|Abstract||Continuing advances and reduced costs in computational power, graphics and network bandwidth let 3D immersive multi‐user Virtual Worlds (VWs) become increasingly accessible while offering an improved and engaging quality of experience.
Excited at the prospects of engaging their Net Generation, students and educators worldwide are attempting to exploit the affordances of three‐dimensional (3D) VWs. Environments such as Second Life (SL) are increasingly used in education, often for their flexibility in facilitating student‐directed, self‐paced learning and their communication features.
Research on the educational value of VWs has revealed their potential as learning platforms. However, further studies are always needed in order to assess their effectiveness, satisfactorily and social engagement, not only in the general didactic use of the environment, but also for each specific learning subjects, activities and modality.
A major question in using VWs in education is finding appropriate value‐added educational applications.
The main challenge is to determine learning approaches in which learning in a VW presents added value with respect to traditional education, and to effectively utilize the third dimension to avoid using the environment simply as a communication platform.
In addition, the educational VW activities become more and more sophisticated, starting from the early ones based only on information displaying and teaching resources to simulated laboratory and scenarios. The more complex the learning activities are, the more the challenge of guiding students during their learning trajectories increases and there is the need of providing them with appropriate support and guidance.
The main contributions of this thesis are summarized as follows: (i) we propose an appropriate value‐added educational application that supports individual learning activities effectively exploiting the third dimension. In particular, we adopt a VW to support the learning of engineering practices based on technical drawing. The proposed system called VirtualHOP trains the students in the way of learning‐by‐doing methodology to build the required 3D objects; (ii) we enhance an helping system with the avatar appearance and AI for helping the exploration of environments and fruition of distance didactic activities in SL; (iii) we empirically evaluate the didactic value and the user perceptions concerning both the learning setting and the avatar‐based virtual assistant. The results demonstrate the usefulness of both the didactic experiences offered in SL and a positive attitude of the learners in terms of enjoyment and ease‐of‐use. [edited by author]||en_US