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Book Review: Immersing Virtually through Avatars for Online and Blended Learning

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University 

Virtual Worlds for Online Learning:  Cases and Applications 
By Sue Gregory, Mark J.W. Lee, Barney Dalgarno, and Belinda Tynan, Editors 
New York:  Nova Science Publishers, Inc.  
2015, 199 pp. 

Some three decades in, 3D and 4D online immersive virtual worlds have maintained major market position in gaming and entertainment.  In this time, such spaces have also made advancements in their applications to online and blended (and automated) teaching and learning.  Sue Gregory, Mark J.W. Lee, Barney Dalgarno, and Belinda Tynan, in “Virtual Worlds for Online Learning:  Cases and Applications” (2015), take inventory of how such immersive spaces are used in both higher education and work spaces.   

In the “Prologue,” the authors share that their main goals in this book are to “showcase a range of contemporary examples of practice and to demonstrate the operationalization of models for integrating virtual worlds in various facets of online learning” (Gregory, Tynan, Lee, & Dalgarno, 2015, p. vii).  They also aimed to “evaluate, document, and disseminate evidence-based information and guidance pertaining to the successes and shortcomings of different methods, approaches, and strategies” (p. vii).  Their efforts were bolstered by a formidable list of several dozen reviewers from around the worldclil for the respective 11 chapters (in two sections:  “Section 1:  Simulation and Practice” and “Section 2:  Pedagogy”).  


Figure 1:  Virtual Worlds for Online Learning (cover) 

In the “Foreword,” Sara de Freitas (Murdock University, Australia) frames the importance of immersive virtual worlds in learning for their role in encouraging free play and exploration, which are important for both adult and child learning.  In modern life, much of human activity is formalized and structured, with little room for play; getting the balance right is important for children to grow up as healthy and balanced adults, and that balance may well be critical for adults to maintain.  Virtual worlds are part of the contemporaneous play space.  Virtual world technologies have the power to “make things come alive” (de Freitas, 2015, p. xxvi).  

An Early Sense of Promise

The thinking has been that virtual online spaces enable varied experiential learning, with rich media interactions involving sight (spatiality, form, colors, motion, and others) and sound.  Integrations with augmented reality systems enable proprioception and haptics (touch).  The scripting of artificial intelligence robots and controlled virtual environments enable learners to repeat virtual learning experiences and to even practice particular skills.  With global platforms, participants may participate from anywhere in the world, assuming they have sufficient connectivity, with computers and laptops with sufficient processing speeds and graphics cards, and with sufficient technological savvy.  A rich mix of participants may interact around designed learning and enable rich social interactivity through digital avatars.  The thinking, too, is that persistent online virtual spaces enable situated cognition, to make the learning more experiential and the judgments and decision-making more real.  Virtual worlds go beyond 3D to 4D, with the addition of change over time (or time as the 4th dimension).  


Figure 2:  In a Virtual AI Pet Farm 

In some ways, if “Virtual Worlds for Online Learning: Cases and Applications” is any indication, some of the promise has been borne out, and there are fresh approaches (such as using virtual worlds for “eversive” creativity).  There are scattered cases of institutional support for going 3D virtual immersive.  Some powerful simulative spaces have been created.  There have been advancements in pedagogical strategies and tactics.  

Yet, for all the progress, the work of designing effective learning in virtual spaces still runs up against long-known challenges:  

  • The limited research about what instructional designs work / do not work in online spaces 
  • A lack of institutional support (political, funding, and personnel) for going to 3D virtual spaces and maintaining a long-term presence there 
  • High technological requirements to engage virtual worlds effectively 
  • Challenges with scripting in virtual world languages and on the respective virtual world platforms 
  • High learning thresholds to interacting with virtual worlds for learners 
  • Limited virtual world physics 
  • Challenges with accessibility features in virtual worlds, and others.   

While such virtual worlds were the “it” thing some years ago, 3D virtual spaces do not seem to have the same cachet today.  

