A research team, led by North Carolina State University's Dr. Mitzi M. Montoya, has developed a new way of measuring how "real" online virtual worlds are - an important advance for the emerging technology that can be used to foster development of new training and collaboration applications by companies around the world.
A global economy, the rising cost of travel, and increasingly tight budgets have
left companies exploring the possible use of virtual worlds to train employees
and foster collaboration in areas such as research and development, but until now
no one has had a way to measure just how "real" those worlds are. The researchers
focused on developing a measurement tool specifically for business applications
in the virtual world, noting that the productivity and effectiveness of workers
interacting via these online environments is closely linked to how well the
workers are able to feel as if they are in the virtual realm.
"This is an important issue," Montoya says, "because we believe that if users
feel they are 'present' in the virtual world, they will collaborate better with
other members of their team ? and the more effective the virtual world will be as
a setting for research and development or other collaborative enterprises." In
addition, Montoya explains "an increased sense of presence in the virtual world
leads to better comprehension and retention of information if the technology is
being used for training purposes, and trainees are happier with the process."
Montoya is the Zelnak Professor of Marketing and Innovation at NC State.
The measurement scale developed by the researchers for the virtual world is
called Perceived Virtual Presence (PVP), and factors in how users interact with
the virtual environment, with their work in that environment, and with other
users. "Now that we have developed the PVP scale," Montoya says, "it can be used
to determine which PVP levels are most conducive to training, collaboration or
other applications." Effectively, the PVP scale can be used to design a virtual
environment that has the degree of reality that will best cater to a company's
Montoya developed the PVP metric with Dr. Anne P. Massey, Dean's Research
Professor of Information Systems at Indiana University.