Collaboration Through Simulation: Pilot Implementation of an Online 3D Environment

Jim Scullion, Daniel Livingstone, Mark Stansfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


It has been suggested in the literature that virtual worlds can be an environment in which informal learning by participants can succeed through communication and collaboration, and that it would be valuable to investigate the extent to which the processes and principles underpinning this informal learning can be transferred to a formal learning context. The literature shows, however, a wide evidence gap.
This article reports on the initial findings from empirical research currently in progress using a specific immersive online 3D environment, UNITE, to enhance collaboration and communication among tertiary students and which is guided by constructivist learning principles.Method UNITE was constructed using Open Wonderland, an open source toolkit for creating 3D virtual worlds. Within the context of a particular set of constructivist principles, discussed in this article, which guided the development of UNITE, a more active approach to learning was adopted by the students, as compared with more passive traditional teaching methods. Following their use of UNITE, focus group discussion with participants was analyzed using the interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) framework.
Thematic analysis using IPA resulted in the identification of 11 themes: Technical Limitations and Problems, Importance of Avatar Representation, Use of Virtual Worlds in Formal Education, Communication and Collaboration, Building Confidence, Importance of Voice Communication, Participant Interest, Previous Exposure to Virtual Worlds, Participant Apprehension, Desired Improvements, and Absence of Non-Verbal Communication. All participants regarded their experience of using UNITE as a positive one. Focus group participants expressed a unanimous view that the use of virtual worlds within tertiary education is of educational benefit and should be more widely used to complement traditional teaching methods.Conclusion In using UNITE, students were cognitively engaged, learning was hands-on, and the social component of learners interacting and supporting each other was emphasized in undertaking the learning activities. Results from this pilot study have provided an interesting insight into the potential of using 3D learning spaces for enhancing communication, collaboration, and teamwork. A more substantial and detailed implementation is now being planned across the tertiary education sector. This will involve students from a number of institutions, educational levels, and cognate areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-409
Number of pages16
JournalSimulation & Gaming
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


Dive into the research topics of 'Collaboration Through Simulation: Pilot Implementation of an Online 3D Environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this