Journal of Virtual Studies • Vol 6, No 1, 2015 • ISSN 2155-0107

Editorial Information

About the Journal
The Journal of Virtual Studies is peer reviewed and open access.  It is sponsored by the Rockcliffe University Consortium, 
and its main aim is to feature work that examine knowledge emergence in virtual spaces, whether they be web 2.0 or 3D applications.
We encourage teachers, academics, practitioners, and others engaged in the use of any virtual space for education, research, or 
training, to submit proposals to the journal.

Focus and Scope
The mission of the Journal of Virtual Studies is to publish theoretical and practical concepts for the application of knowledge within
virtual spaces. All methods, including, but not limited to, qualitative, quantitative, field testing, laboratory, meta-analytics, grounded theory,
and combinations thereof are welcome. JoVS is interdisciplinary and international in scope. Preference is given to submissions that test, extend, 
or build either theoretical or practical frameworks dealing with knowledge emergence and virtual sciences outside traditional practice.

• Perspectives
• Applied Research
• Practical Application
• Cultural Narratives
• In Review
JoVS is free and open access.  In order to receive publication notices, please register at the website:
Author Guidelines
JoVS accepts submissions year round, with publication occurring at the next publication edition for those who get accepted after
a blind peer review process. The submission process is fully online, so that authors must first register in the website.  
Papers should be written in APA style, following all formatting as indicated by this style manual.  Currently, there are no page
limitations to submissions, as long as they fit one of our sections, are well-written, and have full APA style and citation usage.
Submissions should include an abstract (150-200 words) and a separate title page with author(s) information and affiliation.
Authors retain copyright and grant the journal right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution License that allows others to share the work with an acknowledgment of the work’s authorship and initial
publication in this journal.
ISSN: 2155-0107
Managing Editors
Leticia De León                                     Kevin Feenan
The University of Texas – Pan American              Rockcliffe University Consortium
United States                                       United States
Section Editors
Perspectives                              Practical Applications                            Applied Research
Henry C. Alphin Jr.                       Rachel A. Umoren                                  Peggy Daniels Lee
Drexel University                         Ball State University                             Indiana University 
United States                             Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts             United States
                                          United States

Cultural Narratives                       In Review
Susanna Nocchi                            Mari Carmen Gil Ortega
Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT)      University of the West of England
Ireland                                   United Kingdom
Editorial Review Board
James T. Abraham                          Scott P. Anstadt                                  Kim S. Flintoff
Glendale Community College                Florida Gulf Coast University                     Curtin Teaching and Learning/DVC Education
United States                             United States                                     Australia

Dean A. Gui                               Joe Floyd                                         J. Carl Henderson
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University      University of South Florida Library               Caledon Oxbridge
Hong Kong                                 United States

Mark Mabrito                              Jaime L. Magiera                                  Stylianos Mystikadis
Purdue University Calumet                 Sensory Research, Inc.                            University of Patras
United States                             United States                                     Greece

Michael Vallance
Future University Hakote

Table of Contents

Editor’s Edifice

There is a growing need within business organizations to increase the efficiency at which people learn new ideas, ways, and means to accomplish value-added activities. While the world has been focused on advancements due to mobile and cloud technologies, there is a small sub- culture of educational professionals that are continuing to research and experiment with the effectiveness of virtual environments in the classroom.

There is no end that does not begin with education.

Time and time again similar conclusions are being reached. While the specifics of each individual research project are bounded by the research question and demographics involved, the anecdotal evidence is continuing to mount, offering new ideas for further research and its practical application.


  • that there continues to exist a technology gap between those people who are comfortable around technology and those who aren’t;
  • that the opportunity to reinforce academic learning through games and simulations is a competitive advantage for learners in terms of understanding

and retention; and

  • that prior experience with gaming and simulations is not a barrier to those students willing to engage in these types of virtual learning environments.

These potential outcomes are drawn upon from eight years of best practices conferences, not just the works presented in this issue of the Journal of Virtual Studies. The papers presented in this issue reinforce the need for new methodologies that tear apart barriers which would prevent learning from occuring more efficiently.

They also present some promising questions for further research.

These would include areas such as,

  • identification of barriers that prevent students from being able to participate in gaming and simulation based learning;
  • how much of a learning curve difference is there between students who are familiar with gaming and simulation environments compared to those approaching these environments for the first time; and
  • how efficient (return on the invested time) are gaming and simulation models based on computer technologies compared to other more traditional


We challenge our readership and potential authors to bring us the possibilities, and to demonstrate how virtual spaces are already being occupied by emminently talented individuals on the look out for best practices. We hope you enjoy this issue’s papers, and that you will arrive at new ideas for future learning environments.

Change is here. The time to spotlight it is now.

Leticia De Leon

Kevin Feenan

Call for Papers

Theme: The Conscious Avatar

A defining characteristic of a virtual space, whether it be web-based or 3D, is the user’s iconic representation by an avatar. It can be an image, emoticon, symbolic representation, and even a three dimensional manifestation of the self, either completely fictionalized or based on true physical attributes.

An avatar can both hide and display the truth, in many forms, both symbolic and literal.

Consider the power of this avatar to help shape thought and action, how many professions are using the avatar to advance research, break the boundaries of training, take educational practice to new frontiers, and even examine the evolving self and how it challenges and changes our identities.

In our next issue, we would like you to pay tribute to the conscious avatar by offering us your fresh perspectives, research, practical application, cultural narratives, and reviews.

The possibilities for papers are many, with the potential to answer some of the questions posed by the editors in the edifice, as well as other, more specific ones.

Consider this:

How have the emergence of avatars to explore virtual spaces and represent us changed the way we define ourselves as professionals, educators, practitioners, and private citizens? Should we trust them? Have they brought forth the liberation of the self to the extent that new theories are emerging, new ways to see virtuality, and even new ways to define the impact each of us can make? What philosophies do they espouse?

How has the avatar redefined the boundaries of research methodologies? In what way have they shaped research and how research questions occur? What research is emerging into new born identities, immersion in virtual spaces, and the possibilities that avatars potentially create or limit in any given research?

To what extent has the avatar also redefined best practices? Has it changed the way we design educational and training opportunities? Have our students, interns, trainees, and professionals been changed by their avatars and those of their teachers? Has their involvement made their experiences richer or less reliable?

What is the social and cultural impact of the avatar? How are emerging identities shaping personal stories and shifting existing epistemologies? Is there a difference to how society now both constructs and views reality?

Will you answer the call?

The Journal of Virtual Studies is now accepting papers through its online portal for tenative publication in Summer 2015.


A Note from the Perspectives Section Editor

The Perspectives section of JoVS publishes virtual studies articles that are primarily philosophical or knowledge-oriented in scope, generally presented as editorial or opinion-oriented pieces. This section is open to all perspectives on virtual studies, which makes it accessible and of interest to a wide range of academic disciplines. The editors invite articles on the impact of virtual studies on higher education, experimental education efforts and trends, the effect of emerging technologies on virtual worlds and platforms, the economics of virtual worlds, and the future of virtual worlds, as examples. Perspectives serves as a section to explore the direction in which virtual studies is heading, as well as to criticize previous and existing applications of virtual worlds in education, business, gaming, social media, and beyond.

