Collaboration, Creativity and Learning in a Play Community: A Study of The University of There was a year-long mixed-methods study of the University of There(UOT), a player-run distributed learning community within the online graphical 3D world There.com. UOT was both a large-scale collaborative project and a learning environment within a virtual world originally designed as a social play space. The study employed in-world participant observation, in-world and face-to-face interviews, analysis of player-created virtual artifacts, study of extra-virtual and supplemental media (such as web sites, videos and forums), as well as a survey instrument, to understand the dynamics of this distributed, collaborative learning community.
The study findings included:
• Play creates forms of affinity, commitment and attention , three factors which, according to research by Bonnie Nardi, enhance collaboration.
• Staff and faculty reported that their volunteer contribution to the UOT was a source of happiness. Personal relationships, creative activities, and a love of
learning were other motivating factors.
• The play context provided staff and instructors with a framework in which to play with teaching, resulting in experimental “folk” methods, many of which reflected
well-studied theories of learning in games, such as situated learning and constructionism.
• There.com’s “culture of constructionism”  makes it a learning environment by definition, since players must learn in order to create.
Funded by the National Science Foundation
Research conducted by Celia Pearce and GRA Katherine Mancuso
Findings were published at the DiGRA 2009 conference.