Virtual reality and higher education: Another perspective

Immersive Education sample, Egyptian environment, screenshot courtesy Aaron Walsh A few weeks ago, I posted an interview on Terra Nova with Rebecca Nesson, who is using Second Life as a platform for distance education at the Harvard Extension School. While SL has been adopted by Harvard and more than 100 other schools worldwide, it is not the only online virtual reality environment that is used for educational purposes. There are other virtual world/virtual reality technologies that can support instruction and classroom activities, and this week we will get a perspective from someone who is using these alternate technologies to teach. The interview is with Aaron Walsh, a programmer and instructor who has used modding software and other tools to create VR classrooms for courses at the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College (the inset photo is from one of his experiments, and depicts "students gathering in the virtual Egyptian environment"). His VR classes are part of a larger effort that he is leading to develop a standards-based educational platform called Immersive Education.

I first met Walsh in 2000, when I took two of his programming classes at Boston College. He subsequently invited me to participate in some early development and planning work surrounding his Media Grid initiative, and as part of these efforts I was able to take part in several Internet-based VR classroom demos in 2003 and 2004. However, Walsh noted in an email that he has been involved in VR development since the early '90s:

I began my work in virtual reality and immersive 3D environments while running the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) at Boston College. Around 1991 or so Paul Dupuis, my manager, and I built a personal VR system using stereo goggles, a Macintosh computer and a Nintendo Power Glove. This was back in the days when 3D on personal computers was practically unheard of, and texture mapping wasn't even an option. Crude, flat-shaded shaded polygons and wireframes ruled the roost. Striving for realism I began researching the potential for viewing digital video in stereo by splitting Quicktime movies into stereo pairs, one for each eyepiece. Around this time I became obsessed with the potential of realistic virtual reality, and developed digital media caching techniques for virtual reality and 3D that I contributed to the Web3D standards community in the late 1990s. From that point on I spent the majority of my time developing international standards for 3D and virtual reality as chairman of related Web3D Consortium and Moving Picture Expert Group (MPEG) working groups, and now with the Media Grid and Immersive Education.

In the interview, Walsh talks about some of the specific technologies he uses for his classes, as well as some of the benefits and challenges of conducting online classes in virtual reality. He confirms Nesson's observation that some students who have a tough time expressing themselves in the real world can really blossom in virtual environments, but notes that other students much prefer the traditional, face-to-face classroom experience. He also has a lot to say about the growing problem of addiction to virtual reality, which he classifies as "immersive illness."

Below is the full transcript of the interview, which was conducted via email earlier this week:

Ian Lamont: You've been teaching a course called Discovering 3D Graphics and Virtual Reality at the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College. Some of the class is spent in a virtual world. What is the world or VR environment, and what are the types of activities that students take part in there?

Aaron Walsh: I teach three graphics courses at Boston College, all of which involve meeting with students online in virtual reality. Two of these classes (Discovering 3D Graphics and Virtual Reality, and Advanced 3D/VR) take place almost entirely online in virtual reality. I spend the first few classes working with the students in person, ensuring that their computers are setup properly and are ready to go, and after that we transition into virtual reality for the rest of the semester.

In these classes students learn the fundamentals of 3D computer graphics, virtual reality, and video game technology. They learn how to build 3D objects and virtual worlds, and how the combination of 3D/VR and rich digital media technologies are fundamentally re-shaping computer-based entertainment, education, and socialization.

We use the term "Immersive Education" to refer to the combination of 3D/VR and digital media specifically for learning. We started Immersive Education many years ago using the Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML) standard, and in 2003 transitioned to the commercial Unreal 2 game engine which has been our 2nd generation technology until today (which we use in combination with VRML, Extensible 3D (X3D), Flash and QuickTime). The current platform has served us very well, but it's at the end of its life and we're now in the process of selecting a new 3D/VR platform as part of the open Immersive Education standardization process. Educators and students who have taken courses using virtual environment technology, regardless of the specific 3D/VR technology they're familiar with, are encouraged to participate in the open standards process through

Lamont: Why not use Second Life?

