Taylor, Andrew and Varley, Rosemary (2008) Evolving cross disciplinary design business collaborations: The embodiment of academics as avatars in 3D virtual retail environments. In: Teaching and Learning Conference 2008: Enhancing Learning: Technology by Design, 15th September 2008, University of Huddersfield, 15th September, 2008, University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, United Kingdom.

Through a serendipitous informal discussion about the cultural evolutionary effects of online shopping we realised that our subject research/academic interests were converging in the three-dimensional online virtual world. Tentatively we agreed to investigate and collaborate; applying an experiential, exploratory and real-time approach to researching fashion design, retail brands, and their virtual stores in Second Life, an internet based multi-user 3D virtual world.

Unexpected difficulties in pre-shopping preparation were encountered; IT policies, opening firewalls, office desktop PCs that were not powerful enough for academic virtual exploration and unexpected personal learning curves were all overcome. We then made space in our weekends and met in the University office over several Saturday afternoons, armed with take out cappuccinos, and slowly embarked on this personally pioneering design/retail marketing research as 3D avatars in Second Life. The results were surprisingly unexpected and unique. Our initial aim for sourcing new lecture based material was immediately successful; however, the research process created many more unexpected outcomes and encouraged us to refocus our research through a new enlightened view of how cross-disciplinary learning and teaching as avatars can be combined with the massive human potential of collaborations in virtual spaces.

Translating our experiences as avatars; we qualitatively recorded and mapped shopping behaviour patterns in attempt to not only explore future cultural shifts in interactive 3D virtual worlds, but also to create new ways of learning and teaching in design-business education. The experiences we shared will inform, support and inspire E-learning and teaching methods for both undergraduate and post graduate art, design, buying, and marketing education. We believe that it is essential to continue the process of introducing and interpreting the tacit qualities of the physical into virtual spaces and to nurture and encourage experimentation in skills, such as virtual making or virtual marketing, of the increasingly confident virtual learners of today and the future.

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