I hold back on talking about the Certificate in Virtual Worlds course at the University of Washington which I teach, until I’m deep into the Second Quarter.
In the first quarter, the students jump from one virtual world to the other as fast as we can present them. One week, we’ll jump into 3DXplorer, hosted by the CEO Darius Lahoutifard. The next week we teleport into Reaction Grid with Kyle Gomboy and move into his 3D Unity models to get a glimpse into the future of engineering. Then, we’ll move over to VastPark and explore the dynamism of full Internet integration, and so on and on for a good six or seven weeks. We use this model to provide students with the ability to see how a professional owner of a company presents the product and the future of the product. As the students gain access to these virtual world leaders, they develop an ability to evaluate, present and manage other individuals inside a virtual world. They grow to a point of finding another world, InWorldz, World of Warcraft, Club Penguin, Protosphere and on and on. And they develop ways to get the rest of the class to come in, look around, and listen to their presentation of that world, emulating the executive that they saw previously. It’s wondrous actually to watch the growth.
The students have to figure out how to get into the virtual world, bring a set of 15-20 people along with them (figure out what to do when the virtual world is not cross platform), and in some cases figureing out how to present in those worlds through more than one medium at a time. Sometimes they rely on Adobe Connect, sometimes they stream the presentation. Their job is to figure out how it’s done and make it a smooth experience. They don’t get a grade, they get an experience they’ll never forget. They have 20 critics who have to do the same thing watching them. We want to get in and get out knowing we’ve seen what there is to see. It’s one thing to teleport to another virtual world, it’s quite another to figure out the presentation system, gain everyone’s attention and keep their interest while you’re presenting from a distance. Not being able to see your audience is something you truly don’t understand until you can’t do it yourself. These students always succeed at it. Why not, they have a class of 20 mentors to help them do it, not to mention access to virtual world team leaders themselves. These ladies and gentlemen avail themselves to our class with extreme selflessness. We are blessed.
The students reflect on each one of these visits while reading academic papers from various research organizations. They read, they explore their thoughts on a wiki, and they comment on each other’s thoughts. They self reflect and group reflect at the same time. They do all of this under the identify of their avatar. I don’t think we even say our real names during the first day of class. We create personas, so we can ask deeper questions. What is a virtual world? What is the Proteus effect? Am I becoming my avatar? What is the future of the metaverse? What will I be prepared to do there? Which hardware technologies will be integrated to sense my physical and emotional reactions? Will I invent them? What is the future of mesh in Second Life? Will I design the next world? The questions go on and on, and we frame everything against an emerging understanding of how to choose a virtual world to solve a business problem, design an educational experience, and consider building a business.
Further, the students examine avatar persona deeply. What does it mean to be present in a virtual world with other people? How do you manage your own attention, and how do you get and keep the attention of others? What is the impact of clothing in the virtual world, or appearance, and continuity of character? The questions abound. How do I use narrative? How do I use multimedia? What is the design constraints and the affordances of the environments? We believe by living there, you can come to understand these questions very deeply. Hiro Protagonist would easily find a place at our table.
As students get a firm hold on that, they begin to feel what it is like when taking on a client. The client calls and has an idea they want to go into a virtual world. Your first question is, what is the business case and what do you want to accomplish by moving your solution onto a 3D virtual platform? How much immersion, interactivity and collaboration do you want to experience? And the fact that each one of us does this several times a quarter, and gets instant feedback from all of the other users makes this the equivalent of a Reality TV like experience. We do vote people off the island at times :>D
As students prep for these scenarios in the physical world, they build a sense of camaraderie and belonging to the virtual biodome in which they live. They develop a psychology of interaction, and a sociology of collaboration. They develop natural tendencies to acknowledge others, clarify appropriately, support their statements with references, URLs, multimedia. The objective is to enrich, embrace, and enlighten.
Success in taking a class in a virtual world is, as Woody Allen might state, is simply 90% showing up. I’m not saying Woody Allen takes classes in a virtual world. If he did, he’d probably be even more alienated than he is today. Or would he? Would he have a sense of community, of other people caring about his actions, his inactions, and his contributions. Would he have a venue for talking to someone at 3 am in the morning when he can’t sleep and just looking around for some humanity. I think he might be quite pleased, especially if he decided he wanted to jam a bit with a colleague over the Internet.
Immersing yourself long term in a virtual world, has a very profound effect on the psychology of learning. A certain responsibility and accountability grow out of being there. You see performance from everyone, all the time. That’s different than sitting in a class listening to the teacher talk. It’s active, it’s focused, and it’s personal. It’s everything you want it to be, if you are reaching out for interaction and experience.
Visit us at UW Avalumni, University of Washington Virtual Biodome. These are the types of experiences that 2b3d has brought to the university environment. This model provides a wonderful foundation for bringing instruction to the business scene. We know how to teach in a virtual world with performance of the student on our mind. We know how to build it, and we know how to make it work. Try us!