Affordances of 3D virtual environments for English language learning: An ecological psychological analysis

Date of Completion

January 2006


The goal of this dissertation is to systematically explore teaching and learning English as a foreign language in a 3D game-like multi-user virtual learning environment (MUVE), Quest Atlantis (QA). This dissertation project is comprised of two studies, offering distinct theoretical perspectives and analytic data techniques for measuring and describing the phenomenon of English language learning in the virtual world. These studies, however, share the same meta-theoretical framework of learning by doing (Dewey, 1910), in that thinking and the use of language are in service to action, not just about action. Study 1---Attitude and Self-Efficacy Change---used quasi-experimental design and quantitative analytic tools to measure the differences of Controls and a QA group's affective factors and English achievement test during a one academic year's intervention, during which QA participants explored English-only QA worlds, completed content driven quests, and chatted with native English speakers. The findings, that the experimental group reported a more positive attitude and higher self-efficacy than the control group toward various aspects of language learning and use, are significantly important for both educational research and classroom practice. Failure to find differences on standardized post performance tests of English writing raises issues concerning the trade-offs between test preparation and engaging activities that may sustain learning. ^ Study 2---A Cross-Cultural Interaction---took a finer grain analysis approach to look at the chat logs and other QA-generated artifacts and examines how cross-cultural interaction in a virtual space, specifically collaboration between NES' and NNES' in QA, provided resources for English language acquisition. Qualitative tools including the CHILDES CLAN program, Computer-Mediated Discourse Analysis and ethnography were used to examine the smallest unit of analysis, perception and action. Iterative multi-layered analyses revealed the affordances of QA at different levels. Co-questing was particularly interpretable based on the assumptions and underlying design intentions of ecological psychology and sociocultural cognition. Co-questing afforded a higher level of meaning making enacted in collaboration through the chat channel. In other words, this higher level of Negotiation for Meaning appeared to be the result of goal directed behavior within the social and cultural boundaries of the QA situation. ^