By Colleen Carow, Spencer Elliott, and Jennifer Krisch
Ohio University?s Virtual Immersive Technologies and Arts for Learning (VITAL) Lab, under the direction of the Smithsonian Latino Center, has created the conceptual design for the new Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum, which opened today with a virtual ribbon-cutting.
The virtual museum represents a unique internal collaboration among the Smithsonian?s network of museums and research centers and is the first of its kind for the Smithsonian Institution.
Based in the online virtual world Second Life, the virtual museum takes the museum model to a new level by combining the Smithsonian?s collections with the storage capacity and interactivity of the Internet. Providing a unique immersive leaning experience, the museum brings alive Latino cultural heritage while allowing students, researchers and the public unprecedented access to exhibits and objects from one of the world?s premier cultural and educational institutions.
In Second Life, a 3-D environment where users interact as human ?avatars? created by the user, visitors may obtain data on particular objects from participating museum?s database. While exploring the museum, visitors can peruse galleries of Latino painting and photography, view educational video clips, or even dance to merengue music, as well as interact with others visiting the virtual museum.
?This is above and beyond what a physical museum can provide,? said Chang Liu, director of the VITAL Lab and associate professor of computer science in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology. ?Typically, a museum has a large number of items but can only display a small percentage of what it owns.?
The project is the brainchild of the Smithsonian Latino Center, a pan-institutional outreach center of the Smithsonian Institution that selected Ohio University's VITAL Lab to help create the technical infrastructure.
"We are at the cutting edge of defining immersive cultural experiences and enabling new models of learning for a diverse community of users, and we are changing the way museums collaborate with one another,? said Melissa Carrillo, creative director of the Latino Virtual Museum.
With today?s launch, phase I of the museum is complete ? a lobby and two wings. Long-term plans include a virtual structure that will feature 16 wings showcasing different facets of Latino art, music, science and history.
?The VITAL Lab is excited to be partnered with the Smithsonian Institution as it furthers our belief in the value of immersive experiences for learning,? said Arnold Jonas, virtual worlds and social interactive designer for the VITAL Lab. ?The opportunity to work on such a high profile project with experts in the field demonstrates the potential of synthetic worlds to be a part of the future of interpretive museum design.?
Ohio University was among the first universities to develop functioning campuses in Second Life. In the two years since it purchased land in the virtual world, classes in subjects ranging from English to engineering have been conducted on the virtual campus. Groups such as the Ohio Minority Health Council and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Ohio Environmental Education Fund have helped develop learning activities for students.
In addition, Ohio University was the first to extend the technology to middle school students in Second Life, by creating interactive video games that help children grasp tough science concepts. The work was funded by a $1.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Last year, the university partnered with Princeton Review to offer SAT study sessions to high school students through Second Life.
To participate in today?s launch or to create an avatar, please visit: http://latino.si.edu/education/LVM_Main.htm.