Henry C. Alpine, Jr., Section Editor

Applied Research

Implementing Virtual Education Activities Through Good Educational Practices


Rodrigo Alberto Duran

Christian Estay-Niculcar

Humberto Alvarez

Aaron Condron

Universidad Tecnologica de Panama Republic of Panama

The purposes of this research are: first, to validate the potential of virtual education activities as an alternative in 
the teaching-learning process; second, to use the Chickering and Gamson (1987) model of good educational practices for writing and 
evaluating virtual education activities in a Master program; and third, to determine the impact of these practices in the
teaching and learning process.  The research was conducted with the teacher and his ten students enrolled in the Master Program 
of Sciences of Information and Communication Technologies at Universidad Tecnologica de Panama. This research provides 
four important elements: first, general knowledge for enrich the planning and designing of college syllabus that requires virtual 
components; second, specific knowledge addressed to college teachers for writing virtual education activities using the seven 
good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987); third, self-assessment formats for writing virtual education 
activities--by the teacher, at the beginning of the academic year and for the evaluation of these activities, by the students, at 
the end of the course; and fourth, measurement of the impact in teaching and learning through the use of these educational 
practices. The investigation is descriptive and results show that all interviewees, the teacher and his ten students evaluated the 
virtual education activities favorably through the use of good educational practices.  However, the sample for the study is small, 
so it is required expanding the sample and collect more data in future researchings.
Keywords: virtual education, good practices in formative assessment, university assessment, composition of activities, 
learning process


Ebbers and Oscar (2014) identify two important dimensions of learning communities: (1) primary membership, which differentiates on the characteristics that group members hold in common; these include learning organizations, faculty learning communities, and student learning communities; and (2) primary form of interaction, which differentiates based on group member’s methods of interaction, such as in- person physical interaction, virtual interaction, or no direct interaction through correspondence.

Virtual education is a type of education that relies on learning communities composed by faculty and students through virtual interaction using information and communication technologies (ICT’s). Therefore, ICT’s are not only instruments or new means of information and communication. ICT’s generate a new social space, and therefore a new educational space where students, faculty and administrative staff interact to meet requirements (Nikolov, 2009).

Virtual education is suited to the situation of many students, because, for example, the need to reconcile work and family activity with their training, the presence of a disability, or the possibility to develop the learning process to their own pace, situations that can be presented often, that cause students to be distanced from the study centers (Huddleston and Unwin, 2013).

It should be noted that the virtual education has characteristics that differentiates it greatly from the classroom education, among which are: (1) greater autonomy and independence of the students to develop their learning at their own pace and (2) many of the students are granted practical objectives which, because these students are developing an occupation related to their studies, greatly enhances their intrinsic motivation (Wighting, Liu and Rovai, 2008).

Cornelius-White and Harbaugh (2009) quoted that the aforementioned characteristics also demand greater self-regulated activity, responsibility, and commitment from the student; virtual education also limits students to build relationships and situations shared or collaborative learning through traditional ways. However, at present this constraint quoted by Cornelius-White and Harbaugh (2009) is being largely offset through the use of ICT’s and, more specifically, the use of forums, email, web pages, video conferences, and other new mediums which are the core components of virtual spaces or platforms (Gouseti, 2014).

The virtual education activities are all actions performed by the student, as a part of instructional process through a virtual space or platform that belongs to the university; in the virtual space, students can interact with resources in order to understand, develop and complete their virtual education activities posted in the university platform (Tibaut, Rebolj, Menzel and Jardim-Goncalves, 2014). The virtual education activities are the basis for teaching and learning in virtual education. However, these kinds of activities can also be used in blended or hybrid education to complement classroom education activities (López-Pérez, Pérez-López, Rodríguez-Ariza, 2011).

Virtual education has been a subject of interest in many latitudes and has been included in strategies and initiatives, such as:

  • The e-Europe Plan, approved by the Prime Ministers of the European Union, submitted in Lisbon on May 23/24, 2000 (Europe - Summaries of EU Legislation, 2014).
  • The project on Higher Education using virtual modality, developed by the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean, in 2002 (ANUIES-UNESCO, 2004).
  • The law number 30 from July 20, 2006; to establish the National Assessment and Accreditation System for Improving the Quality of Higher Education in the Republic of Panama, which emphasizes the importance of virtual education as a part of the teaching-learning process in Higher Education (National Assessment and Accreditation of Panama, 2014).

In Panama, the reality of virtual education is highly describable. The latest report issued by the Technical Oversight Committee of Panama (TOC) in February 2014, states that: from a total of 745 careers belonging to 32 approved private universities; 9 careers are offered through the virtual modality exclusively (1% of total); 42 careers have been approved in different modalities including virtuality (6% of total) and 703 careers have been approved in different modalities, not including the virtual modality (94% of total) (TOC, 2014).

After submitting the initial references, we formally present the three purposes of this research:

1. To validate the potential of virtual education activities as an alternative in the teaching-learning process, through a case study conducted at Universidad Tecnologica de Panama, in the Republic of Panama.

2. To use the Chickering and Gamson (1987) model of good educational practices for writing and evaluating virtual education activities in a Master program.

3. To determine the impact of these practices in the teaching and learning process.

Good Educational Practices

The concept of good practice or best practice appears frequently in the literature of business and public management; and is defined as an effective action that has facilitated a process or has been an alternative to a problem (Rodriguez, 2008).

Zabalza (2012) suggests that three conditions must exist to work with good practices: (1) the good practices must exist; (2) there must be a need to make good practices visible and (3) good practices must necessarily refer to the fluidity and the unavoidable contextualization of the concept.

The term or concept of good practice was manufactured by Hammer (1990); and is defined as a way to do a job that produces a good result. A successful practice is recognized for being “innovative, replicable, evaluable and transformative” from the responsible exercise of autonomy. Davies and Kocchar (2012) also define good practices, as those that provide some degree of improvement, in the overall performance of a system in a specific context. At the government level, the State of Virginia (USA) (2014) defines good practice as a superior method or innovative practice that contributes to improve performance of the process. Additionally, good practice presupposes an explicit act of decision that involves institutional resources (Global University Network for Innovation, 2012).

Good practice in college is defined as an experience (program, project) that contributes significantly to the social relevance of higher education institutions, promoting an active role in building a more just and sustainable society, in social, political, cultural, friendship and the economy means (Observatory Network for Best Practices, 2011). Bain (2005) defines it as the success in helping the students learn, getting a positive, substantial and sustained influence in their ways of thinking, acting and feeling.

The Group of Research & Multimedia from Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona (2014) defines good teaching practices as educational interventions that facilitate the development of learning activities which efficiently achieve the intended learning objectives and other kinds of learning with high educational value. This includes the following indicators: significance for students, student involvement, treatment of diversity, level of cognitive operations, social participation and collaborative work.

International institutions such as the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), the BID (Bureau International d’Education), the OSCE (Organisation pour la Sécurité et la Coopération en Europe), the BIDDH (Bureau des Institutions et des droits démocratiques) and the Council of Europe, have addressed the importance of collecting good practices in education to become a reference, in the development for the educational policies (Zabala, 2012). In the Latin American Region, the Program for Educational Reform in Latin America and the Caribbean (PERLAC, 2014) has published a compilation of existing good practice, from 18 different countries in the region. These practices belong to the Best Practices in Educational Policy and Educational Reform database. This publication is considered to be a part of the attempts of improving the quality of and the results of education. These good practices are grouped into the following categories: teacher training, management, curriculum materials, maintenance and improvement of school infrastructure, incorporation of new technologies, and evaluation systems.

Model of Good Educational Practices

The three models that have been studied for evaluation are listed in Table 1. This table compares good educational practices models such as Chickering and Gamson (1987), Alexander (1997) and Coffield and Edward (2009).

The selection of the model requires two steps. The first step is evaluating the three models and then choosing one; each model will be evaluated from the parameters listed on row labeled as Detail of the model, from Table 1 [see below]. Based on the principle of simplicity, the authors are going to choose the one of the three models that better optimizes the writing of virtual education activities, by using the details of the model.

