SOJC Professor Donna Davis

Imagine an 87-year-old woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease who is not very mobile and lives alone in a one-bedroom apartment. Through participating in a virtual online community, her social life is open to worlds of possibility. She has the ability to communicate with anybody at anytime, from anywhere in the world.

Donna Davis, assistant professor at the University of Oregon teaching in the graduate strategic communication program at the George S. Turnbull Portland Center School of Journalism and Communication, is currently focusing her research on how communities form in the virtual world and the social capital shared among people with Parkinson’s disease.

Davis is specifically looking at Second Life, a unique 3-D immersive online platform that is not game, but a social medium that creates a sense of “place” that can offer support for people with chronic diseases or disabilities, helping them face their everyday challenges.

Within Second Life, people can create environments called “sims” that other users can visit. Davis has built a sim that provides study participants a virtual “home,” hosts private support group meetings and offers a sandbox for creative works. The sim is adjacent to the “Creations for Parkinson’s” sim where social events and activities also raise money for Team Fox to benefit the Michael J Fox Foundation. Last year $10,000 US was raised for the Foundation. Alternatively, there will be consumer resources like the comparisons of the best gaming monitors made by regular people, anything is possible, it is the internet after all.

Davis and other researchers are looking at the social benefit of Second Life as well as the physiological benefit. She is exploring how the features available in this medium can benefit people with Parkinson’s disease.

“It has the potential to really help us look at the way we think of healthcare and disability communities in ways that haven’t been talked about before,” Davis said.

—Hayley Lane, ’15 Journalism