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Virtual worlds

4. Creating new learning environments (A1, A2)

While at Warwick University, my contracts to work on the ANNIE projects was immediately followed by a third contract to work on the ARCHES project, part of the JISC X4L programme. Many of the digital artefacts in the repository were virtual 3D objects created by a project called Theatron. I conducted an ancillary evaluation of the use of these objects in classroom teaching and presented this work at the 2004 DIVERSE conference (Childs, 2004). At the 2006 DIVERSE conference, I saw several presentations that compared the use of videoconferencing to virtual worlds and this encouraged me to change the focus of my PhD thesis to do the same.

Developing case studies was difficult, as I was not teaching at the time so could not introduce it into my own lessons, and those people I knew who were teaching either were not interested in using virtual worlds, or did not want to share the opportunity to explore them with another researcher. The year of no research was not wasted, however, as this enabled me to build up a model of interaction within virtual worlds (Childs, 2010a) which has since been used by several other researchers in the field for structuring their research.

However in 2007 I was a co-applicant with a team at King’s College London on a bid to the Eduserv Foundation. This was the same group with which I had worked on the ARCHES project at Warwick. The project aimed to extend the virtual models in the Theatron project to a virtual world. My job was both to manage the project and to evaluate the learner experiences of using the resources, which also fulfilled the criteria for my PhD research. One of these case studies was at Coventry and the experiences of this were presented at the first ReLIVE (Researching Learning in Virtual Environments) conference in 2008 (Chafer and Childs, 2008). In addition, a colleague at Warwick was also willing to include me in her teaching, and this became the largest of the case studies (Childs, 2009; Childs and Kuksa, 2009).

5. Reaching more learners and academics, nationally and internationally (V1, V2)

These resources were also available for the educational community as a whole, and many people visited the theatres, and some, for example Katherine Rowe from Bryn Mawr, used them extensively in their teaching (Childs and Rowe, 2009).

My publications in the field increased as the PhD neared completion, in part because the interest in virtual worlds as a platform for learning was reaching a maximum. There were several aspects of my work that could be presented in different contexts, one being the resistance shown by many students to participation in virtual worlds (Childs and Peachey, 2010), how virtual worlds altered the concept of what constitutes theatre (Childs and Pierpoint, 2010), more detailed descriptions of the case studies (Kuksa and Childs, 2010; Childs, Schnieders and Williams, 2012) as well as the basic premise of the thesis, which is that presence and embodiment are essential prerequisites for effective learning in virtual worlds (Childs, 2010b).

During this period too, the DIVERSE community began to become increasingly interested in virtual worlds, and due to my specialism through my PhD research and the popularity of the Theatron theatres, I was asked to lecture (virtually) at the University of Southern Maine and invited to give a public lecture (physically) at Lillehammer University in Norway. The frequency with which organisations asked for me to attend their events increased once my PhD was completed (in 2010). These included the Didaktikk og Teknologi conference in Norway (Childs and Knudsen, 2011) and the opening keynote at SOLSTICE in 2011 (Childs, 2011). UK invitations included Jisc, ELESIG and Regional Support Centre events as well as presenting at a Northampton University awayday.

Outside of the PhD I found that my specialism in the theories around presence was providing an underlying set of theoretical perspectives that could inform colleagues’ work. This applied both for colleagues at Coventry in the work in disciplines such as disaster management (Childs and Chen, 2011) and urban geography (Steventon, Grove and Childs, 2008) and for local businesses developing virtual worlds, such as in the Theatrebase project in which a Coventry-based company built a virtual model of Birmingham Hippodrome for the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

6. Academic engagement and influence (K3, K5)

My work in virtual worlds continued after the end of the PhD. I was asked to join the committee of two conferences with links to virtual worlds, the VS-Games conference (jointly run by the Serious Games Institute at Coventry, with which I had links) and the second and last ReLIVE conference in 2011 organised by the Open University at which I also presented (Childs, Riis and Nadolny, 2011). During this period I also co-edited two books in the field of virtual worlds (Peachey and Childs, 2011; Childs and Peachey, 2013a) and wrote a chapter for a third introducing many of the principles of virtual worlds education to a general audience (Childs, 2010c). A new conference “Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds”, organised by Inter-disciplinary.net also acted as a new forum for academic output for work in this field. I presented at the first three of these, (Peachey and Childs, 2012; Childs, 2012a; Childs and Peachey, 2013b, Childs and Peachey 2013c) and edited a collection of chapters based on the first conference (Childs and Withnail, 2013), writing introductions and conclusions to the book (Childs, 2013a; Childs, 2013b). I also presented at the 12th DIVERSE conference during this period, basing my presentation on the performance and seminar at the Didaktikk og Teknologi the year before (Childs and Knudsen, 2012).

