Len Annetta, Ph.D., North Carolina State University

John C. Park, Ph.D., North Carolina State University



Paper presented at the 2006 Annual Conference of The Association for Science Teacher Education, Portland, OR

Game On: Graduate Science Education Students Creating Role Playing Video Games in a 3-D Virtual Environment Through Synchronous Online Instruction



This paper describes the design of a new graduate distance education course at North Carolina State University, which combined science content and pedagogy with video game design. The course was conducted entirely in a synchronous, online, Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) through the ActiveWorlds™ platform. Inservice teachers enrolled as graduate students in science education learned to construct video games as a supplement to their science instruction. The ultimate objective of this course was to advance student achievement and interest in science by providing teachers with a viable source for integrating video game technology into the curriculum. Our objective is to inform and assist those who may wish to develop a course of their own using similar technology and pedagogy. 



Today’s school children have been dubbed Generation N or the Net Generation because they have grown up in a networked world where technology is not a novelty but rather a norm in everyday life. The advances in technology in the new millennium may evoke a disquieting sense of shock and awe among administrators and teachers when it comes to understanding how to harness these new capabilities and merge them with sound pedagogy. Some who would otherwise welcome new technology advances may become restricted by lack of resources. Others possess the wherewithal, but lack the knowledge on how to use the technology. But those who are persistent in their efforts become travelers of the "high road" of technology, exploiting the power and potential of the ever expanding technical capacities, which reside on the leading edge of the technology continuum (Henrichsen and Murray, 1995).  

Current research has suggested that Generation N is more likely to engage in online games than they are to interact in live, face-to-face learning environments (Foreman, 2003; Neal, 2003; Prensky, 2001; Rejeski, 2002). In order to address this change in student interest and approach to learning, graduate students in science education were subject to an online course that incorporated role-playing games to help future science teachers to understand and thus use such games in their classrooms. The fascination with Pong™ in the 1970’s is today paralleled by the popularity of online, multiuser games where people can compete against one another or work together to reach a common goal.

This paper describes the creation of a graduate distance education course at North Carolina State University, which combined content and pedagogy with one of these technical advances that was conducted entirely in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).  The case study will describe course development, design, implementation, and several lessons-learned derived through observation and interview of an outside class participant. 

The course was created through funding from the Distance Education and Learning Technology Alliance at North Carolina State University. The course design had two major goals:

1. Find a viable source for synchronous, online course delivery in a VLE;

2. Pilot the possibility of teaching inservice teachers to design and create role-playing video games in a 3-dimensional virtual environment as a supplement to their science instruction;

            What follows is the rationale for this using a VLE for distance learning, a rich description of the course, and lessons learned as they relate to the 2 aforementioned goals.

Literature Review

VLE in distance education

            Three dimensional (3D) worlds provide various types of educational initiatives such as extension of the classroom and as a medium for distance education (Dickey, 2000) and support the constructivist paradigm of instruction (C. Dede, 1995). All distance education can be grouped under the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) umbrella. Dede (2004) believes asynchronous communication provides for convenient participation, deeper reflection, and archiving insights while emotional and social dimensions rely on synchronous virtual interchanges. VLE’s allow for synchronicity through real-time chat or Voice over IP (VoIP). These seem to be commonplace in the lives of both college students and those students in the k-12 arena. Today, students use virtual communities to discuss shared interests (communities of interest), to develop social relations (communities of relationships) and to explore new identities (communities of fantasy) (Hagel, 1997). Horrigan (2001) reported more people use the Internet to participate in virtual communities (84%) than to make purchase transactions. Bruckman (1997) and Riner (1996) found that text-based virtual worlds support constructivist learning through meaningful collaboration and interactivity. They proposed simulations not only have a text-based chat module, but the visual learner can be immersed in a 3D setting as well. Virtual reality research suggests participation in a 3D environment also supports the constructivist paradigm of instruction and may bridge the gap between experiential learning and information representation (Bricken, 1994; Dede, 1995).