Figure 3:  Empty Virtual Streets in Second Life 

Section 1:  Simulation and Practice 

Pre-Service Teaching Practicum

In “VirtualPREX:  Providing Virtual Professional Experience for Pre-Service Teachers” (Chapter 1), Yvonne Masters, Sue Gregory, Barney Dalgarno, Torsten Reiners, and Vicki Knox describe a collaborative effort to broaden pre-service teachers’ (PSTs) practicum experiences by using virtual classrooms with human-embodied avatars to simulate different difficult classroom situations.  Going virtual was also meant to expose PSTs to the capabilities of virtual world technologies and pedagogical techniques for their use, with the idea that the PSTs may harness such approaches in their own professional lives.  In this work, PSTs role-played being teachers while others took on the roles of different students; these simulated professional experiences were accomplished in “Australis 4 Learning,” a designed space in Second Life® shared by multiple institutions of higher education.  To create this practicum opportunity, the researchers elicited scenarios from professional teachers.  They created four virtual classrooms, 40 child avatars, and eight teacher avatars.  Beyond the simulated classroom experience, the pre-service teachers were given feedback from the role play.  The idea was that the more prepared future teachers are, the more confident they may be to handle work in the classrooms.  

The researchers elicited responses from the students.  One described the challenges of attending to so many aspects of the virtual space simultaneously.  

“It was very difficult to be the teacher.  I found that it was hard to read the text and keep up with what was being said while also keeping an eye on student’s whereabouts in the classroom, plus remember where you were up to with your lesson. I guess having to read the text was what made it so difficult” (Masters, Gregory, Dalgarno, Reinters, & Knox, 2015, p. 14).  

Another shared a sense that some of the people were overplaying their roles as students.  Some of the participants experienced technological challenges.  Some felt that a real-world in-physical-space experience would be more applicable.  Some wanted a wider range of possible virtual actions that the teachers could take.  (In next phases, the team will apparently be looking at the use of child avatar ‘bots!)  The authors of this first chapter hail from the University of England, Charles Sturt University, and Curtin University, all in Australia.  

Foreign Language Learning

Foreign language learning can be a process that is fraught with anxieties and senses of risk.  In this context, some learners can shut down, fail to observe, fail to listen, and choose not to interact or practice.  Would L2 language learners do better in anonymized avatars and virtual world spaces?  Would learners feel more free to explore language constructs and social interactions with others?  Would virtual spaces support the subconscious processes required for second language acquisition?  After all, language learners need to be able to understand foreign language concepts and share information with others in a comprehensible way.  

Angela Giovanangeli’s “Virtual Bodies Speaking Languages:  The Use of the Virtual World in the Foreign Language Classroom” (Ch. 2) suggests that virtual worlds are effective in supporting traditional teaching pedagogies for foreign language learning, in part because they move learners from the artificiality of classrooms into simulations of geographical spaces where people may more naturally use the foreign language.  Further, virtual spaces may also redefine “the way the human body negotiates meaning and space in the language classroom” (Giovanangeli, 2015, p. 25).  [The concept of a learner engaging a virtual body is intriguing because virtual engagement is seen as disembodied, missing proprioception…except in fairly limited ways.]  

In the virtual foreign language classroom, learners are assigned tasks which they enact in the presence of other learners—with influences from task-based learning, constructivism, and cognitivism.  These tasks included problem-solving, direction-giving, sharing opinions on assigned everyday-life topics, while engaging in various aspects of the target language (“hypothetical, imperative, direct and indirect speech, conditional” (Giovanangeli, 2015, p. 28).  

The setup enables the limiting of anxiety because of the mediation through anonymized avatars (and some anxiety is helpful for effective learning).  Learners interact under the virtual gaze of other avatars, which is motivating based on social motivations (Giovanangeli, 2015, p. 27).  The learning involves both synchronous (text chat interactions with others) and asynchronous activities (in-world note cards, video screens).  The virtual world enabled the building of cultural features to enhance the language acquisition—in French and Japanese respectively. The transcripts from the student chats were studied to understand some common types of confusions.  They were also reviewed for “the nature of student participation in virtual language activities; negotiation of meaning in the target language; and continuity of communication” (Giovanangeli, 2015, p. 30).  