This work and series of presentations generated further work; a project with Westchester University, Pennsylvania ran from 2011 to 12 and to present the findings of this I was invited to Beijing in 2012 (Nadolny and Childs, 2012). I was invited to contribute to a book on online ethics, specifically how experience of virtual worlds leads to different ethical behaviours (Ryan and Childs, 2011). This focus on the specific ethical behaviours in virtual worlds also led to invited panels led by John Traxler at ALT-C in Nottingham and Educa in Berlin. For three years I was a visiting lecturer at Newman University College, conducting workshops in Second Life on digital identity for media studies undergraduates; work which I presented in an HEA seminar at Wolverhampton University (via Second Life as I was in Prague at a conference at the time), and as a conference presentation (Childs and Sanders, 2011). I was also asked to be one of the evaluators of a project at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, a summer school in which children learnt about palaeontology and ecology in Tanzania through Second Life (Childs, 2012b). I was one of the two external academics on The Shift project at Ravensbourne College, which used an embodied virtual agent to educate NEETs (young people not in education employment or training). This research was presented in Canada in 2013 (Childs et al, 2013). I reviewed bids to research digital identity on behalf of Leverhulme and the ESRC. I also documented a performance/installation at an art gallery in Coventry which took place both in the physical space and a virtual one. Again my role in these was to bring the theoretical perspective of my PhD work to underpin colleagues work in virtual worlds. My most recent presentation in this field was as an invited speaker to the Mobilearn conference in Singapore in 2013 (Childs, 2013c).

The most significant publication during this period was my contribution to the book Making Sense of Space (Kuksa and Childs, 2014). This book enabled me to bring together many ideas about how our experience of place influences learning, particularly places which rely significantly on the meaning we attribute to them for our experience of them. I am currently planning a further book on the experience of performance and embodiment in virtual worlds.


Chafer, J. and Childs, M. (2008) The impact of the characteristics of a virtual environment on performance: concepts, constraints and complications, Proceedings of the ReLIVE 08 conference, 20th and 21st November, 2008, Open University , 94 – 105

Childs, M. (2004) Using Virtual Reality models to teach Theatre Studies, 4th Diverse International Conference on Video and Videoconferencing in Education, 28-30 June, InHolland University, Diemen, Netherlands 2004

Childs, M. (2009) The role of presence in learning in telematic environments, in M. Childs, L. Schnieders, P. van Parreeren and J. Oomen (eds), DIVERSE Conference Proceedings 2007 & 2008, Haarlem; InHolland University, 73 -85

Childs, M. (2010a) A conceptual framework for mediated environments, Educational Research, 52, 2, June 2010, 197–213

Childs, M. (2010b) “Becoming virtual: presence and embodiment as prerequisites to learning in virtual worlds”, Association for Learning Technology Conference “Into something rich and strange” – making sense of the sea-change, Nottingham, UK, 7-9, September 2010

Childs, M. (2010c) Analysis and description of education employing technological platforms: terminology, features and models, in L. Clouder and A. Bromage (eds) Interprofessional E-Learning and Collaborative Work: Practices and Technologies, IGI Global,

Childs, M. (2011) Enhancing Learning, Teaching and Student Success in Virtual Worlds: Why Rosa keeps dancing, Opening Keynote at SOLSTICE: Effective Practices: Enhancing Learning, Teaching and Student Success conference, Edge Hill University, 8th – 9th June 2011

Childs, M. (2012a) “Design for Dasein, personalising avatars for more effective learning”, Second Global Conference on Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, Interdisciplinary.Net, Prague, Czech Republic, 12th – 14th March, 2012

Childs, M. (2012b) “Three Virtual World activities from the I Dig Tanzania Programme”. Invited Speaker to the Research and Innovation in Distance Education and Elearning Conference, 19th October, 2012, University of London

Childs, M. (2013a) Keeping it Real? Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, in M. Childs and G. Withnail (eds.), Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, UK Oxford: Interdisplinary.Net

Childs, M. (2013b) The Future of Virtual Worlds, in M. Childs and G. Withnail (eds.), Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, UK Oxford: Interdisplinary.Net

Childs, M. (2013c) “Perceptual and Psychological Immersion: Making Sense of Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality”, Mobilearn Asia 2013, Suntec Singapore Convention Centre 2-3 October 2013

