Doctoral thesis

Designing collaboration experiences for 3D virtual worlds


209 p.

Thèse de doctorat: Università della Svizzera italiana, 2012 (jury note: Magna cum laude)

English Working together benefits from colleagues, team members, or peers being at the same place. With collaborating teams being more and more dispersed in an increasingly networked world, people and organizations turn to the Internet as a medium to work and learn together. Collaborative virtual environments (CVE) in general attempt to provide settings in which the users or participants feel co-present, the sensation of ‘being there together’. Different types of CVE make for different intensities of co-presence. One type of CVE facilitating particularly immersive real-time activities is that of virtual worlds. Virtual worlds are three-dimensional CVE accessed with standard computers. People meet online in shared spaces, all represented through animated virtual characters, so-called avatars. Being in control of a highly customizable virtual embodiment, in a 3D environment configurable with virtually no limits, and the possibility of creating responsive environments and interactive tools, are some of the key distinct features of the medium. However, while virtual worlds have been around for years, it is still unclear what value virtual worlds can add to the existing modes of communication and collaboration, and which virtual world features should be made use of – and how – in order to maximize the benefit of using the medium for collaborative activities. This doctoral thesis addresses these issues by investigating the design of collaboration experiences for virtual worlds. The main goal of this dissertation is to improve collaboration practices in 3D virtual worlds, following the premise that making explicit use of the medium’s distinct features allows for innovative, valuable new forms of working and learning together. The work pursues a pattern-based approach in order to investigate and describe existing practices and to develop a structured framework for the goal-oriented design of novel collaboration patterns. It further empirically investigates the value of the visual character of the medium as well as different approaches for designing collaboration tasks and environments in it. With these two strands, the research addresses both the process and the product of the design of virtual world collaboration experiences. The thesis presents two controlled experiments and derived design guidelines, the conceptual development and an initial application of the Avatar-Based Collaboration (ABC) Framework, following the principles of design science research, and an illustrative exploration study. As one main contribution of the thesis, the ABC Framework is intended to help improve the process of designing for collaboration experiences and facilitate sharing and organizing of collaboration patterns. As the other main outcome of the thesis, the gathered empirical data indicate that making active use of the distinct features of virtual worlds can have a positive impact on collaboration in various ways. Applying a highly comprehensive approach, the work builds on an interdisciplinary theoretical background.
  • English
Information, communication and media sciences
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