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To 3D or not to 3D?

That was the question we started asking last week when we met with Liz Wendland and Peter Moore, two developers of Croquet, a 3D immersive environment just starting to find a place at the University of Minnesota.

We had lots of BIG questions that we started to delve into, but we also had the opportunity to see Croquet in action and brainstorm some uses for it and other 3D immersive environments in teaching and learning.

First, the BIG questions around to 3D, or not to 3D:

1) What is gained from teaching and learning in these environments? (We like to think positively, you see.)

2) Are the effects on student learning outcomes significant enough to focus on development within these environments and the time needed to do so? (We are also realistic.)

And more broadly,

3) How can these environments be used and how are they being used for educational purposes?

Some reasons to use an environment like Second Life or Croquet we discussed were:

1) To collaborate in real time and create things together;

2) As a compelling space to run simulations; and

3) So remote learners can work in a single space to see and hear each other.

Sounds good. But the consensus was that second BIG question I listed above. Is it worth it for the time required to figure it all out?

We talked specifically about Second Life, perhaps the most widely known 3D immersive environment used in education. I talked about my own experience of finding out about Second Life, being really energized by the possibilities, downloading it, creating my avatar, walking in the door of Second Life, and then having the phone ring in this life which took me back out and since then, not having any time to really get in and explore.

Croquet is seen as a possible solution for faculty and instructors, as it is Open Source; it runs on individual machines; and there are developers who (if you have the money to hire them) can create the spaces for you. Croquet has been used at the University of Minnesota by a doctoral student, Julie Sykes, to create Croquelandia, a simulation space to teach pragmatics of the Spanish language. See the YouTube video here. I have sent an inquiry to Julie, now Dr. Julie Sykes, to see if we can read her resultant dissertation and find out what she learned.

That small exposure to Croquelandia in action got us thinking about using 3D immersive environments for role play, to scaffold course content, to have students practice skills they need to develop before they go out into the real world, as pre-study abroad to understand a language and a culture, and to simulate experiences for students in education, medicine, and other service professions.

What we’d like to know is how any of you out there are using 3D immersive environments for teaching and learning. What was your process in deciding “To 3D?? What do we need to know if we also decide “To 3D??


One thing that's compelling about Croquet and other 3D environments is that they really engage students on an experiential level. Students can try out behaviors and actions in this environment that they might not be bold enough to try in real life. Or if they tried them, the consequences of being wrong would be too serious to risk the trial. So Croquelandia shows us a useful example of how students can learn social lessons in a virtual environment -- lessons that they can then translate into real life.

Hi all,

My comment was the one that led to the discovery of the comment problem, so I'm trying again:

To my mind, one of the most exciting dimensions of Julie's work, and of emerging learning environments generally, is the growing possibility of bringing research and teaching intimately together. In Julie's case, the development of the environment compelled a great deal of research regarding the pragmatics of language, and the student behavior in the environment was so richly tracked that there is an enormous new data source for developing and refining further research questions and paths.
Another really nice example of this kind of synergy is Cryss Brunner's work. See http://dmc.umn.edu/projects/brunner/index.shtml for details.

In the end, I think complex environments like SL and Croquet will require much greater designer support within the environment in order to move into the mainstream for teaching and learning. Julie had some very talented programmers supporting her efforts. Compare that to a course management system that relatively easily enables faculty with no specialized technology skills to upload content, create structure, add interactions of a variety of sorts, manage students, etc. SL and Croquet are a long way from enabling the relatively easy construction of environments by instructors with no special technology skills.