Virtual worlds to transform education

Press Release: Advanced 3D Heralds New Teaching Dimension

‘Virtual world’ technology has the potential to transform education and learning, an international conference at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus heard today.

It is a young but rapidly evolving sector but already every university in the UK uses it in some element of teaching and research, according to Michael Callaghan, a Magee computer scientist and senior lecturer who is one of chief conference organisers.

At “IMMERS[ED] 2010: The Second National Workshop on Teaching in Immersive Worlds” today, leading educators and industrial experts unravelled some of technology’s mysteries and championed its promise before an audience of academics, researchers, teachers and “serious games” enthusiasts.

Ireland’s main gathering on virtual world educational research, and attracting top figures in the sector, the conference underpinned the international stature of the Magee-based School of Computing and Intelligent Systems, which hosted the event.

Senior Lecturer and Head of the Serious Games and Virtual Worlds team Michael Callaghan with Professor Maggi Savin-Baden from of Coventry University pictured at IMMERS(ED) 2010 (Image courtesy University of Ulster.)

The Head of School, Professor Liam Maguire, welcomed the participants. Virtual, or immersive, worlds are created as interactive 3D virtual reality computer software.

They graphically replicate human activity such complex games, intricate engineering, and more recently, even language learning. Very often, they involve avatars and are capable of simultaneous multi-person participation.

Michael Callaghan said: “The objective of the event is to raise awareness of the benefits and even possible pitfalls of using virtual and immersive worlds in an educational, industrial and research context. It is a busy day, full of practical advice and demonstrations from leading authorities in these areas.”

He leads the Serious Games & Virtual Worlds Research Team (SGVW) at the Intelligent Systems Research Centre in Magee.  Formed three years ago, the SGVW has gained a wide reputation for cutting-edge innovation and research into the use of ‘virtual worlds’ in education. It has been shortlisted for a prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) Award next month for its contribution to information and communications technologies. Its main focus is on creating flexible 3D virtual world technology and expanding its use in university teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Michael Callaghan said: “Virtual world technology will be as commonplace in schools and universities in 10 years as a complement to learning, not a substitute for teaching, as computers are now.”

Kerri McCusker, an SGVW research associate, said: “A lot of local people are coming to the event. They did last year, too. We will be showing what the team here has been working on, and explaining how it works. “All our projects are on the University’s ‘Engineering Education Island’ – http://sgvwtv.ulster.ac.uk/.

“The workshop is all about opening up people’s imagination to the possibilities of using virtual worlds for numerous applications, especially in teaching and learning. “

The speakers are people who work commercially and academically in this area. The range and scope of the projects will really broaden people’s perspective about what virtual worlds can provide.”
The keynote speakers are Professor Maggi Savin-Baden, of Coventry University, who has written nine books on teaching, learning and research, including ‘A Practical Guide to Using Second Life in Higher Education’ published last month, and journalist Bernhard Drax, from California, who regularly files computer generated reportage in ‘Second Life’ on social and political issues.

There is also a stream on conflict resolution in virtual worlds presented by two Ulster academics, Professor Gillian Robinson, Director of ARK, and INCORE research fellow, Dr Martin Melaugh.

Other speakers include Jonathan Himoff, CEO & Founder of Rezzable, a company which focuses on developing education simulations, and Daniel Livingstone, of the University of the West of Scotland, co-founder of the open source SLOODLE project – the world’s first project attempting to formally integrate multi-user virtual environments with web-based virtual learning environments.

The workshop is organised by the School of Computing & Intelligent Systems, Faculty of Computing and Engineering in partnership with ARK/CAIN/INCORE (International Conflict Research Institute) and co-sponsored by the University of Ulster, Office of Innovation Knowledge Club Program.

Further information on the workshop website is at: http://learninginvirtualworlds.com/ orhttp://sgvwtv.ulster.ac.uk/

Press Release

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