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Views of Educators on Immersion in Virtual Worlds from Second Life to OpenSim

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Whilst until recently Second Life was the most popular and widely used virtual world, the OpenSimulator (OpenSim), a new technology for the implementation of virtual worlds, has the potential to replace Second Life, given its similarity with the underlying technology. In this study we investigate and compare the immersion developed within Second Life and OpenSim based applications taking into account the different ways with which the OpenSim implementation is attained by the educators (hosted by the institution /externally). In doing so, 34 structured interviews have been conducted with university educators who expressed their opinion regarding the conditions under which immersion can be further enhanced. The results of this study demonstrate a clear trend and reveal that the orientation process, the educational activities that take place within the context of a virtual world, the technical issues that may downgrade them, the students themselves, and the network of interactions that occur in-world, affect the level of immersion encountered when used for educational purposes. Second Life meets these conditions best, but that does not mean that the OpenSim worlds are not or cannot become immersive and that they do not or cannot engage students with the educational activities.
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... The historic context of these studies derives from the plethora of research activities into Second Life since 2003 (including research at the University of Bedfordshire such as Shukla and Conrad (2011) or Christopoulos and Conrad (2012) ) and subsequent research on OpenSim in view of the similarities and differences identified (Christopoulos and Conrad, 2013). We freely acknowledge that other interfaces such as textual virtual environments exist; however they are not in the focus of this study. ...
... The historic context of these studies derives from the plethora of research activities into Second Life since 2003 (including research at the University of Bedfordshire such as Shukla and Conrad (2011) or Christopoulos and Conrad (2012) ) and subsequent research on OpenSim in view of the similarities and differences identified (Christopoulos and Conrad, 2013). We freely acknowledge that other interfaces such as textual virtual environments exist; however they are not in the focus of this study. ...
... During these practical sessions students were simultaneously co-present in the physical classroom and in the virtual world (Table 4 -Table 6). For more information about the assignment setup the reader is directed to Christopoulos, Conrad and Shukla (2014). A narrative approach, as described in (Cohen et al., 2011), was considered to be the most suitable for the analysis of this data set. ...
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Our ongoing research focuses on the ways that interactions affect learner engagement with a virtual world and, consequently, the educational activities that take place within it when a hybrid learning approach is used. It aims to form a complete taxonomy of the types of interactions that can lead to the development of engaging and interactive learning experiences. In this paper, we examine the impact that the orientation (induction) process has on learner engagement by observing a cohort of postgraduate students while using an OpenSim-based institutionally hosted virtual world. The results of our study highlight that educators and instructors need to plan their in-world learning activities very carefully and with a focus on interactions if engaging activities are what they want to offer their students. Additionally, it seems that student interactions with the content of the virtual world and the in-class student-to-student interactions have stronger impact on student engagement when hybrid methods are used. We confirm and further enhance our hypothesis investigating student feelings and thoughts about the interaction taking place within a virtual world when that is used in higher education.
... More than half of the participants gave a positive response to the statement that student-to-student and student-to-world interactions made them experience the knowledge, in other words helped them learn by doing. This positive response comes in accordance with the findings of the relevant literature [24, 28, 33]. The statement regarding the influence of student-to-world interactions gathered more positive results compared to student-to-student interactions, whilst student-to-student interactions had more neutral and negative replies. ...
... The same applies to the responses on the statement regarding student-to-student interactions, which has a lower standard deviation (0.87) and both mean and mode on " Agree. " Learning while having fun is the key of game-based learning [7, 26, 33] and, as the participants stated, they really enjoyed their time while working on their projects inworld . Interacting within the context of the virtual world both with its content and with their classmates made students enjoy their in-world experience and the practical sessions by extension.Table 12 ). ...
... The trend of the sample is positive ( " Agree " ) and standard deviation is quite low (0.78) with the replies being spread mostly between " Agree " and " Neither Agree nor Disagree. " Collaboration is something which most of the educators try to enhance, develop, and teach to their students [7, 33, 34]. However, several participants kept a neutral position towards this statement. ...
