Or, download the PDF Call for Proposals

Proposal submission deadline: July 22, 2011
Virtual Worlds in Online and Distance Education

A book edited by: Sue Gregory (University of New England, Australia),
Mark J. W. Lee (Charles Sturt University and University of New England, Australia),
Barney Dalgarno (Charles Sturt University, Australia), and
Belinda Tynan (University of New England, Australia)
of the DEHub Virtual Worlds Working Group

Planned for publication by Athabasca University Press as an Open Access publication (online and print) in the Issues in Distance Education series edited by Terry Anderson (Athabasca University, Canada)

Virtual worlds are being touted as capable of facilitating highly interactive, engaging, multimodal learning experiences for students, and many believe they have the potential to radically transform education. Worldwide, educators and institutions are investing much time and resources in the technology—some are making use of commercially hosted platforms like Second Life and Active Worlds to provide environments within which to house learning resources and conduct educational interventions, while others are extending and adapting open-source products such as OpenSimulator (‘OpenSim’) and Open Wonderland to create worlds for hosting on their own servers and networks. Others still are building their own, bespoke platforms and systems using a variety of programming languages and game engines to accommodate their specific needs and purposes.

Many of these efforts are being fuelled and driven by claims about how virtual worlds, with their powerful affordances and rich, immersive properties, can be used to promote higher levels of student engagement and make possible the achievement of enhanced educational outcomes. In the field of online and distance education in particular, there is much optimism that virtual worlds can be used to effectively address traditional problems such as that of learner isolation, helping bridge the gap between on and off-campus cohorts by engendering collaboration and participation and through enabling a greater sense of immediacy, co-presence, and belonging to a community. Yet much of what has been published in the area has tended to be descriptive and ‘show-and-tell,’ focusing largely on students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the technology and presenting only limited research-based evaluation and empirical evidence of the educational benefits.

This book seeks to provide a forum for research-informed perspectives on the use of virtual worlds in online and distance education. It will consist of a series of thematic chapters highlighting the pedagogical, organizational, cultural, social, economic, and political issues and factors that influence the successful uptake and use of virtual worlds in online and distance education contexts, along with a number of case study chapters illustrating how the issues are exemplified in practice and also analyzing how the technology has been applied in innovative ways to diverse areas within these contexts.

Mission and Objectives of the Book
The mission of the book is to promote scholarly inquiry and contribute to the development and sharing of best practice in the use of virtual worlds for online and distance education. Its key objectives are as follows:
  1. To provide an introduction for novice readers to the virtual worlds in online and distance education domain, including both the theoretical and practical aspects of the knowledge base in the area;
  2. To serve as an avenue for the publication of leading-edge research about virtual worlds in online and distance education that will be of interest to experts and novices alike;
  3. To showcase a range of contemporary examples of practice and demonstrate models for integrating virtual worlds in various facets of online and distance education;
  4. To evaluate, document, and disseminate evidence-based information and guidance pertaining to the successes and pitfalls of different methods, approaches, and strategies;
  5. To scrutinize recent and emerging trends and developments as a basis for proposing a roadmap for future research in the area.

Target Audience
This book is intended to serve as a one-stop locale for work relating to the use of virtual worlds in online and distance education. As such, it is expected to be relevant to teachers, administrators, and researchers as well as students. Given the international readership of the book and the fact that interested parties reside in multiple academic disciplines and areas of the institution, chapters are to be written and presented such a way as to make them accessible to a broad audience.

Through a combination of thematic chapters as well as case studies featuring practical examples from the field, the novice reader will benefit from expert knowledge and learn from the experiences of both scholars and practitioners. Experts will stand to gain from reading the book as a means of staying abreast with the state of play in virtual world-based online and distance education and to obtain exposure to varied perspectives and approaches in this still nascent area.

The book’s coverage will be limited to the use of virtual worlds for online and distance education in post-secondary (i.e., higher and further education) settings. In addition to fully online/distance delivery, this includes educational programs, courses, and interventions offered in mixed/hybrid or ‘blended’ modes. Importantly, ‘education’ here is meant to encompass not only learning, teaching, and assessment but also other ancillary areas or institutional functions such as academic staff development, student support, library and information services, marketing and recruitment, community outreach, careers, and alumni.

Structure/Organization of the Book
The book will be divided into two sections, as follows:

Section 1: Themes and issues (5,000 to 8,000 words per chapter)
This section will be made up of contributions addressing specific themes and issues related to the use of virtual worlds in online and distance education. A combination of critical literature reviews, theoretical/conceptual pieces and reports of empirical studies will be published in this section.

Section 2: Case studies (2,000 to 4,000 words per chapter)
This section will comprise chapters reporting on case studies of the use of virtual worlds in online and distance education. It is expected that these chapters will contain descriptions of the virtual environments and resources developed/used as well as the educational activities involved, in addition to reporting on the results of evaluations and discussing implications (e.g., ideas, guidelines, advice) for others beyond the local scenario of the case.

Suggested Topic Areas
Topics/areas of interest include, are but not limited to, the following:

  • Technology capabilities and affordances of virtual worlds
  • Theoretical and pedagogical models/frameworks
  • Virtual world tools, systems and platforms
  • Methodologies for researching learning in virtual worlds
  • Student and staff perspectives on virtual worlds
  • Immersion and presence in virtual worlds
  • Modelling and fidelity in virtual worlds
  • Identity, embodiment, and emotional connection to avatars
  • Socio-cultural aspects of learning in virtual worlds
  • Collaboration / collaborative learning in virtual worlds
  • Learning design for virtual world activities
  • Assessment and evaluation in virtual worlds
  • Academic staff development about and using virtual worlds
  • Building a business case (e.g., cost-benefit analysis)
  • Institutional support and policy issues
  • Access and equity issues (e.g., accessibility by students with disabilities, inclusion of students in remote/isolated areas and undeveloped/developing countries)
  • Virtual worlds for work-based/work-integrated learning
  • Virtual worlds for research training and support
  • Virtual worlds and library/information services
  • Virtual worlds for online marketing and student recruitment
  • Virtual worlds for student counselling / pastoral care
  • Machinima for learning and assessment in a virtual world 
  • Intelligent agents, bots, and Simulated objects for learning and assessment 
  • Mixed-reality applications (blending the real and the virtual) 
  • Next-generation interfaces (e.g., motion sensing, haptics) 
  • The future of virtual worlds in online and distance education

Submission Procedure
Authors of prospective chapters are invited to prepare, on or before July 22, 2011, a one to two-page proposal summarizing the mission, concerns, and planned content of the intended submission, accompanied by brief biographies (50 to 100 words) of each author. Proposals are to be submitted via email to virtualworldsinODE@gmail.com and should include a list of core and other relevant references (not included in the page count).

Authors will be notified no later than August 19, 2011 as to the status of their proposals, and at that time, those whose proposals have been accepted will be sent guidelines for preparing their full chapters. Chapters will need to be submitted by November 18, 2011 and will be subject to double-blind review. Authors may be asked to peer review another chapter.

The results of the review process will be made available to authors on or before January 27, 2012. They will then have until February 24, 2012 to make revisions based on the feedback received, and to work with the editors and other chapter authors to develop common themes and synergies, in addition to implementing cross referencing of one another’s chapters as appropriate.

The book is expected to be published in late 2012.

Questions can be directed to the editors at virtualworldsinODE@gmail.com