Re: [xmca] zopeds and virtual learning environments

From: Hendranus Vermeulen (
Date: Tue Jan 09 2007 - 07:49:37 PST

Dear Donna and All

I share your enthusiasm for the Virtual medium. I believe that new media and
Video Games and 3D MMOG in particular have the potential to serve as a
vehicle to drive the transformation of our contemporary learning theory and

For my MSc "Education and Training Systems Design" I completed in 2001, I
developed a 3D virtual learning environment (VLE) prototype, which provides
users with the tools and procedures to solve an ill-structured urban design
problem. I used the ParrallelGraphics (
Islands Multi-user VRML client. ParrallelGraphics were themselves hosting
the server at the time. I am not sure if they are still offering this
service? Alternatively there is the Blaxxun solution: (

Another alternative is to use a commercial games engine. I used the demo
Unreal2Engine (
which is free for non-commercial use for developing the VLE for my PhD
(which I am busy writing up). The full game versions can also be purchased.
Uneal and Halflife both support great tools for creating your own VLE's.
These systems typically support multi-user environments of 20-30 players. So
for larger numbers you will have to divide users into smaller cluster. These
engines provide great functionality and control; however, they do require
some technical expertise and also content development.

Content development is probably the most expensive component of developing
VLE's. You can get hold of content libraries, but custom models and
animation are usually required. There are work being done on procedural
content generation, however, this is still "bleeding edge" technology. This
brings me to a concern I have regarding your proposal for "virtual days in
the classroom" and a more general question: What will the 3D nature of the
VLE contribute to your learning activity? One of the most important
questions we need to answer as researchers and developers of VLE's is: What
does the virtual medium add to learning activities that other more cost
effective media can do just as well? Would video scenarios of "days in the
classroom" not be as effective and of higher fidelity?

I have been trying to identify learning activities wherein the 3D spatial
aspects of the medium play a constructive role. In my MSc I selected the
practice of urban design; and for my doctorate I have developed a VLE that
aims to afford the practice of film production for film and media students.
In both learning activities 3D space plays an important role in the
activity. I also utilized CHAT as analytic frame for my ethnographic study
of praxis and to inform the design of the VLE. I am very interested to find
out more about your v-CHAT process and possibly compare notes? I have been
applying CHAT to small groups 3-4. I think it would be a serious logistical
challenge to conduct an activity systems analysis of an MMOG with 1000's of
participants. How could we quantify the analysis of activity systems and
leverage the advantages of computation these environments offer?

To get to the heart of VR we need to understand it in context of other media
as alternative spaces. I have tried my best to exploit the blurring borders
between VR and video (CG in films, Cinematic shots in games, etc.) Like Jay
I believe that Video Games and 3D MMOG fall somewhere between Virtual
Reality (VR) and video. (Thanks for blowing my mind b.t.w. Jay, with your
"Video Epistemology In-and-Outside the Box: Traversing Attentional Spaces").
They offer us fertile ground for research as well as practical benefits. To
return to the content development issue: There exists an exciting
opportunity for conducting interdisciplinary research using the virtual
medium. Working on such an interdisciplinary project I realized that not
only can new research questions be posed but work can be "outsourced"
different departments, for example media students learning 3D modeling and
animation could contribute to the content.

But I digress! Your interest is simulating teaching practice? I have found
Shaffer (Shaffer, D. W. (2005). Epistemic Games. Innovate, 1(6)) articles on
"epistemic games" particularly interesting when thinking about simulating
praxis. Eric Zimmerman's books and short articles regarding games design and
learning ( are informative and

When developing learning games I think it is important to take a prototyping
approach. It most likely not works exactly like we were expecting. Even the
successful MMOG have to be tweaked and rules changed to accommodate users
"gaming" the system. I think as VLE designers we can't expect to have a
drop-box approach. Learning in VLE is high maintenance and we only learn
through experience. CHAT is invaluable in helping us think this through.
Regarding participation and the lurker issue: I think it could also help if
we made the object of our "game" to intrigue and pull in the participants of
our VLE's. Playing this game requires that we are flexible and creative in
the strategies we use to hook our audience.

