The Use Of Virtual Technology Education Essay

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1.1 Overview

The rapid growth and evolution of technology has seen many institutions of higher learning in Malaysia enhance the student learning experience by integrating technology in their teaching methods. Some technology-minded lecturers have been using technology in the form of computer-aided learning presentation systems, or as a research tool. Given the rapid pace of -dtechnological innovation, however, others may lack the necessary skills and training to transfer the use of technology to learning outcomes (Antonnaci & Modaress, 2008). S-With the current advancement of integrated circuits and chipsets, computers today are far more interactive than they once were (Kristof & Satran, 1995). &,A decade ago, technologies available to classroom teachers included slides, tapes, videos, and multi-image presentation equipment (Jonassen, Peck, & Wilson, 1999), but these media have evolved and are now available digitally. Computers are now used as a compulsory teaching tool and as an instructional medium. According to Jonassen et al. (1999), the computer now has the ability to capture, synthesise and manipulate multimedia effects and integrate them into a single presentation that will better engage students.

The emergence of new technologies, such as three-dimensional (henceforth 3D) virtual worlds (i.e., Second Life and Active World), creates new opportunities for teaching and learning. In addition, these virtual worlds reinforce the wider strategic drive in education towards a more personalised style of learning, which is tailored to the individual learner's needs (De Freitas & Roberts, 2005; West-Burnham, 2005) and greater learner autonomy. Since learning depends on the way technologies are used, and so much not the technologies themselves (Clayon, Horn & Johnson, 2008), educationalists must design lessons that integrate technologies into the learning environment, in such a way that it exploits all instructional innovations available at the time. It is the powerful visual, auditory and tactile (haptic) impact of "multimodal virtual environments" (Garcia-Ruiz et al., 2003) like Second Life that can aid learning, in terms of programming behaviours into objects (Esteves, Fonseca, Morgado, & Martins, 2009). In addition, Garcia-Ruiz, Edwards and Santos (2007) state that the use of simulation technology in these virtual worlds for educational purposes can also offer the following benefits:

The reification of abstract concepts to make them more explicit and concrete (Winn, 1993);

The transduction of information present in more than one sensory channel (Winn, 1993; Garcia-Ruiz et al., 2003);

Manipulating the scale of scientific information, so that micro- and macroscopic concepts can be better explained (Winn, 1993); and

Allowing the user

intrinsic and extrinsic views of the virtual environment, to obatin extra details while inspecting a problem space (Dede & Ketelhut, 1998).

With virtual simulation, an area of the physical classroom or training area can be transformed to resemble an actual target environment (i.e., a crime scene or a laboratory), with materials similar to what one would find in that setting; but at present, few resources exist to provide such simulations (Wall & Ahmed, 2007).

To combat this insufficiency, a more recent development in the area of simulated interactions utilises classroom or home computers to deliver learning that simulates these real-life learning environments, such as Virtual World or Multiple User Virtual Environment (MUVE).

1.1.1 Virtual worlds

The use of virtual technology is gaining prominence in many fields, such as the for the training of doctors in medicine, flight simulations for pilots in aviation, as well as for various branches of the sciences, biotechnology, psychology, etc. Its interactivity and ability to present an environment that mimics the real world are what make it popular, in addition to allowing the learner to explore, simulate and manipulate a 3D virtual environment. Virtual worlds, such as Second Life, World of Warcraft and SIMS Online, have the technological capabilities to afford students greater autonomy over their learning. And with the current ubiquity of these virtual world environments, research in this area is necessary to understand its dimensions. What also warrants study is the inevitable merging of virtual worlds with the discipline of Information Systems (IS), which offers valuable insights on the design, development and management of a multi-user environment, in both corporate and consumer contexts. As Mennecke et al. (2008) state, the time is at hand for scholars and professionals to begin systematic research on virtual worlds, since it represents the best way to ignite interest in virtual world environments.

