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Observations of expert communicators in immersive virtual worlds: implications for synchronous discussion

Notes on a paper by Michael Hamilton McVey

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Juliette Culver
23 January 2009

This paper looks at how new participants to Second Life detect that other participants are experienced users of SL. This information may be useful for new instructors in SL so that they know what to focus on in order not to appear inexperienced or clumsy to students. It may also be useful in helping to orient students in SL.

The work was carried out by conducting some orientation tours of SL in which an unannounced guest expert interacted with the tour group at one point in the tour, and examining survey responses and blog postings from the students. The tour participants were graduate students taking an online course in an Educational Media and Technology programme at an American mid-western university. Two groups of five students took part in the tour and there were 8 survey responses.

The following observations were made which may be of use for instructors in SL:

  • Experienced avatars used short bursts of communication, posting only short lines of text, not usually posting complex thoughts in a single message and breaking long messages into several short ones.
  • Fluidity of movement was important in conveying experience in SL
  • Being able to gesture was seen as important to students
  • Students noticed that the experienced avatars approached the group, stood just beyond the ongoing conversation and then asked for permission to interact
  • Students were all very concerned about losing contact with the group
  • Avatar appearance seemed unimportant to the students (although there was a comment that the instructor's tuxedo and tie were comforting)
  • Having guest avatars was useful in calming student's agitation about the virtual world and encouraging participation in the discussion.

Contact details: ALT-J. Volume 16. Issue 3 September 2008, pages 173-180

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