Learning between Worlds: Experiences of Women College Students in a Virtual World
Aimee M. deNoyelles, University of Cincinnati, United States
University of Cincinnati . Awarded
Inspired by social media and multi-user online video games, social virtual worlds such as Linden Lab's Second Life® (SL) emerge as a unique technological medium by offering the most 'real' virtual experience to date, through their capability of simulating worlds ('places'), and mediating user communication through avatars ('bodies'). When users are logged in, they are living in the hybrid space between the 'real' and virtual worlds. Virtual worlds hold a lot of promise to support and enhance student online learning communities, due to their ability to deliver on several trends: user-centered creation of customizable content, social expression, and construction of collective and collaborative global knowledge (Dieterle & Clarke, 2007). Although virtual worlds offer innovative opportunities not afforded in other technologies, they also offer complex and sometimes troubling unintended effects due to its capability of presenting a place much like the 'real world' in appearance and practice, but with a public, sometimes anonymous population. Considering the 'real life' experiences of users and emerging research about online privacy and safety, the issue of gender is difficult to dismiss. Virtual worlds have emerged from video games, virtual spaces that are traditionally male-dominated. In addition, the gendered experience of embodying avatars and inhabiting realistic virtual places is not fully addressed in the literature. It is important to better understand women's experiences in these virtual world learning communities. Due to the issues of women's conceptions of identity and interaction in the unique virtual world setting in an academic context, I am pursuing the following question: How do women students understand the psychological and contextual factors that influence their establishment of identity and interaction in a virtual world learning community? A qualitative feminist methodology was used to analyze the experiences of women in an undergraduate communications class as they explored SL. Voices of empowerment, connection and gender were expressed by the women as they constructed the meaning of their virtual world experiences. Findings suggest that women understood their hybrid identity and interaction in the virtual world learning community through several factors: personal conception of the virtual world, gendered identity, 'real world' context, and virtual world context. Individual factors of gaming experience and technical competence mediated this expression. Insights from these findings generate implications for future instructional design and research directions.
deNoyelles, A.M. Learning between Worlds: Experiences of Women College Students in a Virtual World. Ph.D. thesis, University of Cincinnati.
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