Table 1

Models of Good Educational Practices

CRITERIA/AUTHORS     |      CHICKERING & GAMSON (1987)          |     ALEXANDER (1997)          |     COFFIELD & EDWARD (2009)
BACKGROUND                  Not applicable                           Not applicable                 Deepens the work of Alexander
WHAT DOES THE               Specific list of seven principles        List of questions              List of dimensions
MODEL DESCRIBE?             of good Educational practices
DETAIL OF THE MODEL         Practice 1 – Encourages contacts         Who, the administration or     Organizational features.
                            between students and faculty.            other power groups, propose
                                                                     a good practice, what is the   Students.
                            Practice 2 - Develops                    purpose of this and what are                
                            reciprocity and cooperation              the consequences?              Previous history.
                            among students.   
                                                                     How a good practice is         Syllabus.
                            Practice 3 – Uses active                 consistent, how the practice
                            learning techniques.                     can be evaluated and the       Type of budgets.
                                                                     values that sustain the 
                            Practice 4 – Gives prompt                practice?                      Values.                                       
                                                                     What supports and              Organizational knowledge
                            Practice 5 – Emphasizes                  evidences based on             and professional skills of the   
                            time on task.                            educational research           practice.  
                                                                     endorse them?           
                            Practice 6 – Communicates                                               Content selection and
                            high expectations                        What degree of utility does    learning. 
                                                                     a presented practice has as                         
                            Practice 7 – Respects diverse            a good one for both faculty    Planning, sequencing and
                            talents and ways of learning.            and work context?              evaluation of the practice.
                                                                     What conceptions of good       Skills, beliefs and values 
                                                                     teaching and learning are      of teachers.  
                                                                     the ones to inspire the 
                                                                     practice of a teacher?         Influences, relationships 
                                                                                                    and adaptation of a good 
                                                                                                    practice with the labor 
Source: Prepared by authors                                        

If the generic virtual education activity to be written by implementing good educational practices is, for example: Comparative study of documents and analysis of an experience, problem or opportunity in the professional life of the student, which model would be the most optimal and the simplest to understand from a teacher when planning and designing syllabus? Chickering and Gamson (1987) handle a timely list of seven principles of good practice, Alexander (1997) includes a list of questions, and Coffield and Edward (2009) propose management dimensions. Based on the previous parameters, handling a list of seven good practices is more optimal and easier to understand and apply for a teacher, than handling a set of questions or a set of dimensions during planning and designing of the course. The aforementioned analysis justifies the selection of Chickering and Gamson (1987) with respect to the other two models and meets criteria number 1.

The second step is validating the decision of the authors by identifying similar studies as the one proposed in the current manuscript, where Chickering and Gamson (1987) has been quoted, as core model. Important studies for virtual education, have used the principles of Chickering and Gamson (1987), such as the researching developed by Graham, Cagiltay, Lin and Craner (2001); Hutchins (2003); Bangert (2004); Tobin (2004); Dixon (2012); Babb, Stewart and Johnson (2013) and Cakiroglu (2014).

Authors of the present manuscript value the work developed by Graham et. al (2001) that relates the 7 principles from Chickering and Gamson (1987) with a proposed set of online instructions. The relationship is presented as follows:

  • Principle 1, known as good practice encourages student-faculty contact has its corresponding lesson for online instruction, which is: instructors should provide clear guidelines for interaction with students.
  • Principle 2, known as good practice encourages cooperation among students has its corresponding lesson for online instruction, which is: well-designed discussion assignments facilitate meaningful cooperation among students.
  • Principle 3, known as good practice encourages active learning has its corresponding lesson for online instruction, which is: students should present course projects.
  • Principle 4, known as good practice gives prompt feedback has its corresponding lesson for online instruction, which is: instructors need to provide two types of feedback--information feedback and acknowledgement feedback.
  • Principle 5, known as good practice emphasizes time on task has its corresponding lesson for online instruction, which is: online courses need deadlines.
  • Principle 6, known as good practice communicates high expectations has its corresponding lesson for online instruction, which is: challenging tasks, sample cases, and praise for quality work communicate high expectations.
  • Principle 7, known as good practice respects diverse talents and ways of learning has its corresponding lesson for online instruction, which is: allowing students to choose projects topics incorporates diverse views into online courses.

Research Methodology

This research is intended to get the following objectives:

1. General knowledge addressed to universities, especially in Panama, about the potential of virtual education activities as a part of planning, designing, and implementation of curriculum.

2. Results that allow both government and private universities in Panama the justification about the potential of virtual education, as an alternative to classroom education, in order to increase the number of virtual careers.

3. Specific knowledge for university instruction of how to write virtual education activities, by using the seven good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987).

4. Replicable formats for self-assessment of virtual education activities by the teacher at the beginning of the academic period and for the evaluation of these activities, by the students, at the end of the academic period.


The unit of analysis is the teacher and the student. From their contributions to the research, the authors will test the effectiveness of writing virtual education activities by using Chickering and Gamson (1987). The methodology was developed from a case study in which the teacher and his ten students participated actively. The name of the course is Simulation Modeling Dynamic Systems of the Master’s Program of Sciences of Information Technology and Communication, offered by Universidad Tecnologica de Panama.

In terms of case study participants, this group of ten students has the following characteristics: the average age of participants is 26.2 years; 50% are males and 50% females. 80% of participants have at least a bachelor’s degree prior to enrolling in the Master’s Program and only 20% have postgraduate studies prior enrolling the Master’s Program. Regarding years of experience, one student had no previous working experience before enrolling in the Master’s Program; two students had less than one year of working experience before enrolling in the Master’s Program; three students had one year of experience before enrolling in the Master’s Program; three students had 4 years of working experience before enrolling in the Master’s Program and one student had 8 years of experience before enrolling in the Master’s Program. The average of years of working experience, of the sample, is 2.4 years. Finally, 100% of students who had working experience before enrolling in the Master’s Program belong to the Technology sector. Instruments

This research requires the use of three instruments, which are described below:

Instrument 1. Faculty self-assessment matrix.

Purpose of the instrument. This instrument allows calculating the average that comes from the self- assessment performed by the teacher, when matching the activities of virtual education with the seven principles of good educational practice of Chickering and Gamson (1987). The average is obtained in the intersection, row = n + 1 and column = m + 1.

Deadline to fill out the instrument. At the beginning of the academic year by the teacher, the results should be reported the to the research team, a week after receipt of the instrument.

Structure of the instrument. An array of n + 1 rows (where n is the set of virtual education activities reinforced by the teacher) and m = 7 columns, where m represents the seven educational practices from Chickering and Gamson practices (1987) (practices are listed in detailed in the Table 1). The row (n + 1) and the column (m + 1) are used to calculate the averages obtained from virtual education activities or good educational practices.

Format. Refer to Table 2, with the key indicator at cell An+1, m+1

Instructions for filling out the instrument. The number of cells are obtained, from the multiplication of n number of rows (virtual education activities) and m= 7 columns (good educational practices). For each cell, the teacher must choose one specific value of the domain from 1 to 5. If the activity n, after using the good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987) did not meet the practice m criteria at all, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 1; whether the activity n met the practice m criteria, in a poor manner, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 2; if the activity n met practice m criteria, in a partial manner, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 3; if the activity n met practice m criteria, in a good manner, the value to be chosen by teacher is 4; and if the activity n met practice m criteria, in a large manner, the value to be chosen by the teacher is 5.