Walsh: Second Life is a candidate for the new Immersive Education platform that we're defining today, but it wasn't a viable option for the previous generation which we selected in 2003. Some of our requirements at that time included: a stable cross-platform (Windows and Mac) platform; integrated text and voice chat; the ability to host the environments and server-side runtime on our own servers; content ownership; support for industry-standard authoring tools (such as Maya); the ability to modify (mod) the environment to support custom behaviors, and so forth. These and other criteria are being applied as we select and standardize the next generation of Immersive Education, and today Second Life is a leading candidate whereas in 2003 it wasn't even close.

Lamont: What have been some of the challenges and advantages to using virtual reality as a platform for education?

Walsh: There are many, on both sides. A major challenge has been related to student hardware, as it's extremely difficult to ensure that every student's computer setup is up to snuff. This has become much easier now that the majority of students have relatively new computers that sport modern graphics cards, but in the early days of Immersive Education we were dealing with students who had computers that rolled off the assembly line in the late 1990s. For the first few years we simply could not have the majority of our class meetings in virtual reality since too many of the students had sub-par computer systems, but that's mostly a non-issue today. Spotty network connections are also a challenge, especially when it comes to voice chat, but that's also becoming less of an issue since most of our students are participating either from dorms (which have high-speed networks) or from home where they have DSL or cable. The bandwidth issue is practically a non-issue today.

Another major challenge is in the presentation of learning materials inside of (through) the virtual environment itself, such as pumping videos or interactive Flash content through an object in the environment. Initially we wanted everything to be "in world" meaning we wanted all learning materials to be presented inside of the environment itself, thinking that a single seamless environment would be best. And while that may be the case for the entertainment industry, where you usually don't want to take the player out of the game or environment, it's not necessarily the case for education. For education there's no reason why all content has to be delivered inside of the virtual environment. In fact, it can be quite restricting to do so. Why not simply open a browser window when necessary, allowing students to use a wide variety of learning content that can't (and probably shouldn't) be shoehorned into the virtual environment? Doing this allowed us to incorporate Web pages, interactive Flash content, Quicktime VR and videos, and a wide assortment of rich learning materials into our online classes that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. And the students don't mind or care; they're learning, using a mixture of digital media. The virtual environment is merely the foundation that we build around, but it's just one part of a much larger picture.

Aside from these technical challenges there are a host of human-oriented challenges, not the least of which is the issue of taking real-world human-to-human personal contact out of the equation. For the most part students and teachers are used to meeting in person in a real classroom. Removing the classroom and the personal contact that comes with it can be a real challenge for some students, and while most don't take very long to adjust some never get completely comfortable with the virtual alternative. But for every student that would prefer a real-world classroom there are just as many, perhaps more, who love meeting in virtual environments. We often see cases where shy students who are quiet in person become very verbal and fully participant in the virtual environment, so there can be some real advantages in this respect as well.

A challenge that concerns me the most is lurking on the horizon, one we don't yet understand the full scope of. As Immersive Education and other forms of personal virtual reality become more realistic and compelling we're going to see "immersive illness" become more common and more difficult to deal with. Although this is an issue today we're somewhat protected by the limitations of today's personal computers and game consoles (they just aren't powerful enough...yet), but in another decade or more it'll be a different story altogether. Nobody knows exactly what impact insanely realistic, media-rich virtual reality will have on society. We're already dealing with early forms of immersive illness, such as addiction, alienation, mental schisms, and more, but today it's not a problem that affects a large percentage of users. We don't see massive problems today for a number of reasons, including rather low-quality virtual environments and limitations on how much time we spend in these environments. But what happens when the visual and audio quality becomes indistinguishable from reality, the technology becomes truly mainstream, and a substantial portion of education takes place in such environments and not in a real classroom? With massive power comes massive problems. Last week I was asked how big this problem will be, and I responded that nobody knows for sure but I'd estimate that the at-risk population can be calculate by adding the percentage of people with addiction problems to the percentage of society that suffer some form of mental illness. That's a big chunk of society. Is it all gloom and doom? Certainly not, but it's a grand challenge we're not even remotely prepared for today. As with other disruptions society will eventually adapt, but I think we're in for a very rough ride.

