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UNT 3D Learning Environment Research Lab


The purpose of the lab is to research the impact of 3D learning environments on teaching and learning. The lab also conducts research into the wider topic of games and simulations on teaching and learning. The lab was established in 2005 within the Department of Learning Technologies Educational Computing Research and Development Lab (ECRDL). Articles and presentation related to the labs research can be found on the link below.


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ISTE Games and Simulations for Teaching and Learning

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What is a 3D Online Learning Environment

3D online learning environments provide a way to create Internet resources that are stimulating, appealing, easy to use, and educationally sound, without the need to develop highly elaborate technical skills (University of Sheffield 2004). A 3D environment creates a context or scaffolding for interaction using 3D presentations to engage and/or immerse the student into a situation for learning (situated learning) or entertainment (Jones and Bronack in press). This type of interface has strong ties to their text-based cousins, dating back to the 1980's (Holmevik and Haynes 2000), but now provide highly collaborative, immersive environments that promote interactions among students and with the instructor. As computer performance on low-cost personal computers increases, these types of systems allow teachers to provide students with unique online collaborative learning opportunities in the areas of language, science, computer graphics, and other fields (Jones 2003; Chen, Toh, and Fauzy 2004). Figure 1 shows a screenshot of the 3D online learning environment being used at the University of North Texas developed by Created Realities Group (CRG 2005).

Figure 1 - Development of the Museums and Educational 3D Virtual Environments Project.

Figure 2 - Example of a University Environment.

Students at remote sites assume control of a representation of themselves, also called an avatar, in a shared created environment such as a school building, park, or any other space. The virtual-space is segmented into conversation areas (portals) so that learners can easily move their avatars to areas for small group or private discussions. The modes available in the system are text communications, full-duplex audio, overheads, whiteboard, and other collaborative tools. Students and instructors use different modes depending on their needs. Students who are uncomfortable speaking, can use the text-based chat for voicing their questions in a course. The instructor can use the audio chat mode in order to provide more information than they can easily type in. Multi-modal interactions allow the system to utilize more than one mode over time to ensure that students with different learning styles are effectively reached.

Students and teachers, when interacting with each other within the 3D online learning environment, frequently comment that they feel more engaged (Jones, Morales, and Knezek 2005). The engagement in the environment is a natural outcome from the user interface. The student has to take control in order to interact and move in the environment. This interaction leads to immersion in the environment (Jenson 2002). The MUVEES Project found that students using 3D environments had high levels of motivation, increased interactions, and improved academic efficacy (MUVEES Project 2003). Over the last few years the technical entry barriers for students to use 3D online learning environments (Internet, Computer Performance, and Graphics Adapter) have been removed to the extent that deployment now makes economical and instructional sense (Jones 2004). However, wide scale deployment of such virtual teaching spaces face new barriers. One of the most profound is the perception that 3D belongs to the world of online gaming (Lombardi and McCahill 2004). Additional barriers include cost of content development, content migration to new systems in the future, and establishing new paradigms for course delivery that allow for both behaviorist and constructivists pedagogy (Jones 2004).

A 3D rendered environment is highly bandwidth efficient and can provide communications to the lowest speed users (dialup). This is possible, because the learning environment is rendered and not retransmitted. The initial bandwidth required to support communications is minimum and can easily support those without access to faster Internet connection as discussed earlier. Fast performance over thin-client Internet connection is ensured by small file sizes, delivery of just-in-time information, and incremental rendering that only request and then renders active visible areas on the user's screen (Jones 2003). This is a very important issue for those facing the digital divide in rural and urban settings (Benton Foundation n.d.). It is reported that broadband is nearing 60% availability for homes and businesses in the U.S (FCC 2005). This up nearly 10% from information reported by the FCC in 2003 (FCC 2003). However, the U.S. has slowed in its deployment and now ranks sixteenth worldwide in broadband availability (WebSiteOptimization 2005). This means that many homes and users in the U.S. still do not have access to broadband Internet connections. By supporting dial-up Internet users, the 3D system supports the same target bandwidth group that web-based course approaches aim to provide for.


Benton Foundation. (n.d.). Digital divide basics. Retrieved December 16, 2003, from http://www.digitaldividenetwork.org/content/sections/index.cfm?key=2

Chen, C. J., Toh, S. C., & Fauzy, W. M. (2004). The theoretical framework for designing desktop virtual reality-based learning environments. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 15(2), 147-167.

CRG. (2005). Overview of the Created Realities Group VXInteractive Distributed Learning System. Retrieved September 14, 2005, from http://www.created-realities.com

FCC. (2003). Federal communications commission releases data on high-speed services for internet access. Washington DC: Federal Communications Commission.

FCC. (2005). Federal communications commission releases data on high-speed services for internet access. Washington DC: Federal Communications Commission.

Holmevik, J. R., & Haynes, C. (2000). MOOniversity: A student's guide to online learning environments. Beedham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon. Jenson, J. (2002, April). Serious play: Challenges of educational game design. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA.

Jones, J. G. (2003a). 3D Graphical MOO being pilot tested at the university of north texas. In Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 384-385). Albuquerque, NM: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Jones, J. G. (2003b). Internet-based 3D graphical MOO software that supports distributed learning for both sides of the digital divide. In World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (Vol. 2003, pp. 246-248). Honolulu, Hawaii USA.

Jones, J. G. (2004a). Content migration between 3D online learning environments. In O. Kelly (Ed.), L.O.W. International Conference on 3D Educational Environments. Helsinki, Finland.

Jones, J. G. (2004b). Hot Topics Panel: Advances in 3D Image Applications -- Interactive and Collaborative 3D Online Environments. In L. Schamber & C. L. Barry (Eds.), American Society for Information Science and Technology: Managing and Enhancing Information: Cultures and Conflicts (Vol. 41, pp. 590). Providence, RI: Information Today, Inc.

Jones, J. G., & Bronack, S. C. (in press). Rethinking cognition, representations, and processes in 3D online social learning environments. In D. Gibson, C. Aldrich & M. Prensky (Eds.), Games and Simulations in Online Learning (Vol. 2, pp. 107-147). Hershey, PA: Idea Group.

Jones, J. G., Morales, C., & Knezek, G. A. (2005). 3D online learning environments: Examining attitudes toward information technology between students in internet-based 3D and face-to-face classroom instruction. Educational Media International, 42(3), 219-236.

Lombardi, J., & McCahill, M. P. (2004). Enabling Social Dimensions of Learning Through a Persistent, Unified, Massively Multi-User, and Self-Organizing Virtual Environment. Retrieved February 2, 2005, from http://www.opencroquet.org/Site PDFs/Enabling Learning 2004.pdf

MUVEES Project. (2003). Multi-User Virtual Environment Experiential Simulator. Retrieved May 9, 2004, from http://muve.gse.harvard.edu/muvees2003/index.html

University of Sheffield. (2004). Virtual Learning Environments. Retrieved May 19, 2004, from http://www.shef.ac.uk/lth/strategic/elearn/vle.html

WebSiteOptimization. (2005). FCC Ignores Digital Divide While US Broadband Drops Worldwide - US Broadband Penetration Nears 60% in July - August 2005 Bandwidth Report. Retrieved September 10, 2005, from http://www.websiteoptimization.com/bw/0508/

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