Virtual world offers new locale for problem solving

September 29, 2008

Second Life, a virtual world created in 2003, currently boasts more than 12 million users worldwide who go there for everything from college recruiting to shopping. Now, Penn State researchers are investigating how virtual teams can better solve real world problems by collaborating in Second Life.

Nathan McNeese, undergraduate, psychology; Gerry Santoro, assistant professor, and Michael McNeese, professor, information sciences and technology and psychology, Penn State; and Mark Pfaff, assistant professor of media arts and sciences, Indiana University-Indianapolis, created an experiment in which students formed teams and were asked to solve a problem, posed by a video, using different meeting styles.

The researchers set up 10 teams to work face-to-face, 10 teams to work through teleconferencing, and 12 teams to work as groups of avatars in Second Life. An avatar is a computer user's representation of him or her self. It is the user's persona inside virtual space.

The assigned task revolved around the video "Rescue at Boones Meadow", an episode of "the Adventures of Jasper Woodbury," a series produced by the Vanderbilt University Learning Technology Center that focuses on mathematical problem finding and solving. Participants watched the video individually and then convened to decide how to rescue an injured eagle according to the information given in the video. All groups had to decide which character would rescue the eagle, which methods of transportation would be used and estimate the time it would take to complete the task.

The groups using Second Life were confined to text-based communication and had to learn how to master the complex keyboard strokes required for avatar movement. These barriers did not deter the groups from completing the assigned task, however, the teams using Second Life took the longest to finish.

The face-to-face teams felt most confident of their performance, yet the Second Life teams provided the most accurate answers in the task.

"Overall, Second Life is a viable option for group work," Nathan McNeese said. "But there's definitely a learning curve with it and accomplishing even basic tasks can be difficult, especially if you've never used it before." He reported their results in September At the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society meeting in New York City.

Some of the participants, college students ranging in ages from 18 to 22, were already familiar with online chat and gaming tools, making them more comfortable working in Second Life. Nathan McNeese, whose own knowledge of Second Life was limited before starting this project, said the research opens the doors to explore more uses of Second Life with different age groups and solving different problems.

Second Life was created by Linden Labs.

Source: Penn State

Explore further: Out of the lamplight

Related Stories

Out of the lamplight

July 31, 2015

The human body is governed by complex biochemical circuits. Chemical inputs spur chain reactions that generate new outputs. Understanding how these circuits work—how their components interact to enable life—is critical ...

Researchers build bacteria's photosynthetic engine

July 29, 2015

Nearly all life on Earth depends on photosynthesis, the conversion of light energy into chemical energy. Oxygen-producing plants and cyanobacteria perfected this process 2.7 billion years ago. But the first photosynthetic ...

Mariner 4 to Mars, 50 years later

July 15, 2015

July 14 marks 50 years of visual reconnaissance of the solar system by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), beginning with Mariner 4's flyby of Mars in 1965.

Team shows a protein modification determines enzyme's fate

July 15, 2015

The human genome encodes roughly 20,000 genes, only a few thousand more than fruit flies. The complexity of the human body, therefore, comes from far more than just the sequence of nucleotides that comprise our DNA, it arises ...

Recommended for you

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

Quantum Theory May Explain Wishful Thinking

April 14, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Humans don’t always make the most rational decisions. As studies have shown, even when logic and reasoning point in one direction, sometimes we chose the opposite route, motivated by personal bias or simply ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bob_B
not rated yet Sep 30, 2008
Gee, a commercial. Maybe if the Second life teams had to PAY to use the service they would not be so slow, hehe.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.