A Framework for the Design and Evaluation of Virtual World Programs for Preadolescent Youth.
Abstract: Preadolescent youth make up the greatest proportion of virtual world
users when compared to any other age group. Virtual worlds are becoming an additional
environment--like school, home, and the mall--where preadolescent youth can learn, play,
and socialize with friends. However, much of the literature about designing and
understanding virtual worlds has been focused on the adult ... read moreperspective, overlooking the
unique developmental considerations of preadolescent youth. In addition, much of the
current examination of virtual worlds for youth is done from a marketing and commercial
perspective, highlighting ways to encourage monetary spending within them. The focus of
these examinations is often on stand-alone virtual worlds, not those situated within
programs at a school, an after-school setting, or a nonprofit organization. This
dissertation examines virtual world programs, using supporting data from a program called
ClubZora, to understand the unique considerations of virtual world programs for
preadolescents. ClubZora was an eleven-month pilot intervention aimed at bringing Zora,
virtual world software, into the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network. Over 550 youth and adult
Coordinators and mentors involved in this international afterschool organization enrolled
in the project. While interacting with the virtual world software, participants built a
virtual city, populating it with a variety of objects. Overall, participants logged in over
9,800 times, spent 430 hours in Zora, created more than 52,000 objects, and recorded over
35,000 lines of chat. Using the methodological approaches of design-based research and
program evaluation, this dissertation presents a framework comprised of seven
attributes--purpose, communication, participation, play, artifacts, policies, and
mentorship--for the design and evaluation of virtual world programs for preadolescent
youth. For each attribute, specific program design recommendations are provided and
implementation and outcome evaluation approaches are discussed. In addition, a case study
of the application of the framework to the ClubZora project is provided. Finally, the
limitations of the study and opportunities for future research are discussed. Virtual
worlds are best considered in the context of programs in order to support preadolescent
development, and the seven-attribute framework presented in this dissertation should be
used in order to properly design and evaluate such virtual world programs.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of Child Development.
Advisor: Marina Bers.
Committee: Francine Jacobs, Martha Pott, and Chris Dede.
Keywords: Education, Technology, and Developmental Psychology.read less