ESL Cyberlearning Summary Video

August 28, 2013

By Nicole Yankelovich

As described in previous blog articles (“ESL Instruction Using Open Wonderland” and “NSF Funds Wonderland ESL Project at STCC“), WonderBuilders has been working with the English as a Second Language faculty at Springfield Technical Community College in Springfield, Massachusetts to deploy a Wonderland environment for English-language learning. This video, created as an update for the NSF project sponsors, provides an overview of the project.


Effect of Supraliminal Priming on Team Brainstorming

August 14, 2013

By Nicole Yankelovich

Anne Massey, a professor at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business wrote to me to tell me about a recent article she co-authored with Akshay Bhagwatwar and Alan Dennis. In the paper, they describe their fascinating research on using Open Wonderland to enhance brainstorming. Here’s a pointer to their paper (PDF version) along with one of the images from the paper and the abstract.

Creative Virtual Environments: Effect of Supraliminal Priming on Team Brainstorming

Bhagwatwar, A., Massey, A., & Dennis, A. R. (2013, January). In System Sciences (HICSS), 2013 46th Hawaii International Conference on (pp. 215-224). IEEE.

Indiana-creative-priming

Three Dimensional Virtual Environments (VEs) have potential as platforms for collaboration. VEs enable members of teams, represented as avatars, to interact in a simulated world that can be designed in a variety of different ways. Research from cognitive psychology has shown that it is possible to manipulate non-conscious cognition and behavior through “priming”, a well-known phenomenon in which words and images are used to activate desired concepts in participants’ minds. In the context of team brainstorming, we posit that VEs can improve performance when specifically designed with visual objects intended to prime team members and enhance their creativity. Using Open Wonderland, an open source toolkit for creating 3D collaborative environments, we designed two VEs to support virtual team brainstorming: one looked like a generic conference hall while the other was visually designed to prime team members. Results show that when teams generated ideas in the creative VE, they generated significantly more and better quality ideas than when they worked in the generic one. In terms of key contributions, our study (1) demonstrates the efficacy of 3D VEs as collaboration spaces for facilitating team creativity, and (2) shows that the design of the VE itself can influence team performance.


Enhancing Creativity Among Design Students Using a VRLE

July 24, 2013

By Newton D’Souza and Tilanka Chandrasekera

Newton D’Souza, PhD. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Architectural Studies at the University of Missouri-Coulumbia and is the Primary Investigator on this project. Tilanka Chandrasekera is Doctoral Student and Research Assistant in the same department. 

Project Description and Procedure:

The project was developed in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Creation of an exploratory virtual reality interface that allows working on multiple skills in design.
  • Phase 2: Pilot testing the interface by incorporating students.
  • Phase 3: Exploring the validity of the tool in fostering multiple skills.

In phase 1 of the project, a storyboard of design exercises relevant to specific skills was developed. The collaborative virtual environment, Open Wonderland was then used to translate the storyboard into a design exercise. The Wonderland virtual environment is a distributed, persistent, virtual space in which people can interact with each other using an avatar controlled by the mouse or keyboard. A designer can chose to design three dimensional forms and directly import them to the Wonderland environment. One student from the Department of Architectural Studies and one from the Department of Textile and Apparel Management were invited to participate in design exercises. These students were self-selected based on an announcement by the researcher to participate. The students participated voluntarily and both were female in the age range of 18-25.

Mixed methods were used in this study. First we used the Torrents Test of Creative Thinking to measure overall skills prior to the design problem. We then conducted a qualitative virtual reality interface interview to measure skills that would be needed to solve the design problem. Later, the results of the two tests were compared to see which skills were reinforced and which skills were diminished.

Design Problem:
Shop window re-arrangement in a shopping mall

The design problem involved re-arranging a shop window display in a shopping mall. We wanted the design problem to simulate a physical studio design problem, but at a decreased level of difficulty. This was to avoid making the design problem a formal logic test (eg, puzzle solving or missing object identification) that architecture schools administer in admissions testing that may not reflect the reality of university-based architectural education. Instead, the design problem emphasis was on context, user-behavior, material, and spatial and logical iterations.

