A qualitative study of educator experiences in a virtual world
Dutton, Catherine L.
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This qualitative research study used a phenomenological approach to examine educators' experiences in the virtual world of Second Life™. The rationale for this study's focus on educators using a virtual world stems from an interest in the factors that influence educational practices in virtual worlds. The researcher conducted focus groups entirely online in Second Life with 25 university educators using Second Life with their students. Participants were recruited through educator list-servs, Second Life groups and personal e-mails to educators who had published or presented on education in Second Life. Focus groups were conducted using two modes of communication: voice and text. Transcripts from the focus groups were analyzed using a constructivist approach. The researcher added rigor to the study through data triangulation employing reflexive journaling, follow-up interviews and rich descriptions to the study. The results examined five aspects of Second Life use: motivations, helps, hindrances, advice and best practices. Motivations included the desire for greater student engagement, a sense of presence and immediacy, a shift in the instructor/student dynamic and an international audience. Helps included mentoring, tutorials, conferences, and colleague and administrative support. Hindrances included technical requirements of the platform, the learning curve and lack of administrative support. Participants shared advice including being a comfortable user of Second Life, having sound pedagogical reasons for using Second Life and being aware of expectations for students in creating assignments. They advised that play should be considered and Second Life should be seen as a tool and used appropriately. Finally, best practices included scaffolding for student learning, capitalizing on the social nature of the platform and preparation. The researcher concluded that the use of Second Life as an educational platform has strong implications. Early adopters of Second Life were creating many innovative educational uses. Additionally, the use of focus groups in virtual worlds is an effective form of data collection. Recommendations for conducting virtual focus groups were included as well as implications for educators, instructional technologists, and virtual world solution providers.