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Tuesday, November 22, 2005
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Education meets virtual reality
Be anyone, do anything -- and learn in the process

ATHENS, Ohio (Feb. 2, 2007) -- Ohio University recently has become the first university in Ohio and one of only a few U.S. universities who have launched functioning campuses in the popular 3-D virtual world, "Second Life."

Ohio University's Second Life campusThe online Second Life software allows users to explore, build, collaborate, learn and participate in activities as part of a virtual society. Users act in Second Life as they would in the real world. The technology goes way beyond simple gaming.

Ohio University has been a leader in employing Second Life as an educational tool. Last year, the university became the first to extend this technology to middle school students; previously, no one younger than 13 was even permitted to log on.

The Office of Outreach is sponsoring the work of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, which is using the software to support interactive video games that help area middle school students learn science. Ohio University Without Boundaries (OUWB) is researching the effectiveness of virtual technology in education.

Ohio University is one of only a few other universities -- Harvard among them -- to also offer experiences beyond the classroom.

Visitors to Ohio University's campus -- two connected "islands" -- can take courses and enjoy a host of other features like exploring parks and buildings, and joining real student organizations at the student center. The arts and music center features local artists and musicians. Facilities even feature art installations by current Ohio University artists in residence.

Second Life screenAccording to Christopher Keesey, OUWB project manager, Ohio University is unique in its approach. "We're not just moving the classroom into Second Life. We're innovating learning beyond what's already going on in the classroom with educational games, learning kiosks, student organizations and arts experiences," he said.

Visitors from across the world can access learning materials ? presentations, podcasts, blogs -- at kiosks. The experience provides more flexibility and an added attraction for younger learners who are more engaged by a virtual environment. Some courses combine traditional classroom learning with online delivery; stand-alone, online courses are also offered.

The Russ College's presence on the campus is marked by scale representations of both its real-life Stocker Center and Ohio University's planned integrated learning and research facility, scheduled to break ground this spring. The facilities give ample classroom and collaboration space for student projects and poster sessions.

Ohio University educators are holding classes in the virtual world. Katherine Milton, director of the College of Fine Arts' Aesthetic Technologies Lab, teaches an experimental media class that meets once a week in the real world and once a week in Second Life. Mostly new to this virtual world, the seniors and graduate students are examining it as a both a venue for performance and art, and as a platform for creative expression.

Milton says the goal is not to recreate our "offline" environment, but to find ways to create dynamic content and experiences that reach beyond it. "Second Life has elements of the physical world as reference points, but the real opportunity is in creating viscerally evocative and emotionally immersive works, experiences and environments specific to this platform," Milton said.

Second Life screen shotOUWB created its island to give users of its online graduate degree programs and certificate programs another way to access learning content. The group is also researching how virtual worlds can be more effectively used to create engaging learning experiences.

As part of a $1.7 million National Science Foundation grant, Russ College graduate students are working with area middle school science teachers to design interactive video games that will help children grasp hard-to-learn science concepts.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Chang Liu said a major benefit is that the campus extends the reach of education. "Students can conduct simulated science experiments or engage in team-learning activities in our engineering buildings from anywhere, anytime."

Other research is specifically focused on the differences between a variety of online content delivery, from game-based learning to the kiosk approach. OUWB is testing how to place its current action-based learning architecture into a scalable, kiosk-style presentation. In another project, OUWB and the Russ College are collaborating on a nutritional game offering food choices from three virtual restaurants.

Merle Graybill, director of the university's outreach programs, and OUWB Director Muriel Ballou said Second Life has changed education as we know it. "OUWB and the Russ College's development of our campus puts us at the leading edge of the next big wave of interactive digital learning environments," Graybill said.

"Second Life appears to be a gateway to the future of blending technology and education in the very best scenario we, in higher education, have experienced thus far," Ballou said.

Second Life users can visit the virtual campus at the following Second Life URL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/ohio%20university/20/36/24/. To join Second Life, visit www.secondlife.com/.

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Media Contact: Coordinator of Media Relations Jessica Stark, 740-597-2938 or starkj@ohio.edu, or Russ College Director of External Relations Colleen Girton, 740-597-1488 or girtonc@ohio.edu

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