View of the mall in Open Wonderland

View of the mall in Open Wonderland

The subjects were to design a display window for a shop within a mall using five types of platonic solids (see illustration below) and virtual mannequins. They needed to consider factors such as visual appeal, location of the shop, different exits and entrances, other stores, and so forth.

Specific details were provided to subjects to narrow the scope of design. For the purpose of storyline, the shop was named 37 North and the subjects were informed that it was a unisex jeans store.

Layout of  the shops inside the mall

Layout of the shops inside the mall

The subjects were further informed that the shop was flanked by a gent’s shoe store and a women’s apparel store. There were two exits from the lobby: one to the east which exits to the east wing of the building, and one to the west which  exits to the west wing of the building, both eventually leading to two parking lots. There were also exits to the outside (parking lots) from the JC Penny store and the Rocky store located on the two ends of the corridor. An additional exit to the parking lot was located in front of shop number 03.

Although the subjects were to take into consideration the context, they were instructed to only use the show window display area (19’X 3’) for the design and not focus on the interior of the shop.

Layout and location of the Jeans store

Layout and location of the Jeans store

The subjects were instructed about the design process and told that it would span across different software:

  1. Design Environment in Open Wonderland
  2. Platonic solid manipulation in SketchUp
  3. Mannequin manipulation in Poser
Sequence of procedures

Sequence of procedures

Design Process

Inside the collaborative virtual environment of Wonderland, the subjects were provided with instructions on how to use the environment through video tutorials which provided information on  how to move around the Wonderland environment and how to manipulate solid objects inside Wonderland. They were also provided with  training sessions where they try moving, rotating, and resizing solid objects.

Entry to the Open Wonderland environment

Entry to the Open Wonderland environment

Video tutorial area

Video tutorial area

Training area

Training area

The subjects were only allowed to enter the virtual mall after completing the tutorials and training sessions.

Main corridor of the mall

Main corridor of the mall

Once the subjects were familiar and comfortable with the Wonderland environment, they made their way to the SketchUp software which they used to manipulate the platonic solid objects.

Platonic solids

Platonic solids

We modified the SketchUp interface to limit the options available to the subjects. The main purpose of doing this was to narrow the design space and limit the number of design decisions that the subjects had to make. This helped to frame the design solution more clearly.

Sketchup interface

SketchUp interface

The subjects were provided with only three types of material: a rigid material with a grid and solid forms, a material with organic patterns, and a solid color patch. They were allowed to change the color hues, opacity, and scale of the material. Once they were satisfied with the material and the overall look of their 3D object, they were instructed to export the file as a .KMZ (Google earth format) and drag and drop it into the Wonderland window where they wanted the object to appear. Once the object was inside Wonderland, they were able to move, rotate and re-size it.

The next phase involved using the Poser software to manipulate a mannequin. The subjects were provided with a basic male mannequin model which they could use to portray different poses.

Poser interface

Poser interface

After they manipulated the model within the Poser software, they were instructed to export it as a .DAE file and then drag and drop it in to the Wonderland window where they wanted the mannequin to appear. Once the mannequin was inside Wonderland, they were then able to move, rotate and re-size it.

Results

As mentioned above, the students were instructed to create a window display for a jeans store. They came up with the concept “hanging out in out jeans.” In keeping with this theme, they hung the mannequins from the ceiling of the mall. Given that there was also a seasonal dimension, they added geometric objects with Christmas colors to create a 3D pattern in between the mannequins.