There is another interesting development along generational lines.  Now, it's true that students are arriving at college with greater abilities in online learning and an expectation to learn in an on demand manner. However, what is even more intriguing is that these students also arrive with brains that are more likely to have been shaped by very visual, rapid movement, hypertexted environments (Healy, 1999). Zemsky (2004) reported students desire e-learning technologies for 3 reasons:

            1. They want to be connected to one another;

            2. They want to be entertained through games, music and movies;

            3. They want to present themselves and their work.

            A Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE) is an immersive 3D virtual learning environment, in which an avatar, or graphic representation of the user, interacts with other avatars and objects in an immersive visually-rich, simulated world in real time (Cobb, 2002).  Dede (2004), defined MUVE as a representational container that enables multiple simultaneous participants to access virtual spaces configured for learning.  It is a place where learners represent themselves through graphical avatars, and communicate with other avatars and computer-based agents as well as interacting with digital artifacts and virtual contexts. The MUVE environment is designed to evoke in the user a sense of virtual “presence”, that is, “a sensation the participant has of being in another place while visiting a virtual environment” (Winn, Hoffman, and Osberg, 1995). The feeling of “presence” is engendered by visual representations of people and places, and in part by combining the power of suggestion, which activates the students’ imagination in a simulated learning environment (Murray, 2004).  Barfield (1995) distinguished virtual presence from real world presence as the extent to which participants believe they are somewhere different than their actual physical location while experiencing a computer generated simulation.

            MUVE’s provide environments where team building is essential (Leonard, 1999). They are diverse learning experiences that provide diverse activities in support of classroom curriculum. They motivate learning by challenging, providing curiosity, beauty, fantasy, fun, and social recognition. They reach learners who don't do well in conventional settings (C. Dede, 2004). VLE’s allow for development of higher levels of learning and collaboration skills (Gibbs, 1999; Pilkington, 2000; Russell, 2000; Selinger, 1997; Tanner, 2000; Watts, 2000; Wilson, 1997). Problem based learning (PBL) and collaborative learning are the most powerful educational options in higher learning if the technology is harnessed with sound pedagogy (Oliver, 1999; Squire, 2002; Zemsky, 2004). Through teaching and learning in collaborative environments, problem based activities can come to life. VLE’s encourage students to explore beyond the boundaries of given material thus allowing for a proactive and exploratory nature that allows the student to become a self-reliant learner (Taradi, 2005).

MUVE platforms are currently being used for multiple applications. As today’s students become more engrossed in gaming, MUVE’s are becoming a viable solution to meet the visual and cognitive needs of those students. Neal (2003) predicts game technology will replace classrooms, lectures, tests, and note taking with fun, interactive learning environments. Teachers need to evaluate MUVE's from an educational perspective to determine whether they can be embedded into their teaching practices (Britain, 2000). For example, digital technologies can immerse the learner in worlds that not only represent scientific phenomena, but also behave according to the laws of physics (C. Dede, 2004; C. Dede, Salzman, M., & Loftin, B., 1999).

            Linn (2004) examined the pedagogical implications of ICT-mediated science.  She proposed 4 meta-principles to support knowledge integration: making science accessible, making thinking visible, helping students to learn from each other, and promoting autonomous learning. In a comparative study of 3 modes of distance education, students not only perceived they learned more but post testing suggested students did in fact learn more when interaction and collaboration was greatest (L. A. Annetta, & Matus, J.C., 2004; L. A. Annetta, & Minogue, J., 2004; Annetta, L.A., & Shymansky, J.A., 2005). VLE’s allow for students to become immersed in a world where the principles of Linn (2004) and Annetta, et. al (2004, 2005) is accessible.

