The role of the “Inter-Life” virtual world as a creative technology to support student transition into higher education
The shape of Higher Education (HE) in the UK and internationally is changing, with wider access policies leading to greater diversity and heterogeneity in contemporary student populations world-wide. Students in the 21st Century are often described as “fragmented”; meaning they are frequently working whilst participating in a full time Degree programme. Consequently, those in the HE setting are required to become “future ready” which increasingly involves the seamless integration of new digital technologies into undergraduate programmes of teaching and learning. The present study evaluated the effectiveness of the “Inter-Life” three-dimensional virtual world as a suitable Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) tool to support the initial stages of transition from school into university. Our results demonstrate that Inter-Life is “fit for purpose” in terms of the robustness of both the educational and technical design features. We have shown that Inter-Life provides a safe space that supports induction mediated by active learning tasks using learner-generated, multi-modal transition tools. In addition, through the provision of private spaces, Inter-Life also supports and fosters the development of critical reflective thinking skills. However, in keeping with the current literature in the field, some of the students expressed a wish for more training in the functional and social skills required to navigate and experience the Inter-Life virtual world more effectively. Such findings resonate with the current debate in the field which challenges the notion of “digital natives”, but the present study has also provided some new evidence to support the role of virtual worlds for the development of a suitable community to support students undergoing transition to university.