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Architecture for the Virtual Environment
When people build in the virtual environment they create structures that resemble ones in the real world. Buildings, offices, houses, castles and classrooms have standard walls, doors, windows, and furnishings that replicate the real world. Perhaps it is because building what we are familiar with provides a frame of reference and feeling of comfort. In her blog, Avril Korman refers to Virtual World architecture as virtuatecture and discusses this desire for a home that looks familiar.
Virtual world “physics”, almost limitless creative possibilities, and avatar abilities suggest a more innovative architectural approach. Accommodating avatars who transport or fly in for a meeting requires a space that can be easily accessed with wide doorways, minimal walls or open rooftops. You can still have the familiarity of RL spaces with the added benefit of virtuatecture to accommodate the unique qualities and possibilities of the virtual setting.
The buildings at CLIVE (Center for Learning in Virtual Environments) are generally standard looking buildings, with the exception of large openings in the rooftops for avatars to be able to fly in and exit easily.
The iSchool classroom on Reaction Grid is an open air classroom, easy to access via either a teleport or flying in, yet the space is somewhat traditional with the students desks in rows facing the instructor station and presentation area.
These two spaces illustrate the best of both worlds.
Another feature to keep in mind is the ground (stairs/ramp) access to a facility. In real life we typically have stairs with a narrow ramp for wheelchair use. In a virtual setting avatars generally do better with wide ramps or rails with narrower ramps so they don’t fall off.
XSS Bucky Fuller on Mellanium in Reaction Grid and Museum of the Globe are two builds that take full advantage of the attributes of virtual environments. This virtuatecture looks unlike what we would encounter in the real world yet it works effectively in the virtual setting with large attractive spaces that can be reached via teleport and used in a variety of ways.
Spatial Training in a Virtual World May Improve STEM Skills
Studies over the past 50 years indicate a significant, positive correlation between spatial thinking and STEM disciplines. Project Talent is one of those studies to support spatial training among our students. Findings indicate that thinking with images plays a central role in scientific creativity and communication.
Participating in a virtual world incorporates spatial thinking on a variety of levels. As consumers, participants in a virtual world deal with location, shapes, object’s relationship to each other and verbal descriptions such as near, far, next to, on, and under. In order to traverse the digital terrain they need to be able to move and to communicate spatial concepts.
On a more complex level participants may rearrange furniture, complete puzzles, move objects, and use maps, all contributing to spatial thinking.
As producers in the virtual environment, participants build and script. Building requires assembly, measurment, visualizing 3D models and reproducing them or creating new ones. Producers can build real or imagined structures, vehicles, objects and clothing.
Virtual worlds could, used effectively, provide formal and informal learning models for STEM learning environments. With the recent announcement of Race To The Top Winners, significant funding is allocated towards the STEM disciplines school districts may have an opportunity to expand and research this promising environment.
Beyond Powerpoint: 2D to 3D in Virtual Worlds
In an in-world presentation, Lesley Scopes aka Light Sequent presented ‘Learning Archetypes as tools of Cybergogy: A structure for eTeaching in Second Life‘ to VWBPE 2010. The presentation was worth watching for the information that was presented, but of particular interest was the presentation method. Lesley used 3D world tools to present rather than bringing the more frequently used 2D tool (PowerPoint) into the 3D world. This made the presentation more engaging than presentations I typically attend. The 3D models brought a unique physicality to the presentation that served to interest the audience.
The presentation took advantage of tools not available in a 2D platform and perhaps demonstrates the evolution of 2D to 3D much like the evolution of overheads to PowerPoint was a few years ago. Using the tools available in virtual worlds requires that the presenter have some skills in the area of building. Light Sequent explained that the 3D items could contain scripts for additional interaction between audience and information 3D graphic. At the very least the presenter should be able to place the correct 3D object in front of the audience at the appropriate time but the actual building of the objects could be built by someone adept at building.
I look forward to using this method of presentation in the future, though I’ll need to label objects carefully so I don’t accidentally place a shoe or a silly gadget in front of my audience.
Teaching Math in The Virtual World
Mathematics may be one of the most obvious ways to use a virtual world for teaching and learning, particularly when students are in the building capacity. Students can practice applying mathematical concepts, while being creative and having fun. Geometry comes alive as an avatar creates and moves 3D shapes around to construct a real or imagined structure, graphical representations are concrete rather than theoretical.
The tools in the virtual world are simple enough that even elementary school children can use them. Learning to use these tools may even provide some preliminary knowledge and skills for future use of more complex engineering CAD tools. Once the students create the shapes (which takes seconds) the 3D polygons can be moved about, enlarged or reduced in size, stacked, linked, rotated, twisted, tapered, even suspended in the air at the click of a mouse. Students can adjust shapes and angles to fit ‘building blocks’ more precisely, they have the use of coordinates and measuring tools to support their building and learning. The most important part is the process, not the final product, though the final product may contribute to discussion regarding the feasibility of the structures in real life. The process of building and solving the problems of fitting virtual shapes together to construct a planned structure is what makes students think and apply the mathematical concepts.
