First, it is important to recognize that technological innovation is always social innovation, if the application will be used by people” –Everett Rogers
Online and distance learning and education is becoming more and more attractive for many academic institutions. My intentions with this thesis project is to enhance online and distance learning through a more immersive and interactive fashion. While my initial objective was to deliver online learning through enhancing traditional web based applications using Web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook and MySpace, I have realized that the experience still will not be immersive enough. Hence, I have turned to virtual environments.
Virtual Worlds and Virtual Environments are ever more so popular. Today there are hundreds of virtual worlds available on the market. These are alternative worlds that are developed to supply online entertainment and social networking for users.
I would like to mention that contrary to conventional perception, virtual worlds are not online games. There is a notion that virtual worlds and virtual environments are part of the gaming industry, however this is not true in all cases. There are some virtual worlds and environments that have specifically been designed for gaming. There are titles such as World of War Craft, and such. I would like to call your attention to a particular virtual environment called Second Life.
Second Life is one of the more popular virtual worlds with more than 9 million residents (as of August 2007). Second Life is a high resolution 3D virtual world where avatars are fully customizable. Land can be bought and owned; residents retain the right to any digital objects created. Objects such as buildings, vehicles, apparel, skins and furniture can be created, bought, sold, or traded. Second Life also has many communities and groups including businesses such as IBM, BMW, Microsoft, Mercedes Benz, Sony and also academic institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and the like.
Virtual environments and virtual worlds are a great means of exploring the possibility of extending the classroom material into these environments and a chance of exploring possibly a new method of delivering effective ideas and examples to the students. Various examples can be included in a virtual environment including tutorials and online lectures.
My intentions with this thesis project is to jump start California Lutheran University’s interest and involvement in the virtual world. I am proposing that we start a program through the Computer Science department and take the initiative to extend Dr. Peng’s introductory undergraduate courses into the Second Life environment. Institutions that have carried out such a venture have had a very positive feedback from the student community.
There are several things that need to be considered in order to start planning for and designing a virtual environment. The following is a bullet point list of the basics:
* Land Purchase
* Space Requirements
* Support Time
* Faculty Involvement
* In-World Events and Features
* Initial Endeavors
* Emerging Educational uses
The virtual world will be developed through scripts, 3D Objects, and 3D Environments.
It is also possible to integrate traditional web application with Second Life’s virtual environment for data recording and tracking. With the use of LSL (Linden Scripting Language), developers and programmers can interact and exchange data between the virtual world and external systems such as a database.
This approach will create an environment that is more active by the users, more immersive and also absorptive. It has a better sense of community compared to other social networks, due to the fact that you have a virtual character, and you interact with other virtual characters and objects. This allows for a better experience for the group compared to the using of forums and online chat for dialogue. Of course as stated in the previous paragraph, with the use of scripts we can record all conversations and activities if necessary for the lecture in a database and create an online web application where it would be available for tracking and analysis.