vAcademia is a virtual world for education. Here you can learn, here you can teach. vAcademia has everything you need for effective classes and lectures: convenient classrooms, interactive whiteboards with presentation tools, text and audio communication, and web camera support.
The key advantage of vAcademia over other worlds is its option to record classes.
This advantage is based on an original technological feature - 3D recording, which allows creating a new type of content that comprise both space and time. This type of content can be called ‘virtcast’ - a 3D recording of activities in virtual reality or a series of such recordings.
Some of the 3D recordings (for example, the most interesting ones) can be made periodical and replayed constantly in the locations of the virtual world. This feature allows to create a better atmosphere, since a visitor of vAcademia does not observe empty constructions, which often happens in other virtual worlds. Instead, the visitors can explore some of the classes going on with teachers and students involved. This might attract their attention and trigger curiosity.
Other vAcademia features include a set of teaching tools for collaborative learning. Interactive whiteboards can be used for drawing, displaying slides, video clips, desktop and application sharing, web camera sharing, and back-channeling. It is possible to use multiple whiteboards of different sizes in any class, and the users can focus their view on a certain board, using special controls. In addition, every participant is able to set up an additional whiteboard during the class and present some content on it. A coloured pointer can be used for focusing attention on a certain element of the board.
The virtual world vAcademia has a strong web support. While the main function of the 3D environment of vAcademia is providing tools for online classes, the web-site provides support for planning and managing classes and courses, searching and organizing 3D recordings. In addition, the web-site supports social groups and has social networking functionalities.
The web-sitewww.vacademia.com provides all types of support and information about the virtual world. In addition, a course management system is developed and available through the site. The web-site has several sections, which provide a particular set of tools.
In this paper, we present a new approach to educational activities in 3D virtual worlds, which is based on a new vision of educational content and opens new possibilities for learning. Traditionally, the content in 3D virtual worlds was thought as interactive media objects embedded in a 3D environment, but there was no means for capturing life activities conducted in such environments, except for recording screen videos. At the same time, the most valuable characteristics of this technology are in the synchronous interaction and rich life experience, which disappear in flat video. Therefore, we argue that a mechanism that allows capturing synchronous activities in a 3D virtual world without losing such essential characteristics has great value. Such mechanism is implemented within the project vAcademia, which aims at developing an educational virtual world with a set of tools for collaborative learning (http://vacademia.com/). The virtual world vAcademia is currently under beta testing, which includes several cases from which the feedback is being collected. The main original feature of vAcademia is 3D recording, which allows capturing dynamically everything in a given location of the virtual world. The use of resultant 3D recordings is similar to time travelling. It allows a group of learners to experience a past class and collaborate there, recording it again if needed. In such a manner, vAcademia supports a new type of digital content – 3D recording or virtcast, which is created based on synchronous activities and opens new possibilities to explore.
Teacher from Brazil Eduardo Martins hold a lesson in vAcademia about music. Teacher used a little number of user interactive objects features in compare with reference class, but however the result was very impressive. Eduardo uploaded some 3D-models of musical instruments into resources collection and added playing unique melody on click to each 3D-model. During all lesson the teacher and students are discussed virtual orchestra.
An English lesson held in the interior of an open-air café became one of the clearest examples of the interactive user objects usage. The interior included not only static objects: the bar was decorated with rotating trays with pizza and the phonograph played soft music.
One of the new features of the latest version of vAcademia is implementing interactive user objects.
Now teachers can upload their own 3D-models into the virtual world, configure and place them in a temporary location or inside a scheduled lesson. Besides it is possible to define interactive behavior for uploaded objects, for example, on click reactions such as playing sounds, viewing messages, switching into the virtcast (3D-recording), going to a location in the virtual world, opening a web-site, changing textures on a model and more.
This new exciting opportunities can be useful in many different fields: for presentation of architectural projects, software products, coursework and degree, in teaching chemistry, history and other subjects. An English lesson held in the interior of an open-air café became one of the clearest examples of the interactive user objects usage. The interior included not only static objects: the bar was decorated with rotating trays with pizza and the phonograph played soft music.
Students sorted products, given as 3D-models, into three categories: fruits and vegetables, sweets, meat and fish, and then practiced in pronunciation of these products. Each product had a sample of pronunciation attached to it, so that the students could click on the fruit, vegetable or meal and compare their pronunciation with the ideal.
Next the teacher suggested to view a video from English café on the interactive board and write on the whiteboard all names of the products mentioned in the video.
The lesson continued with listening. By clicking on the radio students listened to the dialogue and were asked to determine where the dialog took place: in the restaurant, in the dining room etc.
Café menu was shown as a separate object with pages flipping on click. Using this menu students made orders as in restaurant. They were divided into three groups according to the number of tables and a student from another group played the role of the waiter so all of them one by one made their orders.
In conclusion, students played “Make a sentence” game, choosing words on the yellow boxes to make a right sentence about the food.
You can view a 3D record of this lesson in vAcademia virtual world.
Inspired by English lesson in Cafe Eduardo Martins (a teacher from Brazil) held your own English lesson about music in vAcademia.
He used a little number of user interactive objects features in compare with reference class, but however the result was very impressive. Eduardo uploaded some 3D-models of musical instruments into resources collection and added playing unique melody on click to each 3D-model. During all lesson the teacher and students are discussed virtual orchestra.
Rich properties and interactivity abilities: teleporting on click, audio attachments, objects exploration, change textures and some other cool features will be added for user objects in next major release of vAcademia (March, 2012)
vAcademia presents a new approach to educational activities in 3D virtual worlds. This approach is based on a new vision of content and learning process in virtual worlds and related to a new platform called vAcademia. This virtual world is designed and developed specially for educational purposes, and it has an integrated set of tools for a number of learning activities. The main original feature of vAcademia is 3D recording, which allows capturing dynamically everything in a given location in the virtual world. A 3D recording looks like a live virtual class providing students with a collaboration space and giving a sense of presence. In such a manner, vAcademia supports a new type of digital content – 3D recording or virtcast, which is created based on synchronous activities and opens new possibilities to explore. We present the functionality, scenarios of use and challenges of the educational virtual world vAcademia.
In order to support educational process, an integrated proprietary Learning Management System was developed. The LMS is optimized for vAcademia; however, a Moodle interface is also available. vAcademia provides a set of classroom tools for collaborative learning, such as pointer, drawing tool, slide show presentations, desktop sharing, application sharing, web camera support, and online polls.
The platform is currently in beta and available at http://vacademia.com/. Universities and colleges are welcome to try out the platform.