Natasha relaxing in Second Life

This section on virtual worlds was originally created by:

Natasha Boskic,
Faculty of Education,
The University of British Columbia


Journal of Virtual Worlds Research

The Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology (Vol. 37. No. 2, 2011) has five articles on games and learning in digital worlds, all in French (there are short English abstracts for each article.)

Articles and posts

Matthews, D. (2018) Scepticism over Google plan to replace labs with virtual reality, Times Higher Education, June 7

This is about a partnership between Google and the Danish virtual reality company, Labster. Among the 30 ‘virtual reality’ labs planned are ones allowing training in confocal microscopy, gene therapy and cytogenetics.

The Harvard Gazette (2018) Virtual lab to extend reach of science education Harvard Gazette, June 6

This announces a partnership between the Amgen Foundation and edX at Harvard University to establish a platform called LabXchange, ‘an online platform for global science education that integrates digital instruction and virtual lab experiences, while also connecting students, teachers, and researchers in a learning community based on sharing and collaboration.’ 

Connolly, B. (2018) How virtual reality is transforming learning at the University of Newcastle, CIO, 8 March

This article includes a couple of nice, short videos demonstrating the use of AR and VR in a University of Newcastle nurses’ program in Australia. These are very good examples of the power of AR and VR to enable students to practice and learn in a safe environment without danger to patients. The technology is accessible via mobile phones or tablets so students can practice in their own time as well as in the VR studio with an instructor.

Morales, A. (2018) How Virtual Reality Can Change The Way We See Our Molecular World, Forbes, 25 July

O’Connor, M. et al. (2018) Sampling molecular conformations and dynamics in a multiuser virtual reality frameworkScience Advances, Vol. 4, No.6, 29 June

This is an example of where VR is operating at the interface of research and teaching. In particular, its value lies in providing a deep, intuitive understanding of phenomena that are otherwise difficult if not impossible to visualise in other ways.

Bates, T. (2017) Virtual Reality and Education: Some Thoughts, Online Learning and Distance Education Resources, July 27

A report on a meeting of the Vancouver VR Community event in downtown Vancouver. Vancouver is part of a growing North West Pacific Silicon Valley, and there are now over 500 members of the Vancouver VR community. 

Winkelmann, N. et al. (2017) Development, Implementation, and Assessment of General Chemistry Lab Experiments Performed in the Virtual World of Second Life Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 94, No.7

Undergraduate students performed two experiments in the immersive virtual world of Second Life (SL) as part of their regular General Chemistry 2 laboratory course. The experiments’ development and implementation are presented with feedback from students and graduate teaching assistants. Students successfully completed the experiments and showed learning gains similar to students performing real world experiments, as shown by pre/postlab quizzes and a laboratory practicum.

Drexel University (2013) Meet Tina, Your Virtual Patient, Philadelphia: College of Nursing and Health Professions, November 13

Tina’s avatar is a character in Shadow Health’s web-based interactive system, similar in some ways to the popular online avatar world Second Life, though geared specifically toward students in clinical health professions fields. This tool is broken down into 10 modules, each of which correlates with a body system that students learn about in class. The program serves not only as reinforcement for learning in the classroom, but also as a source to develop interpersonal skills needed by clinical professionals. 

You can see a video of how the avatar is used at Drexel University here.

Tobin, J. (2012) Examples of virtual worlds, simulations and mobile apps from Ontario, Online and Distance Education Resources, May 4

Ramaswami, R. (2011) Is There a Second Life for Virtual Worlds? Campus Technology, September 1

Palomäki, E. (2009) Applying 3D Virtual Worlds to Higher Education Helsinki FIN: Helsinki University of Technology

The article by Ramaswami in Campus Technology provides a thoughtful and well-researched overview of the current state of virtual worlds in higher education, drawing heavily on Eero Palomäki’s master’s thesis, but also on several other sources.

Some of the conclusions:

  • don’t try to replicate a classroom: do what can’t be done in a classroom
  • it’s hard work: there are technological and pedagogical challenges in making virtual worlds work in higher education
  • cultural issues: the ‘capitalist, real-estate view of the world’ in Second Life clashes with higher education’s culture of collaboration and sharing
  • effective training for both instructors and learners in how to operate in virtual worlds is essential
  • high level IT support is essential
  • find a niche: certain areas lend themselves to virtual worlds; others don’t
  • motion capture is needed to provide more ‘realism’

The Researchers’ Toolbox: Volume 3, No. 1, 2010 of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is required reading for anyone interested in evaluating virtual worlds.

Bugeja, M. (2010) Avatar Rape Inside Higher Education, February 25 (see also: Robin Maguire’s post)

I hesitated about posting this. This article though raises a set of questions, basically about online behaviour and institutions’ responsibilities to students, particularly if they are being sent into virtual worlds. It also asks questions about the nature of rape and whether it can actually be rape in a virtual world. To my mind, the issue is more about ethics and the concept of virtuality than about the educational aspects of virtual worlds, but because it made me think more carefully about something I might need to deal with as an online tutor, I found the article useful and thought provoking (the good kind of thoughts).

