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Information Resources Management Association
Advancing the Concepts & Practices of Information Resources Management in Modern Organizations

Collaborative Virtual Environments

Collaborative Virtual Environments
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Author(s): Thrasyvoulos Tsiatsos (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)and Andreas Konstantinidis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece)
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 6
Source title: Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Second Edition
Source Author(s)/Editor(s): Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A. (Information Resources Management Association, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch095


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Computer supported collaboration is one of the most promising innovations to improve teaching, learning, and collaborating with the help of modern information and communication technology (Lehtinen & Hakkarainen, 2001). Continuous enhancements in computer technology and the current widespread computer literacy among the public have resulted in a new generation of users (less so in developing countries) that expect increasingly more from their e-learning experiences. To keep up with such expectations, e-learning systems have gone through a radical change from the initial text-based environments to more stimulating multimedia systems (Monahan, McArdle & Bertolotto, in press). Generally a collaborative virtual environment (CVE) can be defined as a computer-based, distributed, virtual space or set of places. In such places, people can meet and interact with others, with agents (artificial intelligence), or with virtual objects. CVEs might vary in their representational richness from 3D graphical spaces, 2.5D and 2D environments, to text-based environments. Access to CVEs is by no means limited to desktop devices, but might well include mobile or wearable devices, public kiosks, and so forth (Churchill, Snowdon & Munro, 2001). CVEs are a subset of Virtual Environments (VEs) in that only VEs which support collaborative operations can be considered CVEs. The two primary uses of CVEs are for collaborative learning and/or collaborative work in either educational and/or professional environments. Computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is an umbrella term for a variety of approaches in education that involve the joint intellectual effort by students or students and teachers and that require the use of computer and communication technology. Researchers (e.g., Ahern, Peck & Laycock, 1992; Bruckman & Hudson, 2001; Singhal & Zyda, 1990) have proven the effectiveness of collaborative learning compared to other educational practices (e.g., competitive or personalized learning), praising this method’s way of aiding the acquisition of higher level cognitive abilities, problem solving abilities, ease in scientific expression and the development of communication, social and higher order thinking skills. The most important advantages of using CSCL are discussed in Bruckman et al. (2002). It is mentioned that through CSCL teacher/student interactions become more balanced and that there is also some evidence to suggest that gender differences are reduced in online environments. In addition, students exhibit higher levels of attention and appear more honest and candid toward those in a position of authority. Learning becomes more student-oriented, thus increasing the likelihood that students will absorb and remember what they learn. On the other hand, computer supported collaborative work (CSCW) is a generic term, which combines the understanding of the way people work in groups with the enabling technologies of computer networking, and associated hardware, software, services and techniques (Wilson, 1991). Although some authors consider CSCW and groupware as synonyms, others argue that that while groupware refers to real computer- based systems, CSCW focuses on the study of tools and techniques of groupware as well as their psychological, social, and organizational effects. For example, researchers Hiltz and Turoff (1993) conclude that the social connectivity of users who adopt a computer-mediated communication system increases notably. They also found a strong tendency toward more equal participation, and that more opinions tended to be asked for and offered. The purpose of this chapter is to present a concise yet complete overview of collaborative virtual environments. In the following sections we will discuss the technological evolution of CVEs, their basic characteristics and architectures, and the tools and services integrated within them. Finally, there will be a brief mention of the design challenges facing CVE designers and of future trends with which CVE functionality will be extended.

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