Here an avatar creates a cube and then transforms it to a thinner taller rectangular shape, then rotates it to get it in the correct position.
The syllabus of an educational technology class at Boise State is an example of prospective teachers being provided an opportunity to learn the skills necessary to use this medium for future instruction in K-12 classrooms. There are multiple examples of K-12 teachers providing ‘building’ opportunities on the SL Teen Grid and on Reaction Grid to their students. As these students apply mathematical concepts and address required standards they also practice some 21st Century skills such as innovation, collaboration and problem solving.
Can a Paracosm in a Virtual World Contribute to Creativity?
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According to a recent Newsweek article, The Creativity crisis, the Creativity Quotient (CQ) among American children has been dropping steadily since 1990. This drop in CQ correlates with the exclusive focus on the teaching of standards and the preponderance of television … Continue reading
Visual Arts in The Virtual World
The virtual world is of course a visual art in and of itself, but there is potential to provide learning experiences in a virtual setting that would otherwise be impossible in the real world. In my experience, the world of visual arts can be brought to students to consume in 4 ways.
First the traditional way of walking around a museum and looking at the art. One of the most extensive museums in the virtual world that I have seen is the Dresden Museum on Second Life (Dresden Gallery 120,128,26), which houses 750 masterpieces of European art. An avatar can walk around the museum and see the famous art, clicking on it to get information as it is desired. This method of learning about the art mimics a strategy used in the real world.
The second method takes the display and viewing of works to a different level, literally. Here an avatar can view a large collection of artwork in a “museum” that can be traversed only in a virtual setting. A wonderful example of this is the Rumsey Map Museum on Second Life ( Rumsey Maps 2 (193,201,715)). The avatar visiting this museum can fly through a tower to view the extensive map collection, stopping to click on any of interest to get additional information.
The third method of learning about art in a virtual setting involves becoming a part of the art. Art Box (Klaw 5,21,46) on Second Life has selected pieces of artwork with human subjects.
Participants are provided an opportunity to choose a painting and then click on a poseball to become the subject in the art. The owners offer props and costumes for some of the art work. Laguna Beach California has a real life, annual art show reminiscent of this strategy of enjoying art. Actors dress and pose while backdrops and lighting are used to duplicate a painting in real life. In the virtual setting the participant gets to make the art selection and become a part of it. Certainly more immersive than just looking at it.
Finally, an avatar can visit a location and be completely immersed in the art. In the case of Arles (168,23,29) on Second Life. This amazing sim allows avatars to walk around Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings as they may have been seen by the artist. The paintings are a 3D form and allow complete interaction. An avatar can climb one of the famous yellow haystacks, sit in a cafe and enjoy the “starry night”, or even sit in Van Gogh’s bedroom.
The many museums in the virtual environment each have policies regarding the use of the images they display. It is best to experience them by visiting the location.
The places described here are not available to students under 18 years of age, but the methods may be used to create art locations in the Opensim grids so that students may interact with art and thus learn about it. Better yet, students may become the producers and create these environments with art work in the public domain or even their own art work.
Collaboration is a 21st Century Skill
Employers complain that the incoming workforce lacks what is needed. Are we preparing our students appropriately for their future? Tony Wagner in his book, The Global Achievement Gap discusses what he calls the 7 survival skills for the 21st century. According to him these skills are:
- Problem-solving and critical thinking;
- Collaboration across networks and leading by influence;
- Agility and adaptability;
- Initiative and entrepreneurship;
- Effective written and oral communication;
- Accessing and analyzing information; and
- Curiosity and imagination.
These are the kinds of things we discuss in our annual reviews with supervisors and we know these skills make us more productive and useful to the organization.
Most of these 7 skills are supported with project-based participant production in a virtual environment. Student production in virtual environments involves building, scripting and researching to develop content. This type of activity lends itself to a collaborative atmosphere and the ‘network’ across which students collaborate can extend across the globe. (Collaborative building in Second Life – Palo Alto Research Center). Problem solving takes place while planning and again while producing. Limitations must be considered and decisions about the best solution take place for effective results. Students must use mathematics and communication skills as they work together to complete their intended product. They may need to do some research and analyze information as they progress in their building. Discovery can take place and a plan may change or students may need to adapt a plan and influence colleagues toward a different approach. Of course, curiosity and imagination are always at play as students build what defies common perceptions and sometimes the laws of physics. It is the process that is most important here, what the students have to do to achieve their goal – not the final product.
Consumer and Producer
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Frequent questions regarding Virtual environments in education are “So what does a student do in a virtual world? How/what does a student learn?”. What students can do falls into two categories, they can consume content and they can produce content. … Continue reading