In addition, virtual worlds are also gaining in popularity amongst the general public, especially the younger generation, which is evident in the hundreds of publicly accessible virtual worlds already in existence. Virtual worlds exist for all age groups-while Second Life is primarily built for adults, Disney's Virtual Magic Kingdom is targeted to those aged 8 to 14. These virtual worlds are classified within the domain of multiplayer online games known as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). Second Life is a subtype of MMORPG, effectively tagged MUVE. The growth of MMORPGs has been phenomenal over the last decade-as of 2008, there are almost 12 million unique avatar (in-game representation) accounts for Second Life (Mennecke et al., 2008). Besides visual animation, 3D MUVEs also provide users with simulation and role playing opportunities and even social communities, in the vein of Facebook and MySpace, which enable users to interact with each other. In short, virtual worlds have the features and functions of an interactive game environment, where one's avatar engages in or responds to a myriad of activities. Yee (2006) states that users usually respond to the spatial nature of the virtual environment favourably because it mimics the real world. He also notes that research on spatial issues-i.e., tele-presence and haptic interface links to virtual worlds-has been ongoing over the last two decades, primarily focused on issues related to user interface, perception and learning; Knoll (2007) meanwhile, adds that there is literature focusing on user experience in virtual worlds.

MUVEs such as Second Life not only provide information on user experience or network-based infrastructures, but also on social, economic and organisational issues that extend beyond the individual user, such as in the areas of public policy, economics and law-so much so that a number of studies have begun to address legal, ethical, taxation and economic issues pertaining to virtual worlds (Castronova 2001, 2006; McInnis et al., 2000; Malaby, 2006; Mennecke et al., 2008). MUVEs can thus be seen to open up a great deal of research opportunities in the social sciences, as Castronova (2006) states; he also suggests that large multiplayer games are "social science research tools on the scale of the super colliders use by physicists." Thus, what MUVEs can do is provide researchers with a different means to study issues related to individual behaviour, social dynamics, economics, government, law, and a host of other research areas. The number of these research areas is growing rapidly, since the evolution of these virtual worlds involves embedding with more and more systems, which will only expand its capabilities.

1.1.2 Integrating virtual worlds in biotechnology

Technologies associated with biotechnology and biomolecular science, such as recombinant DNA technology, have become one of the most important scientific revolutions of this decade. Biotechnology can undoubtedly improve the quality of human life, but it does present some ethical problems. As such, it is important that people understand the concepts behind recombinant DNA technologies---not just its practitioners for the purposes of career advancement, nor just the general public, for the impact of these technologies on their daily lives, but also tertiary level students, who will be called upon in the future to resolve challenges associated with biotechnology.

A number of studies show that tertiary students lack a coherent view of biotechnology concepts (Stencel, 1995; Eckdahl, 1999), such as 'DNA, 'central dogma' and 'DNA manipulation', and their relationships when studying molecular biology (Jenkins, 1987; Malacinski & Zell, 1996; Bohrer, 1997; Wagner, 1998; Kirkpatrick et al., 2002). Tertiary students are familiar with the term 'biotechnology' or 'recombinant DNA', but have difficulties expressing the difference between the two. The students also encounter problems when faced with certain issues, such as visualising DNA structures, replication, central dogma, protein synthesis, and the techniques of DNA cloning. Lectures with no pedagogical applications resulted in unsatisfactory results-students lacked the motivation to learn as they find classroom teaching inadequate. This contradicts current cognitive theories which regard students as playing an active role in the learning process. New learning methods, such as cooperative learning, will assist tertiary students in overcoming their learning problems and be independent learners. Integrating methods such as these into virtual world environments for educational purposes, in effect turning them into what Wehmeyer (1999) terms "assistive technologies," where interaction with technology increases individual participation, can be the answer to this inadequacy. However, merely making virtual world technologies available to both lecturers and students will neither ensure that students will learn more nor that the technology will be used effectively; Cuban (2001), for instance, states that poor technology implementation has not produced the desired effects on learning.

This does not mean, of course, that research in virtual world environments should cease altogether, as their theories are important in the field of instructional learning; yet there remains a dearth of research in the successful implementation of virtual world environments in education. This is unfortunate because it is clearly evident what technology has in store for the education community, and ceasing research on virtual world technology will be done as the expense of meeting the changing needs of students. Seeing as student-centred learning is still a major criteria in the design of teaching methods, research on different virtual world environments should ideally be carried out to support various pedagogies (Roush, 2007). A number of frameworks and structures for designing and developing a multimedia system already exist, but not so for virtual world environments in education. Thus, more research is required to provide more direction on the effective use of virtual worlds in developing learning materials for the laboratory and classroom, particularly, with regards to the present study, in the field of forensic science.

