Intuitively, it sounds good. I get an image of the StarTrek Holodeck, walking through virtual forests where energy has been reformed as matter, where force fields make it feel like I’m walking, even though I’m not moving. I can touch, taste, even smell my surroundings, though they are nothing more than electrical currents. I experience it with all of my senses, like no book or video can ever deliver.
That’s my image of a Virtual 3D lab, which is nothing like what Wikipedia defines it: a software system designed to support teaching and learning in an educational setting. A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for assessment, communication, uploading of content, return of students’ work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organizing student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, etc.
What is ‘reality’, at least according to the ground-breaking Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is more like Google’s Holodeck Streetview: You know you aren’t moving, but the 10 high-definition 72-inch TV monitors, arranged in two five-screen semi-circles, give an eerie sense of being there. If you are a member of Second Life, you know better than most what this would be like.
Students at a Baltimore County high school this fall will explore the area surrounding Mount St. Helens in a vehicle that can morph from an aircraft to a car to a boat to learn about how the environment has changed since the volcano’s 1980 eruption.
But they’ll do it all without ever leaving their Chesapeake High School classroom–they will be using a three-dimensional Virtual Learning Environment developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) with the university’s Center for Technology Education.
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