Research question. Did the wording from activity n fulfill criteria of education good practice m? Where m = 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7

From Table 2. On one hand, cells E11 ... En7 represent integer numbers in the set = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}; each cell can contain a single value of that set (this value represents the evaluation from faculty). On the other hand, the average per activity or A1, m+1 = (E11 + E12 + E13 + E14 + E15 + E16 + E17) / m; for A2, m+1, A3, m+1, A4, m+1, An, m+1 applies the same formula, only the row displayed in the pair is varied (n, m) where n is the row and m is the column. The average for good practice or Pn+1, 1 = (E 11 + E21 + E31 + E41 + E51) / n; for An+1, 2, An+1, 3, An+1,4, An+1, 5, An+1, 6, An+1, 7 applies the same formula used for Pn+1, 1, except that the column represented in the pair is varied (n, m) where n is the row and m is the column. Finally, the average of activity is equal to (A1,m+1 + A2,m+1 + A3, m+1 + A4, m+1 + An,, m+1) / n and the average of good practice is equal to (An+1, 1 + An+1, 2 + An+1, 3 + An+1, 4 + An+1, 5 + An+1, 6 + An1+1,m) / m. An+1, m+1. Both averages have the same value.

Table 2

[Insert table 2]

Instrument 2. Student evaluation matrix.

Purpose of the instrument. This instrument allows the students to evaluate virtual education activities in order to determine if these activities favored or not their learning process.

Deadline to fill out the instrument. At the end of the academic year, the students had up to three calendar days to complete the instrument after receiving it.

Structure of the instrument. There are two sections. Section 1 of the instrument is a form with a set of questions related to the background of the section and section 2 of the instrument is a set of two matrixes of n rows (where n is the set of virtual education activities defined by the teacher) and one column; the first matrix allows the student evaluating the degree of understanding of the activities, in terms of the way they have been written by the teacher and the second matrix allows the student evaluating the level of impact of the virtual education activity in the learning process.

Format. Refer to Table 3.

Instructions for filling out the instrument. Section 1, background of the student, includes the following types of questions: two discrete questions (age and years of working experience); one question with mask (sex) and two multiple choice questions (highest degree achieved by the student and specialty based on UNESCO classification of Science and Technology areas in which the student has developed his career). For section 2 and depending of the number of activities for each activity, the student should choose one value of the domain from 1 to 5.

Section 2 is associated to three research questions. The first question of section 2 is about the degree of understanding of the activity by the student. The participant can perform his evaluation from the following criteria: if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value of one (1), this means that the student did not understand the description of activity n, at all; if student evaluates the question 1 with a value of two (2), this means that the student had a low level of understanding from the description of activity n; if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value of three (3), this means that the student had an average level of understanding from the description of activity n; if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value of four (4), this means that the student had an acceptable level of understanding from the description of activity n and finally, if the student evaluates the question 1 with a value of five (5), this means that the student had a satisfactory level of understanding from the description of activity n. The student is allowed to choose one numeric value per activity.

The second question of section 2 is about how the activity n has impacted the student learning process. The participant can perform his evaluation from the following criteria: if the student evaluates the question 2 with a value of one (1), this means that activity n did not support his overall learning process; if the student evaluates the question 2 with a value of two (2), this means that activity n provided a good support to his overall learning process; if the student evaluates the question 2 with a value of three (3), this means that activity n provided an average level of support to his overall learning process; if the student evaluates question 2 with a value of four (4), this means that activity n provided a good support to his overall learning process and finally, if the student evaluates question 2 with a value of five (5), this means that activity n provided a largely support to the overall learning process.

The third question of section 2 is about which kind of activity does the student think supported his learning process largely for this particular course? The student may choose only one alternative: (a) classroom education activities; (b) virtual education activities; or (c) distance education activities (non-virtual activities).

Research questions.

1) How much did you understand the wording of activity n when you developed it?
2) How much did activity n fulfill your overall learning process in the course?
3) Which kind of activity do you think supported your learning process largely for this particular course?

From Table 3. On one hand, E 11, E12, E13, E14 ... E1n represent cells with integer values in the set = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}; each cell should have one value from the set and it corresponds to the answer of research question 1. On the other hand, E21, E22, E23, E24, ... and E2n represent cells with integer values in the set = {1, 2, 3, 4, 5}; each cell should have one value from the set and it corresponds to the answer of research question 2.

Table 3

[Insert Table 3]

Instrument 3: Tables with student evaluation summary.

Purpose of the instrument. This instrument allows the research team to perform the calculation of the average, per case or student, based on his/her assessment of virtual education activities, the average score for each activity, and the mean average of the students that participated in the case study.

Deadline to process the instrument. This instrument should be processed once the research team has gathered all assessments from the students.

Structure of the instrument. It is an array of n + 1 rows; where n is the number of students that participated in the case study; the row n + 1 represents the average obtained for each activity and column m + 1 represents the average of the evaluation obtained for each student who participated in the case study. Formats. Table 4 and Table 5 have used the variable n, as the number of students and m, as the number of activities. Key indicators for Table 4 and Table 5 are A1,sub>n+1, m+1 and A2n+1, m+1 respectively.

From Table 4 and Table 5.

Where Average S1, m+1 = (E11 + E12 + E13 + E14 + ... + E1m / m, where m are number of students. Averages for S2, m+1, S3, m+1, S4, m+1, S5, m+1, ..., Sn, m+1 use the same formula except the row will vary depending on the case that is being calculated. Average An+1, 1 = (E11 + E21 + E31 + E41 + ...+ En1) / n, where n are number of activities. Averages for An+1,2, An+1,3, An+1, 4,..., An+1, m use the same formula except the column will vary depending on the case is being calculated.

A1n+1, m+1 and A2n+1, m+1 (students) = (Average S1,m+1 + Average S2,m+1 + Average S3,m+1 + ... + Average Sn+m+1) / n or A1n+1, m+1 and A2n+1, m+1 (activities) = (Average An+1, 1 + Average An+1, 2 + Average An+1, 3 + ...+ Average An+1,m)/ m

For question 3 from section 2, an instrument is not required, because each answer provided by the student, could be the letter a, for classroom education activities; the letter b for virtual education activities; or the letter c for distance education activities (no virtual).


The research is descriptive and focuses on using the seven principles of good educational practice of Chickering and Gamson (1987) in a Master’s course at Universidad Tecnologica de Panama, specifically in virtual education activities. The procedure follows the following phases: (1) the writing of virtual education activities by using the seven good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987) previously listed in Table 1; (2) the usage of the format from instrument 1 (Table 2), so that teacher may evaluate virtual education activities with regard to good educational practices from Chickering and Gamson (1987); and (3) the application of the format from instrument 2 (Table 3), so that students can evaluate the virtual education activities and the impact in their meaningful learnings. The research was developed from a case study in which the teacher and his ten students enrolled in the course Simulation Modeling Dynamic Systems, participated actively. As part of the methodology, the teacher fills a self-assessment survey and the students fill an evaluation survey of the course; in both instruments of evaluation, virtual education activities were assessed by the teacher and his students from the perspective of teaching and learning respectively.

The actions taken by the teacher who participated in the Case study are listed as follows:

  • The teacher researcher, with the collaboration of the research team, selected one of the Master’s-level

courses that had been assigned to the teacher in order to conduct the research.

  • Students were invited to participate voluntarily.
  • The experience was organized as follows: the teacher evaluated (at the beginning of academic

year) the virtual education activities in relation to good educational practices and that each student voluntarily assessed the impact that each activity had had in their learning processes (at the end of the academic year).

  • The procedure was applied at the same course. Table 6 summarizes the type of modality, the number of activities for the classroom phase, the number of activities for the virtual phase, and the number of students that participated in the study case.

Table 4 Matrix to calculate the average of average from the evaluation of question 1 – instrument 2

Cases or Students VIRTUAL EDUCATION ACTIVITIES Average per Case

                                                Q1: How much did you understand the wording of activity        or Students
                                                n when you developed it?