1.1.3 Project CSI: Second Life

In response to a deficiency of training materials and lack of research on their implementation and effectiveness, the School of Biotechnology of INTI International University, Malaysia, with the support and professional advice of Kimia Malaysia, agreed to create a MUVE using Second Life as a platform, known as Project CSI: Second Life. This instructional package was designed to teach and equip individuals with skills required to engage in the basics of forensic science successfully, as well as the skills needed for possible employment as a CSI Investigator. Project CSI begins with an introduction by an avatar, which is intended to gain the attention of students and to provide video anchors or machinima for later skills training. They depict a fictional crime scene investigator, whose goal is to uncover evidence during the investigation phase. They are then required to analyse their findings and reveal the suspect.

Project CSI is designed in the style of an interactive investigation phase in a virtual world, where learners can progress through the story of a crime scene investigation, and the study guide machinima storyline is interspersed with multiple examples that demonstrate the skills required for a successful solving of a case. These examples address the areas of DNA, nucleic acids, literacy, investigation skills, and the job skills needed to work as a crime scene investigator. In addition to these models, simulated activities contained in the virtual learning environment enable users to practice the aforementioned skills in highly graphic realistic settings. While engaged in these virtual activities, the learners receive feedback and guidance from the virtual support group.

Project CSI was designed and developed by the researcher in the field of biotechnology and uses instructional pedagogy. While recommendations for its suggested use by practitioners in one private university college have been developed, questions remain on how they will be implemented successfully by teachers and others involved in biotechnology education.

Table 1.1 summarises the issues investigated in this study:

Issues investigated


Advantages of multi-user virtual learning

Disadvantages of multi-user virtual learning

Pedagogical considerations

Delivering virtual learning

Designing virtual learning (Project CSI: Second Life)

Implementation of virtual learning

Issues surrounding tests and feedback from students


Subject preferences of learners

Literature and methodology review

Issues regarding traditional lectures

Issues regarding laboratory practicals

Issues regarding static multimedia computer presentations

The use of the virtual learning in Second Life

Learner suggestions

Learner profiles

Suggestions for the presentation of a full virtual learning course

Table 1.1: Summary of issues investigated

1.2 Background of the study

According to Young (1998), students have a strong innate desire to observe and understand the natural world, but conversely, many of them often consider science to be irrelevant to their daily lives. As instructors, we struggle to engage students in scientific explorations so that they can understand concepts and appreciate the nature of science at work. Forensic science is one domain that engages students in the scientific process, in that it helps them to think like a scientist in problem-solving (Williams, Ebert-May, Luckie, Hodder & Koptur, 2004). Recent technological advances have made forensic science extremely important to the criminal justice system (Asplen, 1999; Freedman, 1997). Furthermore, television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (henceforth CSI) have popularised this branch of science among the general public. Although this newfound popularity tends to romanticise the science itself (Willing, 2005; Deutsch, 2006), it nevertheless provides educators with an opportunity to tap into students' interest in science.

Seeing as forensic science is gaining in popularity, many institutions of higher learning now offer courses in forensic science and biotechnology, with new curricula being swiftly drawn up to lure students into these institutions. Virtual world environments are ideally suited to be integrated into these new curricula, even if studies concerning its applications are still in its infancy. There are advantages to having students engage in a virtual world environment, as Hansen (2008) notes:

Learners actively interact with content and role play skills associated with their profession. By allowing students time to interact with other avatars...a safe, simulated environment, a decrease in student anxiety, an increase in competency in learning a new skill, and encouragement to cooperate and collaborate, as well as resolve conflicts, is possible.

She also states that learners can actively interact with the content and role-playing skills associated with their profession, in a safe and stimulating environment, which encourages not only self-reflection, but also cooperation, conflict resolution, and the learning of new skills. With regards to the present study, the gaming component of MUVEs, as well as the fact that it is easily accessible via web browsing, will motivate students to log in and to engage in collective intelligence.

