A case study of the manifestations and significance of social presence in a multi-user virtual environment
As a type of virtual learning community, multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) are not only sources of entertainment but are also places where learning opportunities and community development can be created and fostered. Some multi-user virtual environments that have emerged have been designed to serve students and teachers in the K-12 sector. Although learning is a goal in these contexts, this study focused on some of the community building and social networking components. The purpose of this study was to examine whether, to what degree and how nine elementary aged students projected themselves socially through this medium. The results could provide insight into the integration of such environments into K-12 educational contexts and could serve as a launching point for further research into the learning and community aspects of MUVEs. A case study approach was used in this research study. The researcher chose a class of nine students who were enrolled in an educational MUVE as part of their regular studies. Although these students completed assignments in the MUVE, only their social interactions were analyzed. The data was collected from student communication logs in the educational MUVE Quest Atlantis™ and from interviews with participants. Document analysis was used to analyze transcripts of student communications in Quest Atlantis™ as well as transcripts from text-based interviews. The results obtained demonstrate the types of communication and tool selection patterns of elementary aged students when using text to communicate in a MUVE and provide insight that can be used by teachers to inform the integration of MUVEs in their unique learning contexts. Findings indicated that frequency of communication varied substantially between participants but message content was similar and content volume varied depending on the communication tool. Gender differences were pronounced. Results also revealed that all participants were comfortable and enjoyed their involvement in the MUVE.
online learning communities, K-12, social presence, multi-user virtual environment
Master of Education (M.Ed.)