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Engaging the Avatar: New Frontiers in Immersive Education

reviewed by Sharon Dole - September 14, 2012

coverTitle: Engaging the Avatar: New Frontiers in Immersive Education
Author(s): Randy Hinrichs & Charles Wankel (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617357510, Pages: 408, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

Engaging the Avatar: New Frontiers in Immersive Education is the 11th book in the Research in Management Education and Development series edited by Charles Wankel. Avatar based learning in an online virtual world is still in its infancy, but it holds tremendous promise for the future.  As it is still in its early stages, there has been little research on the benefits and drawbacks on the use of these new technologies in education; therefore, this book edited by Randy Hinrichs and Charles Wankel is a welcome contribution.

The book consists of thirteen chapters, divided into five parts, with Part I being the Introduction and the remaining parts addressing frameworks, strategies, examples, and feedback systems.


In Chapter Two, authors Andreas Schmeil, Martin J. Eppler, and Sara de Freitas describe their Avatar-Based Collaboration (ABC) framework rooted in semiotics theory that places collaborating groups in the center of the design and uses the collaborative learning environment and activities that are distinct features of the 3D world. Semiotics is a theory about how people communicate and derive meaning out of that communication. The authors also present a case study that applies the ABC theory. The case study involved students from around the globe working together in small teams on exercises for a 3D virtual world to accompany a series of lectures. This chapter is particularly useful for instructional designers interested in collaborative learning experiences in the virtual world.

Chapter Three, “Architectural Evolution of E-Learning Virtual Worlds,” by Noha Saleeb and Georgios Dafoulas deals with the architectural elements of a virtual learning space by examining learners’ preferences. Many of the design preferences of a 3D virtual space from the students were similar to those in the real world, such as plain architectural styles, plenty of lighting through the use of windows, and semicircular seating arrangements. This chapter, also, is most useful for virtual instructional designers.


Joseph Trachtman, a Doctor of Optometry and a PhD in experimental psychology, is the author of Chapter Four, “The Eye and How We See: Physical and Virtual Worlds.” In this chapter, Dr. Trachtman offers insight into how visual perception might work in a virtual world. He suggests that what we see in a virtual world has an effect on our emotions and how we focus our attention.

In Chapter Five, “Strategies for Exploring Information Behavior in Second Life,” authors John Marino, Natascha Karlova, Peyina Lin, and Mike Eisenberg describe their investigation into how Second Life users seek, evaluate, and use information in a variety of contexts. The authors focus on the findings, insights, and recommendations of the research of the Virtual Information Behavior Environments (VIBE) group at the University of Washington Information School.

Caroline Avery and Lyn Maize, in Chapter Six, “Virtual Worlds and Workforce Education: Real Strategies for Engagement and Learning,” share examples of how 3D virtual worlds can provide organizations with an immersive environment for informal learning exchanges and knowledge collaboration.  With globalization, organizations are looking for strategies that can improve performance and increase productivity; collaborative tools in the virtual world can be effective in this area. In the simulated environments of virtual worlds, workers can be trained without exposure to risk or danger of mistakes.


This section may be most relevant to instructors in higher education who are seeking examples of engaging students in authentic tasks in a virtual world. In Chapter Seven, “Salt Marsh Dynamics~A Problem-Based Learning Scenario,” Heidi Trotta and Marian Glenn demonstrate how a real-world problem, taught through a problem-based scenario in Second Life, engages students in higher level skills in an undergraduate course in environmental science.

Grant Meredith, Charlynn Miller, and Greg Simmons in Chapter Eight, “Stuttering Support and Nursing Education: Two Case Studies in Second Life,” draw on research conducted over the past 30 years. Two case studies are described, one outlining how Second Life and other virtual worlds can improve the lives of people who stutter and the other how the use of Multi-Use Virtual Environments (MUVEs) can improve the training of nurses.

Chapter Nine, “Training for Technological Democracy: A Civic Engagement Class Example,” written by Thomas Bryer and Michelle Gardner, describes two civic engagement courses at the University of Central Florida (UCF). The purpose of using virtual world technology was to hook students, in a state in which civic engagement by youth is one of the lowest, into getting involved. UCF collaborated with the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office to train students in a virtual environment to serve as poll workers for the November 2010 general election.

Mary Anne Clark describes Genome Island, a virtual laboratory environment in SL, in Chapter Ten. The island was developed to provide laboratory experience for online non-major students but is also used as a supplement for face-to-face students. Genome Island contains over 60 interactive experiments and exhibits.


Similar to Chapter Six, which described how the virtual world could be used to train workers effectively and efficiently in a safe environment, Chapter Eleven describes how Second Life provides a safe environment in which to train nursing students in the knowledge and skills involved in the delivery of patient care. Authors Michelle Aebersold and Dana Tschannen, in “Using Virtual Simulations in Second Life for Teaching and Learning in Nursing Education,” discuss the challenges of educating nursing students in the complex healthcare environment and how the virtual world can meet these challenges.

In Chapter Twelve, “Using Second Life to Teach and Research Virtual Economy,” authors Teemu Surakka and Sami Ahma-aho describe a collaborative activity in which groups of students are given the challenge of forming a business in Second Life. The groups have to implement the plan within the restraints of a budget and time limit. The educational goal of the project was to enhance business education programs that are comprised of courses in marketing, accounting, management, and, often, international business and entrepreneurship.  

The last chapter of the book, “The SimEscuela: An Innovative Virtual Environment for Teacher Training,” written by Antonio Santos, describes a Second Life prototype virtual community made up of Mexican teachers from different geographical areas of the country and from diverse institutions and levels. The SimEscuela is a simulation of a K-12 Mexican school in which a community of teachers shares professional experiences to improve teaching skills and collaborate in problem solving.

Engaging the Avatar: New Frontiers in Immersive Education presents a practical guide for K-12, college, and university faculty and organizations seeking ideas for engaging students in collaborative problem solving in a virtual 3D environment. The international contributors to the book come from a variety of fields and offer their insights on planning, designing, implementing, and researching the educational uses of virtual worlds. The lesson plans at the end of each chapter are especially valuable for novices to this new technology. Although educators have been exploring the potential educational uses of Second Life since its inception in 2003, technological barriers related both to individual computers and to Second Life are described in several chapters of the book. Until these technological issues are resolved, the use of Second Life will continue only on an experimental basis rather than routinely, regardless of the benefits.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 14, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16868, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 9:09:11 AM

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About the Author
  • Sharon Dole
    Western Carolina University
    E-mail Author
    SHARON DOLE, PhD, is a Professor of Special Education, Coordinator of Gifted Education Programs, and Co-Director of Rocket to Creativity, a summer creativity camp for children at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC. She has been designing and teaching online courses for over 10 years and was the 2008 recipient of WCU’s Jay M. Robinson e-Teaching Award. Dr. Dole’s research interests focus on online teaching and learning, twice-exceptionalities, and risk and resilience. Recent publications include an article on wikis and a book chapter on using the How People Learn framework for online course design. Dr. Dole is currently working on a book chapter on social media in online courses and an article on resiliency in Jamaican educators.
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