A Framework for the Design and Evaluation of Virtual World Programs for Preadolescent Youth
Laura M. Beals, Tufts University, United States
Tufts University . Awarded
Preadolescent youth make up the greatest proportion of virtual world users when compared to any other age group. Virtual worlds are becoming an additional environment--like school, home, and the mall--where preadolescent youth can learn, play, and socialize with friends. However, much of the literature about designing and understanding virtual worlds has been focused on the adult perspective, overlooking the unique developmental considerations of preadolescent youth. In addition, much of the current examination of virtual worlds for youth is done from a marketing and commercial perspective, highlighting ways to encourage monetary spending within them. The focus of these examinations is often on stand-alone virtual worlds, not those situated within programs at a school, an after-school setting, or a nonprofit organization.
This dissertation examines virtual world programs, using supporting data from a program called ClubZora, to understand the unique considerations of virtual world programs for preadolescents. ClubZora was an eleven-month pilot intervention aimed at bringing Zora, virtual world software, into the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network. Over 550 youth and adult Coordinators and mentors involved in this international afterschool organization enrolled in the project. While interacting with the virtual world software, participants built a virtual city, populating it with a variety of objects. Overall, participants logged in over 9,800 times, spent 430 hours in Zora, created more than 52,000 objects, and recorded over 35,000 lines of chat.
Using the methodological approaches of design-based research and program evaluation, this dissertation presents a framework comprised of seven attributes—purpose, communication, participation, play, artifacts, policies, and mentorship—for the design and evaluation of virtual world programs for preadolescent youth. For each attribute, specific program design recommendations are provided and implementation and outcome evaluation approaches are discussed. In addition, a case study of the application of the framework to the ClubZora project is provided. Finally, the limitations of the study and opportunities for future research are discussed. Virtual worlds are best considered in the context of programs in order to support preadolescent development, and the seven-attribute framework presented in this dissertation should be used in order to properly design and evaluate such virtual world programs.
Beals, L.M. A Framework for the Design and Evaluation of Virtual World Programs for Preadolescent Youth. Ph.D. thesis, Tufts University.
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