Other advantages include the time saved in traveling to and from class, which can be significant for students who live off campus. I've had some non-traditional students live over an hour away from Boston College, meaning they waste more than two hours traveling ever time we have class in person (on campus).

It's also worth noting that the "fun" factor can't be denied. Most of the students I've spoken with about their experience with these classes say they're the most fun they've had, and that they look forward to being in virtual reality each week. We're dealing with a generation of students weaned on video games, so it should come as no surprise that they enjoy learning in what amounts to a game-based learning environment. Giving students a educational experience that they not only enjoy but are very enthusiastic about is definitely an advantage.

Lamont: You recently received an award for promoting "Immersive Education" at BC, and are now trying to spread these concepts to other institutions. What does Immersive Education entail, and what does it offer other instructors and educational institutions?

Walsh: Yes, that's true. Students at Boston College nominated me for a Teaching with New Media (TWIN), which I was awarded last year, for my work with Immersive Education. Although I've been working in virtual reality for over 15 years it's only been over the past few years that we could teach classes online using this technology. Outside of playing video games this was the first time that most students really had a chance to dig in and learn about interactive 3D and virtual reality, and the response has been outstanding and very encouraging. But it's just the start. If Immersive Education were a human I'd argue that it's barely crawling, and there's a lot of work still to be done until it reaches its full potential.

Immersive Education is an application of the Media Grid ( that combines 3D/VR technology with digital media to bring distance learning and self-directed learning to a new level. Unlike traditional distance learning, Immersive Education is designed to immerse and engage students in the same way that today's best video games grab and keep the attention of players. Immersive Education combines interactive virtual reality and sophisticated digital media (voice chat, game-based learning modules, audio/video, and so forth) with collaborative online course environments and classrooms. Immersive Education gives students a sense of "being there" even when attending class in person isn't possible, practical, or desirable, which in turn provides faculty and remote students with the ability to connect and communicate in a way that greatly enhances the learning experience.

We're now in the process of selecting the next generation platform for Immersive Education, around which international standards are being established. Making Immersive Education open, extensible, freely available and fully documented will make it possible for any organization or individual to use it. This goes beyond the technology platform itself, and includes best-practices for teachers and institutions to follow as well as student-faculty ecosystems that organizations can employ. I'd encourage teachers and students to participate directly in the Immersive Education standardization process by visiting and sharing their virtual learning experiences with the group (be it with Second Life or any other virtual environments).

Lamont: Do schools really have the technology resources, staff expertise, and funding to get involved in Immersive Education?

Walsh: The vast majority don't, at least not today, which is why we're focused on making Immersive Education an open standard that's easy to use, well documented and free. But that alone won't do it; best practices and student-faculty ecosystems are necessary as well, and so are communities of support. The vast majority of educators simply don't have the time, funding, or expertise to create and use virtual learning environments today. This probably won't change, which is why it's necessary to eliminate the cost and reduce the complexity.

The syllabus for Walsh's Discovering 3D Graphics and Virtual Reality course can be found here. Feel free to leave comments or questions below.

Comments on Virtual reality and higher education: Another perspective:

David Grundy says:

Many thanks, that was very interesting interview.

Rebecca Whitehead over at University of Advancing Technology has also being doing some very interesting work using the Warcraft MMO to try and teach Applied Leadership skills, and certainly both Aaron Walsh's, Rebecca Nesson's, and her exploratory work will hopefully provide a springboard for further teaching endeavours in this emergent area.

I was just talking to one of my collegues the other day about a conference he'd been to about future Learning & Teaching strategies and virtual worlds, in an otherwise highly mainstream conference, was certainly being discussed, with Universities who employ these strategies being in the news a little lately:,,2074240,00.html


Posted May 25, 2007 6:48:42 AM | link

Amarilla says:

This is like rising the masturbation to the level of mass / national culture . The edu starts in family , so there should the efforts be focused.