We have not yet analyzed the data completely yet, however, we did find it interesting that Wonderland provided a fertile ground for collaboration between students in two different fields. In general, student feedback was very positive. They loved working in such an environment and they mentioned that it might be even more useful if we tested it out with them being in different locations. When they were asked what they thought should be improved, they mentioned the displacement in the models when the models were imported.
There was one major hiccup that we encountered. Our screen capture software crashed and we were not able to get the screen capture data. Since we separately were recording the screen through additional video cameras, however, we were able to code the actions of the subjects. There were no issues with the Wonderland interface, since we gave our subjects ample training before starting. As mentioned earlier, imported objects did not appear in the place that students expected them to, so that was a cause of frustration. We’re not sure of the root cause of this problem. It may have had something to do with the Sketchup and Poser models that we used.
Going forward, we will complete the data analysis and we will use Wonderland again for phase II of the same project. In this phase, we plan to conduct the same study but increase the number of subjects. In the future, we plan to explore the possibility of  using Wonderland as a tool for virtual architectural critiques.

OWL Showcase: STCC ESL Virtual Campus

December 3, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

Please join us for an informative OWL Showcase on Wednesday. We will be visiting Springfield Technical Community College’s (STCC) virtual campus currently being used to teach English as a Second Language (ESL).

OWL Showcase: STCC ESL Virtual Campus
Wednesday, December 5th
1-2pm US Eastern time
(see event time in your time zone)
Registration on Eventbrite required

WonderBuilders has worked with the STCC faculty to create an extensive learning environment for ESL students.

Collage of STCC virtual campus

Selection of STCC virtual campus spaces

In this US National Science Foundation sponsored project, two ESL classrooms are completing their first semester-long deployment of Open Wonderland. During the tour, attendees will have the opportunity to try out some of the in-world activities designed for students including recording audio conversations, going on an activity scavenger hunt, participating in a photo hunt, and creating a custom fair booth.

Registration is required for this event. Since this not a public world, the URL for the server will not be made public. The login information will only be sent to people who register using the Eventbrite link above.

If you plan on attending and have a smart phone, please consider taking some photos using Instagram so you can more fully participate in the “photo hunt” activity. You can see a preview of this activity in the ESL Department’s recently published Photo Hunt album on Facebook as well as a preview of the Multi-Cultural Fair Booth Activity.

If you are not able to make the tour on Wednesday, there is a possibility of another tour on Sunday, December 16th at 2pm US Eastern time. If enough people express interest, we will set up a second tour on that date. To express interest, please leave a comment on this blog article or post a message on the Open Wonderland forum.


OWL Chatbot Module for a Virtual Campus

November 26, 2012

By Nisarg Naik

The research project summarized in this article was conducted as part of the requirements for degree of MSc Computer Science at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. For this project, I created an Open Wonderland Chatbot Module.

A chatbot is a virtual character that simulates an intelligent conversation with humans. The main purpose of this project was to extend Open Wonderland’s non-player character (NPC) functionality to interact with human avatars. The chatbot is embedded in a virtual campus simulated learning environment (see screenshots of the virtual campus). The main purpose of the chatbot is to communicate or guide users to solve their problems.

Clifton Campus

Virtual campus in which chatbot is integrated.

Here is an example of an integrated chatbot window in which a user has engaged in a conversation with the chatbot from inside Open Wonderland.

Chatbot window

Chatbot window

While chatbots can be used to simulate conversations that convince people the bot is a real person, they can also be used as an advanced search engine to retrieve factual knowledge for users.

Technical Details

Initially, my intention was to develop a basic conversational agent program which could perform keyword-matching to scan for user inputs and generate replies. In the final project, however, I instead integrated a highly developed existing artificial intelligence engine. This engine is based on ALICE (Artificial Linguistic Internet Computer Entity) which uses an AIML-based (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) interpreter to query and retrieve information. To integrate this technology into Open Wonderland, I experimented with both a Java-based AIML interpreter known as Program-D and a web-based AIML interpreter called Pandorabots. I ended up using Pandorabots for the Chatbot module prototype.

Pandorabots uses the XML-RPC (remote procedure call) communication protocol. It uses XML to encode data, and it works by sending an HTTP request to the server. A client can interact with Pandorabots using a Bot ID. The main advantage of using Pandorabots is that it is easy for users to create and add knowledge to their chatbots by uploading AIML files.

