Andreas is a Research Associate at the University of Lugano (USI). Past roles include positions at the Palo Alto Research Center (formerly Xerox PARC), Simon Fraser University, the HIT Lab NZ, Fraunhofer FIT and Fraunhofer IAO. His current research focuses on avatar-based collaboration and learning practices in 3D virtual worlds, on experience design and design-based research, and on technologies for health behavior support and change.
Andreas’ PhD thesis supervisor is Dr. Martin Eppler, a full professor of media and communication management at the University of St. Gallen (HSG), where he is also the managing director of the institute for media and communication management.
The PhD thesis grading committee consists of Bart Van den Hooff, Professor of Organizational Communication and Information Systems at KINresearch at VU University in Amsterdam, and Robin Teigland, Associate Professor of Strategy at SSE – the Stockholm School of Economics.
PhD Thesis Abstract
Working together benefits from colleagues, team members, or peers being in the same place. With collaborating teams being more and more dispersed in an increasingly networked world, people and organizations turn to the Internet as a medium to work and learn together. Collaborative virtual environments (CVE) in general attempt to provide settings in which the users or participants feel co-present, the sensation of ‘being there together’. Different types of CVE make for different intensities of co-presence. One type of CVE facilitating particularly immersive real-time activities is that of virtual worlds.
Virtual worlds are three-dimensional CVE accessed with standard computers. People meet online in shared spaces, all represented through animated virtual characters, so- called avatars. Being in control of a highly customizable virtual embodiment, in a 3D environment configurable with virtually no limits, and the possibility of creating responsive and interactive tools, are some of the key distinct features of the medium. However, while virtual worlds have been around for years, it is still unclear what value virtual worlds can add to the existing modes of communication and collaboration, and which virtual world features should be made use of – and how – in order to maximize the benefit of using the medium for collaborative work and learning. This doctoral thesis addresses these issues by investigating the design of collaborative work and learning activities and tailored environments for virtual worlds.
The main goal of this dissertation is to improve collaboration practices in 3D virtual worlds, following the premise that making explicit use of the medium’s distinct features allows for innovative, valuable new forms of working and learning together. The work pursues a pattern-based approach in order to investigate and describe existing practices and to develop a structured framework for the goal-oriented design of novel collaboration patterns. It further empirically investigates the value of the visual character of the medium as well as different approaches for designing collaboration tasks and environments in it. With these two strands, the research addresses both the process and the product of the design of virtual world collaboration experiences. The thesis presents two controlled experiments and derived design guidelines, the conceptual development of a framework following the principles of design science research, and an exploration study.
As one main outcome of the thesis, the structured framework for the description and development of virtual world collaboration patterns is intended to help improve the process of designing for collaboration experiences and facilitate sharing and organizing of collaboration patterns. As the other main outcome of the thesis, the gathered empirical data indicate that making active use of the distinct features of virtual worlds can have a positive impact on collaboration in various ways.
If you are interested in a copy of Andreas’ thesis, please contact him directly at andreas.schmeil<at>usi.ch.