1.3 Statement of the problem

Despite the accelerated growth in the development, application and adoption of MUVE as learning innovations, Allison et al. (2006) state that some fundamental questions remain unanswered, for instance, the relevance of MUVE in teaching sciences, particularly medical or health care (Eysenbach, 2008). This lead to challenges at various levels of thought-is it beneficial to adopt and implement highly engaging web 3D virtual worlds in biotechnology education?

At the philosophical and cognitive levels, the value associated with learning presents variables that influence the rate of adoption by academics. As Hansen (2008) states, the features of virtual worlds are "immersion, role-playing opportunities, simulation, personal interaction with technology, and its influence on formative and summative learning outcomes," all of which are areas which require further investigation. As with Hansen's review, this thesis will utilise Rogers's (2003) diffusion of innovations theory and Siemens's connectivism theory (2005) as its theoretical base, as will be elaborated on below.

One example of an institution that is attempting to engage their students with new learning activities is the School of Biotechnology in INTI University College. In this faculty, teaching in a hybrid or online learning environment has been found to be difficult in terms of creating rich, interactive learning activities. In the past, asynchronous online learning activities used media such as discussion boards to enhance learning. But classes in biotechnology can be boring and difficult for the current generation of students, and leads to a lack of motivation, which could potentially result in low grades, or a high student withdrawal rate. With virtual world environments,

users are able to participate in real-world experiential learning activities that consist of synchronous and rich media elements. In short, Second Life engages students. Student engagement will lead them to spend more time on their studies, and cultivate an interest in learning. The MUVE environment of Second Life, the content that would be built, and the course that would be structured and designed to enhance learning, would better motivate and engage students as opposed to existing teaching methods. Astin (1999) defines student engagement as the amount of physical and psychological energy that the students devote to the academic experience.

This is the depth to which students value their learning activity (McInnis, James, & Hartley, 2000). According to The Horizon Report (2010), developed by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, virtual worlds such as Second Life will impact higher education within three adoption horizons, namely: (i) the resources and relationships made accessible via the Internet challenges educators to revisit their roles; (ii) people will expect to be able to learn, work and study at any location; and (iii) technologies being used are cloud-based, and notions of IT support are decentralised. With regards to (i), many universities in the United States, such as Harvard University, Northern Illinois University, Montclair State, Vassar College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others, are already investigating the impact and exploring the possibilities of Second Life on teaching and learning. Since teaching innovators are interested in virtual worlds, the research on the impact on student learning and effective pedagogical uses will prepare them for the future role of virtual worlds as an emerging technology. It is noted in The Horizon Report that there is an increase in active learning through student engagement, which provides the researcher with an opportunity to address issues on student engagement and learning achievement. Faculty members are being challenged to find effective ways to engage students via create experiential learning possibilities, and virtual worlds offer an alternative environment that may cater for this. Thus, Second Life may improve learning by:

Engaging the attention of the students through its 3D immersive environment, which will enable students to spend more time on the task assigned and the development of deep learning;

Engaging simulations through active participation;

Providing the change agent to engage in real world experiential learning, which will have an impact on their cognitive, behavioural, and affective skills;

Provision of a forum to share ideas, suggestions, projects, designs, write-ups and other creative ideas with their peers and community;

Engaging in users' critical thought processes, which requires synthesis of knowledge via participation in the activities provided by the virtual world; and

Collaboration through a synchronous virtual environment that enables knowledge construction through interactions.

1.4 Objectives

Generally, this study intends to generate findings to contribute to the existing literature on implementing MUVEs for teaching community-based skills to individuals interested in forensic science, to design a Project CSI: Second Life virtual learning environment to reinforce and engage students in their learning by allowing the students to make their own investigation decisions and compare their results with the results from a case in Second Life; and to find out whether the Project CSI: Second Life virtual learning environment impacts upon student achievement and knowledge retention. In particular, the objectives of this thesis are:

To investigate if virtual worlds or MUVEs would represent a better pedagogical method of learning forensic science by students in a private institution of higher learning;

To provide a better understanding of how MUVEs can engage students to enhance forensic science instruction;

To allow students to explore and apply the principles of forensic science and the scientific process to solve hypothetical problems or even crime using MUVEs through role playing and simulation;

To create an interactive instructional virtual learning environment that could be used to assist traditional methods of teaching in the acquisition of basic forensic science skills; and

To investigate whether MUVEs improve student achievement.