The diagram below illustrates where the Chatbot module fits into the structure of the Virtual Campus once it is complete.

Virtual Campus system diagram.

Virtual Campus system diagram.

As envisioned, the Virtual Campus will include seven buildings covering many disciplines including business, arts, technology, team collaboration, socializing room, student club, and student service. Students will be able to get virtual resources from various specialized virtual departments and directly obtain relevant information easily. The Virtual Campus will also include non-academic rooms for entertainment.

The chatbot functionality will be used throughout the Virtual Campus as an automated guide or instructor, able to interact with students to solve their problems. The AIML integration will allow us to interface with a variety of additional knowledge bases, such as WolframAlpha and DBpedia, allowing students to retrieve information from the chatbot without leaving the virtual world environment.

A big advantage of using Open Wonderland is that it is a great multi-user virtual environment engine that provides many functionalities and in-world applications that students and lecturers can utilize in the Virtual Campus. A well organized virtual campus can be the most efficient way for students and lecturers to collaborate. To support this collaboration, we are planning to use the PDF viewer, an in-world web browser, the Microsoft Office document viewer, text-chat, VOIP audio, webcam video integration, the Screen Sharer and VNC Viewer for desktop sharing, NetBeans for programming projects, in-world music players, wall posters, and the multi-user white board for discussions and sketching. These tools, embedded in the virtual world, are similar to desktop-based applications.

For more information, please refer to my full dissertation, “Integration of a Chatbot Engine on a Multiuser Virtual Environment to Enhance Educational Framework for a Virtual Campus.

I have also made the source code for the Chatbot module available, as well as the 3D models used to create the Virtual Campus.

 

 


Learning Statistics Using Open Wonderland

August 3, 2012

This guest post is a summary version of a longer report.

Student Pilot Trial of learning statistics using SPSS embedded within Open Wonderland at King’s College London Institute of  Psychiatry

Dr. Jenny YiendDr. Jenny Yiend, Mental Heath Studies Progamme Director. Dr. Yiend graduated from Cambridge University where she went on to gain a PhD in anxiety and attentional processing. She held a full time research post at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, where she carried out further work on cognition in emotional disorders. At the University of Oxford she was Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, Honorary Lecturer in the Department of Experimental Psychology and Director of Studies for Psychology at St Hilda’s College.  Dr. Yiend joined the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry in 2009 where she continues working on cognition and emotion in psychological disorders. Her email address is jenny.yiend@kcl.ac.uk

Julian FletcherJulian Fletcher,  Ed. Development Manager & MHSP Team[1]. Julian Fletcher has Master degrees in Electronic Engineering from the University of Nottingham and in Education,Technology and Society from the University of Bristol and is a Chartered Engineer and Prince 2 Project Management Practitioner. He spent the first 10 years of his career working as a software engineer and web designer in several UK private sector organisations and following that and further study he worked as the e-Leaning Manager for the University for the Creative Arts and since 2008 the King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry where he works currently. Julian was first shown Project Wonderland in late 2008 and has been working with it ever since. His email address is julian.fletcher@kcl.ac.uk

Overview

The Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) Mental Health Studies Programme (MHSP) is the first in King’s College London to trial the use of a distributed application, embedded within a virtual 3D environment, for teaching and learning purposes. The pilot trial was conducted on 15th August 2011 in an Open Wonderland (OWL) virtual environment. The content was designed by the IoP Education Development Manager (Fletcher) and hosted on the IoP’s Denmark Hill Campus LAN. The tutor and three students presented themselves as avatars and used the embedded SPSS statistics application together with the environment’s built-in audio facilities to interactively collaborate and complete a structured statistical teaching and learning exercise.

Feasibility Pilot

Currently the IoP Mental Health Studies Programme  teaches research methods to its 110 students via 90 minute lectures or practical workshops held once a week. There is some divergence between the theory that students learn in the classroom setting and the case examples they practise upon and their ability to apply this knowledge to the real data that they gather as part of their research projects. Since 2009, MHSP has contemplated the use of the OWL 3D virtual environment to target this need specifically by providing a new fortnightly problem-based learning session in which students participate interactively and collaboratively.

