Student Projects – Community Meeting

July 22, 2014

Johanna Pirker from Graz University has volunteered to organize and run an Open Wonderland community meeting this coming Wednesday. We will meet on the community server.

Open Wonderland Community Meeting
Two Student Projects
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
1pm US Eastern time
(see event in your time zone: http://tinyurl.com/OWL-Student-Projects)
Community server – http://owf1.virtualnorthstar.org:8080/

Session Overview

The first student, Lisa, is about to finish her Master’s Thesis. She is developing tools to support exploratory collaborative learning settings in the form of scavenger hunts in OWL. This includes (a) an itemize functionality, which provides objects with info text, (b) an info inventory, (c) a student manager, where the teacher can assign 1-4 roles to students, (d) an item board, which provides students with the gathered information, and (e) a quiz. As a first application scenario, Lisa displays the approach and her tools in a setup to learn about the Egyptian culture.

Patrick is also about to finish his Master’s Thesis. He is developing a graphical OWL editor, which can be used to move, rotate, and duplicate objects in the world in a 2D window. He will focus on the architecture and implementation of the tool.

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


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