The professor purposefully kept the technical risks as low as possible. She did not require any in-world building.  The avatars were created ahead of time for the students to embody.  Only the text chat was used; no voice features were engaged.  The activities were precisely designed, and these included time for learner reflection.  (Giovanangeli, 2015, p. 31)  One sign of success:  learners continued using the target language and did not revert back to native languages for casual conversations; they stayed in mode.  More interestingly, this author was the only one that did a comparison of performance of learners who experienced the virtual world learning against a traditional control class (that experienced question / answer drills and group discussions); she found “substantive” learning benefits in terms of performance with the virtual world immersion (Giovanangeli, 2015, pp. 35 – 36).  

Learning in Library Sciences

In “SLIS Island 360o—Is There Value in Virtual Worlds?” (Ch. 3) Patricia C. Franks and Brande Hall Gex share their ad hoc experimentation and research about their use of Second Life to support their work at the fully online School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at San Jose State University.  The thinking was that while online learning has many strengths, it comes with some risk of learner social isolation.  Would a virtual world enhance the creation and maintenance of communities of practice?  And if so, how?  To that end, the team worked on “ad hoc experimentation with courses, career events, guest lectures, student meetings, virtual tours, poster presentations, and conferences” on SLIS island, with its virtual career information center, course spaces, and areas for those interested in “archives, records management, and special collections” (Franks & Gex, 2015, pp. 42 and 45).   

Through the five years of this work, the group dealt with technological challenges.  They also found some antipathy to using the immersive environment.  Many did not have any experience with Second Life prior, and many would create an avatar but not return.  Faculty listed various needs before they would consider using Second Life for their courses (in descending order):  A Student Second Life assistant, proper student technologies to access SL, “instruction/workshop/training” in the technical aspects of SL, assurance of student technical training, and other supports (Franks & Gex, 2015, p. 49).  This work and others indicate how much institutional investment is necessary to make such endeavors work.  While there is a sense that immersive world learning adds value, there are very real costs that have to be factored in for successful uses of virtual spaces. 

Ethical Decision-making in Occupational Health and Safety

Andrew Cram, John G. Hedberg, Maree Gosper, and Geoff Dick, in “Virtual World Narratives for Ethical Decision Making” (Ch. 4), used an engaging semi-structured scenario to take learners through a workplace context with safety risks, limited budgets, and a workplace hierarchy.  Every decision—and non-action is a decision—has implications; while the simulation does not play out to the full implications, even the slice-in-time scenario apparently makes it clear that there are various potential fallouts.  This research team offers a model for using virtual worlds to convey “ethically nuanced narratives” (Cram, Hedberg, Gosper, & Dick, 2015, p. 55).  Placing learners in a sensory-rich virtual depiction helps convey reality better than flat text.  This group created a participatory narrative based in a virtual four-story building (suggestive of an organizational power hierarchy).  

Learners, in virtual character, are Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) managers, in a company that has suffered an unfortunate accident.  Human actors role-play the operations manager and a director, and they follow rule sets of how to engage based on what the learner / play says and does, in this participatory narrative.  Learners can choose when and how they want to jump in and engage in the narrative.  According to the design, issues are raised, but there is not purposeful embedding of problems, and the ethics piece is apparently treated in a subtle way.  The non-linear openness of the approach raises the potential of unplanned insights.  The authors write: “The actors oriented and guided the participant through the narrative, while raising certain issues and viewpoints concerning the situation and responding to the participant’s contributions” (Cram, Hedberg, Gosper, & Dick, 2015, p. 59).  [This effort sounds a little “talky,” a little like a D&D endeavor albeit with the scripted actions playing the role of dungeon master / game organizer.]  

The two main research questions:  “What are the ethical issues perceived by participants and how do these issues inform their responses?  Is the generation of ethical decisions related to the occurrence of snags in participants’ ongoing activity?” (Cram, Hedberg, Gosper, & Dick, 2015, pp. 58 - 59)  “Snags” are thought to originate as a product of interaction between the learner and the work context environment, per Jean Lave’s concept (1988) of interruptions to ongoing activities and are a factor in situated learning. 

This participatory narrative was set in a faux manufacturing facility. An accident has occurred. Will the participant notify the director of the safety issue? What suggestions will he or she make in a budget-limited context?  This 20-minute scenario is hosted on the Active Worlds platform.  The authors describe the intentions of the design—not to be prescriptive but to enable exploration.  

