Jeremy Hunsinger and I have published our guest edited special issue of Learning, Media and Technology on learning and researching in virtual worlds. It’s now available (behind paywall, I’m afraid) here.

From our introduction:

The last 40 years has seen virtual reality progress from fiction to fact. Technologically, virtual environments have evolved from computer simulations (such as the CAVE) and immersive flight simulators into today’s media-rich social virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games. As the engineering has become more advanced, we have learned about ourselves from virtual worlds: evidence from across the social sciences suggests that they reflect elements of our everyday lives. As participants in these digital landscapes integrate into and operate within the worlds, they introduce their own subjectivities, expanding the virtual consciousnesses via their distributed subjectivities and social networks. Virtual worlds reflect their participants because they live and work with people who use and work in virtual worlds. As these environments continue to become more integrated into our everyday lives through education, public interaction, and commercial enterprise, it is important that we understand them as sites of engagement in everyday life. This includes understanding them as places for learning and research.

Virtual worlds have become a milieu for our labor and interests. They continue to evolve into specialist worlds and applications, and with it we have advanced our capacity to interact in mediated spaces. The technologies have brought new opportunities for researchers and learners to elaborate on existing practices: the rapid dissemination of widespread communication media over the last century boosted the variety of the methods, new and old, that practitioners have integrated into their classroom environments and their research designs. These transformations provide opportunities for distance teaching and learning, new study techniques, and research questions. Similarly, the limitations of these technologies require that practitioners adapt their practices to their benefits as well as their shortcomings.

Read the exceptional contributions from the authors here.

Contents of Learning, Media & Technology. Vol 35(2).
Learning and researching in virtual worlds
Jeremy Hunsinger; Aleks Krotoski
Immersed in Learning: supporting creative practice in virtual worlds
Denise Doyle
Design of learning spaces in 3D virtual worlds: an empirical investigation of Second Life
Shailey Minocha; Ahmad John Reeves
Social virtual worlds for technology-enhanced learning on an augmented learning platform
Li Jin; Zhigang Wen; Norman Gough
How to enable knowledge exchange in Second Life in design education?
Aukje Thomassen; Pete Rive
‘Elven Elder LVL59 LFP/RB. Please PM me’: immersion, collaborative tasks and problem-solving in massively multiplayer online games
Iro Voulgari; Vassilis Komis
Serious playground: using Second Life to engage high school students in urban planning
Kerry Mallan; Marcus Foth; Ruth Greenaway; Greg T. Young
The city at play: Second Life and the virtual urban planning studio
David Thomas; Justin B. Hollander
The potential for scientific collaboration in virtual ecosystems
Brian Magerko
On being bored and lost (in virtuality)
Kristen Moore; Ehren Helmut Pflugfelder