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IES Contract

Title: OPEN's Virtual National Parks 3D Learning Environment for Science and Social Studies: Low-Cost and Easy to Implement Curriculums
Center: NCER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Newman, George Awardee: One Planet Education Network
Program: Small Business Innovation Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2.5 years Award Amount: $850,000
Type: Phase II Development Award Number: EDIES10C0020

Purpose: Virtual worlds are an emerging form of technology where users can take the form of an avatar and move around within a simulated environment. Such worlds may have potential in the field of education to provide students with new learning opportunities by affording participation in tasks that often would not be possible in the real world due to constraints and restrictions, such as cost, scheduling, or location. Although there is growing support that virtual worlds may promote student learning, such environments generally have yet to be designed to be developmentally appropriate for student use, to align to learning objectives, to be easily integrated into existing teacher instruction and practice, and ultimately to produce learning gains. This project team is developing a three-dimensional (3D) virtual replica of Machu Picchu national park and the ancient Incan ruins in Peru. The online environment will be designed for classroom use and is intended to foster engagement in learning and enhance gains in a set of multidisciplinary outcomes.

Project Activities: Utilizing 3D modeling animation and digital mapping technologies, the team will replicate the landscape and ruins to create simulations and graphics necessary for populating the virtual environment. The team will embed learning objectives within a compelling narrative. Iterative research will be conducted and a series of refinements will be made until a prototype is finalized. An automated online professional development component will also be developed to support teacher integration of the program into the social studies curriculum. To assess the feasibility, usability, and promise of the intervention to impact student learning, the virtual environment will be tested in six social studies classrooms over a three-day period. The researchers will employ surveys, interviews, and videotape recordings to test student engagement and ease of use, student sense of agency to affect the environment, and an interdisciplinary set of standards-based outcomes.

Products: The product will be available for classroom or home use on all basic operating systems and teachers and students will have individualized accounts. Once logged in, students will role-play as characters in a fictional, history-based interactive narrative set in the year 1535, the time of the Spanish conquistadores. In the virtual environment students will be challenged to explore issues, interpret data, weigh evidence, and make choices in solving problems. Students will apply learning to a multidisciplinary set of content areas such as history and cultural studies, and will develop an understanding of the virtual landscape by considering topics such as engineering, hydrology, agriculture, and urban planning. The product will be made available in both English and Spanish.