“This narrative was intended to provide participants with a legitimate role and consequences for their actions. The environment, actors, and script set up a durable framework (arena) for activity, involving both virtual character and virtual world while allowing the participant to generate their own goals and enact them in setting (projective stance).  Consideration of the safety audit provides conflicting action possibilities, potentially generating a snag.  There was no intention to indicate ethical values that the participant should use to inform their actions” (Cram, Hedberg, Gosper, & Dick, 2015, p. 59).  

They wanted to know if participants perceived ethical issues in the scenario (not all did), and they wanted to know which ethical issues were identified.  Also, they were interested in how the ethical considerations of those issues guided their actions.  Third, they wanted to know what issues (both ethical and non-ethical) informed participants in their problem-solving (Cram, Hedberg, Gosper, & Dick, 2015, p. 61).   

Of the participants, some took action; some were stymied or hesitated and did not take action in a given time; some took mixed measures.  The various participants all experienced personal interpretations of their contexts.  Some responded more comfortably within the organizational power structure than others.  One did not perceive any ethical issues at play until after the simulation and during the debriefing.  Some felt that the scenario did not provide them with sufficient information.  This approach seems like a highly transferable and beneficial one for learning.  

Emergency Response Management

Charlene A. Merritt and Robert Crow, in “Sounding the Alarm:  Emergency Managers Learn in Second Life” (Ch. 5), describe a virtual world training held in Second Life that simulated an unfolding disaster.  This was used in the Emergency and Disaster Management program at Western Carolina University (WCU).  The aim was to support learners in understanding their own assigned role in the context of others making decisions and taking actions in their respective roles—to collectively solve complex problems, communicate responsibly and effectively, and to integrate information from a range of sources.  Authenticity in learning (such as using realistic event prompts) may help learners be more effective in their roles in real-world contexts.  In the lead-up to the simulation, learners were given 15 minutes to research their assigned role, and after the two-hour simulation, there was a short “hotwash” after-action debriefing.  

Merritt and Crow conducted time frame analysis of how actions were taken and what was communicated over time during the exercise and found that people started off a bit slowly but achieved a particular tempo which they held during the rest of the exercise. They coded the inter-communications responses to categorize the data shared, such as information related to “actions, information, roles, and technical issues” (Merritt & Crow, 2015, p. 79), in the content analysis.  Their categories included the following:  social, emotional; provide info, answer questions; request information resources; role & resource questions, answers; technical questions; directing others to take action; and respond within role (Merritt & Crow, 2015, p. 80).  They looked at time-based patterns of when particular types of information was shared.  

Learners said that they wanted more preparation leading up to the simulation. They also wanted more “contextual and community information” (Merritt & Crow, 2015, p. 81) to enhance their awareness and decision-making.  They also wanted the observing faculty to be more interventionist to support the learning.  

Section 2:  Pedagogy

Tech Writing in Virtual Spaces

Cindy M.  Raisor and Rochell R. McWhorter’s “Teaching Technical Writing with Virtual World Technology” (Ch. 6) suggest that teaching technical writing in virtual worlds is beneficial to enhance their understanding of creating tactical communications for diverse rhetorical contexts.  

Part of the strategy was to slow down the learning process so that learners could reflect on what was occurring.  Learners would articulate their processes.  They write:  

“Each phase of the VWT (Virtual World Technology) project required students to learn and use different problem-solving and communication skills, resulting in interim assessments, which allowed the instructor to gauge leaning (sic), reflect on project efficacy, redirect instruction as needed, and provide feedback on written assignments” (Raisor & McWhorter, 2015, p. 89).  

While learners were reflecting on their work and also engaging in “meta-reflection” [thinking about “what they know and how they learned it” (Raisor & McWhorter, 2015, p. 88)], instructors, too, were reflecting and learning.  This research was conducted over a three-semester period from 2008 – 2009 at Texas A&M University, based on a virtual campus with two islands in Second Life:  Aggieland and 12th Man Islands.  The faculty used checkpoints to assure learner proficiency in Second Life and held virtual socials to help learners use voice and text communication features and games to enable virtual agility.  For example, at one checkpoint, learners had to have their digital avatars put on a digital university t-shirt, take a snapshot of himself / herself, and send it off to the professor, all in Second Life.  