Posted May 25, 2007 6:16:14 PM | link

Jane Kazmeri says:

I'd like to have this at home too. Does anyone know when we can use it outside of a college course? The Immersive Education charter mentions 'safe mode' for the client viewer that sounds a lot like a V chip for virtual reality. Now that's something I'd like for my WoW and other games.

Posted May 25, 2007 9:15:07 PM | link

Ian Lamont says:

Thanks for your comment, David. One interesting aspect of using WoW or Unreal Engine as the basis for classroom sessions, is that both platforms are optimized for fighting/killing/combat. That's not a bad thing -- it certainly serves as a hook for younger students, potentially flattens out the learning curve, and helps with customization-related tasks, thanks to the large developer/support base. Nonetheless, it seems to me that using these tools for instruction is a square peg/round hole type of situation. Of course, instructors can neuter the fighting nature of these platforms, while emphasizing the engines' communication, teamwork, and design capabilities.

Second Life, on the other hand, is a platform optimized for creativity. That can be a disruptive force, but it also appeals to many institutions. It allows customization of environments and objects, and lets students be themselves in a way that might not be possible with many gaming-based worlds.

At some point there may be virtual worlds or VR platforms that are optimized for education. My question for the group: What does "optimized for education" mean to you? What capabilities, characteristics, tools, cost considerations, etc., are most important to teaching students in a virtual world or space?

Posted May 26, 2007 8:55:12 AM | link

illovich says:

This is like rising the masturbation to the level of mass / national culture . The edu starts in family , so there should the efforts be focused.

Are you saying more families should teach masturbation, and not let mass culture take care of it? I'd need that idea to be unpacked a little more; it seems unappealing to me at first blush.

I'd like to have this at home too. Does anyone know when we can use it outside of a college course?

If you're talking about MediaGrid, if I remember correctly from some demos I attended (assuming it's the same mediagrid), I think it requires Internet2 because it relies on QoS packets for performance. But my God, what performance! Not entirely related, but I watched a violin master class being given by an instructor in Florida to a student in Philadelphia, basically over the internet(2) - beautiful video & sound quality with a low enough latency that they were able to play together. It was like being in the future =P

What does "optimized for education" mean to you? What capabilities, characteristics, tools, cost considerations, etc., are most important to teaching students in a virtual world or space?

To me, "optimized for education" infers a few things, including some things that are more basic qualifications:

  • Simple, easy to learn interface (a standard computer user can "get it" in 30 minutes)
  • APIs for all the boring-yet-crucial business side of Learning Technology, e.g. single-sign-on, data I/O with courseware systems (e.g. Blackboard), as well as some educational infrastructure tools, like a gradebook and possible artifact/rubric tracking (I don't like to throw the word e-portfolio around because it irks me, but sometimes they are needed)
  • The ability to segregate students out of the total world at important times (see my problem with Second Life #1 below)
  • Tools that are on the level of PowerPoint, or perhaps more appropriately KPT Bryce or Google Sketchup. Well, let me back that up a bit -- there needs to be a base level tool that is fairly easy to get started with and make basic learning objects in world (like a learning object outlining tool with some wizards or something).
  • Enterprise level support and dependability. Seriously, if the grid goes down during a law school exam it gets very unpleasant for whoever is deemed to be responsible for not seeing the outage (ha ha ha ha ha). We look for 99% uptime and redundancy in any system that we commit to. I would say that a fail-over grid that ran locally on University servers would be attractive (e.g. in cases where the world grid fails, the university space continues being run by local servers, so the University space continues, at least for on-campus users).
  • As far as pedagogy, I would say that the Linden design philosophy of encouraging creativity and user based tools is a big hands down winner over using WoW (WoW to me is the absolute worst case system for in-world pedagogy, although it's very interesting from other perspectives) or even an engine like Unreal.
  • More importantly though, there needs to be real, replicable assessment & data surrounding what the tool is used for, what it facilitates and why it is a preferable experience to other competing technologies. Not only that, it it needs to be distillable into understandable language for the uninitiated, because in my experience most Faculty and Administrators can not really appreciate what the possibilities of virtual words are.

