with virtual world technology and how some of them persisted despite those challenges.

The author conducted a phenomenological study in order to gain access to participants’ lived experiences. More specifically, van Manen’s (1990) hermeneutic phenomenology was employed because it allowed direct access to participants’ lived experiences and allowed interpretations of the data concerning those lived experiences. According to van Manen, there are “methodological features” researchers must consider when employing this research inquiry (van Manen, 1990, p. 30). The key features of hermeneutic phenomenology include: turning to a phenomenon which seriously interests us and commits us to the world, investigating experience as we live it rather than as we conceptualize it; reflecting on the essential themes which characterize the phenomenon; describing the phenomenon through the art of writing and rewriting; maintaining a strong and oriented pedagogical relation to the phenomenon; balancing the research context by considering parts and whole (van Manen 1990, p. 30).

As expressed by van Manen (1990), “phenomenology does not offer us the possibility of effective theory with which we can now explain and/or control the world, but rather it offers us the possibility of plausible insights that bring us in more direct contact with the world” (p. 9). Therefore, the objective of the study was to put the audience in close proximity to the lived experiences of the participants, not to express a general theory about faculty persona or virtual world technology. Although descriptions and interpretations of professors’ technology experiences in a virtual world are provided, the human condition is too complex to completely express (van Manen, 1990), and as such, the goal was to get the audience as close as possible to participants’ lived experiences.

Participants and Data Collection

The ten participants interviewed were from colleges and universities in countries around the world including the United States. After securing Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for the study, ten participants were sought who had taught an online course partly or fully in SL. When selecting potential participants, no consideration was given to the number of online classes taught, whether or not a participant had tenure, whether or not participation in an online class was compulsory or voluntary, the number of years at institution, or their full- or part-time status at an institution. Participants were identified from extant literature about virtual worlds from sources including The Chronicle of Higher Education, EBSCO, Google Scholar, ERIC, and a university database for articles about virtual worlds. Search terms included: “virtual environment,” “virtual world,” “virtual world education,” “immersive virtual world,” and “Second Life.” Articles were sought that were written by or about virtual world users and contact information obtained for those thought to fit the proposed study. Those selected were contacted via email and invited to participate in the study. I wanted participants to understand that they were selected based on the insights evident in their work and the value their perspectives could bring to the study. A total of 50 potential participants were contacted, and ten participants were selected for the study. The participants’ descriptions are listed in Table 1.

Table 1.

Study participants

Participant

Details

Participant 1: Frank For 10 years, university Professor Frank has worked for a 5,000-student institution in the southeastern United States. He is currently a department chair and has taught several courses in SL (he could not remember how many). Frank started using SL for teaching in 2006.
Participant 2: Greg For six years, Associate Professor Greg has taught at a 3- to 4,000-student undergraduate institution in the western United States. He taught one fully online course and used SL as part of that course.
Participant 3: Ian Currently, Ian is an Associate Professor at a university in the southwestern United States. However, when Ian taught the courses in SL (the ones he discussed in this study), he was an Associate Professor at a mid-sized, approximately 13,000-student university in the Midwestern United States. Ian was with that institution for 14 years and has taught in SL for seven years. He has taught over 40 sections of a particular course in SL.
Participant 4: Carla For nine years, Associate Professor Carla has taught at a doctoral granting institution in the southeast. For several semesters, Carla taught one course in SL.
Participant 5:

Eva

For 30 years, full Professor Eva has taught at a doctoral granting institution in the southeast. She teaches part of her fully online course in SL and has taught two courses using SL and a traditional online platform for the past two years.
Participant 6:

John

For four years, senior research fellow John has worked with a university in the United Kingdom. Before that, John was employed with another UK institution for seven years. He has taught several courses in SL (at least five that were SL only) for various universities throughout Europe.
Participant 7: Martin For eight years, Senior Lecturer Martin has taught at a mid-ranked Australian distance university. He has taught two classes (twice) in SL.
Participant 8: Adam For almost 12 years, Junior Lecturer Adam has taught at a university in southeastern Sweden. He has taught two courses (several sections of one of the courses) in SL.
Participant 9: Emma For about four years, research fellow Emma has worked at a distance learning institution in the United Kingdom. She taught the SL part of an online course.
Participant 10: Mel For eight years, clinical Assistant Professor Mel has taught at a public comprehensive university in the Midwestern United States. She has taught three online courses with SL as a component of those courses for about one year.