Game theory as an educational tool

Modern literacy not only includes text but also image and screen literacy. It involves navigating information and assembling knowledge from fragments (Oblinger, 2001). User-friendly technology can be effectively integrated into a learning environment in which students are engaged in the "active" process of learning. The combination of Problem Based Learning in a game-simulation context within a MUVE is an ambitious attempt to harness the benefits and synergy of these three features. According to Foreman (2003, p.15), “Games expose players to deeply engaging, visually dynamic, rapidly paced, and highly gratifying pictorial experiences that make almost any sort of conventional schoolwork (especially when mediated by a lecture or text) seem boring by comparison.”  Neal (2003) and Prensky (2001) believe game technology will replace classrooms, lectures, tests, and note taking with fun, interactive learning environments.

          Dickey (2000) indicated that 3D worlds, such as those created with ActiveWorlds™, support various types of educational initiatives.  Not only can these worlds provide an extension to the traditional classroom, but also are an avenue for distance education. Additionally, within the 3D environment is a function for linking to webpages.  This will allow the developer to provide text, image or other communication to the competitors that might assist them through the environment. Furthermore, competitors can move along the x and z-axes, but they may elect to activate the gravity option and thus move along the y-axis as they float off the ground. Suler (1999) suggested these worlds create heightened emotional reactions because it mimics the sensory experience. There is not only realism but also suspense since objects move toward and away from you.  You don't know what is around the next corner.

            Avatars were inspired by ASCII smileys and have evolved into a creation of the user. The competitor can be anyone or anything they want to be.  Competitors can create their own avatar. Dickey (2000) and Duffy & Cunningham (1996) agree that a major goal of constructivist learning environments is to find activities that support ideological interchange and reflexivity. The ability to take on the multiple roles allows for the competitor to gain multiple perspectives of a given scenario.  Depending on the avatar one creates, they might be able to do much more than they could in the physical world.

Designing A Synchronous Distance Course in a VLE

            Designing a new course is not an easy task.  Designing a distance-learning course in an environment that allows for synchronicity and visual stimulation is not only challenging but is extremely risky.  However, high risk can be on a par with high reward.  This inaugural course incorporated blended learning model that consisted of thirteen graduate students, enrolled at NCSU.  All were either pre-or in-service K-12 teachers.  One NCSU faculty member audited the course. Most students were science teachers, although one taught history at a local high school.  Students generally lived within an approximate fifty-mile radius of the NCSU campus, although one participated in a portion of the course out of state and the remainder locally.  As the course was conducted entirely online, students were not obliged to travel to the campus and could access WolfDen (the name of the MUVE created for this course) largely on their own time schedule (except for scheduled lectures).  The online nature of the course afforded a benefit in terms of unnecessary commuting time and gas expense that are not present in traditional courses.

Course Description

            EMS 594, entitled, “Special Topics in Science Teaching:  Introduction to 3D Multi-user Online Role Play Games”[1], was offered by the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC during the Spring Term 2005.  The entire course was set in a virtual world created exclusively for this course in a MUVE, using proprietary Web-based software provided by ActiveWorlds, Inc.  The lead instructor built the virtual world, WolfDen, in its entirety with the assistance of two technical contractors[2] and a colleague who teaches at the secondary education level in Indiana.  The course was delivered entirely online, with both synchronous and asynchronous components.  For example, regularly scheduled live lectures were held in the classroom building, while students were allowed round the clock access to WolfDen to build their game-simulations.  The Active Worlds Browser contains an imbedded telegram system in which assistance could be summoned from the course instructor, who frequented WolfDen often outside of the scheduled lectures, providing live advice and assistance to the students.

The course was comprised of two exemplary game-simulations on varying science topics. The simulations were inquiry-based and adhered to constructivist theory. Science content knowledge of the topics presented in each simulation was helpful, but not critical. The simulations were designed so the prior knowledge of each student would direct them through the virtual worlds, but each student would invariably gain greater knowledge of the science phenomena through the process of solving the proposed problem.