Most of my work in instructional design is based around Learning Systems, Faculty Training and Instructional Design. I agree that Second Life is very interesting as an Instructional Technology, however it has several (to me showstopping) problems:

1) A large amount of the user base is using it as a pornography generator/sex simulator technology. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't want to be the one working help desk when a class of uptight kids comes across a furry orgy while they're doing research on biology.

2) The interface is insane. Seriously. I've spent a lot of time in 3D virtual spaces and it took me to long to figure out how to move and look around without appearing to have a severe motor impairment to others in world. I wouldn't want to show gaming friends how to use the software; I certainly wouldn't want to be in charge of helping Faculty who are still intimidated by email or PowerPoint how to use the software.

But it would be wrong to pin the bottleneck on Faculty - teaching has taught me that my paranoid visions of being replaced by whizkids that spoke fluent hexadecimal and smalltalk based languages were woefully misguided. For every whizkid I meet, I run into scores of kids who use the internet constantly, but can't figure out why text is going all funny in Word, let alone figure something like Second Life out.

3) This may seem superficial, but everyone I know who sees it for the first time (including me) seems to think that the base avatar looks like ass, because it does. Part of the learning curve of Second Life seems to be figuring out how to make the avatar look better -- and I think this is a cool thing -- but unfortunately as you learn how it all works, you discover lots of interesting content (see #1).

4) It doesn't seem like there's anyway to double authenticate, so students could know they were dealing with other students. I'd like to see a feature where in Second Life I could also authenticate to my campus network via sso and others from my University would see me as my real name, while non-University users would still see me as illovich Psaltery.

Important/exciting data point: at the BBWorld 07 Developers Conference there will be a feedback session for Blackboard developers to give feedback on what tools we need from Blackboard to integrate Second Life into the CMS, and since Linden Labs just opened a development lab in Boston, hopefully they'll come along. =)

Posted May 26, 2007 7:56:20 PM | link

Amarilla says:

I'm saying that under the pretense of education / studying education ,the MMOs are anything but online scams. Projected, designed, made and ruled to be so.

Posted May 26, 2007 9:13:56 PM | link

ErikC says:

I assume Aaron Walsh is the same person as the coauthor of Core Web 3D? If so interesting he has moved to game engines rather than stick with X3D type technologies.
BTW, the pic looks like the Unreal Tournament Ancient Egpyt mod you can download for free from

Posted May 26, 2007 9:24:24 PM | link

Amarilla says:

illovich, you dont want me to " unpack " it; go take a look at the thread " Teaching in SL..." , here at TN this month. But if you still need a lil bit more blush , i can do it , only for you and only this time : we've seen Law Professors ignoring the basics of law enforcement and regulations ( see ADA ) but preaching " ...oh dear, we are teaching our students in SL , you know ..." . The masturbation is : you are preaching a higher education and another perspective while you lack the basic common ones.
What do you expect to come out of your " initiative " ? A BJ , in the best case.

Posted May 27, 2007 3:54:58 AM | link

Kamal.O.Rowe says:

I recently completed Aaron's class and I am currently working on his project in second life. It truly was a fantastic and unique learning experience. Being able to study from home seems like a lazy way out, but in all honesty it takes an immense amount of skill, self control to participate. Also the participation does not feel watered down at all. In fact being in a V.R world enhances it a bit. I never once found my attention drifting away from what was going on. Perhaps a VR class isn't appropriate for every subject type, thats understandable. Nothing is perfect; but my experience with it is one that will stick with me forever. That and also being able to work with Aaron in second life is an honor words can not convey. Knowing your at the forefront of something so ground breaking that it is even controversial is probably the most unique experience of all. One must always approach these things with an open mind and truly consider the positives and the negatives before coming to a conclusion. After all everything we as a people consider to be knowledge has come about after trial, tribulation, and serious contemplation.

Posted May 27, 2007 7:37:08 PM | link

Aaron E. Walsh says:

Thanks for the interview, Ian, and to everyone for your comments and this discussion. I'll respond to many points made here, but rather than run over the bounds of a reasonable length in a single reply will instead be brief and ask questions that might lead to more conversation....

