Resistance to virtual worlds and institutional ethics

Yesterday I presented our Avalon project at the University of HULL in the UK where my audience reacted quite strongly to the idea of using virtual worlds for education. Here are some of their concerns:

What happens if a student I have taken into the virtual world is abused? bullied? virtually raped or commits murder in the real world because influenced by the game like culture or has a bad experience in the virtual world (to which I have introduced him/her)?

What if a student commits suicide becuase of some incident of which I am not aware has taken place in the virtual world? How can I control what studens use the world for (once I have introduced them)?

Who is legally responsible for what happens to students who have used a virtual world as part of a university course?

What about issues such as desensitivisation? How do we deal with students who become exposed to virtual world behaviour they are no longer able to distinguish what is appropriate in the real world?

What if the students become so immersed in the world they are unable to complete their university course requirements?

Another issue was the quality of the language/cultural information students accessed in the virtual world. I did explain that all learner activities under the project were created by teachers and monitored by them but here seems to be a general concern about the inappropriateness of much of what goes on in virtual worlds for education.

Many of these concerns took my quite by surprise and I did my best to answer questions based on our Avalon experience. However, I do not feel that was enough.

Last but not least (and this is more of a research question), I have noticed a pattern of higher resistance to virtual worlds for education in gamers. I think we could understand more about resistance if we could understand why this is so.

Any serious feedback to this discussion would be greatly appreciated.



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Hot off the press research from downunder -

Perceptions of Educators Regarding the MUVE

Thank you for this, Belma. It looks like an interesting piece of reserch. I would really like to interview the author(s). Do you know how I can trace them?



Hi Luisa,


I don't know the author personally but you may wish to contact the university where she completed her research

Massey University

Hi All,


When I was at Hull I came into contact with Dr. Denise Carter (a social anthropologist) who has just finished work on a LLP Key Activity 3 project called Simsafety.


The project looks at ways of increasing user awareness of internet safety issues via training in virtual wolrds.


I think it is a useful project for us to be aware of and can provides us with lots of food for thought (and perhaps future collaboration!!).



ROFL Graham.  I want a voodoo doll computer!  


I wish I had been in that room Luisa.   Wow!  Talk about resistance to change.


"What happens if a student gets run over by a bus on the way to a university I recommended?"


I wouldn't advocate SL for kids, but at a certain age we take responsibility for our own actions, and students should not be "warned off" virtual worlds, or the net in general.  My mother was warned off books, as they would make her a poor prospect for marriage.


As Graham points out, with a switch and a keyboard, you have far more control of what happens to you in SL than you do in RL.   


Regarding gamers - they can be awful snobs, and very territorial about their preferred game or platform.  I have actually met some resistance to using SL as a learning tool, because the users are already having so much fun on SL, they think it would spoil it.  My response is, there's nothing wrong with enjoying yourself whilst you're learning, but sometimes you have to put in a bit of hard work too.

I'm a bit late to this discussion (April-June was a really busy time for me this year). However, the questions raised at Luisa's sessions were something that kept particularly Bryan Carter very busy when we were setting up Kamimo Island. Bryan had been using SL at the University of Central Missouri for some time, but when this Norwegian money turned up to set up an SL environment with UCM's name associated with it, it really put the cat among the pigeons. It was one of the main factors taking up his time on the project during spring 2007.


What had happened was that a student at UCM had come across her boyfriend 'cheating' on her in SL (when he was on one of Bryan's other courses) and her mother (!) had contacted the university principal, threatening to sue them for corrupting the morals of their students (all of whom are legal adults, btw). It took Bryan about three months to get their Legal Department to frame a contract to cover UCM's participation in Kamimo which made very clear that Kamimo was just an environment - what people did there was covered by the normal laws of the land.


Those of us in Scandinavia (Sweden and Norway) were more or less passive bystanders to this process - there's no concept here that even schools stand in loco parentis, let alone universities.


I'm trying to get Bryan to include a passage about this in a book chapter we're writing together at the moment. If I succeed, I'll post a link in due course (we don't have to get it ready until November, so it'll probably be next year, rather than this year).

Thanks David for this. It is an amazing story!!!
This conversation has been very helpful and resourceful for me as I'll be giving a workshop "Virtual worlds and other web-based resources in language teaching" to a group of language teachers, who work in secondary and high schools in Finland. The aim of the workshop is to introduce the teachers to SL and other new ICT-tools that can be used in language teaching. This group of teachers is very much interested in SL. Therefore the issues of safety will be in the air. As far as I know teens over 13 years old can use Second Life with the restrictions pointed in LindanLab's SL wiki:

"Second Life is generally for adults 18 years and older; however, if you are 13 years of age or older you can use Second Life with some restrictions. If you're:

  • 16-17 years old you can access regions and search results that have a General maturity rating.
  • 13-15 years old, you can access Second Life through an affiliated organization and will be restricted to the private estate of that organization. Only avatars approved by that organization will be able to enter these estates. You can't use Second Life search or purchase items from the Marketplace" (http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Linden_Lab_Official:Teens_in_Second...)

So it's possible to provide teens' safety restricting their access to an education establishment's estate. Are they safer in SL than students of over 16 years old then?

Dear Julia, I have no personal experience of this, but I would presume that the greater restrictions give you greater security. Some one who has been working with teenagers in what was the old "teen grid" (now closed down" is Graham Stanley from our project. He is a member of our ning community and might have a bit more to say.


Thank you, Luisa, for this information. I'm a new-comer and I haven't yet got a chance to get acquainted with the other members.


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