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The Use of Virtual Environments as an Extended Classroom – A Case Study with Adult Learners in Tertiary Education

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The Use of Virtual Environments as an Extended Classroom – A Case Study with Adult Learners in Tertiary Education
  See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at: The Use of Virtual Environments as anExtended Classroom – A Case Study with AdultLearners in Tertiary...  Article  · December 2014 DOI: 10.1016/j.protcy.2014.02.013 CITATIONS 4 READS 91 2 authors: Ana LoureiroPolytechnic Institute of Santarém 19   PUBLICATIONS   32   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE Teresa BettencourtUniversity of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal 17   PUBLICATIONS   36   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE All content following this page was uploaded by Ana Loureiro on 03 October 2014. The user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file. All in-text references underlined in blue are added to the srcinal documentand are linked to publications on ResearchGate, letting you access and read them immediately.   Procedia Technology 13 ( 2014 ) 97 – 106 2212-0173 © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license ( ).Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the University of Tras-os- Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD)doi: 10.1016/j.protcy.2014.02.013 ScienceDirect  SLACTIONS 2013: Research conference on virtual worlds - Learning with simulations The use of virtual environments as an extended classroom - a case study with adult learners in tertiary education Ana Loureiro a, *, Teresa Bettencourt  b   a  Polytechnic Institute of Santarém, Complexo Andaluz Ap. 131, 2001-902 Santarém, Portugal & CIDTFF/University of Aveiro b CIDTFF/University of Aveiro, Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal Abstract This study was conducted in immersive 3D virtual environment Second Life®, with the support of web 2.0 tools as a complement to physical classroom - extended classroom. It was assumed that socialization is a key factor for collaborative learning and knowledge construction. The study aims to identify the variables that may influence knowledge sharing in learning contexts using virtual environments; with the aim of contributing to the improvement of learning situations using the online tools. This research is exploratory in nature and falls within the field of phenomenological studies. The study was implemented in a tertiary education institution involving regular and adult learners. We conclude that in virtual environments learners tend to feel more confident, open, participatory, creative, understanding and seem to participate in training sessions because they are indeed interested in learning. On the other hand, the possibility of  providing online tutorial session allows reaching a larger number of learners. These online sessions can be established in a time and place (virtual) free of constraints and can be tailored, allowing a more effective participation from learners. © 2013 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. Selection and peer-review under responsibility of [Organizer Name].    Keywords : virtual environments; extended classroom; adult learners; Second Life; tertiary education; b-learning * Corresponding author: Tel.: +351 243 309 180  E-mail address :  Available online at   © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license ( ).Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the University of Tras-os- Montes e Alto Douro (UTAD)  98  Ana Loureiro and Teresa Bettencourt / Procedia Technology 13 ( 2014 ) 97 – 106 1.   Introduction With a network society, and with particular relevance to the means offered by the World Wide Web (web), we can witness another form of learning based upon research and learning throughout life (LifeLong Learning - LLL). LLL is the pursuit of knowledge permanent and continuous, performed on a voluntary basis and self-motivated, for reasons both personal and professional, improving social inclusion, active citizenship and personal development as well as the competitiveness and employability. Learning is not confined to the classroom; it takes place in the diversity and variety of situations experienced throughout life in a sustained and continuous manner. The web is more than a simple information search and social contact feature, it is also a learning tool that allows other ways to  build and share knowledge. Therefore, teachers have the need to change teaching strategies in order to address the learning needs of students in the digital age, developing and enhancing their skills. These changes are related with the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in learning contexts, particularly through the use of online tools and environments - highlighting the multi-user virtual environments (MUVE); and the change to a game-based learning pedagogy. According to the NMC Horizon Report Higher Education Edition [30] these areas are identified as emerging, as well as the Social Web and Collective Intelligence, regarding the educational potential and a great impact on tertiary education. Nowadays learning environments go beyond the physical classroom; students have the opportunity to be in constant learning, using, for instance, the technologies, as if in an extended classroom, where all participants can collaborate in real time, whether through voice, video, image or text [1]. In an extended classroom aspects such as the possibility of collaboration, communication, sharing and socializing are essential. The ability to socialize is assumed as the most important, being considered as a key factor for collaborative learning and knowledge building. We consider, in a broad way, that collaborative learning is when two or more  people learn or attempt to learn something together [2]. 2.   