David, I'm particularly interested in hearing what you and your colleague discussed following his trip to a conference about the future of Learning & Teaching strategies and virtual worlds. Did he come away from that with any thoughts about the direction this is taking?

I'd like to respond to you, Amarilla, but don't believe I understand your point completely -- are you saying that Immersive Education and other virtual learning environments shouldn't be developed and fostered because education (should) happen in the home? Not sure if that's what you mean, but if so the same case can be made for books and education in general, yes?

Jane, we're announcing the new Immersive Education platform this fall. It'll be available for college and universities, and also high schools, and a fair amount of course material will be available online as well (so you can use it at home, although most people will probably use it in a school).

Illovich, thank you for taking the time to write out your detailed suggestions. You're right on target with a good deal of the mandates for this work. Is your background in education? Following are some of the requirements now under consideration for the next generation Immersive Education platform (taken from the standards charter, which is available through or directly at

1. Based on open standards (specifications), open implementations, and open source code
2. Platform-neutral and vendor-neutral client (viewer) and server architectures (no lock-in)
3. Open application programming interfaces (APIs)
4. Support for industry-standard content authoring tools (e.g., Maya, Softimage, SketchUp, Blender, etc.)
5. Scalable network architecture and scalable graphics architecture
6. Interoperable content and asset exchange (reusable content libraries)
7. Voice and text chat with support for recording/playback of in-session chats
8. Privacy controls that enable closed (non-public) virtual classrooms and meetings
9. Option for identity verification (linking avatar and character names to real-world identity)
10. Stable and reliable implementation for all supported platforms (minimal crashing/freezing)
11. Support for recording and playback of user activities and actions
12. Support for instructor-led and self-directed learning
13. Support for "safe mode" controls that shield users from potentially objectionable content
14. Support for game-based learning content and environments (goals, scoring, challenges, etc)
15. Provides a suitable foundation for formal academic curricula and best practices

These aren't the only requirements, but are some of the most significant. The ease-of-use point you make is especially important, as it's unrealistic to expect faculty and teachers to create this type of content. Instead, we anticipate that most teachers/faculty will use a simple Web browser interface to assemble their learning environments from a collection of reusable worlds and objects. In the Use Case section of the charter you'll see references to "reusable content libraries" that are meant for this purpose. The following use case is an example of the typical usage we expect in general:

Use Case #1. Reusable content libraries — A teacher who is not skilled in creating or editing digital media content wants to conduct one of his classes using Immersive Education technology but doesn't have the time or experience necessary to create or assemble the course materials himself. Rather than create his Immersive Education course from scratch the faculty uses a simple Web page interface to browse through libraries of pre-constructed Immersive Education courses that have been built by faculty at other universities and colleges. Because the faculty who created these courses have designated them as "shared" they're available for others to use (similar to the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative). After the teacher finds a pre-made course environment that suits his needs he then uses his Web browser to make it available to his own students through his own server instance, meaning he and his students are able to meet online in the course environment within their own private learning space (with no mixing of students or faculty from different organizations). Over time the faculty decides that he'd like for his course environment to contain more learning objects (e.g., videos, interactive 3D objects, audio lectures, etc.) which he finds by browsing the pre-made libraries. After identifying the custom objects for his course environment the faculty member has one of his student teaching assistants add the custom learning objects into his course.

ErikC, I did write Core Web3D and have been an advocate of open 3D standards (such as VRML, X3D and MPEG-4) for over a decade now. We do use VRML and X3D in Immersive Education, but not for shared multi-user environments (not for collaborative worlds). This doesn't reflect a particular shortcoming of VRML/X3D or MPEG-4, but is instead a reflection on the standards-based multi-user platforms what were available in 2003 when we made the decision to use the Unreal 2 game engine. We also use blaxxun Contact and the blaxxun multi-user chat system for some very basic collaboration, but for full-blown online classes we use Unreal at the moment and will soon be choosing a new platform entirely. If you're interested in what the issues are/were with the VRML/X3D multi-user platforms that prevented us from using them more I'd be more than happy to talk about that (btw, the screenshot is of an Egypt map from Unreal Tournament 2004 and it may be available on the Web as well... we have a few Egypt environments that we use in our classes. If you know of others please point me toward them).

