Tuesday, December 23, 2008

River City Project – An Example of MUVE

Let us look at the most popular educational MUVE. River City is the most popular example of an educational MUVE. River City Project was funded by National Science Foundation. River City is designed for children in middle school. The theme is very interesting. River city is a city belonging to the 19th century. This city is suffering from health problems. The tasks for children (belonging to the 20th century) is that they need to travel back in time and use the 21st century knowledge, skills and technology to resolve 19th century problems. How do they do this?

I was not able to access the virtual tour and therefore, I have relied heavily on what others have written on River City. Students can enter the virtual city as a team. They use avatars (graphical representations of themselves) to enter River City. They are welcomed by a man who gives them a tour of the city. Students need to form a hypotheses about the cause of the health problems. At the end of the project, teams get to compare their hypotheses.

This city has a river flowing through it and different types of terrains that influence the houses, water, industries, hospitals, and universities. At River City, avatars can enter buildings, climb mountains, and swim across water. To gain information, they can click on an objective that contains a hyperlink. Webpages, images, simulations or web-based applications pop-up. Students can conduct several experiments in the virtual city. For example, they can check the pollution levels in water, the number of patients admitted in hospitals, and so on. They can change one factor or more to see how the consequences.

The city comprises of avatars, computer-based agents, digital objects, and avatars of instructors. It has around fifty digital objects and data collection stations provide detailed information on water samples across the world. I was able to view a screen grab of a lab at River City. The left side showed a computer agent. The right side of the screen displayed the lab in which the learner could test samples. The learner got to see the consequences of their actions.

I was also able to see a screen grab that displayed a computer-based agent in conversation with the learner. Computer agents share information on the happening around the city. They provide subtle hints to the students. The dialogues are shown in the text box below the screen. The interface is supposedly designed carefully:

As an aid in their interactions, participants also have access to one-click interface features that enable the avatar to express (through stylized postures and gestures) emotions such as happiness, sadness, agreement, and disagreement.

- C. Dede, “Multi-User Virtual Environments,” New Horizons May/June 2003

Students share the data that they have acquired with other teams. They can also send ‘snapshots’ of their current situation (seen through their eyes) to their team members for a joint investigation. On the whole, 60 teachers and 4000 science students from US and Australia participated in this MUVE. Several reports suggest that students were really motivated. Their grades improved drastically.

MUVE is a very interesting topic. Several corporates are designing MUVEs for corporate training. They buy land on virtual world's such as Second Life and design elements that facilitate learning in it. MUVE is a fairly new teaching tool and it is definitely worth considering, researching, and studying.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The 'WOW' Moment

If you are an ID, you must have come across a requirement to design a 'wow' moment in your course. Now, what is this 'wow' moment? Here are my guesses:
  1. Making the learner think "Yes, I have experienced the same thing!"
  2. Shocking the learner with 'big' incidents such as calamities, terror attacks, scandals, and so on
  3. Getting the learner to empathize with a particular character
  4. Making them relate to the scenarios and characters used
  5. Making them think "Ok. What just happened? Did I miss something?"
Please note that it could be hazardous for the course if your team/reviewer is not sure of what they mean by a 'wow' moment. Everyone needs to be on the same page about what this means, when will this be introduced, and what is its goal.

A 'wow' moment is intended to make the learner think. I think this is clear enough. But what should we make the learner think about? This is debatable. If you really want to include this moment, it should be based on point 4. Else, it fails the purpose. If the learner cannot relate to it, it is not going to a wow moment. In all probability, your learner will be thinking about the incident and not the concept. What purpose does this solve? It is will create a ripple, not a wave. For this to have the desired impact, it is crucial to know who your learners are. You cannot create a course for a general audience say "Managers across Asia" and expect the course to make an impact on them.

According to me (I could be wrong), I don't want to give the learner a 'wow' moment. I want to give him/her a wow course. By wow, I don't mean only the look and feel, but the entire package. By wow, I also do not mean a course high on drama and suspense. By wow, I mean good ID strategies, visual elements, engaging exercises, several examples, and content that the learner can relate to. The entire package should be involving, engaging, and interactive. When it fulfills these three qualities, the course will also be fun for the learner.