Theoretical background A virtual learning environment(VLE) have specific characteristics such as the fact that they are information and socialization places, and where students are not only active but also actors, are not restricted to distance education and integrate multiple tools, complement the physical space of the classroom and are represented explicitly [3]. A VLE is then " a set of teaching and learning tools designed to enhance a student's learning experience by including computers and the Internet in the learning process " [4]. Much of our daily activity occurs in the virtual environment, using online tools, it can be said that almost every citizen has a virtual profile on any social network; these may have a more or less informal dimension. Can be found social networks of professional, academic, social or entertaining,  being used by almost everyone, regardless of gender, age or social status. In the educational sector social networks, web tools, collaborative virtual environments and immersive virtual worlds, have been gradually introduced. At first tertiary education institutions have started to use learning management systems (LMS) and learning content management (LCM) allowing teachers to share documents to support their classes. In LMS students can only share information if the teacher set this option, which does not always happen. In most cases, students use the platform to access documents made available by the teacher or to deliver work  –   similar to an information repository. More recently, social networking, web tools and collaborative virtual environments have been integrated into the learning environment, bringing changes so great that, in the near future, we will not imagine ourselves teaching without them [5]. There are three aspects that define the social online educational environments: (i) the ability to collaborate with others both synchronously and asynchronously; (ii) the ability to create a personal profile built just around the specialties and interests and educational curriculum, making it easier to find other people, resources, events and discussions around the same interests; (iii) the ability to more easily find, organize, manage, and share information and content. In a study [6] about collaborative groups in distance learning, we can find that the quality of the learning environment also implies the involvement of students in interactive activities with their peers, in order to contribute to better outcomes and for developing reasoning tools through knowledge sharing. Another author [7] refers that learning does not only depend on the individual's ability to acquire, store and retrieve knowledge. Also depends on a network of learning that occur through different interactions with different knowledge sources, including the Internet and LMS; through participation in communities of practice and learning and on social networks, and through the  99  Ana Loureiro and Teresa Bettencourt / Procedia Technology 13 ( 2014 ) 97 – 106 completion of group tasks through collaborative and cooperative work. Another reason given by students as essential to their participation in online activities are the possibility of information exchange and social interaction that these  provide [8]. Thus, according to the authors, social interaction may be the key element to determine the success or failure of an online community. Therefore we consider that the main benefits of collaborative learning are: (i) the development of critical thinking skills; (ii) the co-creation of knowledge and meaning; (iii) reflection; (iv) and transformative learning [9]. However, the social component often referred to as being important for the development of new skills and learning, is not a key factor in LMS, which focuses more on the distribution and content management. On the other hand, web 2.0 tools and virtual worlds bring many benefits to students in terms of learning, which may be summarized down into [10;11]:     participative learning through encouraging participation in the creation and editing of content;    collaborative learning, provided by the collaborative construction of knowledge where the information shared by each individual can be recombined to create new forms, concepts, ideas, mash-ups and services;    autonomous learning in order to share, communicate and find information on learning communities;    ability to communicate and interact, creating richer opportunities through socialization and integration into learning communities;    lifelong learning, by the development of digital skills and joining the wisdom of the crowds. The extended classroom defined for this study was designed with these principles in order to foster online collaboration on a massive scale among regular and adult learners. Thus, the entire group of learners had the opportunity to make their contribution, highlighting the whole and helping the growth of the community in regard to information and content, contributing to the arising of a collective intelligence. 3.   Motivation and purpose of the study In this study, and taking into ac count the students’ profile of tertiary education, we resort to the concept of extended classroom, in order to provide other opportunities for learning further than the so called traditional classroom. The definition of this extended classroom relates to the need to meet the educational paradigms assumptions set out in the Bologna Declaration (2005), in which the role of teacher goes beyond the physical space of the classroom and begins to assume functions of facilitator, guiding and supporting; and where all spaces are learning spaces, not only the classroom, but also the library, the laboratories, the Internet making relevant the access to information and the ability to select, organize and synthesize it. A methodology centered in an extended classroom can foster in learners not only the development of specific skills, but also have horizontal capabilities and skills such as learning to think, critical thinking, learning to learn, the ability to analyze situations and solve problems, communication skills, leadership, innovation, integration team, adapting to change (Bologna Declaration, 2005). In the context of the study described here the classroom was extended essentially to cyberspace, once it was in a range of more direct participants due to its flexibility in terms of time and space. What motivated the development of this study is related to the challenge that the researcher, as a teacher, was confronted: how could provide the same kind of support, extra physical classroom, to regular and adult learners. The teacher intended to promote creative and