Education in Virtual Worlds, Virtual World Platforms

Virtual Learning Environments at Athabasca University

Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. is teaming up with Athabasca University, an online open university in Canada, to create a research center to develop virtual world environments.

The new center, called the Immersive Technologies for Education Centre of Excellence (COE), will allow educators to develop 3D learning environments for their online classroom. It will also allow graduate students to study 3D worlds and to learn skills that will apply in the real world.

“Immersive education,” said Kevin Roebuck, Market Development Manager, e-Learning, of Sun, “combines 3D and virtual reality technology with digital media to immerse and engage students in the same way that today’s best video games grab and keep the attention of players. The new Immersive Technologies for Education Centre of Excellence (COE) at Athabasca University will not only improve existing educational environments but will also widen access to education for the disadvantaged, particularly those living in remote and rural communities and the disabled.”

Sun will provide Project Wonderland, the open-source toolkit, on which to build the COE, in tandem with Sun’s Project Darkstar platform. Users can communicate with high-fidelity, immersive audio, and can share live applications such as Web browsers, open office documents, social apps and games. Sun will also link Athabasca to its Sun Immersion Special Interest Group, a community “dedicated to advancing the state of open-source technology and open content for virtual worlds, games, and new media in education.”

According to the school, Athabasca is the first institution in Canada to establish a COE based on immersive technologies.

“We are all lifelong learners,” said Rory McGreal, Associate Vice-president, Research of the university, “with many of us engaged in assorted learning communities in formal, informal and work settings. Software that enhances our abilities to do this will be of benefit to all.”

While it is hoped that the COE will spread its expertise across the school spectrum and outward into “corporate uses of the technology to broader community initiatives that will make education accessible to everyone,” it is also hoped that the school’s focus on rural, hard-to-reach communities will be enhanced.

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