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A Cyber Campus to Support Students Experiencing Barriers Accessing Education

Louis Nisiotis's virtual Sheffield Hallam University campus

Research centre
Communication and Computing Research Centre


Research title: A Cyber Campus to Support Students Experiencing Barriers Accessing Education.

Abstract: This doctoral research project was set out to investigate the use of 3D virtual worlds to support students experiencing barriers accessing education. This doctoral research project was successfully defended by Louis Nisiotis in 2015 and published in 2016 after minor corrections.

There are many barriers hindering access to education for some students, significantly affecting their learning experience (Cross, 1981). To mitigate the effects of such barriers, e-learning technologies are widely used. One example of this is the use of cyber campuses. These are 3D environments where students can meet and share information, and synchronously communicate and collaborate (Prasolova-Førland et al., 2006). It has been suggested that the learning experience of students using these cyber campuses is related to their perceptions of presence, awareness, communication and sociability (De Lucia et al., 2009). The educational capabilities of cyber campuses have been investigated thoroughly in the literature (Gregory et al., 2014). However, little is known about the extent to which cyber campuses can support students experiencing barriers hindering access to education. To investigate this, the SHU3DED (Sheffield Hallam University 3D Education) cyber campus was developed, and a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research was performed. A series of experimental studies were performed to i) evaluate the efficacy of SHU3DED to support online learning activities, ii) understand the barriers hindering access to Higher Education, and iii) ascertain the extent to which a cyber campus can alleviate some of these barriers and support students participate in online learning activities. The findings of this research project revealed several barriers impeding access into Higher Education, together with a set of environment characteristics that contribute to the students’ online learning experience. 

The findings imply that a cyber campus can be a sound social space that supports participation in online learning activities for students experiencing situational and institutional barriers accessing education. The findings provide strong indications that a cyber campus has the potential mitigate some of the barriers that challenge or exclude students from accessing education, allowing them to participate in social online learning activities. As a result of this research project, a list of suggestions for the design and arrangement of cyber campuses have also been devised.

Project Supervisors

  • Dr Martin Beer (Director of Study)
  • Dr Elizabeth Uruchurtu (Second Supervisor)

Researchers involved

Louis Nisiotis

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