Young, J. (2010) After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds Chronicle of Higher Education, February 14

This article looks at how educational institutions seem to be moving away from Second Life to create virtual worlds that focus on the specific needs of teaching and learning. Interestingly, Young notes:

It turns out that virtual worlds are at their best when they look nothing like a traditional campus. Professors are finding that they can stage medical simulations, guide students through the inside of cell structures, or pre­sent other imaginative teaching exercises that cannot be done in a physical classroom. But for that, they need more control than Second Life gives them.

The article suggests that there is still a long way to go before virtual worlds have the tools and functionality needed for education. Ominously, it even raises the question whether:

‘the very notion of virtual worlds is flawed. Maybe 3-D online environments are just one of those technologies that sound cool but never fully materialize, like personal jetpacks.’

Other articles recommended by Natasha

Harrison, D. (2009) Second Life: Engaging Virtual Campuses Campus Technology, March 4

A look at what is actually happening in Second Life with regard to university applications. Examples from the Universities of Delaware, Stanford, Montclair State, and North Carolina-Chapel Hill

de Freitas, S. (2008). Emerging trends in serious games and virtual worlds. Emerging technologies for learning. Volume 3.  [Note: the url is now dead – if there is another url for this, please let me know]

Holden, C. and Sachtjen, B. (2008) Why Walk When You Can Fly? Reflections from an Advanced Second Life Preconference Session New Media Consortium, 2008 Conference Proceedings

This paper offers for those who have mastered the basics of Second Life (SL) a description of some of the tools and perspective required to move on to the next level of content creation.

de Freitas, S. (2007). Learning in immersive worlds: A review of game-based learning The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

Hodge, E. M., Tabrizi, M. H. N., Farwell, M. A., & Wuensch, K. L. (2007). Virtual reality classrooms: Strategies for creating a social presence. International Journal of Social Sciences, 2(2), 105-109.

Inoue, Y. (2007). Concepts, applications, and research of virtual reality learning environments. International Journal of Social Sciences, 2(1), 1-7.

Sheehy, K., Ferguson, R., & Clough, G. (2007). Learning and teaching in the panopticon: Ethical and social issues in creating a virtual educational environment. International Journal of Social Sciences, 2(2), 89-96.

Dugdale, J., Pallamin, N., & Pavard, B. (2006). ‘An assessment of a mixed reality environment: Toward an ethnomethodological approach’. Simulation & Gaming, 37(2), 226-244.

Crowe, N., & Bradford, S. (2006). ‘Hanging out in runescape’: Identity, work and leisure in the virtual playground. Children’s Geographies, 4(3), 331-346

International Game Development Association. (2006). Alternate reality games white paper. IGDA ARG SIG.

Copier, M. (2005). Connecting worlds: Fantasy role-playing games, ritual acts and the Magic Circle. Changing Views –Worlds in Play. Proceedings of DiGRA 2005 Conference.

Kolko, B. E. (1999). Representing bodies in virtual space: The rhetoric of avatar design. Information Society, 15(3), 177-186.

Cutler, R. J. (1995). Distributed presence and community in cyberspace. Interpersonal Computing and Technology: An Electronic Journal for the 21st Century, 3(2), 12-32.






  1. I am a student, online to obtain a teaching degree. I enjoy the e-learning experience and have found some minor flaws in the online classroom. The feedback is too far from the due date of assignments, and much needed information is excluded. The instructors are overwhelmed with too much to do in too little time to do it in.

    Why, do the institutions not recognize this I do not know. I only know change is needed, I need an income, I am disabled and in the over 60 age group. I have taught before, only to children with at-risk learning disabilities.
    I am trying to get degreed so I can teach at home. I have two autistic Grandsons, and they can not play out of doors,
    because they live in Texas and in the summer months it is too hot for them to be outside.

    I wish to eventually open a summer school for at-risk learners, between the ages of 4 and 9, I also wish to do this with some support. Because my financial status is only what the United States Government deems to give me.
    I need financial help. I have a home donated by my late Mother, and there is a lot next door. I wish to turn it into a
    play yard, so these children can learn, play and enjoy life for the summer. I have taught over 28 children with various learning disabilities. I have help each of these children to overcome their individual maladies. I need support to do these things.

    I would love to create learning games, based on old fashioned teaching methods, singing, rhyming, interactive play to learn. I want the children themselves to be able to contribute to the creation and the things they love to do.
    Therefore, creating a life long learning system for all ages. My oldest is one of my graduates, also.

    Anna Jerls

  2. Great, these publications have really assisted in opening our eyes on virtual learning/games. To Anna Jerl, what you have said is a situation that is common, and institutions need to conduct proper training of tutors and put in place measures to ensure that online students are attended to just like the regular students.


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