The trial consisted of an introduction to the task by the tutor, a structured SPSS tasking lasting about 40 minutes during which the tutor and 3 students carried out simple SPSS exercises, followed by a more open-ended period of exploration of the world by the students.

Aerial view of pilot MHSP environment when imported into OWL.

Fig 1 Aerial view of pilot MHSP environment when imported into OWL.

Each of the three Breakout Rooms consisted of a VNC Viewer screen for displaying a distributed application, a screen for displaying a video and either a poster in the case of Breakout Room 1 or a PDF Viewer in the cases of Breakout Rooms 2 & 3 for displaying documents. In the Breakout Room 1, used in this trial, the SPSS statistics application was displayed in the VNC Viewer (Fig 2) which the tutor and students could interact with through their clients (Fig 3). There was also a video player screen which displayed a video produced by the University of Minnesota Department of Sociology on how to use SPSS. An in-world poster was used to display the instructions for the statistical tasks to be carried out in the trial.

SPSS Application displayed in VNC Viewer in Breakout Room 1, with VNC controls.

Fig 2. SPSS Application displayed in VNC Viewer in Breakout Room 1, with VNC controls.

Fig 3. An example client screen used to interact with SPSS in the virtual world.

The OWL firewall ports between the Education Development Manager‘s workstation and the three client workstations were opened for the duration of the trial to enable communication of sound and visual data. Notwithstanding the occasional logout of one or more client browsers, the server performance was fairly robust with good sound clarity for both speaking and listening. Both the tutor and the 3 students used headsets with built-in microphones procured from Argos for £7.99 each. These inexpensive headsets did the job satisfactorily. This £31.96 was the only fixed expense incurred by the trial other than the beverages bought for the participating students by way of a small thank you for their contribution to it. This short video clip shows the pilot setup:

The degree of prior familiarity with game technologies seems to dictate how quickly students can familiarise themselves with and navigate around the OWL environment. One student had such existing experience being an enthusiastic games player whereas the other two had to rely on more explicit tutorial guidance to get started. All three students, however, succeeded in becoming familiar and comfortable using OWL and none dismissed it out of hand as something they simply could not use.

All three students have willingly adopted the collaborative style of learning that applications embedded into OWL are designed to foster. Their responses indicate that there is an optimum size group of students around a single application to make such collaboration work (no greater than 4 when one includes the tutor). The need to take control of the application in turns in order to interact with it, while making that interaction slow at times, has the benefit of ensuring all students can keep up with the task and have a chance to practically apply their knowledge through completing the task.

All three students shared the opinion that working in groups collaboratively and learning more about statistics through communicating with each other was what they liked best about the exercise. The ability to talk to teach other using OWL’s audio facility and the need to take it in turns to complete the task encouraged such collaboration.

Overall the pilot feedback suggested:

  • An optimum group size for this application is about 4 students working together.
  • Retaining concentration could be improved by enhancing visual and interactive content of the environment. This highlights the need to have architectural designers with proficient 3D design skills to build such content and programmers with proficient scripting skills to make it interactive.
  • More sophisticated, ‘human like’ and individually distinct avatars to make online conversations more natural. The College-issued PCs did not support the 3D graphics necessary to render OWL’s customizable avatars.
  • Delays of respective clients to render the world can significantly impair its use. This needs to be ameliorated by using a more dedicated and higher performance specification OWL client/server hosting solution.
  • Using a virtual environment such as OWL can help students to further engage with and be more motivated to learn and apply statistics, supplementing and consolidating what they learn in their current classroom sessions by making such learning a more ‘hands-on’ activity.

