University of Arkansas Begins Research on Aging and Second Life®

Mather Cafe

Can social activity in an immersive virtual world help older persons feel better?

A new research project based on eXtension’s Morrill2 region in Second Life®
will look at how the psychosocial well-being of older persons may be impacted by their exploration of the Second Life 3D virtual world.

The subjects of the study will access Second Life on computers at Northwest Arkansas Area Agency on Aging Senior Centers, where staff will be trained to assist along with trained volunteer guides in the virtual world. The participants will enjoy a combination of guided activities and independent exploration.

Timothy S. Killian, PhD, University of Arkansas School of Human Environmental Sciences will lead the study, which is funded by the Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging. Co-Investigator is Dennis Beck, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology at University of Arkansas. Other partners include Virtual Ability, Inc., Arkansas Division of Aging and Adult Services; along with LuAnn Phillips, eXtension’s Virtual Worlds Specialist, and Dr. Rodger Marion of University of Texas Medical Branch.

eXtension is assisting the study in several ways. Throughout the conceptualization and implementation phases of the project, eXtension is providing expertise and guidance. A home location in Second Life was built, modeled after a Mather Café activity center, where Extension educators will offer the subjects classes in nutrition, financial management, caregiving, and horticulture. A device is being designed to gather data about the subjects’ behavior and activities. eXtension will work with the team to develop guided field trips for the subjects. Finally, eXtension will assist with dissemination of results through publications, conferences, and media.

To begin development of your own research project in a social virtual world, contact LuAnn Phillips: luann.phillips@extension.org.