Educational and social transitions can have potentially negative impacts on performance and motivation (Braxton & McClendon, 2002; Dweck, 2000; Dooley, 2004; Chedzow & Burden, 2005, Osborn et al, 2006; Allen & van der Velden, 2007; Inkelas et al, 2007). This research will focus on supporting children and young adults in developing skills to manage the risks and threats encountered during such changes. This will be achieved through a mobile virtual environment called Inter-Life which will be developed from and beyond the popular Second Life (2007) virtual world. A significant feature of the environment will be the ability to interact with and between real and virtual communities enabled by the design of a distinctive communication architecture. Communication devices can be both real and virtual. Inter-Life will provide reflective and personal development tools to be used collaboratively within an avatar-based (customisable virtual persona) environment. Project research will identify and develop scenarios for up to four key life transitions in Inter-Life to demonstrate the flexibility and robustness of the educational and technical designs.
This proposal principally addresses the research themes of inclusivity and flexibility by investigating how: 1. Facets of educational and social transitional change such as risk, conflict and goal-setting can be handled in the virtual world. 2. Individual and group personas develop through transitions in the real and virtual worlds, and how the personalisation of avatars assists this process. 3. Interoperability can be successfully achieved between applications, documents and media within the Inter-Life environment. 4. The flexible use of mobile technologies can be employed with Inter-Life to enhance the skill development required to handle transitional experiences. 5. An application framework can be developed where real devices and virtual devices are represented, and can be used interchangeably by avatars and users. This will provide an intuitive and flexible data manipulation mechanism. 6. A novel Peer-to-Peer (P2P) overlay architecture can be developed that provides both fast data transfer and robustness where there is significant network fluctuation (churn). Research Tools The tools developed during the research will support a mixture of controlled and uncontrolled activities which will promote the creative exploration of feelings and experiences, as well as facilitating a structured approach to skill development. The two main tools which will be employed are: 1. A virtual space or "diary room" which will provide a "built in" mechanism for personal and facilitated reflection, for skills development, for data gathering and for Inter-Life evaluation. 2. An e-Portfolio to record and document participant development against transition outcomes.
Technical innovation Development of the tools will focus on PC and mobile phones and be designed to be largely independent of specific hardware, to minimise the impact of technological obsolescence. The ubiquity of the tools will be the central building block for learning outcomes. The project will develop: 1. Application software to permit the seamless transfer of activity between virtual devices by avatars and real devices by users. It will use Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to construct and maintain such sessions. Hence small physical devices need not just be a window to the virtual world; rather they can communicate with virtual devices and indeed they could represent virtual devices directly. 2. A novel (P2P) overlay that tunes to the needs of a wide variety of devices and connection speeds. The proposed 2 tier mechanism will adapt to the communication capabilities of the devices to minimise delay (latency) and allow high data transfer volumes and rates while balancing the complexities of the routing table exchange between network nodes