Good afternoon! My name is Mikhail Fominykh. I am a PhD-student at NTNU and I’d like to present you our paper. In our work we are developing the concept of a Virtual Campus and in this paper we present one of our ideas – the integration a virtual campus into the context of a virtual city. In the paper we also report the results of a case study that we performed to examine our initial ideas. This work is a result of the collaboration between NTNU in Norway by me and Ekaterina Prasolova-Forland and MarSTU in Russia by Mikhail Morozov and Alexey Gerasimov.
A city context can extend the possibilities of a virtual campus to support learning and socializing. ‘City’ is a powerful metaphor and used in a number of virtual world projects. The most known virtual cities are made for: Geo-navigation , such as Google Earth; Heritage preservation , such as, Rome Reborn; Others for gaming and socializing , for example Citypixel. Virtual cities are often created within bigger virtual worlds such as Second Life, using their advantages, but also being restricted by their limitations.
Our idea is a concept of an educational virtual city . Our motivation can be defined as: The lack of connecting virtual and real in social virtual worlds (Such worlds like Second Life resemble only little parts of real world). And the lack of learning and socializing support in virtual cities (Virtual worlds that represent the physical world in a very direct and realistic way do not have satisfactory support of learning and socializing). Trying to solve these problems we run the project that includes tools for learning and socializing as well as a city context.
Using a ‘city’ metaphor, we have developed a 3D virtual world VCYO enriched with social and educational tools. In reality Yoshkar-Ola is a city in the Volga region in Russia. Virtual Yoshkar-Ola provides an accurate recreation of the central part of the real city. It is a non-commercial research project where we: First: Study how a virtual city context can facilitate educational process. Second: Integrate Social software tools investigating how they can support the community and social activities in the city context. In this virtual city we have performed a case study to identify the expectations that present-day students have of a virtual campus and of a virtual city as well as to investigate what functionality and content are needed for such a system. In the case study we had 34 Norwegian and 5 Russian students. They were given an exercise where they were supposed to explore the Virtual City, analyze different design features and discuss the usage of virtual worlds for learning and socializing. Norwegian students were also asked to make suggestions how they would have designed a virtual campus representing NTNU and a virtual city of Trondheim.
In the case study we did the direct observation, collected statistics and students’ feedback in form of essays and questionnaires. Analyzing systems log, we selected a number of discussions in chat and in notes with comments . Most commonly in these discussions students helped each other to understand the system’s functionality details and how to navigate in the virtual city, as well as shared their impressions about the Virtual City. Some of the observed students also met local visitors, asked them about the city and had informal conversations. We also observed a number of examples of ‘social navigation’ , where the students were guided each other. We performed path recordings during the case study. These data were used to analyze how much time students spent in the virtual city and what places they visited. Social networking functionality (such as Photo-sharing, profiles, friend lists and blogs) was used to a smaller degree, due to the relatively small size of the community, a short trial period and also some technical problems.
In the paper we discuss case study data in terms of navigation, community network, virtual places and educational experience. The navigation and exploration of the city was mostly concentrated around the default entry and a few other areas of interest. One of the reasons for that was that the students did not get sufficient information about the different places in the city that might be interesting to visit . Also, the navigation patterns showed that the existing support for social navigation (by text chat and notes) was not fully efficient. Therefore a more transparent, searchable map with information about different locations and a voice chat were proposed.
The development of community network allowed us to analyze the efficiency and limitations of the different tools in the virtual city context. As I said before we had a small group of students, a limited time-span and also some technical problems. So, the community network was moderate, but satisfactory. One of the most useful tools was the one allowing to see ‘who is on-line’ and teleporting to any user from the list. Another tool that was used quite a lot is posting notes . This tool allows asynchronously discussing particular places, buildings or objects. The total amount of notes was less, but comparable to the amount of chat messages – the main communication tool. Notes and photos often contained quite meaningful discussions, for example, about real place behind the virtual one. This means that the functionality is quite useful.
Virtual places within a virtual city can play a number of different roles. For example, major landmarks function as an information place where community members can meet, store resources and leave their notes, announcements and comments ( picture ). A virtual city can also function as an exhibition , attracting public interest to the corresponding exhibition in reality and allowing the community members to post comments and questions ( picture ).
Another virtual place in a city can be a lecture place . We set up this (picture) auditorium with some learning tools and organized a lecture there. After the lecture, the students had a discussion that provided us with a valuable feedback on learning in virtual worlds and in the city context in particular. But it was mostly a recreation of a traditional lecture place and a traditional lecture just enriched with some media. We argue that a city context can add much more for learning and socializing experience.
In our concept a Virtual Campus should support both L earning and S ocializing. And a city context improve the experience in learning and socializing, providing much more better conditions for learning architecture, history and culture . Try to imagine: you learn the culture of any place being in this place – exploring the virtual city, talking to the locals. And regardless of you are local or not a city context adds more fun to a virtual campus, it can serve as a place for some sport activities and games . And additionally a city adds more space which could be used to store resources and create some places there to have a connection between the virtual world and the real one. Next I will present the major guidelines for designing an educational virtual city. These guidelines are based on the empirical data that was gathered during the case study in the VCOY, but we focused primarily on the design of Trondheim (the city where our University is situated). So, the guidelines are quite generic and can be used in any project.
The appearance of a virtual city should be as authentic as possible to create a familiar atmosphere. Especially major and most significant buildings and points of interest should be presented in a maximally realistic way (picture). Still, the design of certain places for educational activities (such as lecture halls and museums) might have a limited reality resemblance to serve the specific goals in a best possible manner (picture).
City atmosphere plays an important role, according to students’ feedbacks. Appropriate music and sounds , moving objects and presence of other users , real or artificial, will contribute to make the virtual world more ‘alive’ and appealing.
Informational resources and collaborative tools should be an essential part of a virtual city. It was generally agreed that only models of buildings without corresponding information have a very limited value, especially for the users not familiar with the city. Therefore, there should be a strong correspondence between the constructions in the virtual city and the associated informational and community resources. For example, the city hall may contain information about local government; bulletin boards can show some announcements about city events. The city should in general contain multimedia resources, relevant to important buildings and landmarks, allowing the users to learn about the city, its history and culture (Table). And this learning is mostly an acquisition of information, but if we integrate collaborative tools into a virtual city, visitors will have the opportunity for social networking and contributing to the community (enriching the system with user-generated content). General visitors will have an opportunity to learn more from communicating and discussing with locals (Table).
We made some proposals, based on the feedback from users, about the navigation facilities that should be available in a virtual city. They are: Individual or group ‘city tours’ led by agents or real guides; ‘ Transportation routes’ that are marked paths between different places; ‘ Tourist offices’ with information and links to the major points of interest; Searchable maps with some filters where one can look for shops, local businesses, historical places and so on; … and Social navigation facilities that are possibilities for sharing information on visited places.
1. In this paper we discussed the concept of integrating a virtual campus and a virtual city to better support educational and social activities. 2. We presented also basic results of a case study , performed in the Virtual City of Yoshkar-Ola. 3. Based on the empirical data, we derived the set of the major guidelines for designing an educational virtual city.