Out of curiosity, does anyone here still use blaxxun Contact or CyberTown?

And finally, thanks for taking the time to participate in this discussion, Kamal. I didn't know you felt that strongly about our past semester, and hope that the Second Life work we're starting now is just as interesting to you. I've also asked your classmate Jeff Gallo to consider comparing Unreal and Second Life here, as I'd like to hear how you both feel about these two platforms in general (Second Life is a candidate for the next generation Immersive Education platform, and your feedback is useful; you can also use the "contribute" links on the standards group form to provide that if you'd like).

On a parting note, we're assembling a library of research materials (studies, reports, white papers, thesis, and so forth) related to virtual reality learning environments and game-based learning. If anyone here has come across any interesting or new materials of this nature please do point me at them.


Posted May 28, 2007 9:00:17 PM | link

Robert Bloomfield says:

The immersive ed platform, and the collaborative effort to design standards, seem to be a very promising direction. I have been thinking about how such platforms could be used for business education (as defined broadly...from ecomics, finance and accounting to politics, regulation and sociology). My initial thoughts are posted here.

Virtual worlds are a natural fit for business topics, because they have such robust economies. However, there isn't yet a world/platform that I would view as appropriate for business ed. A good business ed platform would include game content (like World of Warcraft), but with managers and bankers instead of orcs and elves. That way, people could be led through successively challenging business-oriented quests (World of Bizquest?).

My hope is that one day we can have a platform that allows faculty in business-related areas to create their own business RPG worlds and instances, on a platform that supports the key elements that drive economies in MMORPGs: player attributes, goods, production functions, etc. However, the world would have to support far more sophisticated forms of property rights, contracting and commercial arrangements between players, and business reporting (financial statements, etc.)

Is anyone aware of virtual worlds platforms that allow users to create programmed RPGs? I have spent a fair bit of time in Second Life, and as far as I can tell, it is devoid of true RPG content. Does anyone know why? Is SL simply too poorly designed to handle user-created game content?

Posted May 29, 2007 5:52:49 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Aaron : you confuse the education with the instruction. The education STARTS at home. Without the " sugar & stick " you dont have education . This is why any " immersive " is a fake education : because it simulates . This is why instead of earn the benefits of education , you just endorse the behavior of " what if you saw me, so what if it's obvious, you dont have a witness or material evidences or a good lawyer...." .
Using the terms " higher education " and " another perspective ", proves a lack of education .
Read more Confucius and you'll understand , if you didn't already yet.

Posted May 29, 2007 8:08:20 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Get real, a job or lost ....the instruction teaches you how to use a gun, the education teaches you if and when and in what circumstances to use- or not- the gun.
The online ones , are not educating but only instructing : because you dont get educated by the game, but by its rules. The RL games can be educational , because of the dualism " good-bad ".
In school , you dont have education if the teacher theaches you - let say - history , and between classes he rapes a 12 yo girl or scam the students. You never put a felon to be a teacher of law.

Posted May 29, 2007 8:25:14 AM | link

David Grundy says:

David, I'm particularly interested in hearing what you and your colleague discussed following his trip to a conference about the future of Learning & Teaching strategies and virtual worlds. Did he come away from that with any thoughts about the direction this is taking?


I believe he commented that the particular conference speaker at the seminar he went to started with "I know this is going to frighten a lot of you.." Which apparently caught the gist of the feeling in the room. This particular University had a copy of its campus in Second Life and the seminar was focused (apparently, this is 2nd hand knowledge though) on future directions.

We had a long discussion about this, and certainly our opinion was that while the technology was changing at a great pace, and our capabilities where changing, generally there seemed to be resistance to using these capabilities. Both from the teaching staff themselves (due to lack of awareness, skills etc) or indeed the worries over academic credability, or perhaps even more simplist barriers which institutions face. For example, in my institution we have a widing participation agenda, which includes us trying to make ourselves much more accessable to disabled students (Indeed, I have followed with interest the posts on Terra Nova lately regarding disabled issues).

