Educational visualizations in 3D collaborative virtual environments: a methodology

Mikhail Fominykh (Program for Learning with ICT, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway)
Ekaterina Prasolova‐Førland (Program for Learning with ICT, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway)

Interactive Technology and Smart Education

ISSN: 1741-5659

Publication date: 13 April 2012



Collaborative virtual environments (CVEs) have become increasingly popular in educational settings and the role of 3D content is becoming more and more important. Still, there are many challenges in this area, such as lack of empirical studies that provide design for educational activities in 3D CVEs and lack of norms of how to support and assess learning in with such technology. The purpose of this paper is to address these challenges by discussing the use of a 3D CVE in a university course for three years and suggesting practical guidelines based on the data from observations.


The main research question of the discussion in this paper is: How to facilitate learning by means of educational visualizations in 3D CVEs? The authors discuss data from several explorative case studies conducted within the Cooperation Technology course at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. In these case studies, the authors focused on a particular type of collaborative work with 3D content – educational visualizations. Groups of students were asked to build creative visualizations of a certain topic (e.g. a research project or a curriculum topic) and present the construction to the public. The data were collected from the direct observation of students' activities online, virtual artefacts, such as chat log and 3D constructions, and users' feedback in a form of group essays or blogs.


Following the analysis of these data, the authors introduce an original methodology for facilitating collaborative work with 3D content in an educational context and provide a characterization framework – Typology of 3D Content and Visualization Means, which can be used together with the methodology for analysing constructions in 3D CVEs. Constructionism and social constructivism were used as a theoretical grounding.

Research limitations/implications

Although the research method applied has certain limitations related to the settings of the conducted studies, such as observing the same course each year and impossibility of having a control group, this research still provides important insights, as it identifies overall tendencies in conducting educational activities in 3D CVEs.

Practical implications

The suggested methodology was developed for teachers, instructors, and technicians. It can be used as a guideline for organizing educational activities using collaborative work with 3D content.


Results of the authors' research indicate that the methodology suggested in the paper benefits structuring and planning of educational visualizations in 3D CVEs. It can be considered as a contribution to the field, as it helps to fill the gap in practical guidelines for the advanced use of 3D CVEs in educational settings.



Fominykh, M. and Prasolova‐Førland, E. (2012), "Educational visualizations in 3D collaborative virtual environments: a methodology", Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 33-45.

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