Thanks for starting off this very interesting thread and for everyone's

Hendranus Vermeulen
Department of Computer Science
University of Cape Town
Private Bag Rondebosch
7701 South Africa

On 1/8/07, Russell, Donna L <> wrote: > > In response to Jay's posting- > > I am also very glad that there is interest in MMO's and their potential > for learning - and the potential to study that learning using v-CHAT. > > However, in response to Mike's questions- the concept of putting 200 > students in a MMO when viewed from an instructional designer lens is > difficult -you can schedule a video-lecture in a virtual conference room or > post information in kiosks for your students and the 3-D environment can be > a portal to these other standard learning processes --but these types of > activities are not necessarily (i believe) the potential for learning in > these environments- > > the 3-D virtual environment strengths for learning are engagement and > motivation- you can design for layering of 3-D interactions and > collaborations into your learning environment- and developing simulations > and real-time events/scenarios > > for instance - i am designing a professional development program for > preservice teachers going into urban setting using a 3-D virtual space (we > will not use SL and we have not chosen a program/company yet- any > suggestions would be greatly appreciated) > > our training program will be embedded in the current coursework etc- but > adds these additional experiences- > > 1. virtual classrooms > to establish simulations of classrooms- students can go into these spaces > and virtually 'experience' the urban classroom- orient to the space and > gather information using kiosks (learning centers) - about designing > curriculum and the practice of teaching- these simulations will include > guides/tutors that can respond to the preservice teachers in a scripted form > or the guides could be the administrators (myself for instance) > > 2. the virtual school house > this virtual space will also be a portal for the teachers to other sources > of information -- in their virtual space the preservice teachers can access > information -- experts- watch videos - engage in their course work -- > dialog etc > > 2- the virtual mentors > set up collaborations using virtual mentors in the 3-D spaces- these > mentors will be real urban educators who schedule meetings and > collaborations with the preservice teachers in the virtual space - these > collaborations will be an opportunity for preservice teachers to ask > questions - work through issues/ ideas/ beliefs in risk-free encounters with > their mentors-- > > 3. virtual teacher lounge > we will set up a virtual 'teacher lounge' where the preservice teachers > can collaborate and meet as a cohort to go over their course work (the > Institute for Urban Ed takes these teachers through their program as a > cohort), discuss new ideas, and design new curriculum etc.. > > 4--virtual days in the classroom > and finally we will use the 3-D space to design a series of scenarios- > real time classroom events that occur in the 3-D classrooms -- these events > will engage the preservice teachers is a classroom experience that they > respond to 'live' -- the administrators will design these scenarios using > our consulting group of exemplar urban teachers who will describe > 'transformative events' in their practice. we will use these events as the > basis for a series of real-time events- > > the preservice teachers will go into these events as a teacher (or perhaps > a student) they will get pre-event information - but the event itself will > happen real-time with the students in the classroom are other teachers/ > administrators that will use a plan (a script) to initiate the scenario and > respond to the preservice teacher's decisions- > > we can set up a day where a student comes in distraught- or a reading > group goes awry - or a class-within-a-class teacher needs advice or > assistance- or the gifted student is asking for resources -- or --as often > happens-- all of the above occur at once--- the teacher's avatar then > responds and the event's progress based on the scripted plan but with ample > opportunity for divergence-- > > this is how it plays out real-time in a classroom- it never goes the way > you think- it goes better -- or worse - but never the way you expect -- you > have to be able to design for flexibility- and my own research in teacher > decision-making and professional development shows that teachers respond to > the minute-by-minute decisions based on their beliefs about learning and > their ideas about their practice-- addressing these issues in this risk-free > proessional development process will help the preservice teacher be more > aware and more prepared-- > > they can come together afterward and 'discuss' the scenario- reflect on > their decisions- without worrying about judgement -- the other teachers in > the building or their principal wondering what is going on- etc.. > > this is - again- a risk free way for the preservice teacher to engage in > real-time decision-making and get a sense of the complexity and fluidity of > a classroom-- > > embedded in all of this is the concept of training a teacher for an > extremely complex fluid learning environment- developing these preservice > teachers' ideas/ beliefs/ abilities developmentally through a series of > risk-free experiences -- > > these teachers will go through the standard preservice in-classroom > training - but we hope to develop ideas and abilities that help these > teachers address their ideas about urban classrooms so these teachers can go > into their urban classrooms and be successful -- the attrition rate of urban > teachers is very high- the use of permanent subs in urban settings is very > high -- it is very very important for the development of successful urban > classrooms that well-trained teachers work in these settings- > > donna > > > > Donna L. Russell, Ph.D. > Assistant Professor > Instructional Technology > Curriculum and Instructional Leadership > School of Education > University of Missouri-Kansas City > (email) <> > (website) < >> > _______________________________________________ xmca mailing list

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