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Learners' experience of presence in virtual worlds

By Mark Childs


This thesis explores participants' experiences of presence in virtual worlds as a specific case of\ud mediated environments, and the factors that support that experience of presence, with the aim of\ud developing practice when using these technologies in learning and teaching. The thesis begins with\ud a framework that was created to bring together concepts from a range of disciplines that describe\ud presence and factors that contribute to presence. Organising categories within the framework were\ud drawn from a blend of Activity Theory and Communities of Practice.\ud Five case studies in Second Life (preceded by a pilot study employing webconferencing) were\ud conducted in order to investigate learners' experiences in these environments. Qualitative and\ud quantitative data were gathered from these cases. The data from the separate cases were analysed\ud using a cross-case synthesis and the role of presence, and the factors that support it, were\ud identified. An additional strand of investigation established a typology of different forms of\ud resistance by students to learning in virtual worlds.\ud The findings of the study were that an experience of presence is strongly linked to students'\ud satisfaction with the learning activity. This experience of presence was more linked to students'\ud preparedness or ability to engage with the environment than with technological limitations. Some\ud students' resistance to learning in virtual worlds were informed by values they held about\ud technology, but others appeared to display an inability to experience embodiment through their\ud avatar.\ud The experience of presence appeared to develop over time. This can be interpreted as stages in\ud students' development of a virtual body image, body schema and virtual identity. Different learning\ud activities are more appropriate to different stages in this development. The thesis concludes with a\ud suggested model for supporting students' development of presence. The implications of these\ud findings for educators and for further research are discussed

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