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Learning about Self and Other in Virtual Worlds Experiences of people with physical disabilities Amber Judge VWBPE July 26th, 2013



• Introduction • Context • Literature Review • Methodology • Main Results • Discussion • Conclusion • Thank you and questions


Introduction Emergence of the Topic My interest in virtual worlds stems from personal experiences in the world of Second Life.

Research Problem There are people with physical disabilities who use virtual worlds on a regular basis. Literature on avatar identity, disability and learning in virtual worlds is limited. The purpose of this study is to explore experiences of learning about self and other in virtual worlds by people with physical disabilities.


Key Definitions Disability “is the umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions, referring to the negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s contextual factors (environmental and personal factors)� (WHO, 2011).

Virtual reality in a technological sense is "a three dimensional

interactive computer-generated environment that incorporates a firstperson perspective" (Brey, 1999). This usually requires the use of headmounted displays and haptic devices.

Virtual worlds are shared persistent user-created three-

dimensional graphical social places (Aldrich, 2009; Bartle, 2007; Jones, 2006; Lastowka & Hunter, 2004).


in virtual worlds are 3D graphical agents and selfrepresentations or embodiments of identity (Adrian, 2008; Bell, 2008; Kromand, 2007; Neustaedter & Fedorovskaya, 2009; )

Phenomenological research

means to study a specific event, occurrence or object and its meanings as perceived and experienced by human participants (Finlay, 2009; Groenewald, 2004; Seidman, 2006). 4

Home Health Care


Social engagement


Assistive Technolog

A shift from virtual reality systems to virtual worlds 47.3 million people with some form of disability in Canada and the USA (Statistics Canada, 2009; Virtual Ability, 2012).


Educational technologists should ask if and what learning is occurring in these contexts.


Research questions: Mask Disability

1) How do people with physical disabilities experience learning about self and other in virtual worlds? 2) What do people with physical disabilities learn about self and other in virtual worlds?

Recreational & Educational Opportunities

Experiences cannot have in real life 5

Literature Review


Virtual Reality

Virtual Worlds

Situating this study in the current literature, at the intersection of:

• • •

Virtual worlds Identity and virtual identity


Medical Model Social Model Theory

Disability Capabilities


Filling a gap in the current literature and giving a voice to participants is the aim of the study

Virtual Identity


Typographi Self Identity


Methodology Method

• • •

Phenomenological approach Second Life 3 participants with physical disabilities


• • •

Participant recruitment: group notices, survey Data collection: 3 Interviews, copy/paste chat Data analysis: descriptive narratives, synthesized descriptions, interpretative analysis


• •

Trustworthiness of the data and qualitative rigour Researcher’s role, ethical considerations, confidentiality 7


Research location where interviews took place in Second Life, 3740m up 8


Main Results

Narrative Descriptions of Experiences Participant 1

(Seidman, 2006)

Ability to create the world around her Ability to change identity and confirm gender identity Learn to cope, learn from others, not feel alone and to have fun

Participant 2

Learn to build, and how one can influence and inspire self and others Ability to cope with disability through the avatar and environment Learn from others, teach and help others by using real skills and knowledge

Participant 3

Ability to mask disability and change appearance; griefing and friendships Experience an independence that he cannot have in real life

Experience the power of community: skills, knowledge, support, helping others



Main Results

Synthesized Descriptions of Structure and Style Situated Descriptions

General Descriptions

Each Participant

Participant 1

(Giorgi, 1975)



Structure Style

Participant 2 Structure Style


Participant 3 Structure Style



Main Results

Interpretative Analysis

Interview 1: Understanding the context Type of disability: since birth or developing over time Level of education and comfort with technology for tools or play Level of activity: limited work, social interactions and outings in the real world

Interview 2: Exploring the present Self-discovery and shifts in identity or role in Second Life Friendships and community - interactions and learning

Interview 3: Meaning Second Life: freedom, liberation from physical constraints and body Disability: overcome with the right knowledge and tools 11

Discussion • • • •

Significance of the analysis Implications Researcher’s testimonial Better practices for research in virtual worlds


Conclusion Summary of findings

Self-avatar and avatar-avatar interactions lead to participants experiencing learning about themselves, their roles, and coping with disability. Participants expressed that Second Life is freedom and that with the right knowledge and tools disabilities can be overcome.

Limitations of the study Non-generalizable, and cannot objectively

verify participants’ experiences and if or how it affects them in the physical world

Recommendations for future research

1) long term debilitative illnesses and reduced mobility since birth 2) people with physical disabilities who left virtual worlds 3) design of accessibility features 4) transferability of learning between the real and virtual 5) learning and working at a distance in virtual worlds 6) shift of meaning of “disability� in virtual worlds for the larger community 13

Thank you Very special thanks to Virtual Ability and Pixel to Pixel Foundation and to Dr. Ann-Louise Davidson Dr. Saul Carliner and Dr. Miranda D’Amico

Questions and Comments?


References I Adrian, A. (2008). No one knows you are a dog: identity and reputation in virtual worlds. Computer Law Security Report, 24(4), 366-374. Retrieved from Aldrich, C. (2009).Virtual worlds, simulations, and games for education: a unifying view the swimming pool. Innovate, 5(5). Retrieved from Bartle, R. A. (2007). “Making Places.” In Borries, Friedrich von, Walz, Steffen P. & Böttger, Matthias (eds.), Space Time Play. Computer Games, Architecture and Urbanism: The Next Level. Basel: Birkhäuser Publishing. pp. 158-163. Bell, M. W. (2008). Toward a definition of "virtual worlds". Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 1(1), 1-5. Retrieved from Brey, P. (1999). The ethics of representation and action in virtual reality. Ethics and Information Technology, 1, 5-12. doi: 10.1023/A:1010069907461 Finlay, L. (2009). Debating Phenomenological Research Methods. Phenomenology & Practice, 3(1), 6-25. Retrieved from Giorgi, A. (1975). An application of phenomenological method in psychology. Duquesne Studies in Phenomenological Psychology,Volume II. (A. Giorgi, C. Fischer, E. Murray Eds.), Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press. pp.82-103. Groenewald, T. (2004). A phenomenological research design illustrated. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 3(1). Article 4. Retrieved on September 20th, 2012 from Jones, D. E. (2006). I, Avatar: Constructions of Self and Place in Second Life and the Technological Imagination. Gnovis 6, 1-32. Retrieved from Kromand, D. (2007, September). Avatar categorization. Situated Play, Proceedings of DiGRA 2007 Conference, Tokyo, Japan. 15

References II Lastowka, F. G. & Hunter, D. (2004). The laws of the virtual worlds. California Law Review, 92(1), 1-75. Neustaedter, C., & Fedorovskaya, E. (2009, May). Presenting identity in a virtual world through avatar appearances. GI’ 09 Proceedings of Graphics Interface 2009, Kelowna, BC. pp. 183-190. Seidman, I. (2006). Interviewing as Qualitative Research: A Guide for Researchers in Education and the Social Sciences. Third Edition. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Statistics Canada, (2009). Criminal victimization and health: A profile of victimization among persons with activity limitations or other health problems. Retrieved on September 25, 2012 from: 85f0033m/85f0033m2009021-eng.htm Virtual Ability, (2012). Disability resources. Retrieved on September 25, 2012 from: disability-resources WHO, (2011). World report on disability. Retrieved on September 25, 2012 from world_report/2011/en/index.html



Descriptive & Interpretative Triangulation Grid


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