1 2 3 4 m Student 1 –S 1 E 11 E 12 E 13 E 14 E 15 Average S 1,m+1 Student 2 –S 2 E 21 E 22 E 23 E 24 E 25 Average S 2, m+1 Student 3 – S 3 E 31 E 32 E 33 E 34 E 35 Average S 3, m+1 Student 4 – S 4 E 41 E 42 E 43 E 44 E 45 Average S 4, m+1 Student 5 – S 5 E 51 E 52 E 53 E 54 E 55 Average S 5, m+1 ... Average n - S n E n1 E n2 E n3 E n4 E n5 Average S n, m+1 Average per Activity (A) Average A n+1,1 Average A n+1,2 Average A n+1,3 Average A n+1,4 Average A n+1,m A1 n+1, m+1 Source: Prepared by authors

Table 5 Matrix to calculate the average of average from the evaluation of question 2 – instrument 2 [Insert Table 5]

Table 6

Table 7

Table 8

Table 9

Table 10

Table 11


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Comparison Of Teen Gamers And Non-Gamers In A Virtual Learning Simulation

Lori Wahl, K.D. Hatheway-Dial, C. Brian Cleveley, Karen Richel, Joey Peutz

University of Idaho, Idaho, United States
A  personal  nutritional  learning  experience  was  delivered  to  participants  in  the  “Intrepid  Healthy  Lifestyle  Hunter”  nutrition  
simulation, a simulated virtual environment hosted in Second Life®.  There was a change between pretest and posttest scores for 
all participants suggesting that there was an increase in basic nutrition knowledge due to their participation in the simulation. 
There was no significant difference in pretest and posttest scores between gamer and non-gamer participants.  These findings 
suggest that familiarity or experience with online gaming does not affect the ability to learn in a virtual environment.
Keywords and phrases: educational games, nutrition education, second life, virtual reality, virtual worlds

Audiences are looking for experiences, immersion, and engagement that are not traditional programming (McGonigal, 2011; Psotka, 2013). Students born after 1980, labeled as “Digital Natives,” are connected to the internet 24/7 and “live most of their lives online” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). Digital Natives do not separate themselves into online and offline identities but blend their online and offline environments together seamlessly (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). Students born before 1980, labeled as either “Digital Immigrants” or “Digital Pioneers,” also embrace the digital environment in ways that were unimaginable even five years ago (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008). Today students of all ages devote incalculable hours of time “surfing the Net,” communicating with friends via social media, and becoming proficient gamers along the way (Johnson, 2008). How students communicate and how educators captivate students’ attention raises new challenges (McGonigal, 2011; Psotka, 2013). Combine these challenges with today’s limited budgets for resources, increased demands on a person’s time, and the continued need to find solutions for real world problems, and new methods of educational delivery and engagement need to be explored (Psotka, 2013).

The world is changing, and educators must meet the needs of a diverse population. With current economic and geographical challenges to delivering educational programs, educators need to be creative in reaching their audience. As technology continues to develop, educators are using these advances to enhance existing and evolving educational theories. Employment and blending of these digital tools has, in many ways, proved to be more efficient and innovative than traditional methods alone (Psotka, 2013). Since the late 1960’s and 1970’s, computer-based multi-use domains began to emerge, providing an opportunity to enhance case based educational scenarios in a way that provides “different pathways” through a “simulated or virtual experience” based upon independent choices made by students (Johnson, 2008). One example of how these “simulated or virtual experiences” have enhanced the educational experience of students is flight simulators (Waltman, 2000) that provide students with a form of risk-free experiential learning. As technology has become more ubiquitous, the use of “simulated or virtual experiences” to educate and train has become more available to the average educator to create experiential learning environments for any topic (Johnson, 2008).

To explore the topic of nutrition, an immersive simulation was built in the virtual world of Second Life. Although the simulation was designed for users of all ages, this paper focuses on responses given by 13- to 18-year-olds. The researchers examined the results of pre-simulation knowledge as compared to post- simulation knowledge and whether or not location, prior gaming experience, and gender affected the difference between the pretest and posttest scoring.

Literature Review

Studies show that obesity and diet related diseases cause health issues and shorter life spans. In response to one-third of United States children and two-thirds of the adult population being overweight or obese, the USDA has issued a dietary guideline including improved nutrition and increased physical activity to lower the risks that come from obesity (U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Specifically in “adolescents aged 12-19, obesity has tripled over the past 30 years,” and systematic reviews of “school-based obesity prevention programs” using curricular content designed to increase physical activity and improve nutritional choices have indicated that most programs (>75%) improve knowledge, self-efficacy, and health behavior (Whittemore, 2013). One longitudinal study found evidence that “internet school-based education” is effective at improving healthful behaviors and that adolescents indicate they find this type of educational delivery “appealing” (Whittemore, 2013).

Immersive virtual learning environments are computer-generated spaces that can provide a platform for traditional educational delivery methods such as PowerPoint and simple classroom discussion or that can be used to create amazing virtual worlds with interactive and intelligent 3D objects. Virtual world simulations can provide a fast paced, hands- on experience while allowing students to apply what they have learned without real life risk (Slater et al., 2009). One example is the Canadian border simulation at Loyalist College in Eastern Canada where future border patrol agents hone their interview skills. Prior to 9-11, students could gain experience by interviewing travelers crossing the border while interning at a border station. Due to post 9-11 heightened security, students are no longer able to train while physically present at the border station. To compensate for the loss of this physical environment, a virtual world was developed to accommodate the training. Students who have virtually interviewed travelers coming across the border in this simulation showed 28% improvement in their interview skills which was a greater improvement when compared to students with only classroom interview role playing activities (Hudson et al., 2009). In New York City, hurricane preparedness professionals were looking for a cost effective alternative to face-to-face simulations that would educate and train emergency responders and community volunteers on how to set up and run emergency shelters. Face-to-face simulations covering the same content cost tens of thousands of dollars and could only be used to train a limited number of individuals and thus were cost prohibitive. By creating a virtual training simulation, more volunteers could be trained, and the cost to train was dramatically reduced (Boyarsky et al., 2011).

Taylor and Parsons (2011) noted that students have changed over the last twenty years; perhaps as a result of a technology-rich upbringing, they appear to have “different” needs, goals, and learning preferences than students in the past. Through interactive learning styles, educators can engage the student differently and make learning fun for the student and teacher. For the most part, students understand and use digital technology to access information and turn it into knowledge, thus augmenting traditional teaching styles and extending learning beyond the classroom. Project Tomorrow (2010) indicated that most educators embrace technology in the classroom and are ready to incorporate more digital tools into their teaching. Not only are educators using virtual world technology to teach diverse audiences, they are using this medium to introduce the students to experiences that broaden their world perspectives. Students can be part of a landslide in the Grand Canyon (author, n.d.) , parachute off of the Eiffel Tower (author, n.d.), interact with native speakers while taking a foreign language class, or immerse themselves in a digital art experience from anywhere on the global network.

Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) suggests that people learn by observing others and/or models (Bandura, Ross & Ross, 1961). There are five core concepts associated with the SCT framework: observational learning/modeling, outcome expectations, self-efficacy, goal setting, and self-regulation. Simulated learning can allow users to observe or learn a successful model and then attempt to emulate that success virtually within the simulation gaining more knowledge and increasing their self- efficacy. As self-efficacy increases, there is a greater likelihood of following through with the imitated action (Bandura 1994).

The use of experiential delivery methods to explore learning topics is a complex, multi-faceted problem: Game-like simulated environments have been shown to facilitate learning through the following features: (1) they can create an embodied empathy for a complex system, (2) they are action-and-goal-directed preparations for, and simulations of, embodied experience, (3) they involve distributed intelligence via the creation of smart tools, (4) they create opportunities for cross-functional affiliation, (5) they allow meaning to be situated, and (6) they can be open-ended, allowing for goals and projects that meld the personal and the social (Gee 2005).