Figure 4:  Taking a Snapshot with a Built-in Camera in Second Life 

The writing assignments tended to be real-world focused:  

“In the VWT case study, writing assignments were client-directed, problem-solution oriented, interactive, multi-faceted and included several deliverables and multiple reflections.  Students worked collaboratively to complete an e-tour, management plan, usability test, and evaluation report, but worked individually to complete reflections and the integrative learning portfolio (due later in the semester). Collaboration to complete the work occurred primarily inworld and online (using collaborative communication software)” (Raisor & McWhorter, 2015, p. 92).  

The learning objectives from the case studies were clearly defined and measurably observable, which seems like general good practice.   The learning sequence included both formative and summative assessments.  

Training University Staff through Virtual Immersion

Meg O’Reilly, Allan Ellis, and Lisa Jacka, in “Immersing University Staff in Professional Learning” (Ch. 7), describe an endeavor at Southern Cross University (in Australia) to bring university staff on board to interacting on virtual immersive spaces by making these a regular part of their work.  The idea was that such knowledge would benefit their ability to support the use of virtual worlds in their teaching and learning programs.  To these ends, staff members became part of a Second Life Special Interest Group meetings (SL-SIG).  One of the powerful aspects of their work is their defining a hierarchy of skills in Second Life:  beginner skills training, basic skills training, intermediate general skills training, administrative skills training, development of teaching resources training, and tours to other 3D immersive virtual world, with attendant learning outcomes linked to each (O’Reilly, Ellis, & Jacka, 2015, pp. 105 - 106).   While the campus-wide endeavor to bring the campus into the virtual world is impressive, it would be helpful to know how this increased broad expertise enhanced the support of faculty and learners in the uses of virtual world spaces.  

Exploring Jazz History in 3D

One of the most enthusiastic chapters in this collection was Dan Keast’s “Building Virtual Clubs for Jazz History in Second Life” (Ch. 8).  To enliven a non-majors undergraduate jazz history course, this U of Texas (Permian Basin) professor decided to create four environments linked to jazz history: “Minton’s Playhouse, a New Orleans brothel, the lavish swing dance hall, and a college classroom where the Cool jazz style developed” (Keast, 2015, p. 116).  He wanted learners engaged and active in these spaces, not just passive observers.  

For the first scenario, students “visited a venue that replicated the story of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar” and having students walk through the same decision-making process before their avatars could pick up the guitar.  Another involved a visit to a New Orleans brothel in Storyville, where ‘bots encouraged visits to sit at the piano and play (per Jelly Roll Morton).  Third, students experienced a swing band and a Bebop club; of the first, he exulted, “For the first time in my teaching experience, non-musicians were able to experience the roles of instruments in the various jazz periods!” (Keast, 2015, p. 118).  And fourth, they engaged a simulated 1950s classroom with “a professor rehearsing a group of instruments including a French horn, vibraphone, flugelhorn, and trombone” (along with a recording of Milt Jackson’s “Stairway to the Stars”) (Keast, 2015, pp. 117 - 118).  [It was not clear how any possible intellectual property issues were handled.]   Students were also assigned to explore some of the other jazz spaces on Second Life.  This was apparently the first course at the author’s institution o use Second Life for a course (in the Fall of 2010) (Keast, 2015, p. 119).  

Based on his experiences, Keast offered some practical lessons about how to go about harnessing SL resources for online learning.   It apparently helped to have a fearlessness about new technologies and to be open to explore the technological affordances fully.  He knew his own limits in terms of scripting and decided to go with professional developers to enact his potent vision.  

Interdisciplinary Endeavors in Virtual Spaces

Several chapters describe efforts using immersive virtual worlds to offer creative interdisciplinary courses.  Richard L. Gilbert, John David N. Dionisio, and Nora A. Murphy’s “Psychology Island:  A Case Study of Interdisciplinary Education in a 3D Virtual World” (Ch. 9) describes a course combining psychology and computer science, and Christine Rodrigues, Ciara R. Wigham, Anne-Laure Foucher, and Thierry Chanier’s “Architectural Design and Language Learning in Second Life” (Ch. 10) describes one combining architectural design and second language learning [based on a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach].   

