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The need to stimulate and engage students is of paramount importance within any learning scenario. Despite this, recent developments in online learning have failed to take this requirement into account. As a result e-learning courses which utilise traditional online learning management systems have a higher dropout rate than their classroom based counterparts. The attrition rate is attributed to boredom with the interfaces used to deliver learning material and also to the lack of opportunities to interact socially with others. Furthermore, being in a virtual environment imposes a whole new set of challenges onto users due to the distinct lack of stimuli provided, compared to the real world. Technological advances now permit the development of multi-user, networked, virtual reality environments which can address these issues. Such environments provide an immersive desktop 3D interface which is used to deliver learning material. Real-time communication and collaboration tools permit interaction between students and tutors. This chapter describes one such environment called CLEV-R (Collaborative Learning Environments with Virtual Reality) which fosters collaboration and social interaction via specialised tools. Although there are systems which offer similar functionality to CLEV-R, these have not been adequately evaluated. This chapter describes two studies which were conducted using the CLEV-R interface. The first study assesses the usability of this paradigm for e-learning while the second determines which factors influence performance in the Virtual Reality environment in order to ensure that some students are not unfairly advantaged by this means of e-learning. The studies have shown that several factors, such as age and experience in Virtual Reality games influence a user’s success in Virtual Reality environments. Furthermore, the study shows that students enjoy and benefit from the opportunity to interact with each other.
McArdle, G., Schoen-Phelan, B. & Bertolotto, M. (2010). Assessing the Application of 3D Collaborative Interfaces within an Immersive Virtual University. Virtual Immersive and 3D Learning Spaces: Emerging Technologies and Trends: Emerging Technologies and Trends, vol.1. doi:10.4018/978-1-61692-825-4.ch001