What are Virtual Worlds?

Virtual worlds garnered a tremendous amount of attention in 2006-2009, when millions of individuals created online avatars and institutions were developing building after building on designated plots of virtual land. In Linden Lab’s Second Life®, world-class universities hosted thousands of educational projects and experiments, from recreating historical spaces to replicating renowned museums and works of art. A lot of energy was devoted to building tools, climate simulators, physics engines, and facilitating the overall capability of these platforms to simulate reality. The idea was that these environments could foster unique and immersive learning opportunities, doing so in a way that uniquely made people feel like that were together in the same place. While the hype around virtual worlds has waned in recent years, there are still compelling developments, mainly in the form of WebGL, a new way of rendering 3D objects in via a web browser, which has been applied in virtual worlds. CloudParty, a Facebook application, is a good example of the capability of WebGL, though it is more of a hangout space and does not have as strong a tie to learning as do other purpose-built spaces. Google is a leading player in academic WebGL technology, and its vast collection of user contributed “Chrome Experiments” range from an interactive timeline of satellite launches to a visualization of connected cells that enable people to create biologically-inspired patterns.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the educational sector you know best?

  • I think the strong relationship between the real and virtual in the project described below offers interesting ways to engage audiences in different ways and to bring the technology to new audiences through different routes. - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Aug 20, 2013
  • - ekuslansky ekuslansky Aug 21, 2013It is relevant as it could be a great way to do predictive modeling, presentation of environmental conditions, 3D and 4D visualizations, and a vehicle for unique programming like user generated city planning.
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(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

  • - ekuslansky ekuslansky Aug 21, 2013There are two types of virtual worlds, one that is a total construct disconnected from reality like Second Life, and the other is a meta-world like Google Earth which is geospatially accurate and a representation of reality. What would be useful for education is to combine the two.
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(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • there are opportunities for more creative museum uses of virtual worlds looking at ways to engage audiences outside of virtual world communities who can still participate but without the (percieved) commitment needed to join a virtual world. There are challenges - with the physical tech (which can be wobbly and too alien to some audiences) as well as making sure that this tech is really the most suited to the project rather than used for its own sake, the Timespan project got this right as it lends itself completely to the project concept - lorna.obrien lorna.obrien Aug 20, 2013
  • - ekuslansky ekuslanskyImpact of this technology is that somethings that no longer exist could be presented in real space and full size, places that would impossible to visit could be experienced, and large scale multi-user programming that extended over time could be created.
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(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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