Virtual worlds make distance no object for UWS students

‘A-Team’ approach brings campuses together for town planning project

December 5, 2013

Much-maligned virtual worlds are being used to teach groups of students spread across multiple campuses, a conference has heard.

Although Second Life, the best-known online universe featuring digital avatars and landscapes, failed to take off as hoped when it was launched more than a decade ago, other virtual world platforms have been effectively employed by university staff, educators at the 3rd European Immersive Education Summit at King’s College London were told.

Speaking on 28 November, Daniel Livingstone, lecturer in computing at the University of the West of Scotland, said that he had been encouraged by the results of a project in which students from two of the university’s four campuses collaborated using five different virtual world platforms.

Computing students at the university’s Paisley and Hamilton campuses – 35 minutes away from each other by car – were asked to contribute towards an urban regeneration plan for Paisley’s town centre by recreating it within a virtual world, Dr Livingstone explained.

Students’ 3D landscapes, created on OpenSim, Open Wonderland and Minecraft, could be accessed by the public. Dr Livingstone added that viewers were encouraged to comment on proposed changes on discussion boards, opening up a new way to encourage civic engagement in planning issues.

The project also improved undergraduates’ ability to work as part of a team and tested their ability to solve technical, design and conceptual issues together, he added.

“Most of these students relied on public transport, so meeting up in person would mean a two-hour trip by bus or train going through Glasgow,” Dr Livingstone said.

The quality of the students’ projects was “very encouraging”, he noted, adding that the online platforms were a low-cost way to rapidly develop 3D illustrations.

Dr Livingstone said he believed that virtual worlds, along with cloud-based tools such as Google Docs that allow the collaborative editing of documents, could be used by academics of all disciplines to improve their teaching.

“Sometimes people are more interested in teaching about computers than using them to teach,” he said of his own field.

The summit also heard how the University of the West of Scotland had used smartphone technology to improve inductions for first-year students, with undergraduates asked to scan QR barcodes situated around campus during a freshers’ week “treasure hunt” exercise.

Each code contained a link to a YouTube clip about useful facilities and weblinks, as well as a clue to the location of the next code, explained organiser Gerry Creechan, lecturer in computing.

“I did the treasure hunt as a paper-based exercise for three years, but lots of people got fed up and went to the canteen. This was the first time all the group completed the task,” Mr Creechan said.

The treasure hunt was a good team-building exercise that helped to break the ice between students and show them around the campus, but it was the QR codes that highlighted the links between the university’s physical and online resources, he said.

“It’s the A-Team approach, where you have bits and bobs lying about, but if you put them together they work to great effect,” he said.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Construction workers erecting barriers

Directly linking non-EU recruitment to award levels in teaching assessment has also been under consideration, sources suggest