The use of three-dimensional Collaborative Virtual Environments (3D CVEs) for educational purposes has been constantly increasing during the recent years. One of the reasons is the potential of such environments and the possibility they offer for supporting collaborative work with various types of content. Another important reason is an opportunity for participants to interact in a way that conveys a sense of presence lacking in other media. These opportunities result in a number of benefits for establishing and supporting learning communities, simulating various contexts and conducting educational activities. Nevertheless, this area is in the early stage of development and needs both theoretical concepts and empirical results.
The research work presented in the thesis has three main objectives. The first is to provide recommendations and guidelines for supporting collaborative work on 3D educational content. The second is to provide frameworks for designing tools and environments in 3D CVEs to benefit educational activities. The third is to provide frameworks for technological and instructional support of learning communities in 3D CVEs.
Within this research work, four empirical studies were conducted. The data were extracted from a number of sources, including direct observation, digital artefacts created by the participants and recorded interaction, reflection and feedback. Analysed data were applied to each next empirical study and, in addition, used for developing theoretical frameworks.
The research work presented in the thesis resulted in six main contributions. Two of them are related to the use of collaborative work on 3D content for learning: C1 – Typology of 3D Content and Visualization Means; and C2 – a methodology for learning with educational visualizations in 3D CVEs. Other two contributions are related to the design of tools and environments for supporting educational activities in 3D CVEs: C3 – a framework for designing tools in 3D CVEs called Creative Virtual Workshop; and C4 – guidelines for designing environments based on a virtual campus and virtual city metaphors. The two final contributions are related to the support of learning communities in 3D CVEs: C5 – a framework called Virtual Research Arena for creating awareness about educational and research activities, promoting cross-fertilization between different environments, and engaging the general public; and C6 – a framework called ‘Universcity’ for integrating the cultural, social, educational, and entertainment aspects of a city community life in a single 3D CVE.
The findings presented in the thesis can be applied by developers for creating educational 3D CVEs and by educators for conducting educational activities in 3D CVEs. All the findings can also be used for further research.