Even taking account of the limitations of this pilot exercise – e.g. a small group of participating students, and computer and network hardware not designed for anything as memory intensive as immersive virtual worlds – this pilot trial can be judged at the very least a qualified success. For the most part, the technology worked for the duration of the trial (far better than the Education Development Manager dared hope!) and none of the students dismissed using virtual worlds as part of their teaching and learning as a completely bad idea! In fact they were on balance positive about its potential.

Scope for further work

Taking the current pilot to the next stage will require a more powerful Open Wonderland hosted service as well as more appropriate client hardware. This is currently being investigated at the College level.

Some further thought on the design of both SPSS tasks themselves from a pedagogical perspective and the content within the OWL environment will also need to take place. In particular, the personalisation of avatars will take on increased importance when more students will be in-world concurrently than was the case with this small trial.

Finally, it should not be the goal of virtual worlds to replace what the MHSP currently does perfectly well using more ‘traditional’ methods such as class-based lectures and training courses. Rather, the purpose is to augment such activities through giving students increased scope to apply the statistical theory they are taught in class and in textbooks to practical data sets related to their own course of research.

It was especially pleasing to note how students were happy to help each other and learn from each other in the collaborative in-world SPSS task. This is likely to help to inculcate wider transferable skills such as team working and proactive problem solving.


[1] Sophie Ciaramella, Kalbir Sohi, Matthew Isard, Emily Leathers-Smith and Helen Aivazian


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.

+Spaces

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.

WonderSchool

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

WonderSchool

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.

iSocial

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

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.

ImmerHire

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.


ESL Instruction using Open Wonderland

April 26, 2012

Mary Beth Ogulewicz By Mary Beth Ogulewicz, J.D.

Mary Beth Ogulewicz is a lawyer as well as an ESL and Criminal Justice professor at Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). She seeks to empower her students by helping them become fluent in English and preparing them for a career in law enforcement and related fields. She is also interested in the connection between health, wellness, the strengths movement and successful living.

Springfield Technical Community College and WonderBuilders have embarked on creating a 3D virtual college campus pursuant to a 3 year National Science Foundation grant.  WonderBuilders is working with the English as a Second Language (ESL) Department to enhance opportunities for students to practice conversation.  The virtual college campus will allow students who have limited opportunity to interact with native speakers and partake in campus activities to meet in-world with conversation buddies as well fellow students. Among the goals are increased conversational competence, higher levels of engagement with the college, and increased matriculation rates.  Curriculum activities for each level of English are being planned. Additionally, to assist students, various campus offices such as Financial Aid, Registrar and the Health Office will hold office hours in-world. Below are some of the activities we have created thus far.

Simon Says

ESL students gain technological proficiency by engaging in a game of Simon Says.  This fun introductory activity builds confidence for students who may have lower technology skills. It also embeds vocabulary and prepositions for Level 2 language students.

Conversation Buddies

Due to family and work obligations, ESL students often have limited time to engage in authentic conversation with native speakers. With many students working 2nd and 3rd shift, the virtual world provides an optimal platform for students to meet native speakers to engage in conversation at times that fit their busy lives.

Academic Advisor

Students often need assistance navigating the myriad of problems that arise with paperwork, registration, academic and campus life.  A student’s relationship with her/his academic advisor is critical to success.  Acting as a mentor and advisor, professors are a tremendous resource and often the only person on campus that a student will turn to for help.  The virtual world allows those conversations to occur at times convenient to the student and most importantly fosters the success of the student.

Health Office

Among the most daunting experiences for a second language speaker is a visit to a physician’s office.  In-world students can build a relationship with a campus physician’s assistant and practice the difficult medical language necessary to successfully interact with medical personnel, thereby ensuring the health of themselves and their family.

Brainstorming

Collaborative learning is essential to development of workforce skills. Students can meet in-world and collaboratively create written work and projects, as well as practice speaking the target language.

Multicultural Fair

This project highlights the confluence of students’ skills: technology, creativity and language.  Students research their native countries and then build their individual booths to display their research.  Students visit the event in-world, practice questions and then have the opportunity to record and practice their English.

