3D Takes Us out of the Classroom and to the Far Side of the World

Text Pasi Mattila

Development projects of future learning environments aim at pedagogical, architectural and technological innovations. They are cooperatively designed by users to make them meet the daily needs of students and teachers. 3D learning environments have been introduced for use in Oulu and Hämeenlinna.

The pilot implementations and projects form the basis on which learning environments with solid pedagogical foundations and game-like contents are developed and on which technology will be further improved.

Enthusiasm and Motivation to Learn with Game-like Qualities

Development projects implemented in Oulu have brought a 3D learning environment with game reality to pupils in basic education. The environment contains a community lobby, a theme classroom and some more private room for each student to study and practise. The results obtained through the use of this environment are put to use in a training project that produces learning and training contents for the virtual world for general upper secondary schools and vocational schools.

The environment was developed and piloted in the ERDF-funded project Tulevaisuuden oppimisympäristöt (TOY, Future Learning Environments). The educational use of the environment and the development of models for general upper secondary schools and vocational schools will continue on the national level under the ESF-funded project School Innovation and Learning Center (SILC).

In vocational education, we are accustomed to the use of simulators. Simulators provide students with the opportunity of performing authentic learning tasks, virtually, under the appropriate training conditions.

Simulators today are highly effective aids for learning to drive and to manage the controls of machines. The most recent trials have aimed at modelling other aspects of the work. University of applied sciences students and teachers have an environment with the model of the Mustiala Natural Resources Unit, complete with buildings and a harvester learning module. The idea is to model the situations that occur before driving, after driving and when the harvester receives its annual service. In the future, the idea is to use this environment for practising operations in various situations such as thrashing different kinds of grain under different conditions. In addition, the environment provides the regular communication and presentation options, i.e. it can be furnished as a virtual learning environment for thirty simultaneous users.

In addition to the harvester learning module, it is possible to design other things in the environment – animal care or plant-related items, for example.

The Virtual Mustiala environment was implemented for the needs of HAMK Mustiala Natural Resources Unit in the ESF-funded MobiLearn project (“Harvester”).

realXtend Technology Based on Open Source Code

The development of this 3D learning and training environment took place with the realXtend technology. RealXtend is not another world, rather it is an extension to this reality.

RealXtend involves the basic technology platform on the background and the user environments built on it. User-specified operational environments and the respective functionalities and tools are built on the basic technology platform. With the basic technology, users get a wide variety of handy tools such as chat and voice connections and basic presentation technologies. They are able to develop their own worlds or services and to integrate previously developed electronic applications and contents through the interfaces.

It is not sensible for educational institutions to invest in technologies; instead, they should invest in contents and usability. Closed educational environments do not require age limits because users can be specified for each environment.

The innovative development of virtual learning environments is in its early phases. In addition to learning, 3D environments present versatile possibilities related to area planning, landscape design, social welfare and health care, and even tourism.

The centre of Oulu is presented in a 3D city model consisting of nine city blocks. The extension of the area continues while more input is given to its usability and contents. The city model makes it possible to integrate the services of the inhabitants into the daily environment.

Studies in the 3D World Have No Limits

Authentic 3D learning environments must form a natural part of the learning situation. The possibilities are limitless, because – in contrast to the traditional school environment – almost anything can be modelled in a virtual world. In Berlin, for example, there was an art gallery weekend organised during which the virtual world participants could go through the art exhibitions in 51 different art museums.

A zoo has also been modelled in a virtual world. Imagine how the biology class changes when students can enter a 3D world and meet, say, a white-tailed deer, or take part in a role play as birds or fish in the habitat that the lesson deals with. Future language learning will move into global training environments. Before long, it will be possible to be present, for example, in Japanese language learning situations taking place in Japan.