iSocial: 3D Virtual Learning

Matthew Schmidt from the University of Missouri-Columbia began participating on the Wonderland forums this past spring. As we often do with frequent posters to our forums, we send them an email asking if they can share what they are working on: this helps us get to know our community better and satisfies our curiosity too. Matt is a PhD student and we found his project inspiring. We’ve had the pleasure of interacting with him (matty_x on the forums) and his student, Ryan Babiuch (jagwire on the forums) on several occasions. They’ve made excellent community members. We’re delighted to have them author a guest blog, so that all the community can learn about their work. You can also learn more at Matt’s own blog:

Guest blog contributed by Matthew Schmidt

Introduction to the iSocial Project at the University of Missouri

Team: Dr. James Laffey (, Dr. Janine Stichter (, Matthew Schmidt (, Carla Schmidt (, Ryan Babiuch (, University of Missouri, 303 Townsend Hall Columbia, MO 65211.

iSocial Web Page:

What is iSocial?

iSocial is a three dimensional virtual learning environment, developed using Sun Microsystem’s Project Wonderland toolkit for creating virtual worlds, for teaching social competence to youth who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The goal of iSocial is to provide learners with competencies that make social participation possible in both virtual and natural settings. To this end, iSocial enables social interaction and provides supports for the development of social competence in a safe, completely controlled environment.

The Three Dimensions of iSocial

iSocial is an innovative online system that includes:

  1. a social space,
  2. a social competence curriculum, and
  3. a networked community.

In the social space, learners participate in immersive, interactive and socially-mediated activities that target the development of social competencies. Learners interact within the learning environment by playing games, watching instructional videos, conversing and working on tasks together—all facilitated by a trained guide. These activities are a curriculum called the Social Competence Intervention Cognitive Behavior Intervention (SCI-CBI) for social competence training developed by Dr. Janine Stichter in association with the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri. This curriculum targets individual skills deficits as well as deficits recognized throughout the ASD population. iSocial also aspires to become an online networked community for learners, parents and teachers who may not have ready access to quality training and support. As an online system for community, iSocial can motivate, support and sustain social interaction and progress toward social competence without regard to traditional limitations of time and geography.

Why iSocial?

Youth identified with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have deficits in social competence that can lead to problematic social behavior and social isolation. This can lead to a lower quality of life, as well as deficits in other developmental areas such as language and cognition. The iSocial project undertakes research and development to test and advance a set of principles and methods to enable and enhance social interaction for individuals with ASD. The long term aims of the project are to implement a virtual world that supports positive social interaction, enables learning of social competence with transfer to other settings, enables learning of other academic and workforce preparation subjects for youth with social deficits, and supports a community of educators, parents and youth as they address the needs of youth with ASD.

How Might a Youth with ASD Experience iSocial?

In the below sections we provide a sample usage scenario, outlining how learners experience a lesson in iSocial.

Two learners log in to iSocial where their online guide is waiting for them. Their avatars appear in the environment and they await instructions from the online guide. (You may click on the images to view them full-sized).

Two students log in to iSocial where their teacher is waiting for them. Their avatars appear in the environment and they await instructions from their teacher. The teacher instructs the students to follow her into the Turn-Taking Lighthouse. This is a building in which all of the instructional materials and interactive activities for the Turn-Taking in Basic Conversation unit of the Social Competency curriculum are housed.
The students enter the Turn-Taking Lighthouse and make their way to the foyer, where the first part of all four of the lessons that comprise the Turn-Taking Unit will take place. When the students enter the Foyer area, they are instructed by their teacher to review the posters that are located here.
Students review their daily schedule, the rules they must follow during the lesson and the previous lesson that they completed, Sharing
Once students have finished reviewing the rules, schedule and previous lesson, their instructor opens the first turn-taking activity of the day. This activity is a turn-taking game in which the students must cooperate in order to complete it. Students have a different turn-taking game for each of the four lessons that comprise the Turn-Taking Unit.
For today’s lesson, the game is a memory game. Each student gets one turn to try to match the faces, after which the student must let his or her partner take a turn. Turns are managed by students telling each other that they have finished their turn and that it is the other person’s turn. Students offer each other encouragement and hints in order to beat the game. When students beat the game, the plan for the rest of that day’s lesson is displayed. The students discuss the plan for the day with their instructor.
The teacher then instructs the students to teleport to the next part of the lesson, where they will work through four curriculum components in four different rooms. The rooms are: Introduce the Skill, Model the Skill, Verbal Practice and Practice Activities. Students begin the lesson by navigating their avatars to the Introduce the Skill room. In this room, their teacher uses a slideshow presentation to introduce them to the skill of conversational turn-taking and discusses the skill with them, answering their questions and providing further explanation where needed. This is an activity that will be repeated for each of the four turn-taking lessons, albeit with different aspects of turn-taking introduced as the students progress through the unit.
When the Model the Skill activity is completed, students navigate their avatars to the Verbal Practice room. In this lesson, students review appropriate and inappropriate conversational manners, and are required to produce examples of each. This activity changes across lessons. In the second lesson, students plan a trip to Los Angeles together. In the third lesson, students solve a logic puzzle together. In the fourth and final lesson, students play a role-playing game where they are lost at sea. After the skill has been introduced, students navigate their avatars to the Model the Skill room. This room contains instructional videos that model appropriate turn-taking behavior. Students watch the videos and discuss them with their instructor. This is an activity that will be repeated for each of the four turn-taking lessons, albeit with different conversational turn-taking skills modeled as the students progress through the unit.
After students complete Verbal Practice, they navigate their avatars to the Practice Activities room. For this lesson, each student gets to pick one movie trailer that he or she wishes to watch. Student 1 chooses Wall-e. The students watch the movie trailer on the video screen.
When the video is finished, the students discuss it. Students are provided with virtual posters that designate their role in the conversation: speaker or listener. The student who chose the film gets to take the first turn as speaker and the other student takes the role of listener. When they are finished, they switch roles. Then the other student gets to pick a movie and they repeat the same activity. When students complete the practice activity, their teacher instructs them to teleport back to the foyer area. When they reach the foyer area, the instructor brings up a window with another turn-taking game for the students to play.
For this lesson, students complete a jigsaw puzzle collaboratively. Each student gets one turn to move a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, after which the student must let his or her partner take a turn. As with the first turn-taking game of the day, turns are manag
ed by students telling each other that they have finished their turn and that it is the other person’s turn. Students offer each other encouragement and hints in order to complete the puzzle.
When students complete the puzzle, they receive a blue ribbon designating that they have completed lesson 1 of the Turn-Taking Unit. In addition, they are provided with a “sneak peek” of the next lesson.
Finally, the instructor discusses the next lesson briefly with the students, and the lesson is completed.

2 Responses to iSocial: 3D Virtual Learning

  1. Anonymous says:

    seems great how can i see this

  2. sarah says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to
    say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: