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Multi-User Virtual Reality Technology as a Laboratory for Learning about Social Research: Issues and Prospects

6. Multi-user VR Research Methods Teaching Session

The research methods teaching sessions included students from one post-graduate research method course and one post-graduate course on information technology for social scientists. Ten students, four from one group and six from the other, took part in the exercise. This consisted of two tasks which involved interviewing users of the multi-user VR system Activeworlds (for images of these worlds, see Schroeder, 1997: 5, fig.2 available online at <>). For the first interview, students were asked to find out 'as much as you can about the social characteristics of the user "behind" the avatar through casual conversation'. For the second interview, students were asked to carry out a structured interview about the background of the user and about their use of Activeworlds and computing generally (5 questions each).
The sessions lasted approximately two hours. Each session included a brief introduction to the use of the system as well as the variable amount of time it took for students to write down the material they gathered. After both interviews were completed, students were asked to assess the usefulness of the teaching session. To do this, they filled out a questionnaire with questions about the difficulty of the interviews, about access, and about the advantages and disadvantages of studying virtual people as opposed to real ones.

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