Studying the way others interact in Second Life has provided the researchers insight into the way people communicate face to face. For instance, online, conversation flow can present a challenge in knowing who is saying what, when. Sherblom, Withers and Leonard have adopted techniques — reiterating specific points someone raised or stating the person’s name being addressed — that have not only enhanced their online interactions, but their real-life discussions.
It has to do with social presence, Withers says, or how “there” or connected you feel to others.
Withers and Sherblom have engaged in computer-mediated communication research since the early days. As an undergraduate at UMaine in the early 1990s, Withers took Sherblom’s first course in computer-mediated communication. She went on to earn a master’s degree at UMaine and a Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut.
Withers will return to UMaine in October to present on teaching in Second Life at the Center for Teaching Excellence. The three researchers also will lead a panel on Second Life this fall at the National Communication Association conference. Next spring, they plan to resume their classes in the virtual world.
“When you’re face to face, there’s lots of social presence,” Sherblom says. “Second Life has a sense of social presence, too, and that’s what makes it so involving. It’s engaging in the way real life is.”