Course Objectives

            The purpose of this course was to advance student achievement in science classrooms by integrating collaborative/competitive simulation games. Current research has suggested that because today’s students have grown up in the digital age they are more likely to engage in online games than they are to interact in live, face-to-face environments (Foreman, 2003; Neal, 2003; Prensky, 2001; Rejeski, 2002). In order to address this change in student interest, new pedagogy and skills integrating instructional technology need to be created. This online course incorporates the extensive use of game-simulations to help current and future science teachers understand gaming theory and to design and construct games to be used in their classrooms.

Specific objectives of the course were for students to be able to:

1. Demonstrate a developing understanding of game theory, storyboarding, and online multi-user role-play games

2. Demonstrate competence in developing skills of instructional, communication, and assessment strategies that support, motivate, and monitor student learning

3. Demonstrate developing knowledge, skills, and dispositions that encourage reflective practice, collaborative action, and lifelong inquiry into teaching and learning

4. Develop an understanding for technology and cross-curricular integration into the science classroom.

Course Overview

WolfDen is an immersive simulated learning environment, created in an educational virtual space, Active Worlds Education Universe. WolfDen provided an immersive environment, rich in graphic representations of objects, non-characters, and the avatar, or visual representation of each student.  An important feature of the MUVE technology is that it enabled the course instructor to use a variety of simulated environments during the course. A Classroom built to resemble Poe Hall, an actual building on the NCSU campus served as a lecture hall for certain aspects of the course.  A Game Room provided a central point from which WolfDen students and visitors could teleport to various instructional locations in the virtual world.  Initially the instructor and his assistants created two complete instructional games whose origin was the Game Room.  These instructional games, “Phases of the Moon” (Figure 2), and “Who Killed the Pharaoh,” served as models to the students of the technical design and layout, content, and game features that the students were to create during the course.









Figure 1.  Screen Shot of the Phases of the Moon Simulation

A Tutor Room provided links to resources and instructions on building, etc. The remaining space in WolfDen consisted of an expansive Building Area (The remaining nearly 1,000,000 square meters of unimproved real estate within WolfDen was available to students create their own individual game simulations), in which students were free to create their own instructional games.

            There was no required text.  Readings for the class were posted periodically online and consisted of current literature in science and game theory education (Dede, 2003; Foreman, 2003; Squire, 2002). These readings empowered students with the basic knowledge and skills needed to understand and create an educational game using the principles of game theory and PBL in the MUVE (Dede 2003).  These readings provided the scaffolding to create a functional virtual game-simulation. 

Technology, Knowledge and Skills Prerequisites

            The heavy reliance on Web-technology was a significant factor of the course.  Students were therefore required to deal with technology on two levels--technical and psychological. From the purely technical standpoint, the hardware requirements were relatively stringent. To operate the Active Worlds browser effectively, each student needed access to a relatively robust computer and Internet connection.  For example, each student was required to have access to a computer with a minimum level of capability (Pentium III CPU 750Mhz or better, 128MB Memory/256MB Memory for XP, Microsoft Windows 98, Me, 2000, or XP, 500MB free disk space, Direct X 8.1 or later, Windows Media Player 9 or later, and 3D accelerated video card with at least 16MB and the latest drivers).   In addition to the above, each student was required to equip their computer with a microphone and speaker/headset for Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) feature of the course. The Active Worlds browser is optimized for high speed Internet connection, such as DSL or cable modem. Operation within the virtual world with computers connected to the Internet via a dial-up modem would have been significantly hindered, irrespective of the computing power and speed of the computer.

            Students were also required to possess a base level of proficiency in using the Web, and to obtain quickly an understanding of the ActiveWorlds™ interface, and to gain the skills required to create and manipulate objects, that they placed in their game-simulations.  Students, who did not possess a working knowledge of creating HTML pages and performing basic operations using audio files, were compelled to gain these skills in order to complete course tasks.  While most students enrolled in the course possessed many of the above skills, some did not.   Technical assistance provided by the course instructor and by other course participants enabled those lacking the requisite skills to complete their assignments.  However, the challenge of amassing new technical skills, while becoming familiar with the creation and operation of a VLE, represented considerable psychological overhead to students with lower comfort levels for the MUVE technology.

