Wonderland Showcase – iED Boston 2012

July 13, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

At that Immersive Education conference in Boston last month, eight Open Wonderland community members from 6 different countries joined me remotely to show off their work. Here’s a brief summary of the worlds and features presented during the showcase. In all cases, the presenters have agreed to leave their spaces running on the community server. If you missed the conference, you can explore the spaces on your own. Simply log on to the community server and use the Placemarks menu to navigate to the different spaces.

WonderBuilders Outpatient Clinic

I began the session by showing one of the simulated medical spaces created by my company WonderBuilders.

WonderBuilders Outpatient Clinic

WonderBuilders Outpatient Clinic

This virtual outpatient clinic is designed for communications skills training. Each of our virtual clinical spaces comes with a soundproof observation room with one-way windows so that instructors and others can observe students during role-playing scenarios. This space also features a non-player character that speaks, a poster with links to different portions of the space, an App Frame for organizing documents, and pop-up questions using a modified version of the Sheet Suite developed jointly by WonderBuilders and the University of Missouri.


Michael Gardner from the University of Essex talked about the +Spaces (pronounced “positive spaces”) EU-funded project aimed at engaging citizens in policy-making. Michael showed excerpts from this role-play video:

To learn more about the use of role playing in the +Spaces project, as well as the Wonderland modules developed as part of this project, see these previous WonderBlog articles or search the blog for articles by “Bernard Horan.”

Entrepreneur Space

Johanna Pirker from Graz University in Austria took us on a tour of the space she created for teaching entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneur Space

Entrepreneur Space from Graz University

This space includes an informal area for students to get to know one another, an area for presentations, and a work area where students, mentors, and instructors can collaborate.


Roland Sassen demonstrated WonderSchool, an on-line school that takes advantage of Wonderland’s ability to run shared applications within the virtual world.


WonderSchool with the Alice programming environment.

Roland demonstrated how he can teach students to use complex software such as the Alice programming environment from within the virtual world. He also demonstrated other dynamic applications running remotely inside a VNC Viewer window.

Seekers School Maze

Chris Derr, head of the Seekers School, talked about using Wonderland in his innovative curriculum to motivate kids who have had difficulty in other school situations.

Seeker School student activities

Seeker School student activities

The students spent the past semester learning how to build Open Wonderland worlds, including making their own 3D models in SketchUp and creating simple animations using Wonderland’s EZScript capability. Among other things, the students created a fun maze, mountain climbing challenges, and a colorful spinning roof.


Ryan Babiuch from the University of Missouri iSocial project showed one of the many learning spaces used as part of their curriculum for remotely teaching social competency skills to students with autism spectrum disorders.


iSocial space used in teaching students with autism.

This curriculum was pilot tested this past semester in two schools. While the data has not yet been fully analyzed, the initial results were extremely positive.


Michel Denis and Gery Winkler from ImmerHire showed the Survival on the Moon space they use to help assess logical thinking skills.

ImmerHire - Assessing Logical Thinking

ImmerHire – Assessing logical thinking in the Survival on the Moon scenario.

The ImmerHire environment is intended to help employers evaluate communication, personal, and social skills of job applicants using a range of virtual role-play activities.

STCC Virtual Campus

Kristy Perry, an English-as-a-second-language (ESL) professor at Springfield Technical Community College, showed one of the spaces she designed on the STCC Virtual Campus.

STCC Virtual Campus - patio

STCC Virtual Campus – patio

This patio space is intended as a venue for small group projects and conversation practice. The STCC Virtual Campus will be deployed for Level 2 ESL students starting in September.

Wonderland Wednesday Projects

Jonathan Kaplan, our Wonderland architect, demonstrated the three Wonderland Wednesday community projects that he has lead. These projects – Telepointers, EZMove, and Subsnapshot Import/Export – were all developed collaboratively on the Open Wonderland community server. In the weekly Wonderland Wednesday meetings, developers worked together using NetBeans and other shared applications.

Telepointer demonstration

Telepointer demonstration

The new Telepointers are considerably more aesthetically appealing than the old telepointers. More importantly, they now work when you have control of a 2D application. For multi-user applications such as the Whiteboard, this is particularly helpful as it allows users to see where everyone else is working.

Be sure to visit the community server to see these spaces and try out the set of Wonderland Wednesday features.

The Current State & Future of Online Education

April 19, 2012

By Brooke Folliot

Brooke is an avid writer who strives to write about topics surrounding the rising emergence of online education and how it could effect the way that students of the future will learn, interact, and contribute to the world around them.  Brooke holds a graduate degree in business and is also currently considering further graduate work in the field of organizational behavior.

According to research cited in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, nearly one in three college students takes at least one online class. That figure presents an increase of 10 percent over the prior year and amounts to nearly 6 million students around the country who are enrolled in the virtual classroom. For older-aged working professionals looking to obtain an online graduate degree, the idea of a virtual classroom could appeal to them in that it carries the flexibility of online education but embodies the look-and-feel of the traditional classroom with which they are familiar.  Many researchers and students also cite the convenience of the online classroom, which allows students with non-traditional schedules to earn college credit on a more flexible schedule. Many education analysts, however, are wondering just how effective online education really is and what will happen if the virtual classroom becomes the paradigm of tomorrow’s university.

