Psychology on Second Life?: Learning, Support and Research in 3D Online Multi-user Virtual Environments.

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Bignell, S.J. (2009). Psychology on Second Life?: Learning, Support and Research in 3D Online Multi-user Virtual Environments. Keynote Lecture at McCord Museum. International Conference on the Use of the Internet in Mental Health, McGill University, Canada. May 2009. The views expressed in this presentation are those of the individual Simon Bignell and not University of Derby.


  • 1. Psychology on Second Life? Learning, Support and Research in 3D Online Multi-user Virtual Environments . Simon Bignell Lecturer in Psychology University of Derby, UK Email: Twitter: MiltonBroome

2. Disclosure No conflict of interest to declare 3. Acknowledgements 4. The Rise of the Net

  • As of March 2007, worldwide there are 1.114 billion people using the Internet.(
  • The speed at which this technology has been adopted into society has been described as revolutionary, with particularly significant saturation into schools, work and family environments (Stanley, 2001).
  • Educators, Researchers and Support Groups have all embraced the potential.


  • Harvard University
  • MIT
  • Oxford University
  • University of Texas
  • Francisco State
  • New York University
  • Vassar College
  • Trinity University
  • University of Buffalo
  • Nottingham University
  • Staffordshire University
  • Leicestershire University
  • Paisley University
  • + many more

The Rise of Virtual Worlds 6. 7. Why Virtual Worlds?

  • They allow users to be able to carry out tasks that could be difficult in the real world
    • Cost
    • Scheduling
    • Location
    • Ethics
  • Virtual worlds have the capability to adapt and grow to different user needs.

8. Why Virtual Worlds?

  • Persistence allows for continuing and growing social interactions, which themselves can serve as a basis for collaborative education.
  • Virtual worlds represent a powerful new media for instruction and education.
  • The use of virtual worlds can give practitioners/educators the opportunity to have a greater level of client/student participation.

9. 10. 11.

  • Problem-based Learning in Virtual Interactive Educational Worlds for Psychology (PREVIEW-Psych)
    • The project implemented a user-focused approach to develop immersive collaborative tutorials and materials in 3D a multi-user virtual world (Second Life).
    • Used problem-based learning scenarios dealing withDepression ,Schizophrenia ,AlcoholismandAnorexia .
    • Used automated intelligent avatars to role-play scenarios in a simulation of a family home.

12. Learning and Teaching in Virtual Worlds

  • Immersive
  • Engaging
  • Cost Effective
  • Flexible
  • Fun

13. Supporting People

  • Hundreds of support groups in Second Life.
  • Like-minded people form SL groups and have regular meetings.
  • Examples:
    • Autism Society of America
    • Virtual Ability
  • Appeal is immersive social qualities and 'community building'.

14. Research in Virtual Worlds

  • Virtual worlds can be used for qualitative and quantitative data collection.
  • Can be used as a virtual laboratory to run participants across a number of paradigms.
    • Social Psychology experiments.
      • Groups andindividuals under different social settings.
      • Modified and customised environments and avatars.
    • Identity and Personality experiments.
      • Gender swap, facial disfigurement.
    • Cognitive Experiments.
      • Face perception, error and latency data.
  • Unlimited supply of (cheap) participants 24hrs a day

15. A Framework for Learning, Support and Research in Multi-User Virtual Worlds 16. A Framework for Learning, Support and Research in Multi-User Virtual Worlds.

  • Learning and Teaching
    • Sound pedagogy, Blended, Supplementary.
  • Support
    • User-oriented, Dynamic, Responsive.
  • Research
    • Ethics, Methodology, Validity.
  • The interaction between these three factors is critical for success.

17. Tools, Techniques and Technologies

  • Tools
      • Virtual Infrastructure, PowerPoint Presenters, Avatars, Gadgets, Building, Scripting,
  • Techniques
      • Inductions, Camera, Movement, Inventory, Communion, (text, voice and video), Appearance, Groups, Mashups/Blended contents, overcoming resistance, facilitating virtually, dealing with disembodiment
  • Technologies
      • Broadband, GPU, CPU, Server Speed, Lag, Client, Firewalls, Peripherals, Updates.

18. A Framework for Learning, Support and Research in Multi-User Virtual Worlds 19.

  • Psychology in well placed to engage with many aspects of Virtual Worlds:
    • A platform for your ideas.
    • Collaboration and interactivity.
    • Support and community.
    • Research and scholarship.
    • Activity-based learning.
    • Leveraging a game-based culture for training.
  • Need work within a framework:
    • Learning, Support and Research.
    • Tools, techniques and technology.

Summary 20.

  • Thank you

21. Simon Bignell Centre for Psychological Research University of Derby, UK [email_address] +44 (0)1332 593043 (ext: 3043) Twitter:MiltonBroome