New technology opens door to world of virtual classes for students

Rebecca Marcucci, Rocket Contributor
December 6, 2012

Imagine you can take a class where you are an avatar – not a lanky and scaly blue cinematic creature, but an online personality much like an Xbox character.

In this type of classroom, you can ask questions and interact with students, much like the atmosphere of a physical classroom, except it’s a virtual world.

The classes are not limited solely to student resources like D2L. They are aimed at moving online and leaning away from D2L into something more advanced that students seem to respond well towards, said business professor at SRU and virtual reality class developer Dr. John Golden.

Just like the nature of virtual reality, the classes are geared toward immersing students into an alternate world. This world of course, is Slippery Rock’s campus.

“Let’s say for instance, our students wanted to view Slippery Rock as an entirely green campus,” Golden said. “You could test that in an online world.”
Golden compared the layout of his classes to that of the virtual landscape you’d see in Google Earth. In addition, Golden has received a $15,000 grant from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) along with other developers, Dr. Maria Harrington of SRU’s computer science department and Mr. Brian Danielson, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Educational Technology, to develop the software and make it user-friendly for students.

“We would get a lot of our info from internet games a lot of students use already,” Golden said. “It’s something we think that would help students learn more efficiently.”
The idea has commercial interest too, Golden said. Students could buy a code to get into the virtual classroom instead of purchasing textbooks.

“The idea means less money and it’s more comfortable for students. It helps them learn better,” Golden said.

As for adapting the technology for the needs of students, Golden said the idea has a lot of potential.

“Technology shouldn’t block people from learning, it should help,” Golden said. “I don’t see people driving to class in a horse and buggy. We want to know that the online capabilities we are developing are able to handle students in a virtual world.”
Golden explained where the virtual world could take students.

“For many of our business classes we take students on trips to Wall Street, imagine having the virtual world in New York City.”
This idea will not be developed for the coming online web courses this winter or over the summer, but for Fall 2013.

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