Case 1:  Psychology + Computer Science

Immersive virtual worlds may benefit teaching and learning across the disciplines because they are inherently collaboratively created spaces, with the capacity to integrate expertise from a variety of fields.  Gilbert, Dionisio, and Murphy (2015) describe the creation of “Introduction to Virtual Worlds:  Psychological, Computer Science, and Aesthetic Perspectives” and its delivery at the Loyola Marymount Virtual University, a multidisciplinary campus in Second Life.  They provide a practical sense of the leadership, planning, and investment involved in this endeavor. 

They built the Dream Museum, a floating space above Psychology Island, that offers a gallery depicting “humanity’s efforts to understand the mystery of dreams from ancient times to the present” (Gilbert, Dionisio, & Murphy, 2015, p. 127).  They write:  “The shell of the structure, which was built by a professional 3D graphic designer prior to the class, has the feel of a planetarium, with a rotating, celestial ceiling and steaming ethereal music.  Its interior contains a series of eight large display areas. These areas were left empty during the construction of the building shell to accommodate the student’s immersive education assignment” (Gilbert, Dionisio, & Murphy, 2015, p. 126).  

The 17 undergraduate students who took part in this interdisciplinary seminar were assigned to interdisciplinary teams (with both psychology students and computer science ones) and assigned to research how one of eight cultures in world history conceptualized and interpreted dreams; from their research papers, they designed interactive digital objects (in 2D and 3D) to create and share in the Dream Museum (with its own SLURL).  

In a post-course survey, the learners shared some of their opinions, including that the course setup seemed to include more learning for psychology students who did not usually have computer science backgrounds than the computer science students who may have already had scripting experiences in other computer languages than the Linden Scripting Language (LSL) (Gilbert, Dionisio, & Murphy, 2015, p. 128).   Another assignment in this interdisciplinary course involved having students identify psychologically beneficial applications of immersive virtual worlds. 

Case 2:  Architectural Design + L2 Language Learning

The Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach is built on the idea that the separation between subject matter domains and language instruction is artificial, and that it’s possible to teach non-language subjects through second or foreign languages.  Christine Rodrigues, Ciara R. Wigham, Anne-Laure Foucher, and Thierry Chanier’s “Architectural Design and Language Learning in Second Life” (Ch. 10) describes just such an endeavor, involving the teaching of architectural design combined with language learning using French and English.  “Building Fragile Spaces” (offered in February 2011) was a blended five-day intensive design workshop, combining F2F and Second Life sessions.  The team saw this interdisciplinary mix as a way to mitigate the absence of language learning courses in architecture institutions and to increase learner motivation for L2 acquisition.  The type of L2 language use was practical and task-focused (Rodrigues, Wigham, Foucher, & Chanier, 2015, pp. 140 - 141).   The authors describe the course:  “Building Fragile Places”…

“was a five-day intensive design workshop.  The overall objective was for students to create within four small workgroups, using their L2, a working, conceptual, or critical model in Second Life.  The model had to respond to a design brief pertaining to either the theme of avatars, (e)spaces, scenario, or land+scapes.  Two workgroups had English as their L2 and two workgroups French. At the end of the course, the students had to present their model orally in their L2 before a public jury” (Rodrigues, Wigham, Foucher, & Chanier, 2015, p. 142).  

As with other courses, post-course surveys were taken.  The authors note that such courses may be led by teachers who are area specialists and who is a speaker of the target L2 or “an L2 teacher who has knowledge of the target subject” (Rodrigues, Wigham, Foucher, & Chanier, 2015, p. 151).  Collaborative teaching enables the integration of deep expertise from experts from multiple domains.  

Eversion: From the Virtual to Real-World Architecture

 “Eversion as a Generative Metaphor for Situating Virtual Worlds in Architectural Design Education” (Ch. 11), by Burak Pak and Caroline Newton, includes the hypothesis that imaginary creations and thoughts from the virtual world may “resonate back” into the real as “life-as-it-could-be” (Pak & Newton, 2015, p. 155).  In particular, these authors consider virtual worlds optimal spaces for architectural design, in part because they have a known and finite in-world physics that enable “complete knowledge” of its properties but which also include unreal-physics (such as virtual worlds without gravity) which may inspire what may be buildable on earth (or maybe in space).  The authors write:  “These (virtual environments) have not only enabled architects and designers to design in a radically ‘new’ way, they have also provided the technical solutions and material innovations to realize designs that were unthinkable before” (Pak & Newton, 2015, p. 156).  There were three central research questions asked:  

