Multi-User Virtual Environments: What are they good for?

An interesting discussion took place in the MUVE carousel session I attended at the ‘Emerge’ (emerge.elgg.org) event last week. It would seem that at the moment MUVE can be read as ‘Second Life’ although this is probably just a temporary state of play. In any event SL is a good place to experiment and whatever we learn will be transposable.

Many people / institutions had islands in SL but as was pointed out we weren’t being all that collaborative yet. For me the area of MUVEs breaks down into the following points to consider:

  • Does using an MUVE give a more powerful sense of ‘presence’ / identity to those involved. Is this more powerful / useful than purely text based interactions?
  • If this ‘presence’ is (cough) present then in what ways can we use it in the service of online collaboration / socialising?
  • How can being immersed in an environment help the learning process at an HE level?
  • Is this best for distance students or could it be a useful tool in the ‘classroom’ as well?
  • Is this type of environment more, or less, alienating for students / tutors to interact with than other online approaches?
  • Is the level of skill and technology required to interact with these types of environments too high at the moment? Will they ever be ‘mainstream’?

This is just a starting point of course. I’d welcome comments…

In practical terms is can see MUVEs being useful for the following:

  • Creating immersive simulations
  • Recreating contemporary or historical real world environments that have an educational value
  • Developing new forms of collaborative projects, taking group work online to a new level
  • Providing a social underpinning to groups of online courses or a f2f campus / department

The last two points interest me the most and are clearly happening in a slightly different form in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. However, the first two points are probably easier to demonstrate as clear practical uses especially to those who have no experience of MUVEs.

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