motivating collaboration, communication, sharing and interaction among learners in an online tutorial setting. Therefore, we proposed to investigate and answer the question: to what extent the use of virtual environments can enhance learning contexts in blended learning format regards cooperation,  building and knowledge sharing among regular and adult learners in tertiary education. To find answer to the research question outlined, we defined the following objective of the study: understand to what extent the Web 2.0 tools and immersive virtual worlds can promote collaboration, building and knowledge sharing among those learners. In order to get the answer, we have chosen to decompose this goal into three main objectives: (i) identify the variables that may influence collaboration, building and knowledge sharing in the context of learning by using Web 2.0 tools and immersive virtual worlds; (ii) analyze how regular and adult learners engage in the use of Web 2.0 tools and immersive virtual worlds; (iii) identify, among the online tools used, which and why are best suited to each group of learners.  100  Ana Loureiro and Teresa Bettencourt / Procedia Technology 13 ( 2014 ) 97 – 106 This study aims to contribute to the improvement of blended learning (b-learning) contexts. We understand b-learning as a learning environment that combines both online and face-to-face approach [12], in which the time spent in physical classroom are smaller, " reduced seat time " [13]. Blended learning thus combines the effectiveness and socialization opportunities provided by the classroom with the possibility of learning facilitated by technology and online environments, i.e., " blended learning should be approached not merely as a temporal construct, but rather as a fundamental redesign of the instructional model  " [13]. A blended learning approach has the following features:    learner-centered - more active and interactive as a learner, whether in a classroom setting or online environment;    greater interaction between learner-teacher, learner-learner, learner-content and learner-external sources of inf ormation;    integration of formative and summative assessment systems. The contexts of blended learning also develop skills in digital literacy, critical in today's society. Digital literacy refers “ to the awarenesses, skills, understandings, and reflective approaches necessary for an individual to operate comfortably in information-rich and IT-enabled environments ”  [14]. Digital literacy is then the ability that an individual has to play effectively tasks in digital environments - including the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and evaluate and apply new knowledge acquired in digital environments [15]. Thus, digital literacy involves: (i) know how to access information and learn how to collect it in online environments; (ii) manage and organize information to be able to use it in the future; (iii) evaluate, integrate, interpret and compare information from multiple sources; (iv) create and generate knowledge by adapting, applying and recreating new information; (v) communicate and relay information to different and varied audiences, through appropriate means. As mentioned, the integration of blended learning approaches facilitates the development of other skills, especially in terms of digital literacy, beyond the specific competences of any particular subject or course. On the other hand, the fact that the time spent in physical classroom are smaller, allows to reach other audiences that, by its characteristics, related to physical distance or time, with motor disabilities or economic reasons, would be prevented from attending a particular course. The added value of this study is related mainly to the fact that it was conducted with two distinct audiences of tertiary education: regular and adult learners. The latter is often overlooked, and learning contexts are defined not taking into account the specificities and needs of this particular audience, who usually attends training sessions in the evening and are part-time students. A b-learning approach is more flexible concerning time and space. In general, we can say that the use of 3D immersive virtual worlds in education has an important role to play, since it allows, among other things, that various learning styles can be used in any course or subject. Also make it  possible for students to develop formal skills and competences of socialization and collaboration beyond the development of skills in digital literacy. Virtual worlds, as Second Life, allow very rich immersive sensory experiences, authentic contexts and activities for experiential learning, simulation role-play, modeling of complex scenarios, etc.., with opportunities for collaboration and co-creation that cannot be easily experimented in other  platforms. In the study described in this paper we used the online mentoring approach with the learners in the virtual world. In online mentoring a model of moderation and knowledge construction that allows you to manage the  progression of students attending the course at a distance is required. One of the models more applied is the one  proposed by Salmon [16; 17], which involves five stages of moderation based on constructivist theory and in the experience through practice. The same author [18] points out in online mentoring the e-tivities as essential, reflective learning activities undertaken by students individually and in groups, in each of the five stages. The teachers or online tutor should have the ability “ manage all those stages, aware of the learning process and promoting reactions, productions and knowledge construction among the participants ” [19]. The five-step model and the e-tivities of Salmon can be tailored to learners in SL, which can be guided by tutors through the five stages of the model participating in different SL-tivities [20]. Tutors can, in-world, observe and participate in learners' experiences, discuss and find solutions. We chose to adopt the mentioned approach because in online mentoring:    learners feel more comfortable and confident, annulment of hierarchies;    the ability to send additional information, activities carried out in-world are more focused and more challenging;
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