In some respects, online learning has definite advantages over the traditional classroom. A report issued by the U.S. Department of Education found that students taking online instruction performed better than their peers in the traditional classroom. When the online instruction was collaborative or instructor-directed, researchers noted a greater positive effect. Additionally, the most effective learning models involved manipulations that triggered learner activity, self-reflection and self-moderating of understanding.

The effective online classroom is influenced by the behavior of the instructor more than by any other factor.  If this factor of instructor excellence were to be combined with future virtual classroom concepts, such as those fostered by the virtual environment enabler Open Wonderland, there is no telling how effective a tool this could be. By having a medium where students can not only immerse themselves into one personable environment from anywhere in the world, but to do so with high-caliber teachers, the entire landscape of education could change drastically. In a study published in the Journal of Interactive Online Learning, John Savery of the University of Akron found that effective online instructors are highly visible through both public and private communications channels, including banner web pages, email, audio and video. Good instructors are also organized, compassionate and analytical, providing continuous assessment so that students can monitor both their progress and their understanding of course topics. Finally, the best online instructors lead by example, modeling appropriate online communication and meeting their own commitments in a timely manner.

The future university classroom will inevitably incorporate digital content. The same Department of Education study also found that students who took courses blending face-to-face and online instruction performed better than any other group. Savery suggests that online instructors set up proctored exams on campus when possible so that online students have a chance to meet their instructors face-to-face. Schools that continue to rely on traditional instruction can support in-class activities via online discussion or by posting course materials online.

When gathering in one location is not possible, social media, video conferencing, or virtual worlds help to provide the next best solution for face-to-face connection. For example, professors can use platforms like Twitter to post assignments or class updates, or students can participate in live Twitter discussions by using a designated hashtag. Instead of discussing via text only, students can also conduct video conferences with their professors or meet in a virtual world. Additionally, solutions like SavorChat can allow professors to schedule chat room discussions combining the use of both Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Online education cuts costs for universities, delivers flexibility for students and enhances the educational experience. With the proliferation of mobile devices, students can connect to their coursework anytime, anywhere. The traditional classroom may never entirely disappear; however, the virtual classroom will support, if not supplant, the face-to-face paradigm.

How real is real enough?

September 29, 2011
Pic of Clyde Warren

Clyde Warren

Today’s guest blogger is Clyde Warren.  Clyde is a Professor of Chinese Consumer Behavior at the University of Stirling (Singapore) Institute for Retail Studies and at the National Chung Hsing University (in Taiwan).  Recently, Clyde implemented an Open Wonderland project for a business class in Taiwan which he talks about below.  Clyde may be reached at: clydewarden@gmail.com.

How real does a virtual environment need to be for users to feel presence?  This is a question educators have been researching in the attempt to implement virtual spaces to expand the classroom. For those of us old enough to have been playing eight bit video games and text-driven adventures, we already have a good feeling for the answer—not much reality is required. Quantifying this answer has been my research topic over the last couple years, and Open Wonderland is open road, making it possible to perform structured experimental designs educators and researchers will find most useful.

Two takeaway points:

  1. Open Wonderland’s freedom (as in free speech) allows, and even encourages, users to create worlds and tools that match exactly what is needed (in my case, a controlled experiment that incorporates existing teaching materials).
  2. Open Wonderland allows the implementation of nearly any metaphor that can reinforce underlying goals and teaching points, and those metaphors, even if somewhat abstract, raise feelings of presence among participants.

In Taiwan, where I have been an expatriate for a couple decades, my business negotiation class was the focus for an experiment using OWL. Over the past five years, I developed a pen and paper negotiation Role Playing Game (RPG) where groups of students bought and sold simulated products, negotiating details of price, quality, shipping, etc. One big problem was trying to simulate negotiations in a tiny classroom, where getting any privacy was impossible. OWL overcame this problem through virtual space, which I then used to test feelings of presence.

I measured feelings of presence among students in two different virtual environments—one high abstraction and one low abstraction. Rather than produce a realistic environment, the goal was to test a metaphorical environment. For my negotiation class, a key concept is the importance of the negotiation team, keeping core information secret, planning goals, and distributing work, while having access to members of other teams. For my class, I implemented an island metaphor, within OWL, with each team owning its own island and class lectures held in a central classroom location. This became the low abstraction environment in the experiment. If this setting produced a measurable feeling of presence, the benefit would include those feelings as well as the opportunity to use a metaphor in teaching. This setting was compared to a fully abstract environment, where students negotiated and lectures were held in an empty space that only included teaching materials, such as slides.

Low-level abstract virtual space adopted an island metaphor:

Low-level abstract space

Island Metaphor

Research results showed students had statistically higher feelings of presence in the island metaphor world compared with the totally abstract world. The RPG paper game was executed, but now with students negotiating inside OWL, alternating between the two environments (low and high abstraction). Even with a small sample size (low statistical power), results were strong. While a difference between an empty world and a non-empty world may be obvious, the important finding is that a metaphor-based world can generate feelings of presence, avoiding the need for a high fidelity simulation. Rather than having offices, desks, and chairs, the island metaphor gave students a lasting picture of a key negotiation concept that they will remember.

High abstract virtual space:

Totally Abstract Space

Totally Abstract World

The details of this work were published in the highly ranked research journal Computers & Education (Level of abstraction and feelings of presence in virtual space: Business English negotiation in Open Wonderland, Volume 57, pp. 2126-2134).

To learn more, visit http://cwarden.org/.


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