In an effort to best access participants’ lived experiences, semi-structured, text-based online interviews were conducted in SL to collect data. Informed consent sheets were emailed to participants to sign and return via email. In addition to information about the study, the informed consent sheet also provided links to the Linden Lab/SL privacy policy and terms of use.

The semi-structured interview in SL allowed access to participants’ lived experiences in the environment where they have those experiences. The semi-structured interview approach also provided the flexibility to ask scripted and spontaneous questions. Although van Manen’s (1990) caveat indicates that asking questions in writing may create distance between participants and their lived experiences, the spontaneous nature of online chats can be arguably similar to conversations face-to-face. Three interviews were conducted with each participant, and each interview lasted 30 minutes to one hour. In the previous study, the interviews were conducted according to the themes of persona, persona construction, and persona interaction. Participants’ perspectives on virtual world technology in general came up in every interview, which is why it was felt that the topic warranted its own investigation.

In order to keep participants’ identities and data private, data was stored on a personal computer only accessible to the author. Participants’ institutions were not identified, and each participant was provided with a pseudonym (although each participant’s comments in SL are associated with his/her SL name). Care was taken to avoid asking participants questions about job satisfaction, problems at their institutions, or any other questions that could negatively affect their positions.

Data Analysis and Research Quality

Data analysis took place using qualitative coding to surmise themes, or “structures of experience” (van Manen, 1990). The themes were developed according to participants’ interview responses. Van Manen discusses three ways to isolate a phenomenon’s themes in a hermeneutic phenomenological study: “the holistic or sententious approach, the selective or highlighting approach, and the detailed or line-by-line approach” (p. 93). Using these approaches, the meaning of the whole text was examined, specific facets of the data were selected for further examination, and specific lines of data were selected for further review. Each step guided the subsequent coding and analysis of the interview data.

Interviewing participants in a chat room provided a level of quality assurance and alleviated the need for member checks, as participants have direct, unlimited access to their interview data. The author did not know any of the participants prior to conducting the study, so it was important to ensure that the contact information collected initially matched their current information. Therefore, the author checked participants’ names and/or institutions to make sure that the correct people had been selected for the study. As another quality assurance measure, faculty/peer debriefing was used to gauge the effectiveness of showing aspects of participants’ lived experiences. The faculty member who served as a peer debriefer has several years of university-level teaching and research experience.

The phenomenological lens guided the author’s views about the study (Barker, Pistrang & Elliott, 2002; Savin-Baden & Major, 2012). Barker et al. point out that the phenomenological researcher should “attempt to understand the person’s thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and interpretations of the world” (p. 76), so ontologically, the phenomenological lens indicated that the essence of an experience can be known. Epistemologically, therefore, knowledge of those experiences is gleaned by having others share those experiences about a particular phenomenon. Because the purpose of the phenomenological lens is not the imposition of reality but the understanding of “lifeworlds” (Barker et al., 2002), the author’s perceptions of persona or virtual world technology were not imposed on participants. The author learned solely from participants’ perspectives on faculty persona and virtual world technology.

Recognizing that bias as a researcher is an important part of phenomenology, the author’s assumptions about what it means to be a faculty member were an ethical consideration. An effort was made to reduce bias by asking faculty “how” questions to avoid presenting them with the author’s own constructions or thoughts about persona, technology, or any aspects of their virtual world experiences. “How” questions provided participants with opportunities to share information about ideas that may not have been considered at the outset of the study. Although the author has experience with using SL, the author has not taught a class in SL. While that does not completely alleviate bias, the author’s limited experience as a professor in the environment limited the assumptions that could be made about the environment.

Findings

The analysis of the data showed four challenges for faculty when dealing with virtual world technology: equipment challenges, in-world virtual world challenges, university readiness challenges, and student readiness challenges.

Equipment Challenges

Not having the proper equipment prohibited some students from fully participating in class, which presented issues for faculty trying to interact with those students. For example, Ian stated, “hardware wise it can be a challenge for those without requisite equipment…speed of computer, headphones, mic, etc…makes interacting more difficult without modern equipment” (ellipses in original). Students’ and professors’ interactions with each other are hindered when students encounter problems with Internet speed or issues with something as simple as a headset. Equipment issues can also cause difficulties specifically for faculty. For example, Eva stated:

The technology can be distracting as you learn how to function as an avatar. I know I’m still growing and developing myself as an avatar – and learning how to do this kind of teaching well. I love the learning part of it – and think about how I am doing frequently! I almost feel like a novice teacher again – even after all these years I’ve spent as an educator!