Project Status

We will continue to work on software development and curriculum integration through the summer, testing the environment as we go along with current students. We will run our first pilot class with second level ESL students in September. We invite you to follow our progress on Facebook.


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.



Open Wonderland 2nd Anniversary

March 31, 2012

By Nicole Yankelovich

This month marks the 2nd anniversary of Open Wonderland. In the release meeting last week, the group brainstormed about some of the past year’s highlights.

Wonderland Wednesday Projects

Wonderland Wednesdays continue to be a great way for developers to both learn more about Wonderland development and contribute to the community. They are also an excellent testing ground for new features and bug fixes. In the past year, we have completed one Wonderland Wednesday project, EZMove, and are close to finishing the more recent Telepointer project.

Telepointers: All evidence points to Jagwire
Telepointers: All evidence points to Jagwire

New Monthly Release Cycle

Starting in January 2012, we put into a place a monthly release mechanism. The main goal was to ensure that when people download the Wonderland binary, they are running a recent stable version. With the previous system, someone could download a binary that was almost a half a year out of date, which was causing support issues.

The new system has had a number of unexpected positive consequences. We are now holding monthly release meetings to review which new features and bug fixes should be included in the release. In addition to being another venue for developers to meet and discuss issues, these meetings have provided us with a framework for reviewing bugs and feature enhancement requests (RFEs). During the meetings, we can also enlist volunteers to tackle problems or work on RFEs.  Developers are pushing to get code finished in order to have their code included in the next release. We never expected changing the release cycle would have an impact on progress, but it’s turning out that bugs are now getting fixed at a faster pace with more people participating in the process.

Immersive Education Participation

It has been particularly gratifying to see the number of Wonderland projects being presented at the Immersive Education (iED) conferences.  Community participation in my remote keynote “show-and-tell” session at the most recent European Immersive Education was amazing. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch the video, or read the blog post about the event.

Community members participating in the Euopean iED conference

Community members participating in the European iED conference

Although I’ll be attending in person, I have signed up to do another similar session at the upcoming Immersive Education Summit in Boston June 14-16. Please contact me if you cannot attend the summit in person, but would like to show off your Wonderland world or Wonderland feature in the Boston show-and-tell session.

Start-up Activity

This year there has also been some activity on the business front. The WonderHealth team from Vmersion is looking for funding from the Knight Foundation to create a social networking environment for people with common  health concerns. The new environment will allow participants to hear from doctors, share experiences with one another, and discuss educational media together.

Also in the healthcare space, WonderBuilders has entered their new VMed Learning Spaces product offering into the MassChallenge start-up competition. VMed Learning Spaces are a collection of simulated clinical settings such as a doctor’s office, an intensive care unit, an emergency room, a maternity ward, etc. that medical, nursing, and other allied health students can use to practice critical skills.

VMed Learning Space by WonderBuilders

Example VMed Learning Space by WonderBuilders

Please cast your vote for both these projects on their respective competition web sites to help them gain momentum.

Press Coverage

In the past year, Hypergrid Business and other news outlets have picked up quite a few stories originally posted on WonderBlog. A search for Open Wonderland on Hypergrid Business reveals stories published about Wonderland’s use in Africa, in the +Spaces debating project, in the Singapore Games Village project, in an English as a Second Language project, and in the Virtual Cockpit. You will also find reports on new Wonderland features such as drag-and-drop of Microsoft Office documents, exporting of objects, and streaming a Wonderland world to a tablet.

Hypergrid Business Search Results Page

Hypergrid Business Search Results Page

Final Thoughts

We are looking forward to another year of community projects, collaborations, and interesting activity around Open Wonderland. If you have a Wonderland project you would like to highlight on the blog, simply email a few paragraphs and a screenshot or video to me or to info@openwonderland.org and someone will work with you to edit the article and publish it as a guest post.

Last year on the Open Wonderland anniversary we ran a series of educational workshops to commemorate the event. We’re in discussion about how to commemorate it this year, so please keep your eye out for a discussion the forum on this topic.


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