• Cypris Village: Language Learning in Virtual Worlds

      Churchill, Eton, 1964-; Beglar, David; Swenson, Tamara; Zheng, Dongping (Temple University. Libraries, 2017)
      ABSTRACT Online virtual worlds provide a unique environment for language instruction and learning, yet there are few longitudinal studies that chronicle the workings of existing communities on avatar-based graphical platforms. This study focuses on Cypris Chat, a nonprofit English learning and teaching group within Linden Lab’s Second Life. In this study, I discuss the structure of this community, the factors behind this group’s development from five members in 2008 to 882 in 2016, and the reasons for its appeal as a virtual world language learning group. I also examine the ways in which teaching and learning take place there. Although the study is primarily descriptive and ethnographic, it also makes use of three theoretical frameworks to analyze different aspects of the group. The digital habitats framework of Wenger, White, and Smith (2009) was used to judge Cypris’ efficacy as a working online community. Lim’s (2009) Six Learnings framework was utilized to explore how adequately the group made use of affordances specific to learning opportunities in virtual worlds. Finally, Holzman’s (2010) interpretation of sociocultural learning theory was used to analyze recorded discourse of formal and informal language learning activities. Data were collected through interviews of 21 Cypris staff and members; a majority of participants were adults of Japanese nationality, but members from Europe and the Middle East also participated. Participant observation and my personal experiences with Cypris’ history were also utilized, both to inform the development of interview questions and to determine the long-lasting appeal of the group; observations drew on my eight years experience as resident researcher and volunteer tutor at Cypris. Finally, disparate learning activities, both formal lessons and informal impromptu interactions during extracurricular conversations and games, were recorded, and select incidents were analyzed through discourse analysis. Results suggest that members’ perception of the importance of both formal activities and informal socializing outside of class was crucial to the continued existence of the group. Additionally, they also suggest that the group’s long-lasting appeal is related to the adventurous spirit of key members identified as Internet early adopters. As for teaching and learning within the community, observations indicated that tutors and learners alike took advantage of both traditional instructional methods and the unique affordances of the Second Life environment, both within and outside formal instruction at Cypris. Conclusions suggest that both Wenger et al.’s (2009) digital habitats and Lim’s (2009) Six Learnings frameworks are robust measures of online learning communities, and Holzman’s (2010) interpretation of sociocultural learning theory was shown to be applicable to both exploration of learning through play and informal interactions as well as more structured lessons in online virtual world learning groups like Cypris. This study contributes to the body of research on models of online language education, multimodal learning in virtual worlds, and the potentially revolutionary possibilities and challenges inherent in language learning communities such as Cypris.