1.5 Significance of the study

This study is significant in that it uses the umbrella of forensics to teach typical biology concepts and skills in a virtual environment setting using Second Life as a platform. The researcher used the television show CSI to set up a 'myth-busting' virtual environment in Second Life, to enable an investigation into the relationship between popular media and students' attitudes towards science, as well as the effectiveness of virtual environment learning. It also attempts to convey existing knowledge and ideas concerning the use of 3D virtual worlds in forensic and biotechnology education, while describing, summarising, evaluating, and clarifying the current literature.

In addition, this study designs and develops an online 3D MUVE for a forensic science introductory module called, as mentioned above, Project CSI: Second Life. Project CSI: Second Life provides personalised and virtual crime scene investigation that mimics its physical equivalent, and is the creation of a hybrid-augmented experience where the user goes into the realm of inter-reality. Project CSI: Second Life aims to achieve the following user experiences:

An extended sense of presence, via simulation features and techniques of the virtual world, to translate crime scene investigation guidelines and processes into a user experience; with Project CSI: Second Life, users do not merely receive abstract information but enjoy meaningful experiences.

An extended sense of community or social presence. Unlike Facebook or MySpace, Second Life uses a 3D hybrid social interaction that forms dynamic group discussions targeting users support in both worlds-physical or virtual.

Real-time feedback between the physical and virtual worlds, in that Second Life uses sensors and devices like mobile phones to monitor or track user status. This way, users are always connected real-time. The feedback is differentiated in two ways: (a) behaviour in real world influences the experience in the virtual world; and (b) behaviour in the virtual world influences the experience in the real world-i.e., participation of users in virtual support groups.

Learning the basic language of forensic science needed to describe the structure (investigation phase) and function (analysis of evidence) of a crime scene investigator.

Establishing the primacy of the CSI investigator as a person as opposed to a series of diagrams or photos in a textbook.

Acclimatising students to the realities of crime scene investigation processes.

Teaching manual dexterity and touch-mediated perception.

Introducing the concept of forensics variation (there are significant internal differences between evidences).

Gaining knowledge of the three-dimensional spatial relationship between structures.

Gaining communication skills within a small peer group.

1.6 Research questions

The guiding research questions for this study are as follows:

Q1: What information was revealed about the preferences, experiences, and attitudes of the Project CSI: Second Life virtual learning environment by the participants in the study during the focus group discussions?

What did the results of the user survey reveal about the skills of this sample of graduate student users?

What did the results of the user survey reveal about this sample of graduate students' satisfaction with the Project CSI: Second Life application?

What information was revealed about the preferences, experiences, and attitudes about Project CSI: Second Life by the participants in the study during the focus group discussions?

Q2: Will the Project CSI: Second Life virtual learning application help biotechnology students improve their scores?

Do students' scores improve with the usage of the Project CSI: Second Life application?

Will the Project CSI: Second Life Virtual Learning application help forensic science students recall information after four weeks of instruction?

Was the primary intent of the selection of Project CSI: Second Life successfully integrated into the learning process of the students?

1.7 Hypothesis

In order to answer research question 2 (Q2, see previous section), the following null hypotheses were generated:

Hypothesis 1 (H01): There are no significant differences between the scores of Experimental Group Students and Control Group Students (Pretest‒Post-test)

Hypothesis 2 (H02): There are no significant differences between the scores of Experimental Group Students and Control Group Students (Pretest‒Delayed Post-test)

1.8 Limitations of the study

This project has a number of limitations, that can be divided into practical limitations and research limitations. Practical limitations encompass the development, implementation and use of Second Life, and information gathered by the instruments, while the research limitations include the accuracy and interpretation of the findings. With regards to the former, it needs to be stated that this thesis is not supplementary to, but an integral part of the academic programme-because the project covered only the first four weeks of the basic biotechnology course, there was no time to repeat any topic if Project CSI: Second Life had turned out to be unsatisfactory. Therefore, the learners could not be forced to use the virtual learning environment solely, as this could be used as an excuse if they underperformed during the test. Also, it cannot be overlooked that because the students' responses to the surveys and discussion forums could be traced back to their personal records, the answers that they provided to the questions may have not been completely honest, possibly out of fear of being victimised. In addition, the study is limited to only one institution, INTI International University; if the study were conducted in more universities in different countries, the results may have varied. Results may also vary if the study were repeated with a different group of students at a later time, because every new group of students will have different levels of computer literacy, particularly in terms of familiarity with the usage of computers as a study aid, or virtual world environments.