In the case of virtual worlds, designers can consider the idea of abstract design concepts as they apply to education and game design. Educational and gaming environments use various tools to present and deliver content or story to their users or students. Once the learning topic has been established or designed, then the best tools to deliver these concepts can be employed. This process of “Design Without Borders” or “Formal Abstract Design Tools” is explored by Doug Church (1999), who articulates that within the gaming world, the language of design and tool use is not specific to genre but is universal in nature. Considering gaming and education as two genres, we can argue that the design language and tools used in both areas are interchangeable and can create a more impactful outcome. Therefore we should understand that games do not make good learning environments and that good learning environments do not inherently make good games. It is the shared design language and tools and outcomes that address the complexity of creating good learning environments (inside and outside of the classroom).

Statement of the Problem

Today we are experiencing an increase in childhood and adolescent obesity (Ogden, Carroll, Kit, & Flegal, 2014; National Center for Health Statistics, 2011), and an increase in diseases such as cancer, strokes, heart disease and diabetes. These issues are being directly connected to poor lifestyle choices including diet and exercise (Kushi et al., 2006; Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, 2010). To address these issues, nutrition education and information is needed so that people can make healthier choices and avoid diseases. Many nutrition education programs in the United States are delivered through the cooperative extension program (the sending of specialists into communities to deliver education to end users) in face-to-face or classroom style settings. These programs must pay for the instructor, the room, and the materials as well as any follow up activities to see if the information given was used and if changes were made in the participants’ behaviors. The reach of these programs is limited to those persons who attend the event itself and to any supporting materials (pamphlets, websites, etc.) that non-attendees read.

Purpose of the Study

People learning about nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices may benefit by having information presented through a game-like virtual world that allows for the creation of a day of eating. Additionally, this world will allow participants to “test” newly learned diet and exercise information on their game avatar. A virtual environment or virtual world as defined by Shroeder is “a computer-generated display that allows or compels the user (or users) to have a sense of being present in an environment other than the one they are actually in, and to interact with that environment” (1996, p. 25). A virtual environment gives users the ability to make context based choices and receive immediate feedback that could help participants not only understand the content but also the implications of their choices related to the content.

The purpose of this study was to test a virtual world simulation for engaging users in experiential based learning and to determine the simulation’s viability to engage users in learning and understanding how healthy lifestyle choices affect their lives. We chose to use the multi-user virtual world of Second Life® owned by Linden Labs to deliver this content because it is “the most mature of social virtual world platforms” (Warburton, 2009) and is readily accessible and understood by our target audience of young adults ages 13 to 18 years.

Research Questions

Participants’ understanding of nutrition was assessed by a set of five basic questions that were delivered as a pretest prior to entering the simulation and as a posttest after completion of the simulation. A higher score on the posttest would indicate that learning of the nutrition content had occurred. No change between the two tests would indicate that the simulation had no effect.

Within the sample, two groups emerged. One group participated in the simulation using a computer lab with researchers present. The other group logged in from various locations within the United States. It is unknown if a teacher or instructor was present or if they were using a computer lab or home computer. The data analysis investigates whether the presence of researchers and the use of a computer lab affected the pretest scores, posttest scores, and the difference between the scores as compared to the group that logged in from unknown environments.

Participants responded (yes or no) to a question regarding whether they had prior online gaming experience or not. This response allowed the group to be divided into two groups: those with gaming experience and those with no experience. The data analysis investigated whether prior gaming experience affected the pretest scores, posttest scores, and the difference between the scores as compared to the group with no online gaming experience.

Participants responded (male or female) to a gender question allowing the group to be divided into gender groups. The data analysis investigated whether gender affected the pretest scores, posttest scores, and the difference between the scores.



A total of 110 participants participated in the research between June 2011 and January 2012 with a gender breakdown of 76 females and 34 males. A sample of convenience was recruited from two area high schools’ (Moscow High School, Moscow, Idaho, and Potlatch High School, Potlatch, Idaho) personal finance classes, Idaho State 4H Teen Conference, and online participants who self-reported their age as being 13- to 18-years-old. Sixty-eight participants accessed the simulation from a computer lab setting at either the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, or a computer lab at Potlatch High School with researchers present in the lab and within the simulation in avatar form. Participants could ask questions of any researcher at any time. Forty-two participants accessed the simulation through Second Life from other locations throughout the United States. It is unknown if these participants used home or school computers, or if they were supported in any way. None of the participants received any compensation for participation.


The Intrepid Healthy Lifestyle Hunter simulation was created in the virtual world of Second Life in 2011 and allowed participants to learn and apply knowledge and address problem solving for personal nutrition. The simulation approximated one day of meals, snacks, and exercise choices and the effects those choices had on overall balanced nutrition, energy levels, and the ability to resist common diseases such as the common cold and flu.

Participants either created an account in Second Life® or used one of the existing University of Idaho Second Life accounts in a computer lab setting. Once the user account was created, participants logged into Second Life® and teleported to the University of Idaho islands of Idahonia ( Idaho%20CALS/6/142/22). If participants were using

[Figure 1] [Heads Up Display (HUD) for the Intrepid Healthy Lifestyle Hunter]


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Practical Application

A Note from the Practical Applications Section Editor

The Practical Applications Section of the Journal of Virtual Studies promotes knowledge emergence on theoretical and research based applications within or as a result of virtual spaces. Using a non-restrictive definition of virtual spaces as any environment where the medium is not face-to-face, this section aims to promote the vision of the virtual space as a laboratory, with opportunities for qualitative and quantitative research through observational and experimental methods, based on clearly defined objectives and competencies. While this approach is particularly applicable to meet the dual goals of education and research in K-12 and higher education, it can also apply to research and industry where there is a need to achieve the goal of immersive experiences and/or interactions across geographically separated locations, locally and globally. Authors will be expected to provide clear descriptions of underlying theory, instructional or research methodologies, best practices, and outcomes, and to use validated survey instruments where they exist. We want to hear about your successes, challenges, and lessons learned. To our readers, we hope that the content of this section will guide and encourage you to replicate these innovative applications of virtual spaces in your own settings and populations. Together, let’s work to advance learning and discover effective strategies for practical applications of virtual spaces in every field of education, research, and i n du st r y.

Rachel A. Umoren MD, MS, Section Editor

The Axecorp Report Project

Author: Kendra Carmichael

Acadia University

Nova Scotia, Canada


Preparing today’s students for the professional environment may entail exposing them to concepts related to international 
communication and etiquette. Engaging in secondary research and working within interculturally diverse teams can help 
students  develop  some  sensitivity.    However,  instructors  may  need  to  look  to  alternatives  to  supplement
the  discussions   surrounding cross cultural communication and doing business abroad. This paper describes an attempt to
enhance student  comprehension of such concepts and to enrich their experience through the use of the immersive, virtual 
social networking platform of Second Life.  Such virtual activity allowed students to explore cultural norms, supplement
traditional research methods, and put their knowledge into practice.

As organizations become increasingly global and workplaces become more diverse, being able to recognize and adjust to differing communication styles, norms, and cultural expectations is an asset for most students. Therefore, preparing today’s undergraduates for the professional environment entails exposing them to concepts related to international cultures, communication practices, and etiquette. Traditional instructional methods such as assigning secondary research activities and readings regarding culture, and having students work together in teams with diverse memberships can help them develop some sensitivity. Ideally, though, students interested in developing such skills would be enrolled in university-sponsored student abroad or exchange programs so they could immersive themselves and experience those cultural norms and expectations firsthand. Such programs can go a long way to create individuals who are “compassionate in the face of cultural differences, and able to live and work in environments that are dissimilar to what they are used to at home” (Van Hoof & Verbeeten, 2005, p. 56) and who “may have a better understanding of culture and how it influences worldviews and behavior” (Clarke, Flaherty, Wright, & McMillen, 2009, p. 176). Essentially, experience can be the best teacher.