1. “How do virtual concepts, worlds, and processes resonate back (or everse) into the real world and education? 
2. How can we use them in real life and design education? 
3. What are the opportunities for integrating these virtual concepts, worlds, and processes into architectural education?” (Pak & Newton, 2015, p. 156) 

To answer these questions, the authors summarized the main identified virtual worlds based on main features. They considered ways these spaces could integrate with architecture and architecture education.   They relayed some of the short-comings to design studios as-practiced (overfocus on the end product and not process, over focus on the teacher vs. the student, and insufficient attention to clients and societal needs), with the idea that a redesign could address some of these challenges (Pak & Newton, 2015, p. 157).  They propose three new design studio archetypes (“which relate to the virtual world typologies, their eversive potentials, strategies, and case studies”), necessary competencies for students and coordinates for the design studio archetypes, and a brief case study reflecting (Pak & Newton, 2015, p. 156).  The three new eversive design studio archetypes are the following: Virtual Architecture / Urban Design Studio, Augmented Architecture / Urban Design Studio, and Hybrid Architectural / Urban Design Studio (Pak & Newton, 2015, p. 168).  

The authors, Pak of Kathiolieke Universiteit Leuven, and Newton of University College London, UK, describe some of the theoretical underpinnings:  

“Generative eversion is a process that creates coherent novelties in a dynamic, reflective, and adaptive manner.  In contrast, non-generative eversion can be defined as limiting and replicative routines that are not capable of bringing change to the target domain.  These two types of eversion can also be considered as parallel to the ‘divergent actualization’ and ‘realization’ of Deleuze (1968/1992, pp. 306, 263, as cited in Pak & Newton, 2015, p. 165).  

To (in)validate this approach, it would be helpful to have a sense of whether there have been any real-world transfers from virtual world architectures into the real. This would be helpful even if the transfers were modest.  If so, what were these transfers?  How did the virtual world physics and rules affect the design?  How well did the transferred innovations work?  The authors also mention the potential power of crowd-sourcing co-designs…and would have done well to elaborate further (given that crowd-sourcing has been difficult to harness and generally are motivated by micropayments or big-prize competitions, and not much in between).  


The diversity of the cases was one of the main strengths of the text and made it an enjoyable read.  The co-editors brought together topical and thematic insights from the related works in the “Epilogue,” and they highlighted some useful takeaways. 

The project sizes ranged from small ones that could have been just part of the regular work of the researchers to small in-house grant-funded endeavors to government-funded research.  It was hard to tell how many of these projects were only one-offs and not taught again and those which actually continued.  

In terms of the empirical research, the authors used a variety of research methods:  observations of physical in-class interactions, online logs of text-based communications from virtual worlds, post-course surveys, interviews (semi-structured to fully structured), time-based measurements of intercommunications, and others.  

The quality of the grayscale screenshots of the virtual immersive spaces were evocative of some of the virtual spaces, but others resulted in a slight let-down (the authors’ colorful descriptions raised expectations which were not borne out in a few cases).  

So how persistent were these projects and the artifacts from these projects?  This reviewer went on a search in Second Life® for some of the described spaces, but none were publicly available as of mid-2016 (the projects ranged in years from 2008 to about 2011 or so). It is possible that the respective spaces were protected.  A search for a wiki related to a project failed as well.  

This book offers insightful cases for the practical application of virtual worlds in learning, but with more of a focus on low(er)-tech / high-pedagogy enablements in online 3D immersive environments.  These advancements in pedagogical applications contribute to the field of education.  

However, in terms of technological complexity, that seemed somewhat lacking.  Is anyone working with full-fledged lab simulations?  Complex models with some real-world features?  Live-streamed information?  Actual creative collaborations with potent products?  

“Virtual Worlds for Online Learning:  Cases and Applications” (2015) was published by Nova Science Publishers, Inc., as part of the Education in a Competitive and Globalizing World series.  

About the Author 

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at Kansas State University.  She may be reached at  

Thanks to Nova Science Publishing, Inc. for providing a watermarked electronic copy of the text for review.  

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