One of our banner submitters, Tripp Robbins, let us know he was eager to get word out about a project he is working on to use virtual worlds as an educational tool. The website of the project is here and I asked Tripp if he could write a short summary of what he is up to for the blog so that people can have a chance to provide input. So that follows below. Thanks, Tripp!
Summary of the NEW NEXUS PROJECT for Terra Nova
After spending a lot of time in various virtual worlds/games/simulation, the idea of using a VW for education seemed powerful. I spent the last 18 months or so doing research on “what’s out there” (and I’m sure I missed a lot). After a great seminar on “Using Videogames in Education” at Stanford University with James Gee as the key presenter (and others from UWisconsin and Stanford) last summer, I came away feeling like what was needed is a tool kit for educators to create VW content. That led to the creation of the New Nexus project.
The goal of the New Nexus is to see the creation of a software tool set for creating 3D virtual world experiences for learning. This "Dream Kit" should be:
1) free to the public to use or modify
2) easy to use (well, as easy as possible)
3) powerful, flexible and adaptable
4) suited to multiple operating systems (or in different OS flavors)
If and when the Dream Kit is created, educators around the world will be able to use it to create Learning Modules. (My conservative ballpark guess is that a reasonable tool would only be useable by 1%-2% of primary and secondary teachers; at its most user-friendly, it’d still require some tech savvy.) Each new module can be shared on the web and available for free download so that the storehouse of available, ever-improving materials will always be growing. (Alternately, it may be wise to allow some users/organizations to create works for commercial sales, since the incentive to recover costs would allow for more time and energy to be put into a module.)
We are not naive about the challenge that this project poses; we are inspired by the potential it shows. The possibilities are staggering. We see two possible routes to the development of the Dream Kit. The first is an open source approach, with volunteers working collaboratively to create something for the good of mankind and harnessing the power of the web to fuel the work. The second approach is to obtain funding from charitable organizations and/or individuals to hire world-class software engineers and artists to create the kit. For either approach, regular updates to the engine would be expected.
Having a little familiarity with software development, I understand that creating something that is really powerful/flexible AND user-friendly is hard, really hard. I’m sure the reason such a tool doesn’t exist is because it’s extremely hard to create. But it’s not impossible. So if it’s possible and if it’s worth doing, how do we get it made? Which approach, Open Source or charitably funded (or a hybrid) is best?