Date: 04 Jan 2010

Virtual Environments: Issues and Opportunities for Researching Inclusive Educational Practices

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Abstract

This chapter argues that virtual environments offer new research areas for those concerned with inclusive education. Further, it proposes that they also present opportunities for developing increasingly inclusive research processes. This chapter considers how researchers might approach researching some of these affordances. It discusses the relationship between specific features of inclusive pedagogy, derived from an international systematic literature review, and the affordances of different forms of virtual characters and environments. Examples are drawn from research in Second LifeTM (SL), virtual tutors and augmented reality. In doing this, the chapter challenges a simplistic notion of isolated physical and virtual worlds and, in the context of inclusion, between the practice of research and the research topic itself. There are a growing number of virtual worlds in which identified educational activities are taking place, or whose activities are being noted for their educational merit. These encompasses non-themed worlds such as SL and Active Worlds, game based worlds such as World of Warcraft and Runescape, and even Club Penguin, a themed virtual where younger players interact through a variety of Penguin themed environments and activities. It has been argued that these spaces, outside traditional education, are able to offer pedagogical insights (Twining 2009) i.e. that these global virtual communities have been identified as being useful as creative educational environments (Delwiche 2006; Sheehy 2009). This chapter will explore how researchers might use these spaces to investigative and create inclusive educational experiences for learners. In order to do this the chapter considers three interrelated issues: What is inclusive education?; How might inclusive education influence virtual world research? And, what might inclusive education look like in virtual worlds?