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3D Virtual Worlds as Environments for Literacy Learning

Educational Research Volume 52, Number 2, ISSN 0013-1881


Background: Although much has been written about the ways in which new technology might transform educational practice, particularly in the area of literacy learning, there is relatively little empirical work that explores the possibilities and problems--or even what such a transformation might look like in the classroom. 3D virtual worlds offer a range of opportunities for children to use digital literacies in school, and suggest one way in which we might explore changing literacy practices in a playful, yet meaningful context. Purpose: This paper identifies some of the key issues that emerged in designing and implementing virtual world work in a small number of primary schools in the UK. It examines the tensions between different discourses about literacy and literacy learning and shows how these were played out by teachers and pupils in classroom settings. Sources of evidence: Case study data are used as a basis for exploring and illustrating key aspects of design and implementation. The case study material includes views from a number of perspectives including classroom observations, chatlogs, in-world avatar interviews with teachers and also pupils, as well as the author's field notes of the planning process with accompanying minutes and meeting documents. Main argument: From a Foucauldian perspective, the article suggests that social control of pedagogical practice through the regulation of curriculum time, the normalisation of teaching routines and the regimes of individual assessment restricts teachers' and pupils' conceptions of what constitutes literacy. The counternarrative, found in recent work in new literacies provides an attractive alternative, but a movement in this direction requires a fundamental shift of emphasis and a re-conceptualisation of what counts as learning. Conclusions: This work on 3D virtual worlds questions the notion of how transformative practice can be achieved with the use of new technologies. It suggests that changes in teacher preparation, continuing professional development as well as wider educational reform may be needed. (Contains 5 figures.)


Merchant, G. (2010). 3D Virtual Worlds as Environments for Literacy Learning. Educational Research, 52(2), 135-150. Retrieved June 18, 2019 from .

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