My research focuses on inequality experienced by individuals with disabilities within education. My dissertation research is titled “Second Life Skills: Using a virtually augmented socials skills training (VASST) program to teach individuals with autism”. My hope is for my VASST program to allow individuals with autism to make friends, maintain their friendships, learn problem solving skills, and learn coping/empathy skills. To accomplish my goal, I have learned to use the Linden Scripting Language of Second Life (SL), I have learned to build with primitive objects in SL, and I have created an intervention in SL to teach social skills to individuals.
I chose Second Life because it was pre-built, free to use, and publicly available. This allowed me to save time when it came to building a virtual environment– a work-intensive undertaking. Moreover, while much of the social skills intervention research involving virtual environments uses proprietary software, Second Life is open to the public and is free to use. In addition, over 200 universities have land and/or campuses in Second Life. Another virtual environment that I am using is Open Simulator (OS). Open Simulator is an open source virtual environment that can be used as a standalone environment or as a multi-user virtual environment. It is based off of Second Life and has a large user base.
Running a research study using new methods is quite a daunting task. It isn’t the easiest way to get a Ph.D., but it is quite rewarding to know that you are doing something that no one else has done before, that explores hypotheses that you alone have generated, and that has the potential to help thousands of individuals who need it. Running a study using untested methods has its drawbacks. Generally, you must first do a proof of concept with a small group of individuals and test out the new proposed methods. At times, there will be equipment or software that lags or malfunctions. Also, subjects may go off-task during testing of the software because it is not possible to remove features that are built in to the software (especially when the software is not originally intended to be used for research). In addition, your research receives additional scrutiny by faculty, peers, and reviewers because it is an unknown to these individuals. Some say that there are two constants in life: change and resistance to change. Well, I can guarantee that if you try to change existing intervention methods and the way in which your field uses technology, you will face resistance to those changes from those within the field.
However, despite these drawbacks, I know that it is worthwhile to produce this intervention. Simulations like the one I have created (and constantly update) have a large role in improving learning through repetition, just in time feedback, and engaging users. Second Life, Open Sim, and other multi-user virtual environments to come are going to be used to educate the students of the future. It is simply a matter of time. I’m here to help push the envelope. Wish me luck.