Questions and Answers in a Virtual World : Educators and Librarians as Information Providers in Second Life

Lorri Mon

Abstract


The education community in Second Life has grown rapidly since the launch of the virtual world by Linden Labs in 2003, with an influx of universities, colleges, and libraries seeking land on the digital frontier to build campuses, libraries, and educational workspaces. However, these new virtual educational settings have also challenged educators and librarians to adapt or to innovate new ways of providing information for learners. This peer reviewed research study explores the varying roles that educators and librarians fulfill in Second Life, examining techniques they have evolved for teaching, providing information, and answering questions within a virtual world. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 educators and librarians who worked within a variety of virtual world education settings including colleges, universities, and academic and public libraries, as well as “embedded” workplace settings in Second Life’s roleplaying or themed communities. Snapshots, artifacts, and observational data were collected during visits to 50 library and education workplaces in Second Life, and were examined in combination with interview results to document tools, tasks, problems, and best practices in virtual world education. Findings of this study demonstrate how educators and librarians have used tools such as notecards, landmarks, whiteboards, language translators, and heads-up displays (HUDs), as well as revealing problems that educators and librarians have encountered, including limitations of existing information tools. A “wish list” of new informational tool features desired by librarians and educators is provided. Other issues found in the design of virtual education and information spaces ranged from accommodating needs for avatar personal space to understanding accessibility issues for disabled users. Playful and immersive experiential environments were among the examples of new ways of teaching and presenting information within a world where “real life” limitations no longer constrain educational designs.

Keywords


Second Life; distance education; virtual reference

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The full website for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research can be found at: http://jvwresearch.org