Childs, M. and Chen, Y-F. (2011) Roleplaying Disaster Management in Second Life, 11th International DIVERSE Conference, Dublin City University, 28th – 30th June, 2011

Childs, M. and Knudsen, A.C.S. (2011) “Telepresence”, Invited Speaker at Didaktikk og Teknologi, Lillehammer, Norway, 7th to 8th February, 2011

Childs, M. and Knudsen, A. (2012) “Singing the Body Electric: The Role of Embodiment and Identity in Creating and Performing Telepresence” Twelfth International DIVERSE Conference, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, 3rd to 6th July, 2012

Childs, M. and Kuksa, I. (2009) “Why are we in the floor?” Learning about theatre design in Second LifeTM, Proceedings of the Edulearn 09 International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies, Barcelona, Spain, 6th to 8th July 2009, 1134 – 1145, Spain: Valencia, IATED

Childs, M. and Peachey, A.L. (2010) Fur and Loathing in Second Life: Students’ concerns and resistance to learning in virtual worlds, Plymouth Elearning Conference: Learning Without Limits, 8 – 9 April, 2010

Childs, M. and Peachey, A. (2013a) Understanding Learning in Virtual Worlds, UK: London, Springer

Childs, M. and Peachey, A. (2013b) “Digging Tanzania in Second Life” Third Global Conference on Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds , 7th to 9th March 2013
Lisbon, Portugal

Childs, M. and Peachey, A. (2013c) Love it or hate it: Students’ responses to the experience of virtual worlds in M. Childs and G. Withnail (eds.), Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, UK Oxford: Interdisplinary.Net

Childs, M., Peachey, A., Jackson, E. and Hall, P. (2013) Grandfathers, bots and gloop; Learner choices for designs of companion agents, EDMEDIA conference, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 24th to 28th June, 2013

Childs, M. and Pierpoint, S. (2010) “Virtual Bodies on a Virtual Stage: Findings ways to communicate concepts of virtual performance”, 10th DIVERSE Conference, July 6-8, 2010, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME, USA

Childs, M., Riis, M. and Nadolny, L. (2011) “Poetry in the raw”; the use of avatar names in the development of identity in virtual worlds, Researching Learning in Immersive Virtual Environments 2011, Open University, 21st to 22nd September, 2011

Childs, M. and Rowe, K. (2009) Virtual Theater History: Teaching with Theatron, 125th Modern Languages Association Convention, Philadelphia, Monday, 28 December 2009

Childs, M. and Sanders, R. (2011) “Thinking outside the box: exploring identity in an undergraduate programme” Innovative Research in Virtual Worlds, 2011 Conference, Coventry University, 3rd – 4th November 2011

Childs, M., Schnieders, H.L. and Williams, G. (2012) “This above all: to thine own self be true”: Ethical considerations and risks in conducting learning and teaching activities in immersive virtual worlds, Interactive Learning Environments, 20 (3) pp. 253-269

Childs, M. and Withnail, G. (eds.) (2013) Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, UK, Oxford: Interdisplinary.Net

Kuksa, I. and Childs, M. (2010) “But a walking shadow”: designing, performing and learning on the virtual stage, Learning, Media and Technology, 35 (3), pp. 275-291

Kuksa, I. and Childs, M. (2014) Making Sense of Space: The Design and Experience of Virtual Spaces as a Tool for Communication , Chandos, UK:Oxford

Nadolny, L. & Childs, M. (2012) STEM+ in 3D Virtual Worlds. HP Catalyst Summit, Hewlett Packard. Beijing, China. April, 2012.

Peachey, A. and Childs, M. (eds.) (2011) Reinventing Ourselves: Contemporary Concepts of Identity in Virtual Worlds, UK: London, Springer.

Peachey, A. and Childs, M. (2012) “The Undiscovered Country: Brave New Worlds Beyond Second Life”, Second Global Conference on Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, Interdisciplinary.Net, Prague, Czech Republic, 12th – 14th March 2012

Ryan, M. and Childs, M. (2011) Chapter 13: Synthetic Societies or Pseudo Realities? Debating the Ethical Dilemmas of Second Life in D. Weir and N. Sultan (eds) From Critique to Action: The practical ethics of the organizational world, UK: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 254 – 272

Steventon, G., Grove, P. and Childs, M. (2008) Shared spaces and ‘safe’ urban jungles:  juggling pedagogical goals and student needs and expectations in a Second Life virtual community, Proceedings of the ASCILITE Conference 2008, Melbourne, Deakin University, 1st to 3rd December