Creating an Instructional Game-Simulation in a MUVE

            A critical objective in the course was to empower the students to learn how to navigate within the MUVE geography and quickly obtain the skills to create an instructional game, which would be representative of an actual activity that could be implemented in their own classrooms.  To achieve this, students were required to gain a number of competencies and skills in areas to which they had not been exposed previously.  For example, students were challenged to grasp the essence of instructional gaming theory, including the practical skills of storyboarding to gain the technical skills to build a visually rich and action-based game environment.  This required students to find and incorporate physical objects, such as buildings, rooms, landscapes, content-related objects (e.g. file cabinets with fingerprints), and non-player characters; to incorporate sound to enhance the feeling of presence and authenticity of the simulation; and to link actions within the game to web pages designed to move the game action forward;  Finally, each game was required to be aligned with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

            Integrating Pedagogy & New Technology

            To integrate Problem Based Learning and Game Theory into the course, students were required to create a problem, which addressed at least one North Carolina Standard Course of Study (NC SCOS) and were assigned the task of creating a game with a story narrative that fostered principles of PBL.  Participating students were already familiar with the principles of PBL, and a live lecture in the first week of the course provided instruction on the principles of Game Theory.

            Since game theory and development were typically new to the students, assigned readings and a storyboarding template were provided to complement regularly scheduled live lectures held in the virtual classroom, and facilitated by live audio (VOIP) from the course instructor.  The storyboard template facilitated the generation of a game narrative and moving the game forward.  The final game produced by each student required a basic proficiency in building within the Active Worlds MUVE and the ability to embed triggers through basic scripting language specific to the ActiveWorlds™ browser, such as moving, linking to HTML pages in pop-up windows, bumping objects to cause various actions, such as playing audio files, teleporting (moving the player’s avatar to another location within WolfDen instantaneously or over the terrain in a straight line of motion), and moving objects (up down, forward/backward, laterally) dynamically within the game.

            Students typically worked alone in the design of the game but were encouraged to collaborate freely with each other and the instructor to resolve technical issues, such as locating desired objects, creating non-player characters from avatars, mastering object and avatar actions, and so forth.         

            At the end of the course students presented their game, initially to selected classmates and ultimately to the class as a whole.  The purpose of the formative evaluation feedback was to assist game creators in clarifying the objectives and play of their games through peer feedback.

The course was designed to strike a balance between synchronous and asynchronous elements.  A virtual classroom, consisting of pre-assigned “seating”, employed a live lecture, which facilitated a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the course, and which provided a central meeting place for the class to periodically discuss progress and provide instruction and guidance on creating a MUVE activity. Most of the course, however, involved asynchronous manipulation of Active Worlds objects to build a functional activity.  Each student was allowed to select a location in the expansive WolfDen building area, select from thousands of building objects, decorate and populate their project. The course instructor upon the request of the student created objects not available to students through the ActiveWorlds™ platform.


Student Products

            Despite the diversity in technology comfort level and computer skills among the students, each student created an end product with excellent educational qualities. Table 1 summarizes the wide range of subject matter selected by the students and the related N.C. standards in their game-simulations. Shaded area of table 1 illustrates the exemplar games created by the instructor.

Table 1


Summary of Game-Simulations




“The Stolen Fortune of I.M.  Megabucks”

Crime Scene: heredity, investigation

“Acme, Inc.”

Crime Scene:  forensics

“United States Foreign Policy”

U.S. history:  conflicts

"Captain, Stop Doing That To Our Home or I Am Going to Have to Hurt You"

Consumer choices and pollution

“Is There Something in the Water?”