Eva experienced problems with equipment, but in a different way. The need and uses for the various mechanisms were a little overwhelming when Eva was getting acclimated to the virtual world. The numerous uses for the equipment presented an initial, temporary challenge. There is also the added implication of what equipment problems mean for how a professor conducts class. Just as Ian noted that issues such as slow Internet speed can cause problems for students, those types of issues can cause problems for faculty as well. Presentations, planned class activities, and virtual world field trips can be negatively affected by problems with the Internet or communication equipment for the course.

In-World Virtual World Challenges

Participants’ problems specifically with the virtual world SL ranged from certain services or areas being unavailable because of maintenance to the multitude of SL updates, as the newest version of SL must be downloaded before a user can access an island. Also, some participants were concerned that SL was behind many other programs technologically. Greg, a professor concerned about SL’s technology, said:

I have found it awkward trying to get my lecture slides into SL. I have found that having slides makes it easier to focus the conversation. Things may have changed, but when I started doing this I had to pay money to import my slides into SL. It is possible to place Web links into your text and students can click on the links to go to Web pages. This might be a solution, but you cannot control that everyone is looking at the same thing.

Greg’s problem with SL was related to what he could and could not do in world. He experienced limitations with the virtual world technology that had some effect on how he delivered material for the portion of his online course that was delivered in SL.

Eva indicated, “Sometimes the delay is tricky –I think it actually slows me down just a bit – but I keep working to make things run as smoothly in SL as I do in a regular classroom.” Unlike the earlier area where students and faculty experienced technological challenges because of their equipment, the delays that Eva mentioned are because of the virtual world and not her Internet speed. Similarly, Emma stated:

I’d like the world to be less glitchy – I still get thrown out sometimes when an area is up for maintenance. I’d like the sound to work better and more consistently. I’d like to be able to use a world and to be sure that the world itself and its underpinnings will work without problem – then the problems I have to deal with are only ones to do with the teaching and learning.

Emma, like Eva, had issues with the technology in world. The uncertainty of maintenance, delays, and other issues can make it difficult for faculty to plan class lessons and activities. Martin added, “Sound issues in particular seem to have plagued a number of students (not good when they are doing presentations!) and SL does update itself a lot which can cause issues I think.” Both Emma and Martin had issues with sound in the virtual world, and Martin had trouble with the constant updates in SL.

Frank also thought that the virtual world technology could be improved. He noted that SL needed “Better controls. Better graphics” and indicated that SL still uses graphics from 2005.Adam, however, noted improvements in the graphics for SL. He said “I’ve noticed that SL has become smoother and smoother as the years have gone by, and that smoother operation is really the best enhancement I could get. By ‘smoother’ I mean that the environment is working better and better.”

University Readiness Challenges

Just as some faculty members had problems with the technology in world, others had problems with university technology. Emma pointed out:

From my perspective it’s a lot of technical things. Such as the university wireless networks not really supporting SL or other virtual worlds. I’m online at home today -and this is the first time I’ve actually been able to see you or your environment.

University firewalls can preclude participants from seeing their own and others’ environments. Likewise, Martin expressed “…Most institutions have firewalls etc. that can make life tricky; in parts of Australia bandwidth will not be sufficient.” Mel mentioned “technical difficulties” that were a combination of problems with SL and problems with the technology at her university. She said “That adds to stress and a feeling of isolation in students if they miss interacting due to technical difficulties.” Problems with university infrastructure can cause students and faculty to miss opportunities to interact in the virtual world.

Student Readiness Challenges

Some participants were very concerned about students being ready to handle virtual world technology. Faculty members who were concerned about students’ readiness recommended virtual world course prerequisites and mandatory training sessions. If students are uncomfortable in the virtual world, then their experiences in virtual world courses can be limited. They may miss out on opportunities to interact with the virtual world and others in it. John, an advocate of virtual world course prerequisites, recommended “a single class to introduce students, to help them establish an identity here [in the virtual world]…So when you start you know that they have acquired the necessary skills.” Similarly, Martin added:

We run a couple of familiarizing sessions which are voluntary before we start but many students don’t attend the familiarization sessions and assume they’ll be fine…then aren’t. A surprising (for me) number of students were not familiar or that confident in the SL environment. So greater preparedness beforehand would definitely help. Maybe we should make the familiarization session compulsory (ellipses in original).