1.9 Assumptions

The following are the assumptions underlying this study:

The students used in this study are undergraduate students from the School of Biotechnology at INTI International University, a private institution of higher learning;

Educators involved in Project CSI: Second Life followed the guidelines and procedures implemented in this study; and

Uncontrollable variables, which include socioeconomic status, intelligence, creativity, and computer literacy, are equally distributed across all groups and had equal effect on treatment group scores.

1.10 Operational definitions

The following are operational definitions of a number of terms used throughout this study:

Virtual world: A computer-simulated world that presents perceptual stimuli to the user, who in turn can manipulate elements of the modelled world, thus experiencing telepresence to a certain degree.

Telepresence: A set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they are present in, give the appearance that they are present in, or to have an effect on a location other than their true location; such modelled worlds may appear similar to the real world or depict fantasy worlds.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG): A genre of computer role-playing games in which a large number of players interact with one another within a virtual game world.

Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE): Also known as virtual world; is most widely used to describe MMORPGs that are not necessarily game-specific.

Multi-User Object Oriented (MOO): A text-based online virtual reality system where multiple users (players) are connected at the same time.

Avatar: A user's representation of himself or herself, or alter ego, whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games, internet forums or in Multi-user real-time virtual worlds.

Achievement: Measured by student's test grades from their trial exam, final exam and knowledge retention tests.

1.11 Organisation of the thesis

The thesis is divided into six chapters. Chapter One, the Introduction, presents an overview and

outlines the background of the current study, and by extension, reveals gaps in existing research. This leads to the rationale and justification of the research and identification of the problem, which includes examining the interaction between the user and the 3D virtual learning environment to determine the effectiveness of 3D MUVEs. In

Chapter Two, the Literature Review, the relevant literature will be reviewed to identify the theoretical frameworks through which the research problem is approached. This chapter discusses the research literature on the use of virtual worlds in education, the communication aspects of a MUVE, research into the interactive use of virtual worlds and usability studies, including their limitations. This literature review also examines the theoretical approaches for using virtual world technology in education, and in doing so, develops the theoretical frameworks through which the research problem is to be approached. The approach is discussed in terms of how it will be applied in the research.

Chapter Three, the Research Methodology, will evaluate the instruments used to analyse the lesson plans and graphics displays of results, which are included in full in the appendices. Methodology describes sampling, methods of data collection and methods of analysis employed in the current research. This chapter will detail the development of an integrated approach for analysing Project CSI: Second Life interactions, and shows how this will be applied to the case study used by the faculty of biotechnology in INTI International University. The chapter also elaborates the types of data to be collected, the sample, and the pilot testing. All the methods described in this chapter are justified in terms of the research questions, and the strengths and weaknesses of each method are also analysed. The integrated approach is linked to its relevance to the investigation and in examining the effectiveness of Project CSI: Second Life. In

Chapter Four, Project CSI: Second Life is discussed, wherein details of Second Life will be elaborated upon, the opportunities made available by the application, and how to leverage Second Life in education. It also entails the design and development of Project CSI: Second Life with the relevant workflow found in the appendices.

In Chapter Five, the Analysis of Data, the results generated from quantitative and qualitative data analysis will be discussed. It is an analytic approach to data obtained from sample users' interactions with Project CSI: Second Life. This investigation is divided into two sections: the first examines the limitations of usability criteria in investigating the effectiveness of Project CSI: Second Life on achievement and knowledge retention, while the second applies the integrated approach to investigate potential users' responses in their surveys and interviews. And in the final chapter,

Chapter Six, Discussion and Recommendations, discussions based on the findings of the study and conclusions will be presented. It includes research findings with results of the investigation, and sheds light on the effectiveness of Project CSI: Second Life on achievement and retention. This chapter also evaluates the strengths and the limitations of Project CSI: Second Life, and the implications of this approach from theoretical and practical perspectives. Finally, this chapter discusses recommendations for further research into understanding perspectives on 3D MUVEs.