Inquiry on Air and Water Borne Illnesses


Chemistry Pioneers Game



“AW Final Exam”

General Education

“Releasing Bubbles”

Ecosystems; Making predictions

“Dr. Friction’s Lair”

Basic tools (levers, wheels, wedges, inclined planes, etc.)

“Ecology Park”

Ecology:  Invasive Species

“Nuclear Decision”

Environment: Nuclear Power Interviews

  “Phases of the Moon” (Simulation)

tides, moon phases, solar system

  “Who Shot the Pharaoh?” (Role Play)

scientific inquiry, differentiating blood samples


The impressive array of student products is evidence that the course objectives were achieved.  Each learning activity created in the MUVE related to a N.C. academic standard, and required problem-solving skills on the part of the game player. The fact that each activity was a standalone, fully functioning activity, attest reflects commendable achievement on the part of the students. Figure 2 provides a screen shot taken from Acme, Inc., a crime scene game-simulation created by one of the students of the course.

Figure 2. Screen Shot of Student Game-Simulation, Police Lineup in Who-Done-It PBL Lesson

Instructor-Student Interaction

            Although the instructor used VoIP almost exclusively in delivering lectures, the students were reluctant to move away from text-based communication to an audio one.  When offered the opportunity to choose between using VoIP or continuing with the traditional text-based chat, the consensus of the participants was to listen to the instructor via VoIP and to respond with text chat.  Several students cited technical difficulties, such as delays in transmission, which prevented a smooth oral exchange. Feedback or echoing of their own voice through the microphone of the listener, fading in and out of the signal, and faulty equipment. There was also an affective impact of using VoIP.  One student commented, “I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’m more comfortable (text) chatting.”   The implications of these comments will be addressed later in the Discussion section.

Student Reaction and Motivation

            There was unanimity among participants that their students would be enthusiastic and motivated to undergo MUVE-based learning activities.  There was a common perception that the game-based instruction would go over well for the current videogame generation.  Participants believe that their students would welcome the novelty from traditional classroom activities that an online game might represent. One teacher suggested that a student might consider the learning activity more like play than work/study, and thereby be more engaged in learning than otherwise.  Also mentioned was the possibility that the MUVE environment might not limit the number of students involved, which is the case with some video games, and the fact that the learning activity may involve the use of several learning styles.  The combination of PBL and Game Theory led one participant to predict that students’ curiosity might be piqued in the process of solving a problem represented in the MUVE.  One participant stated that reaction to the MUVE-based activity “would depend greatly on the quality of the design and creativity of the designer and instructor.”  

Teacher Motivation and Implementation

            Most of the teachers were enthusiastic about the prospects of implementing the MUVE technology in their classrooms. One was motivated by the fact that this represents a new technology that might enable their program to stand out from other programs and that the MUVE had promised to “allow students to experience activities and events that they might otherwise be unable to do because of distance or hazardous conditions.”  On the pragmatic side, several teachers were determined to use the MUVE-based activity primarily because of the time and effort they had already put into developing the activity.  Another student shared that her desire to teach with a MUVE is fueled by her own enjoyment in learning through this medium. One of her peers expressed a similar view by stating that she was motivated by the anticipation that her students would enjoy the experience. Another considered MUVEs to be an opportunity to stretch the limits of what a student can experience by transporting the student into any type of world.

            One interesting issue that arose from the post-class interview deals with when the MUVE activity is used- most of the participants envisioned that the new activity format would be used during classroom time; others suggested that the MUVE lesson would be more appropriate for after class review and testing.  A potential limitation cited was the lack of computer availability for some students, which might make MUVE-based assignments optional.

            Some students were skeptical about their school districts willingness to host MUVE components on their institution’s server. As in the initial survey, time required to create MUVE-based learning activities appeared to be an issue.  For example, several participants complained about the large commitment of time required for them or their students to create an activity or their own MUVE objects.  One participant touched on a possible solution to the time intensive nature of MUVE development by inferring that the activities of developers could be shared among each other. A final practical concern centered on several students using their speakers simultaneously in the same room   in a MUVE activity that typically contains several audio components.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)

            Whether the reason was technical or psychological, or likely a combination of each, the participants opted against using VoIP in a two-way mode. An informal discussion led by one of the authors in day two of the course yielded a strong consensus that the instructor should use voice chat and the students should respond via text.  The reasons for this phenomenon may be twofold.

