Student perceptions of Presence in a Virtual World

Together with Ross McKerlich, Terry Anderson, and Bard Eastmann I have a paper out in the Journal of Online Learning and Technology (JOLT). The paper is entitled Student Perceptions of Teaching Presence, Social Presence and Cognitive Presence in a Virtual World, and is based on research collaboration we started back in 2009. Back in January 2099, I participated in a Master Class on Learning 2.0 and Knowledge Media at Aarhus University, where Terry Anderson (Athabasca University) was one of the guest lecturers. When Terry learned about my research in SL, he invited me to participate in a research project that was aimed at investigating the use of the Community of Inquiry (COI) model in 3D environments.

The COI model was developed in the late 1990’s as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson, and Walther Archer. Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new online environments such as the 3D virtual world, SL. Together with Ross McKerlich, Terry conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007, and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in 3D virtual environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007).

As part of our collaboration, Terry & Ross, participated in one of my in-world classes with the MIL09 students – something both the students and I appreciated very much.


Terry explaining about the COI-model in the MIL09 class


Discussing different COI concepts in the MIL09 class

Anyways, after such a long time, it is great to finally see our paper published, and I want to thank Ross, Terry, and Brad for the collaboration – it was a very good experience :-)

Here’s the abstract of our paper:

Presence – or having a sense of active participation – in distance education has increased with the expanding use of and affordances of communications technologies. Virtual worlds have been on the forefront of popular and education technology in the last three years and innovative methods of teaching and learning are emerging in these contexts.  Using the recently validated community of inquiry (COI) instrument, this study focuses on students’ perceptions of teaching, social and cognitive presence in virtual world contexts. The authors examine whether the COI Instrument can effectively be applied to virtual world learning events. The results are exciting: in a diverse sample, virtual world learners perceive teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence.

/Mariis

Case MIL09: Didactic Design Discussion – 4

On December 3rd we had a special edition of the Didactic Design Discussion in the MIL course, since both Terry Anderson and Ross McKerlich visited us to talk about the Community of Inquiry (COI) model. The COI model was developed in the late 1990’ies as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walther Archer. Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry Anderson, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new online environments such as the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL). Together with McKerlich Anderson conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007 and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in 3D virtual environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007). Anderson and McKerlich later invited Brad Eastmann and I to participate in the continued study of COI in 3D virtual worlds and as part of this study we record different educational experiences in SL to be used for later analysis.


Terry presenting COI to the MIL students

Besides being an excellent tool with regard to analyzing interaction and communication the COI model, which consists of 3 different  types of presence indicators (cognitive, social and teaching), can also be used as a heuristic tool for designing online educational experiences. The MIL students in this year’s course are all educators involved in course designing within blended learning and they all seemed to find the COI model interesting and relevant to their current work. What I appreciate about the model is the fact that it deals with presence and not immersion which otherwise seems to be the buzz word when studying 3D virtual worlds. Even though both presence and immersion have to do with the user experience, I do find there is an important difference between the two concepts. Based on the four research cycles I’ve completed in my PhD project so far, my experience is that all users achieve a sense of presence when they enter a virtual environment like SL, which I think above all has to do with the avatar and its ability to move around and meet other avatars, communicate and interact in real time. It is, however not my impression that all users in these types of environments achieve the sense of immersion – at least not if immersion is defined by a sense of “willing suspension of disbelief” as proposed by Dede. 2005 among others.  An important part of this discussion is of course how one chooses to define the concepts and since I intend to use both presence and immersion in my own model this is something I’ll return to.

After the presentation, McKerlich introduced to our survey related to the COI study and we went on to use The Opinionater, which once again proved its worth as a great tool for initiating discussions.

/Mariis

Community of Inquiry (COI) in Virtual Worlds study

Early this spring Ross McKerlich, Terry Anderson & Brad Eastman invited me to participate in a research study on the usefulness of the Community of Inquiry (COI) model as evaluation tool in virtual worlds. Originally the COI model was developed in the late 1990’ies as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson and Walther Archer:

Central to the study introduced here is a model of community inquiry that constitutes three elements essential to an educational transaction – cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence. Indicators (key words/phrases) for each of the three elements emerged from the analysis of computer conferencing transcripts. The indicators described represent a template or tool for researchers to analyze written transcripts as well as a guide to educators for the optimal use of computer conferencing as a medium to facilitate an educational transaction.

communitymodel_small(COI website)

The COI model was developed as part of a Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities research funded project entitled “A Study of the Characteristics and Qualities of Text-Based Computer Conferencing for Educational Purposes”. Further details on that project, including papers describing the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the model can be found on the COI website.

Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry Anderson, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new immersive environments such as the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL). Together with McKerlich Anderson conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007 and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in immersive environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007).  Not unexpectedly, they did however also find that some adjustments would be appropriate – e.g. extending categories demonstrating social presence. This 2007 study did not allow for the authors to examine methodological issues such as validation deeply. Furthermore McKerlich and Anderson found the phenomenological experience of both learners and teachers would be worth further investigation.

Based on these preliminary findings, McKerlich and Anderson now together with Brad Eastman have initiated a new more quantitative oriented study – and this is also the study I’ve been invited to participate in. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to contribute with very much so far due to a longer personal leave of absence from my work in general.  Nevertheless, during my absence they have successfully finished the work on developing an evaluation tool – in the shape of a survey intended for students with educational experience in immersive environments – based on original and new indicators of respectively social, cognitive and teaching presence.  The tool was publicly launched last week on several mailing lists relevant for educators using immersive worlds and the data have started to accumulate. We would of course like as many answers as possible though, so if this has caught your interest please have a look at the survey here.

Further down the line we’ll start processing the data and evaluate the tool – also by conducting in-world observations. Participation in this kind of study is quite exciting but also very challenging for me coming from a highly qualitative oriented research background. But I’m also pretty sure that I’ll learn a lot and that we’ll have some interesting discussions :-)

/Mariis