SimTeach VR



Software Design


One of the key features of 3D ClassTime will be “SIMTeach VR” (Synchronous Interactive Multi-user Teaching in Virtual Reality). Combining elements drawn from the disparate realms of classroom teaching, internet-relay chat and online “MUDs” (multi-user domains), it will offer a uniquely three-dimensional substitute for the real world classroom. 

In scheduled live sessions, Instructors and learners will all “meet” online within a common 3D classroom, each represented by a unique avatar (3D surrogate). Class participants will each be able to control the movement and behavior of their avatars, making them walk, perform gestures, manipulate various elements and generally interact within the virtual classroom at will.

Much like a real world classroom, the SIMTeach VR approach will support a variety of traditional teaching techniques that are normally not possible in Web-based classes. These include in-the-round demonstrations, examination and manipulation of 3D objects and real-time collaboration with other learners within a 3D space.  However, unlike a real classroom, the product will also support a number of highly non-traditional teaching techniques. These include instantly transforming the look and configuration of the classroom to reflect an alternative environment, or transforming the instructor into an object being discussed.  It will also facilitate 3D simulations of processes, events or phenomena that could not ordinarily be witnessed in a classroom or on a Web page, such as the splitting of an atom or the inner workings of an airplane engine.

Another instructionally valuable aspect of 3D ClassTime will be its tight integration between the 3D classroom and the 2D Web browser.  The authoring component will allow instructors to embed hotspots within the virtual 3D environment that trigger HTML pages to display in the 2D browser.  In this way, instructors can take a combined 2D / 3D approach that leverages the strengths of both formats. This will enable instructors to incorporate into class presentations a variety of HTML and Java-based teaching tools, as well as Web-based media players such as QuickTime video, RealAudio, Flashplayer, etc. 

Most importantly 3D ClassTime will be a highly adaptable tool, because it will enable instructors to easily customize their virtual 3D classrooms to meet the requirements of specific course or training curricula. Moreover, it will also be a highly usable tool because it will make it easy for instructors to generate these 3D classrooms quickly and easily, without the need for special skills in computer programming or Web design.


3D CLASSTime Software Design


The Authoring Component

The primary interface for the authoring component will be a menu-driven ‘wizard’ that guides instructors step-by-step through the process of custom building 3D classrooms to meet the needs of their online courses. Using this wizard, an instructor will select the layout of a given virtual classroom from a variety of  “classroom templates”.  Then he or she will select various educational materials and paraphernalia from 3D object libraries and “bring them into the classroom”. The principal advantage of this approach is that it will obviate the need for instructors to construct the elements of these classrooms piece-by-piece, as would be necessary using most other 3D design tools.

Once the classroom layout and materials are determined, the instructor will then ‘fine tune’ the classroom’s design and import additional 3D objects as desired.  The wizard will then enable various Java-based learning applets to be applied to elements within the virtual classroom, further enhancing the instructional value of the 3D space.  Finally, once the 3D classroom is complete, the instructor can use the wizard to publish the 3D classroom to the Web.  If the instructor so desires, elements within the classroom can be linked to existing course Web pages, or even to additional 3D classrooms.

Once published to the Web, these 3D classrooms will facilitate instructional activities not supported by existing online learning tools; activities such as lectures that involve real-time 3D demonstrations, examination and manipulation of 3D objects, simulations of complex processes or events in 3D, exploration of 3D places and structures. Of course the 3D classroom will be the setting for SIMTeach-VR (Synchronous Interactive Multi-learner Teaching within Virtual Reality).  

The Browser Component

In order to access these 3D Classrooms on the Web, instructors and learners alike will need to utilize the second component of 3D ClassTime, the 3D/2D Web browser.  Basically, this will be a customized HTML browser with built-in support for real-time 3D graphics and real-time multi-user interaction. Like a standard Web browser, it will include a window frame for viewing HTML pages and controls for navigating them (forward, back, reload, stop, search etc).  But unlike a standard Web browser, it will also feature a window frame for viewing 3D virtual environments and controls for navigating and interacting within virtual 3D space. These controls will include movement/directional controls (forward, backward, right, left, up down, orbit, etc.), view controls (look up, look down, zoom in, zoom out etc.) and interaction controls (grasp, examine, push, drag, etc.).  When 3D ClassTime is in SIMTeach VR mode, these controls will be manifest through the user’s avatar.

Another key element of the browser will be the live-text discussion window frame.  While similar in concept to internet-relay chat, live-text discussion will offer online discourse that is far more structured than that which takes place in most chat rooms.  Key to this structure will be a “lecture mode” that instructors can engage to restrict independent discourse (as well as avatar movement) amongst students within the virtual classroom. This will give instructors the opportunity to conduct lectures and demonstrations without having to “talk over” multiple simultaneous conversations or be interrupted by students who “talk in class”.  However, just as in real world classrooms, students will be able to raise their avatars hands to indicate they’d like to ask a question.

An important point about the 2D/3D Web browser component is that it will come in two distinct versions: an instructor version and a learner version. While both versions will sport the same core interface, the instructor version will offer additional controls that enable instructors to present 3D course content, lead learners through virtual 3D spaces, evaluate learner performance and exert structure and control over events taking place within the 3D classroom.