            First, voice chat was simply inconvenient.  Some students reported experiencing an annoying echo of their own voice in the form of feedback from the listener’s speakers into his/her microphone. A transmission delay of a couple of seconds exacerbated the situation and was described by more than one student as “a little weird.” Voice transmissions had an occasional tendency to become chopped off, to fade in and out, and to be interrupted briefly in the process of downloading graphics or other data in the MUVE.  While participants generally welcomed the availability of VoIP as a potentially positive feature of the MUVE, most gave it high marks, adding the caveat, “when if works.”  Finally, if the instructor and all 13 students were to use VoIP during a discussion session, it is likely that the volume of aural information would have been difficult to process by all concerned. The instructor was able to manage the students’ text chat by responding verbally to as many of the written messages as he could process under the circumstances.  Even then, there were times when the volume of incoming text chats were such that the instructor had to be selective about which communication for which a response or comment could be made, and often had to identify the intended recipient amidst a constant stream of input from other students. Although the instructor could not physically respond to every text comment, each nonetheless represented a potential catalyst for additional discussion by the group and added to the synergistic effect of the discussion.  By contrast, a similar situation using VoIP as the means of communication would have likely been chaotic and unmanageable, and actually slowed down the class significantly.

            A second possible reason for the students’ reluctance to use voice chat may have a psychological basis.  Text chat allows several seconds for the recipient to process aural or typed input, and to formulate and produce a written response.  In fact, text chat allows the user to preview and even edit a communication before posting it for others to view.  VoIP, on the other hand, demands a relatively immediate response with little time for reflection.  The recipient as technology delay might easily perceive any delays in text chat.  Built into the delay, but unaware to the recipient, may be a kind of psychological cushion, which provides a degree of protection from the speaker by buying seconds of additional time for reflection and response.  Also, the necessity of speaking into a microphone may be relatively more daunting to a number of individuals, as compared with the less revealing text, which is devoid of voice inflection, accent, pitch and timbre, or speech impediments, such as hesitations, stuttering, mispronunciation, etc.), While it may be argued that VoIP may have the potential to increase the intimacy of the lesson by its immediacy and the infusion of the authentic voices, the use of text chat in this situation may have a distinct advantage nonetheless.  The above experiences, representing one of the first uses of VoIP in an actual MUVE-based course, are valuable in describing the current efficacy of this authentic communications medium.


It is not surprising that the consensus of graduate student/ inservice teachers was generally positive and enthusiastic.  Initially, the enthusiasm was tempered by the degree of effort required by the students to gain familiarity with the ActiveWorlds™ platform.  Operating in a MUVE environment takes some getting used to.  None of the course participants discontinued the course or failed to master the technology.  The majority of students, who felt they had sufficient resources and administrative support at their home school, expressed either their desire or intention to implement the course principles in their classrooms.   Long term observation of these students will reveal the ultimate success of the course in motivating teachers to continue using MUVE technology at their home schools.




Zemsky’s (2004) suggested that faculty members involved in e-learning use the course management tools and supplemental technologies with a "hope for the best strategy." MUVE’s can replace course management systems with user-friendly virtual learning environments. Introducing multiple learners raises many challenging problems of synchronization, tasking, discipline, and resource management, but offers the potential of unleashing for educational use one of the most powerful forces in the human psyche: social interaction (Moshell, 2002).  