However, that experience may not come easily. Monetary constraints hampering extensive travel and limited exposure to face-to-face intercultural interactions may restrict opportunities to develop such cultural competencies. Many instructors have embraced and incorporated new technologies to go beyond lecture and assigned readings in order to provide meaningful learning moments in this area (Allwood & Schroeder, 2000; Deutschmann & Panichi, 2009, for example).

This paper describes an attempt to enhance student comprehension of intercultural business communication concepts and to enrich their experience. Through the use of the immersive, social networking platform, Second Life, first-year business undergraduates were exposed to virtual real estate and three-dimensional simulations that invited them to engage in cross-cultural communication via conversations with the platform’s ‘residents.’ The resulting activities and interactions allowed the students to supplement their traditional research methods regarding the norms, expectations, and etiquette surrounding business practices in countries other than their own, and to put their knowledge of communication concepts into practice; they were not only learning about intercultural communication, but learning to engage in it as well. Overall, the experience of using a three-dimensional social networking platform to augment student knowledge and involvement in exploring cultural norms was challenging and educational for student and instructor alike.

Embracing AxeCorp in 3D: Establishing the Framework

The overarching goals for the course instructor were to help students create a stronger connection between knowledge of course material and application/skills development, and to build a sense of relevance of the concepts being taught. Therefore, a concerted effort to move students from “learning to know” to “learning to do” was applied; the experiential approach was determined to be the most salient framework for that purpose. As such, in the fall semester, first-year business communication students were introduced to the concept of the AxeCorp in 3D project, which underpinned the course curriculum. As members of the class, students were to engage in a consistent and ongoing form of role-play, acting as employees for the fictional consulting firm, AxeCorp. Classes were run as business meetings and the instructor for the course took on the role and responsibilities of immediate supervisor, facilitator, and mentor. In-class writing tasks were developed in a way to reflect activities and issues encountered in the world of business in a deliberate attempt to add a sense of realism to the course content. Often, a number of the assignments were linked and associated with a specific context for the sake of continuity (e.g. multiple assignments referring to one particular business problem or scenario). Additionally, in an attempt to help students become immersed in the experience and to “plant AxeCorp in the students’ imaginations as a real place,” the company’s headquarters were constructed in the virtual environment of Second Life and all participants developed their own personal avatar, complete with work-appropriate/professional attire (Carmichael, 2011, p. 480; Carmichael, Feltmate, & Campbell, 2010). In essence, elements associated with the AxeCorp in 3D Project were meant to engage today’s tech-savvy students while providing opportunities to incorporate concepts and to help them further develop the skills needed for the ever-changing world of work. One such opportunity was the AxeCorp Formal Report Project: Exploring Intercultural Business Communication Norms and Expectations.

The AxeCorp in 3D Formal Report Project

Students enrolled in the first-year business communication course are exposed to various concepts in the discipline, including aspects of the communication process, barriers to effective communication, nonverbal communication, listening, and basic presentation skills. They also learn about the various formats and structures of business documents. As students took on the role of AxeCorp employees, one of their assigned tasks was to undertake a business-related research project for an external audience—an AxeCorp client. They were expected to undertake an analysis of their research, gathered through secondary and primary sources, and document their recommendations in a formal written report. In order to address the needs of the students and to help them prepare for the globalized work environment, the decision was made to have writing of the report tied to varying business communication expectations and norms, business etiquette, and aspects/considerations of intercultural communication.

The Report’s Objectives

Specifically, the motivations to create the AxeCorp in 3D formal report writing project included the need to have students employ the overall course concepts and further develop their research and report writing skills; to have them explore and apply theories behind communicating with those of differing cultures; to limit cost and risk while employing the learn-by-doing approach; to make use of a cutting-edge communication tool and technology in an effort to add interest, relevance, and possible skill development for the students of the digital age (i.e: Prensky’s “Digital Natives” 2001); and, finally, to help students develop their teamwork skills. Ideally, students would have the chance to collect information based on primary research; that is, their direct exposure to and experiences in the culture under examination. However, due to time and monetary constraints, it would not be possible to send them abroad to gain first-hand knowledge. And while the particular small, rural liberal arts university that hosted the AxeCorp in 3D project is fortunate to have diverse student population with many nations and cultures represented, focused discussions regarding business communication norms across various cultures may be limited. Because of language barriers, differing educational expectations, and communication apprehension, some international students may be reluctant to openly share their insights and experiences (Fall, Kelly, MacDonald, Primm, & Holmes, 2013). Therefore, a search for alternative solutions and/or tools was necessary in order to provide the “next best thing” to augment student learning.

Adding a Third Dimension: Why Use a Virtual Social Networking Platform?

Educational institutions have embraced virtual environments as they allow for flexibility and reach for various learning styles; offer opportunity to engage in activities that could be time-consuming, risky, or cost prohibitive in the “real” world; add interest and depth to course concepts that engage the digital generation; and allow a more personal feel to interaction among those who may not be co-located (such as instructor-learner/learner-to-learner interactions in distance courses). Such platforms have provided spaces for healthcare, emergency and disaster response, and border services training, as well as opportunities for collaboration and team building (Carmichael, 2011; Farra, Miller, Timm, & Schafer, 2013; Hudson & Degast-Kennedy, 2009; Hsu, Li, Bayram, Levinson, Yang, & Monahan, 2013; Linden Research, Inc., 2014b; Wood, 2010). Virtual worlds have also provided the atmosphere and audience for both established, medium to large scale business and entrepreneurs to test new merchandise and/or launch products, to engage with potential customers or clients, and to encourage collaboration (Cyphert, Wurtz, & Duclos, 2013; Linden Research, Inc., 2014a).

Language instructors have also been quick to incorporate and report successes in teaching a second language through the use of 3D social networking platforms such as Second Life and Active Worlds (Cook-Plagwitz, 2008; Milton, Jonsen, Hirst, & Lindenbum, 2012; Wang, Lefaiver, Wang, & Hunt, 2011). Others have been exploring the possibilities of incorporating not only language instruction, but the aspects of culture and intercultural communication (see Allwood & Schroeder, 2000; Diehl & Prins, 2008; and Hasler, 2011 for example). And while educators may have encountered challenges and resistance to virtual platforms in the early days of deployment, but many remain committed as the “principles of effective use are slowly becoming clear” (Cyphert et al., 2013, p. 343).

As the intent of the AxeCorp Formal Report Project was to prepare students for the globalized work force and interactions with those of other cultures, the potential for a virtual environment to offer a low-risk, interesting, and useful immersive experience was real. Second Life was the chosen platform as it was the most developed virtual world at the time; it had numerous simulations representing various countries and replications of well-known landmarks, and a significant number of “residents” or participants, increasing the likelihood of an encounter and interpersonal communication opportunities.

“Experiencing” Aspects of an Intercultural Exchange in the AxeCorp Report Project

In this particular report project scenario, the fictional client’s business was doing well and she felt that expansion was imminent. The client was interested in either opening an independent office or affiliating with an existing organization in a country/culture different than the one in which she currently operated. As a result, she was looking at the potential to transfer some key employees to the overseas office in order to establish the organization abroad. Those employees had little to no knowledge of the host culture and a few had never been out of their own country. Acting as AxeCorp consultants, students were assigned the responsibility of investigating the selected country in terms of practices and etiquette surrounding business communication and interpersonal interactions. Topics such as negotiation techniques and various aspects of nonverbal communication were to be explored.

