Despite the importance of distance learning for its ability to reach a wide audience, easiness to access materials, and its lower cost compared to traditional learning, architecture education has not been well served by distance education. This is because it has a higher level of learning objectives, it is taught by coaching methodologies, and involves nonverbal forms of communication. One of the most common learning methods used in the design studio is the Criticism/Critique, which is a graphic and oral type of communication between the tutor and the students. In this investigation, Second Life, a massive multi-user online virtual environment that offers three-dimensional spatial capabilities via Avatars impersonation, is used as a computer-mediated tool for text and graphic-based communication in a distance learning situation. The study describes a demonstration experiment where students had to communicate with their tutor, display and describe their projects at a distance, in a purposely designed criticism space in SecondLife. The main objective of this paper is to observe and document the effects and the use of SecondLife virtual environment as an online 3D graphical-based tool of computer-mediated communication in distance learning in architecture education. The study also answers some questions: How well did the students use the tools of the medium provide? Was there a sense of personal communication and realism gained through using Avatars in the virtual environment? Did SecondLife provide a successful means of communication for a graphic-based context? And what are the studentsi opinions about the learning environment? Using multiple methods of data collection, mainly based on an electronic observation of the experiment, questioning the participants before and after the experiment, and the analysis of the chat transcripts, the study presents descriptive results of the experiment, and discusses its main features. Proposals for modifications are made for future replications.
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