            The use of a MUVE by teachers in the course required a great deal of social interaction among teachers in developing and building their game-simulation projects.  Because the MUVE technology was new to all participants, there were many opportunities for mutual support in finding objects, developing building skills, and providing constructive feedback to one's peers.  Each project was assigned two students other than the principal developer, whose purpose was to review the project and provide meaningful feedback.   The intensive time requirement for building future MUVE-based projects may severely limit the number of projects a single teacher could undertake.  However, by creating communities of practice, teachers may be able to work together to create a large number of projects, which will support many classrooms.

            The teacher-participants in the course were graduate students.  The degree of social interaction among them is indicative of the potential the MUVE has for engaging their own students in a similar fashion.  Experience with non-educational versions of MUVEs similar to WolfDen has shown that the opportunity to build and create within a MUVE is a powerful motivator to users.  The real potential to use this technology lies in its ability to engage end-user students in similar social interaction.

When designing a MUVE-based course, it is a good idea to involve the end-user in the design process (Cobb, 2002). One of the challenges of using electronic media in science education is the conflict between "knocking down the walls of the classroom" and creating experiences that are intellectually stimulating, but are removed from reality in terms of having become a "virtual" experience (King, 2001).

The gaming generation thinks in fundamentally different ways than those who have not spent thousands of hours engaged in small group digital competitions. Gaming in the science classroom not only has the potential to be deeply engaging, but also provides a natural forum for technology integration with dynamic visual representations of the natural world. 3-D virtual worlds using avatars are quickly becoming the standard in online games.  The caveat is they cost an incredible amount of money to design.  Using an application created for online chat, ActiveWorlds™ allows 3-D simulations to be designed and uploaded to the Internet without the high price or intense knowledge of computer programming or 3-D wire frame design. Games designed in this application won’t be as rich as the costly commercial games, but the environments can be modified based on the skill level of the competitors (students) involved.

            The game industry has boomed over the last 10 years. In 2002, an estimated $10 billion were spent in the videogame market. Game systems such as the Microsoft Xbox™ and Sony Playstation 2™ allow thousands of competitors to interact in virtual environments simultaneously.  Unfortunately, most of the games created for these popular consoles are not educational by design. Moreover, one-time stand-alone games, Ultima™ and SIMS Online™, are now interactive worldwide as well.  In the field of science, there is a lack of substantive educational video games that are interactive, fun, and most importantly promote meaningful learning. Rather than listen to lectures, or plug-and-chug equations, students can now interrelate in immersed worlds.

The K-12 educational community has yet to embrace gaming theory even though studies have suggested that students as young as second graders have opted to play a geography video game rather than go to the park (Foreman, 2003). As Masters seeking students who are generally inservice science teachers, the this course not only enhanced their science content knowledge, but also their science pedagogical content knowledge and their knowledge of effective technology integration.

Games are considered more fun then substance but some.  One goal of this project was to generate fun Internet based video games that were highly interactive and had a strong foundation of science content in the design. Teachers constructed a game that aligned with their curriculum for their students to play. The games had to be solidly grounded in science content but also had to promote a science career. The games designed by the graduate students were based with real-world implications. Some examples are games that focus on the science behind forensics, nanotechnology, and informal science settings such as museums.

This course was taught online but as a synchronous instructional strategy as opposed to the customary asynchronous online courses.  Current research (Annetta, L.A., & Shymansky, J.A., 2005) suggest that the most effective manner in which to teach through distance learning is for the instruction to be mostly synchronous in nature.  Students gathered in a virtual building which replicated the science education building on campus.  The instructor created all of the objects and textures while constructing the virtual classroom.  Through text chat and voice over IP (VoIP), game design and construction was taught from a distance.

The goal of enabling students to move from a state of virtually no knowledge and skill in the use of virtual environments, gaming theory, and to some extent, Problem Based Learning, to one in which they possessed the skills to create a functional and engaging learning activity, was ambitious. Students possessed a wide range of comfort and proficiency with the use of technology, and none had previously worked within a MUVE setting.  Yet the technological output was similar for most students. 


















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[2] Special thanks to Mike Cuales, Alan Youngblood and Marshall Murray