Role of three-dimensional virtual environments in the globalisation of science education

Minocha, Shailey (2012). Role of three-dimensional virtual environments in the globalisation of science education. In: Going Global 2012, Internationalising Higher Education, British Council, 13-15 Mar 2012, London, UK.



In this poster, we illustrate how 3D virtual environments can facilitate science education in distance and blended education contexts, and can support collaboration amongst students and educators in geographically distributed settings and in different institutions.

Three-dimensional (3D) virtual environments, also called synthetic worlds, are multimedia, simulated environments, often managed over the web, which users can ‘inhabit’ and interact via their graphical self-representations known as ‘avatars’. In a 3D virtual environment, the users, represented as avatars, experience others as being present in the same environment even though they may be geographically distributed. Users converse in real time through gestures, audio, text-based chat, and instant messaging. Three-dimensional virtual environments support synchronous communication and collaboration more effectively than two-dimensional (2D) web-based environments: by extending the user’s ability to employ traditional communication cues of face-to-face interactions, and having a sense of presence and a sense of place in a way that 2D environments do not.

A 3D environment can enable students to carry out a range of authentic and practical scientific enquiries: interacting with 3D models, participating in virtual field trips; learning to control instruments; assembling apparatus and instruments; and creating 3D models. The social aspects of a 3D environment support scientific discourse and dialogues at different levels. For example, in an avatar-based 3D virtual world, the avatar can navigate, encounter other avatars, and communicate with them in real-time through gestures, voice, text, and instant messaging. They can critique experimental designs, compare results, share good practice, and look over each other’s work just as one would do in a real-life laboratory. The sense of working together in a place with other avatars provides an immersive experience that drives sustained engagement and aids visual memory.

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