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.


Soumalya said...

Wow i must say the concept is really fascinating and way more interesting than just working in a lab. As in you actually get to visit the patients, conduct tests on them and investigate the city on your own or as part of a team. I can see how the grades of the students went up. also i think our long cherished fantasy of a time machine is materializing to an extent. imagine taking students of history on a tour to ancient Egypt or Harappa. however i hope virtual worlds limit themselves to only a realistic rendering of the past and not allow students to change or tamper with the past in any way. otherwise we might have to face a virtual blurring of all lines between the past and the present :)

Archana Narayan said...

I agree. In a learning environment such as this, your own experience teaches you a lot. In many ways, you are uses several other sensory types to learn (you see, feel and hear). The depiction of history in the VW must be accurate like you mentioned, else the learners will internalize incorrect information (which is worse than not learning). :)

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