Students were asked to work in small groups of three to five individuals. Once the teams were in place, the instructor randomly assigned a country or a culture to investigate (examples of countries under investigation would be France, Brazil, Korea, Russia, and Japan). Duplication of the country allocated did not occur. As many individuals were not familiar with the cultural norms and/or customs of the countries assigned, students were directed to various library resources. Engaging in the review of various materials provided the students with background information regarding the country itself and an overview of documented practices and norms. This secondary research also allowed students to go informed into the “experiential” aspect of the project situation so as to avoid potential embarrassment in the interactions and to protect against inadvertently offending others they may have encountered.

In order to supplement the traditional research methods into business and communication etiquette, and possibly help them identify with the fictional individuals who may be tasked with relocation, the team members were to log on to the social networking platform, Second Life (that is, to go “in-world”), and locate various simulations (“sims”) related to their assigned culture/country. Second Life was the chosen platform as it was the most developed virtual world at the time; it had numerous simulations representing various countries and replications of well-known landmarks, and a significant number of “residents” or participants, increasing the likelihood of an encounter and interpersonal communication opportunities.

Visiting the Virtual World.

Teams were encouraged to explore the vast virtual landscapes and to document that exploration through virtual snapshots, that is, students were to take pictures or screenshots of their group members in front of re-created landmarks associated with their assigned country (for example: teams took pictures of their avatars in front of a virtual Eiffel Tower and a virtual Notre Dame Cathedral). They were also to read any notecards or notices posted in and around the virtual environment in order to gain further information regarding the site, the country, and/or the various practices of the residents on that space.

Many of the spaces chosen by the students were created by citizens and expatriates of the country they represented online. As a result, students were able to approach the virtual residents and ask about the various business practices and etiquette surrounding interpersonal and business communication. Some groups were able to confirm, through these interactions, the concepts and theories as identified in the various secondary sources the students had previously consulted.

Documenting the Experience and the Information.

Once they collected all their information from traditional research resources and completed the in-world explorations, students were to document their findings as well as a description of their experiences on the virtual platform in a written report form. The snapshots were included and formatted as visual aids. The body of the documents was often short, ranging from 5 to 10 single-spaced pages, but did include tips and advice regarding conducting business in the assigned country and offered a recommendation as to whether or not the “client” should go ahead and relocate. A small collection of those country reports was compiled and stored as PDF files in a virtual library.

Results, Reactions, and Recommendations

The student reaction to this particular task was mixed. Many individuals had not used Second Life prior to enrolling in the course and as a result, several reported experiences of discomfort, of feeling uneasy, or being confused when they first entered the virtual environment. The parallels between participating in such an unfamiliar technology and encountering a culture different from their own were drawn by most teams. As Wang and Hsu (2009) point out “[in] a virtual world, most users treat each other as they would in the real world and expect others to follow real-life social rules and regulations” (p. 77). As such, when asked about the required task during class discussions, students freely added commentary regarding how they felt during those interactive sessions and identified what they wished they had known prior to immersing themselves in the Second Life “culture,” including many references to those rules, expectations, and etiquette of communicating in-world.

During the task debriefing in class, many acknowledged that they currently interact with individuals of varying backgrounds and that it was very likely that they would be part of teams and organizations that value diversity. Putting themselves “in the shoes” of the employees who may be making such a transition and encountering new environments, appeared to motivate the students in their research and writing practices; they reported a higher propensity to think of the audience and a drive to provide relevant and interesting information to the potential readers. In addition, as some teams were also able to meet with the “client” in a virtual boardroom on a private space, the report writing assignment took on another dimension of real (unfortunately, due to time conflicts, not all groups were able to schedule appointments). Individuals took the opportunity to develop a set of questions before the meeting took place in order to increase efficiency, to appear composed and professional, and to communicate appreciation for the limited time the “client” had available to speak with them. Essentially, they began to develop their professional personae.

On the other hand, some individuals reported some anxiety associated with the virtual aspects of the task and balked at the idea of participating on the network, claiming that they were not tech-savvy and/or that they did not need or want another technology to encumber them in their personal lives. Others reported severe technical difficulties, inhibiting their full participation in the task. Often, those individuals could not log on to the platform or, when successful in accessing Second Life itself, would experience lag—delays in the rendering of the virtual environment—and became frustrated. Some student teams found it challenging to find appropriate sims or re-created sites and were disappointed when they encountered spaces that were devoid of participants. They noted that their experience with the task and the technology may not have been as full as others who encountered “residents.”

Lesson Learned

If the assignment was to be incorporated into the course work again, small changes would likely be introduced. The assumption that all undergraduate students are comfortable with all forms of technology and nimble in their adaption of new media may not serve instructors or trainers well. While almost all members of these particular classes maintained Facebook accounts and used a variety of social media, most had not heard of Second Life, OpenSim, or any other immersive networking platform. Therefore, as many other instructors using such 3D social networking platforms advocate, students should be exposed to the platform well in advance of the proposed project. In-class activities and small stake assignments completed together and under the direct guidance of the instructor could help build comfort levels with these technologies. The instructor can then take the roles of both “sage-on-stage” in describing the steps for accessing and maneuvering around the platform, and “guide-on-the-side” in giving individual attention to students and teams who may experience technical difficulties and/or to answer questions and address concerns. In some cases, the instructor needs only to be present for moral support as students figure out what they need to do on their own and tackle the challenges presented as a team (Carmichael, 2011). Providing students with “how-to” handouts before or during the task, and posting links to wikis with tips and advice on navigation and how to handle frequently occurring problems (such as graphics being set too high) could also help alleviate some feelings of helplessness and frustration.

As done with this iteration of the project, the instructor should stress the purpose and/or the objectives of such an exercise. It can also be useful to demonstrate how the technology can be used to compliment the objective and enhance the results of the experience. Reminding the student teams of the communication concepts under investigation and in use throughout the duration of the task is also important. When the students began to see the connections between the course work and the scenario set out in the assignment, they were able to see the benefits of using the social networking platform and conducting the necessary research to create a practical document.

Overall, the AxeCorp Formal Report Project: Exploring Intercultural Business Communication Norms and Expectations appeared to be useful and one that students seemed to value. In effect, the report became an opportunity to have students apply their knowledge of various communication, writing, and business concepts while offering them an immersive experience that had the potential to reflect a reality they may encounter in their lives and/or careers. Students felt that the “experiential aspect” of the virtual platform lead them to identify with the client’s employees and therefore, they found themselves more motivated to engage in the entire task, producing higher quality work. They reported feeling an increased understanding of intercultural communication concepts and heightened sensitivity to the differences in the way things are done in varying cultures.

Despite the setbacks and frustrations attributed to the technology, the AxeCorp in 3D Report Project and the Second Life social networking platform facilitated interpersonal and cross-cultural interactions and made the experience worthwhile by adding an element of novelty. Permitting students to engage in conversations with the platform’s “residents” allowed them to supplement their research; put their communication skills and knowledge into practice in a new medium; and explore the norms, expectations, and etiquette surrounding business practices in other countries. While real experience can be the best teacher, involvement in an immersive virtual experience may be the next best thing.


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Cultural Narratives

Section Editor: Susanna Nocchi

About Cultural Narratives

Submissions to the Cultural Narratives section should include articles that expand our social understanding of the implications from the use of virtual spaces. These may include, but are not limited to, social groups, eco nomic, political and/or behavioural systems. These articles should help to define the social impact, whether it be through perspectives, research, or practical application. These may include how they help build conceptual realities, define identities, and advance personal stories and epistemologies, in particular how they may advance a social construction of reality.

In Review

Section Editor: Mari Carmen Gil Ortega

About In Review

The In Review section will consider pieces that critique books, gaming platforms, applications, or any form of virtual spaces. Special consideration will be given to reviews that explore cutting edge technologies and latest trends in the uses and advancement of a virtual science of knowledge emergence.

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