Archive for the ‘Problem-based learning’ Category


Second Life may be the only virtual reality product we’re seeing being used by some early adoptors in higher education, but from where I sit, it won’t be too long before other virtual world (game) engines become more ubiquitous. I can’t imagine that the current developers, Open Source or otherwise, won’t be leapfrogging each other within another two years. SUN Microsystems and the Croquet Project are two such serious contenders. And as of today, “Rumors abound that Google is developing online ‘virtual world’,” per the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Gaming engines are intended to more easily put in the hands of experimenting faculty, the ability to create their own scenarios, virtual spaces, and collaborative communities without being gaming programmers. Before the appearance of Second Life, these imagineers had to contract with game developers to create MUVEs (multi-player virtual environments). As facts, figures, or assumptions change, the MUVEs risk being outdated or placed the chopping block for an infusion of current data. Harvard University’s River City or Indiana University’s QuestAtlantis are two such examples of excellently created MUVEs, but created at the hands of expert gaming developers. 

With game engine software licenses, faculty may have to spend a goodly amount of time (presently, anyway) learning how to create an Avatar, building objects or assets, or learning how to teleport, but the control is in the hands of those instructors excited to see how well these worlds meaningfully engage their learners. 

What follows are my bookmarked YouTube videos showing various uses of virtual realities. I want to stay vendor-agnostic, so please do not consider these plugs for any particular software.

If you have other examples of good videos on 3D immerisive learning environments for education, please submit a comment to this post (instructors, teachers, campus or school administrators only, please). 


This video (Octboer 2006) is a fascinating virtual press conference held by SUN Microsystems within Second Life. 3 1/2 minutes


The second video from SUN Microsystems, provides some first looks at their virtual world application, Project Wonderland, where distributed teams can create spaces to solve real-world problems, share documents, and collaborate as needed. Open Source, based on Darkstar game server, uses JAVA code  ~10 minutes


This is a very popular video that came out 2/15/07 on Ohio University’s Second Life Campus. 2 1/2 minutes


A Croquet software demo (August 2007) 5 minutes


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I live in the Twin Cities and I started this blog just weeks after the Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse. So it seemed only fitting to me to post something about how technology was deployed urgently and creatively, right during the peak of the crisis. The main communication problem that night was with the cellular network coming to its knees within 30 minutes of the collapse. Those keeping their eyes on technological solutions immediately wanted to unclog the network so it could be used for first responders.

From some very brief Internet research, it appears that the use of municipal Wi-fi networks for emergencies and disasters had been discussed and scenario-planned but had not really gone prime time, until this. Here’s what happened that night.

A recently but partially completed Wi-fi network in Minneapolis was opened up the night of the disaster so anyone could use it. Stats showed the number of concurrent users grew quickly to 6,000. Besides immensely helping communications by moving traffic off the cell network, the opening of the wireless network allowed movement of large GIS mapping files right to the recovery site and supported webcams for rescue workers.

The man who co-founded US Internet, the municipal Wi-fi network for Minneapolis, Joe Caldwell, tried to use his cell phone to contact city officials within minutes of learning about the disaster, but to no avail. But he had a solution; US Internet could open the Wi-fi network and people with Wi-fi enabled laptops or other devices could send instant messages, video, photos and email. And those with Wi-fi enabled phones could make voice calls. And so it happened.

GIS software was used to help the responders set up staging areas for families and the media as well as to identify where to put debris. It was also used to identify secure areas for the President and Secret Service when they arrived a few days later.

So what does community media and technology infrastructure have to do with teaching and learning? The skills needed for many future jobs have very much to do with knowing how to use spatial and virtual technologies. When faculty teach courses that utilize imaging and 3D modeling solutions, GIS mapping software, or interactive virtual environments, they are firstly teaching students how to use those technologies for later employment. But they are also in the process fostering inquiry and problem-based learning , scaffolded learning, and constructivism, allowing for very rich learning experiences.

I am proud to be a part of a system of colleges and universities where creative faculty are thinking up new ways to use these technologies in everything from automation and motion control to emergency preparedness and law enforcement. I’ve come across outstanding innovation occurring throughout our system of campuses and look forward to seeing what other ideas emerge.

 (Sources: Computerworld, Aug 2007, Government Computer News, Sept 8, 2007)

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