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The main aim of this study is to form a complete taxonomy of the types of interactions that relate to the use of a virtual world for engaging learning experiences, when blended and hybrid learning methods are to be used. In order to investigate this topic more accurately and effectively, we distinguish four dimensions of interactions based on the context in which these occur, and the involved parts: in-world and in-class, user-to-user and user-to-world interactions. In order to conduct investigation into this topic and form a view of the interactions as clear as possible, we observed a cohort of 15 undergraduate Computer Science students while using an OpenSim-based institutionally hosted virtual world. Moreover, we ran a survey where 50 students were asked to indicate their opinion and feelings about their in-world experience. The results of our study highlight that educators and instructors need to plan their in-world learning activities very carefully and with a focus on interactions if engaging activities are what they want to offer their students. Additionally, it seems that student interactions with the content of the virtual world and the in-class student-to-student interactions, have stronger impact on students’ engagement when hybrid methods are used.
... Since the authors have already examined the "intrinsic" perceptions of the use of VWs in previous works (Christopoulos & Conrad, 2012;, this paper aims to enlighten its extrinsic view of persistence, focusing on three specific VW paradigms: (i) SL, (ii) nonisolated VWs based on the OpenSim (OS) technology and hosted by Dedicated Providers (OSDP), and (iii) isolated and closed VWs based on the OS technology and hosted Internally (OSIH). At this point the fact that OSIH can also be open and interconnected through hypergriding is essential to be pointed out. ...
... In addition to context, several researches have been pursued to quantify immersion (Bredl et al., 2012;Childs, 2010;Vosinakis et al., 2011). Indeed, VWs are not immersive by definition (Christopoulos& Conrad, 2012). Taking into account the features of SL, it seems to be coming first in preference, however slight it may be, over OS. ...
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The increased demand for the use of virtual worlds in higher education has led many educators and researchers in in-depth analysis and evaluation of a number of different virtual environments, aiming to highlight their potentials. Until recently, Second Life was one of the most widely used virtual worlds for educational purposes. However, the decision of Linden Lab to stop offering the educational discount, the rumours around its future and the emergence of a novel technology called OpenSim challenged institutions' decisions to keep using Second Life. In a try to identify the way institutions make their decision to use a virtual world, 34 interviews have been conducted with university educators. The results of this study reveal that both the cost and the persistence of a virtual world play an important role on this decision. However, there are still some unique benefits offered by each world affecting to a great extent the educators' decision. We conclude the paper by advocating the use of a cross-institutional hypergrid.
... Our initial attempt to identify and categorise the structural elements of learner engagement was made by Christopoulos and Conrad [22]. Based on that study, the conclusions that immersion and engagement are not inherent features of a virtual world were drawn and triggered further research that resulted in our previous attempt to investigate this subject [23]. ...
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This paper is part of our ongoing research on the ways interaction affects student immersion within a virtual world and, consequently, student engagement with the educational activities that take place within it when a hybrid learning method is used. We confirm and further enhance our hypothesis investigating student feelings and thoughts about the interaction taking place within a virtual world when that is used in higher education. Specifically, 111 university students, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, who used our "in-house" OpenSim virtual world for roughly 8 weeks, were asked to indicate their opinion and feelings about the virtual world and the various kinds of interaction they had. The results of this study validated our initial hypothesis that interaction plays a crucial role in student engagement, underlying that the nature and the design of the educational activities substantially affects student engagement.
... It has been indicated that immersion is an essential factor for achieving satisfactory learning results within the context of a VW (Bredl, 2012; Childs, 2010). The networks of various interactions that occur within the VWs are noted as the most important among the various factors that lead to immersion (Kanamgotov et al., 2012; Christopoulos & Conrad, 2012). At this point, some important questions arise when a VW is to be used for educational purposes: what is the role of its context to the students' way towards immersion? ...
Conference Paper
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Educational activities previously performed in Second Life are now more and more move moving to other alternatives. This study concentrates on the features of Second Life and its open-source alternative, OpenSim that affect the results of the in-world educational activities. The need for educators to take these features into account is another focus of this study which also aims to highlight the similarities and differences between the contexts of Second Life and OpenSim worlds, whether internally or externally hosted, as well as their potentials and weaknesses. The findings suggest that each one of these alternatives gathers different positive and negative features and their suitability greatly depends on the academics’ educational needs.
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