Overall, the data show that faculty experienced technological challenges when using the virtual world SL. However, the question is, “Why did faculty choose to continue working with virtual world technology given the numerous technological challenges?” The answer to that question may be found in one of the participant’s responses. Eva said “Yes – it [technology] adds to the challenge of teaching – but it’s really teaching about how to deal with challenge. As I said before, I’m trying to model how to do things differently and take risks as a teacher.” She added “The technology is the opportunity – not just the challenge.” Other faculty members shared Eva’s view on virtual world technology. For example, Martin mentioned “just the eLearning curve on moving around, finding places etc…but that is the same in any software. Can also use up too much time of course!” Martin indicated that any software or new program will have challenges. The sentiments that Eva and Martin shared were similar across participants. Despite frustrations, the rewards for some of the professors were worth the risk of not only trying the new technology but also persisting with it despite complications.

Discussion and Concluding Remarks

When compared to the aforementioned literature regarding virtual world challenges, the study showed similar results. Both Warburton (2009) and Duncan et al. (2012) found that bandwidth or broadband problems were prevalent and frustrating. Martin made a similar observation in the current study. Duncan et al. also mentioned the distractions in the virtual world, and although participants in the current study noted that issue as well, there was a slight difference. For example, Eva was sometimes distracted by the avatar’s functions, but Emma was distracted by the numerous in-world technical problems. Warburton (2009) noted that time is an issue for virtual world users, but one of the study’s participants, Martin, saw the time commitment as a part of using any new technology.

Participants’ attitudes about the technological challenges of virtual worlds did not cause them to walk away from virtual worlds. Part of this can be attributed to the professors’ attitudes about virtual world challenges. From the faculty members who considered themselves novice virtual world participants to the professors who were quite experienced with virtual worlds, each seemed to have a clear understanding of the potential issues they could have with virtual worlds. They were not dissuaded by the technology issues and found great benefit and satisfaction in using three-dimensional virtual worlds. The challenges of virtual world technology and the reasons people continue to use that technology despite challenges were similar in this study and in previous studies. Young (2010) states that faculty wanted to continue working with virtual world technology even though there were challenges.

The underlying reasons those faculty broached are similar to the reasons faculty in this study asserted: the technology is worth the trouble. That is not to underestimate the numerous barriers involved with technology integration, specifically virtual world technology. However, the potential the technology has to provide an added dimension of interaction or a dynamic versus static connection, for some professors, is greater than the toying, tinkering, and tweaking those types of technologies often require.

To conclude, this study has examined a very specific aspect of virtual world use – technology challenges. The study has identified various reasons for professors’ persistence with the use of three-dimensional virtual worlds for learning and teaching. Some professors persist with OpenSim while others continue to use SL, and some choose other virtual worlds. A closer examination of why some professors use other virtual worlds and whether they persist despite the challenges, and if so, why, would provide valuable insights to others who may be interested in using virtual-world technology.

The use of virtual worlds for learning and teaching still holds value for many faculty members. Because of the three-dimensional virtual world, professors and students can create avatars of themselves in new environments and discuss the implications of those creations. Another strength of the virtual world is that it allows for a different form and level of interaction between and among learners and teachers as a part of face-to-face courses, traditional online courses, or courses offered completely in SL.

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This academic article was accepted for publication in the International HETL Review (IHR) after a double-blind peer review involving twelve independent members of the IHR Board of Reviewers and three review cycles. Accepting editor: Associate Professor Barrie Todhunter (University of South Queensland, Australia), Senior Editor, IHR.

Suggested citation:

Blackmon, S. (2014). Professors and second life: technology problems and reasons for persistence. International HETL Review, Volume 4, Article 5. https://www.hetl.org/academic-articles/professors-and-second-life-technology-problems-and-reasons-for-persistence

Copyright © [2014] Stephanie Blackmon

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and as such do not necessarily represent the position of other professionals or any institution. By publishing this article, the author affirms that any original research involving human participants conducted by the author and described in the article was carried out in accordance with all relevant and appropriate ethical guidelines, policies and regulations concerning human research subjects and that where applicable a formal ethical approval was obtained.

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