Exploring the affordances of virtual fieldwork in a multi-user, 3-D digital environment

Argles, Thomas; Minocha, Shailey and Burden, David (2015). Exploring the affordances of virtual fieldwork in a multi-user, 3-D digital environment. In: Higher Education Network (HEN) Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of London, 21-22 Jan 2015, Plymouth University, Plymouth.

URL: https://www.plymouth.ac.uk/whats-on/geological-soc...


The Open University has developed virtual field trips for teaching over a number of years, as a necessary supplement to their residential field schools. In common with many online virtual field trips (VFTs), these generally offered fairly simple, linear, isolated experiences. Users progressed from an overview/orientation page with some background information through to a series of static pages, each corresponding to a field locality and containing a set of resources (text, photographs, animations, questions, links). Little interactivity was possible, and most students experienced the VFT in isolation, whether studying it from a DVD or web browser.

In 2013, a new VFT, Virtual Skiddaw, was produced via a collaboration between a virtual worlds expert (Shailey Minocha), a geologist (Tom Argles), and Daden, a software development company specializing in virtual worlds. The result is a rich, interactive virtual landscape in which detailed 3D localities are embedded in context, allowing users to follow a guided excursion or explore at their leisure. The VFT runs in a web browser using the free Unity 3D plugin. The Unity 3D gaming engine behind the VFT brings with it a number of features new to virtual field trips: multi-user capability (and interaction), ambient noise, avatar navigation (including flight for aerial views), teleporting (within world only!), 3D models of hand samples. Virtual Skiddaw offers distance students in particular a chance to learn together in the virtual environment, while tutors can lead a group activity in-world. The VFT is now embedded in a core second level Earth science OU module, S209, along with other assets from the recently launched OpenScience Laboratory at the OU (http://learn5.open.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=2).

This session will introduce Virtual Skiddaw, and then progress to a hands-on demo, in-world, to showcase some of the features. Participants are invited to discuss affordances and pitfalls of the VFT, and its potential application beyond HE (for example, into schools).

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