Since in every module we design we have to take into account these issues the default setting many times (wrongly, I'll agree) is to reject novel teaching methods which could be used in favour of tried and tested ones in case students are disadvanataged. I think this is an issue which cannot be ignored of course. Certainly when I questioned Rebecca Whitehead at University of Advancing Technology as to what she would do if she had a blind student on her Applied Leadership course which used World of Warcraft as it's setting, she seemed a little at a loss to give response (though I'll happily admit, I have no idea either of how her course, a brilliant idea IMHO, could be adapted for a blind student either)

In other words, at the moment, despite the fact that our students are increasing highly computer literate, and despite the fact that our students are increasing blending learning able, and despite the fact that our students are increasingly visual learning orientated, there does seem to be a distinct lag in how the teaching methods adapts to this.

Personally I think we here at my institution are probably a little ahead of some of the game with our extensive use of our VLE and our focus on innovation in teaching & learning. Despite this (in direct answer to your query) me and my colleague found it difficult to see how to overcome many of the implimentation issues arising.

That said, I think it's fair to say, we're very open minded on the issue, with certainly projects such as yours and others showing the wider academic community in general just how these technologies can be used for teaching & learning. As more emergent evidence from such projects arises, let us hope that use of such technologies also becomes more widespread through dissemination of best practice.

Or am I too optimistic? :-)

Posted May 30, 2007 9:57:36 AM | link

Gregory J Gallo says:

Hi everyone, my name is Gregory J. Gallo. I am a senior at the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College pursuing an undergraduate degree in Philosophy. I recently took Professor Walsh’s 3D Virtual Design class. In 3D Virtual Design we worked with Unreal Tournament and Maya. I am currently enrolled in Professor Walsh’s Adv. 3D Virtual Design. In Adv. 3D Virtual Design we will be working with the Second Life Program. I wanted to comment on my personal experiences with Immersive Education to give a student’s perspective on Immersive Education. My experiences using Unreal Tournament this past semester have left me with some positive ideas about Immersive Education and the future platform for Immersive Education. As Professor Walsh commented in his interview, voice chat can be problematic with network issues at times. Text chat was a good default communication device for us that kept both students and teacher connected while in Unreal Tournament. With email, IM, and telephone as back up communication devices, we were able to stay connected throughout the learning process this past semester. The use of outside materials as learning aids added to the Immersive Education experience. I felt fully immersed in the curriculum; I wasn’t waiting for the class to be over or watching the clock. I felt challenged by Professor Walsh, who made each class different from the last. Outside materials as aids to the Unreal Tournament environment enabled the Professor to use other devices and the full resources of the World Wide Web to fuel the learning process. Some of the outside materials were so much fun I forgot I was in class and at the same time I was being introduced to the history of 3D Virtual Reality. 3D Virtual Reality being the basis of the main learning platform, Unreal Tournament, and tools, Unreal Tournament Editor and Maya. Another positive point about Immersive Education for me, as a student, was the reduction in driving time back and forth to class. I work full time and commute more that an hour each way when traveling to and from school. Immersive Education enabled me to have more time for my other classes and more study time all together. This past semester I was able to earn all As in my three classes and I attribute this to the additional study time Immersive Education allotted me.

Choosing a new platform to teach Immersive Education is important because the potential for other subjects to utilize this teaching methodology is significant. Unreal Tournament is a good platform with a relatively simple 3D engine. Using the Unreal Tournament Editor is not as user friendly as using a tool such as Maya, but Unreal Tournament’s platform is a good learning environment, because of its simplicity. Second Life is a good candidate for future Immersive Education, but the environment appears huge and complicated compared to Unreal Tournament. As I begin to use the Second Life Program I view its complexity as a good way to incorporate outside material aids into the main program in the form of object links. For example; the tutorials on Orientation Island have some objects, such as post signs, linked to places on the World Wide Web. I don’t know the kind of programming this would entail, but the potential is there. After building in Second Life this semester I will have a better understanding of the program and it’s potential as a tool for Immersive Education.

Posted Jun 3, 2007 8:10:07 AM | link