Multi User Virtual Environment
and its possible use in Education
Borivoj Brdicka
Charles University Faculty of Education

I have already been interested in the topic of virtual environment for several years. This is mainly because, in many cases, it is a suitable environment for possible implementation of the constructionist approach into education, which I have been a great advocate of. Therefore, at the beginning of the year 1999, when I found out on the Internet about the offer of the course called Multi User Virtual Environment: From Research to Classroom Practice of the U.S. project Leadership and the New Technologies, I didn't hesitate a minute. I felt very honored to have been chosen as the only non-American applicant. I should say that it was well worth it. This material has been designed as a report on this course and it includes everything I know about this topic so far.

Czech version History Features Methodology Future
Moose Crossing TappedIn


The history of MUVE

Today's form of virtual worlds roots from two main historical sources. The first one is the Internet, the second is the popular English game Dungeons and Dragons, where the players themselves represent different characters and perform various tasks. We should be aware that this is something different than the widely known term Virtual Reality, although the word “virtual” is a part of both of these terms, and we may expect the use of Virtual Reality in MUVE in future. The multimedia applications are common part of Virtual Words on the Internet already, but in their pioneer's times this looked quite differently.

At the end of the 60's, Will Crowther and Don Woods wrote the first version of the game Dungeons and Dragons as a computer program called Advent. In those times, this program was able to have only text-based interface and it could be run only on big computers. In the year 1978 the students of the University of Essex Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle created a new version of it called Multi-User Dungeon (nowadays it is known as MUD1). The players were able to communicate with each other via the Arpanet network. It was an adventure game, where the players are competing in searching for a treasure and exterminating Dragons in the maze of Dungeons. All the players are moving in the same space, they are in contact with each other and they are rewarded by certain number of points for completing different tasks. By the points it is possible to state the winner. During the following years, all the implementations of this game in the Net environment were categorized as MUD (Multi-User Dungeon).

In the year 1989 a student of the Carnegie Mellon University James Aspnes decided to create a rather different version of MUD. He got rid of the Dragons, the magic image and the pointing system. So it was no longer possible to tell the winner. His aim was to clear out everything that could lead to finishing the game and, thus, to the loss of interest in playing it again. For the experienced users, he made possible to create their own rooms. Unintentionally, he abolished all that lead to competition and strengthened creative and constructive components of the game. He called his program TinyMUD for the transformation of the original program consisted mainly of clearing out the not wanted functions. The outcome of this was a compact and functional program code that was used by many universities as it was offered as a freeware on the Internet. The students liked to create models with topology of their real universities.

To be honest, I have never been in favor of this kind of games, where the aim is to destroy anything or anybody. But the outcome of the MUD development is quite interesting and it is worth our attention. This former game has been transformed into something slightly different, mainly due to the Internet. Well, there are many games available on the Internet on the so-called public game servers. But, MUD cannot be considered simply as a game. It is artificially created, publicly available and multi user environment, which every visitor enters as an imaginary character. We can consider it as a virtual reality in the full meaning of these words. Although in most cases the visitors cannot touch each other so far.

The space in which the users are roaming as imaginary characters still quite resembles the idea of an underground city of a network of dungeons. There are long-term occupants, their quests and visitors. They all know about each other and are able to communicate if they wish. The fact that this communication takes place in the real time has some advantages to the widely used e-mail or lists.

So it becomes a form of a virtual city, where some parts of it are common to everyone and other parts are private. Administrators of the computer or computers that are running the program define and supervise the common grounds. Such applications don't offer to regular users only the possibility of creating their own room, but also different objects can be created and programmed to have certain properties. In the mid 90's this application became to be known as MOO (MUD Object Oriented). Some researchers started to explain the 'D' letter as Dimension instead of Dungeon. So we could express the title as Object Oriented Multi User Dimension.

MOO, in those times, it became a very popular environment, where many teams of scientists performed their experiments. There were tens of them. They varied in orientation and rules, which were adjusted to the purpose of its origin. Among the best known, there were the Moo of NASA (Astro-VR), biology research (BioMOO) or the MOO of the literary and culture scholars (PmcMOO). We are obviously interested in those ones that have closer connection to the education sphere.

Among the first servers of this kind was the MediaMOO at MediaLab MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where the author of the logo language professor Seymour Papert works and where a well-known clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle conducts her research. The Daedalus MOO run by the University of Texas in Austin served solely education purposes as a meeting place for students, where they worked together on their tasks or projects. Another important project has been the DU-MOO (Diversity University – http://moo.du.org/), which is still in operation. Later, we will pay attention to further current MOOs in more detail.

These older MOOs were only accessible by Telnet Internet program, so they only worked in text mode. This means that everything, including the objects, had to be described in words. Only semi-graphics were available e.g. city map.

_____________1________________________2______________________3_____________
|  _________________________   ____JASON_ROAD____   __________ Jason's Ct.->
| |      .-----------------.| | Football field   | |   Gym               | |
6||      |Cllge of Agrcultr|| |__________________| |                     | |
| |       ----------------- |  ____BOB_STREET____  |   Pool   .---------.| |
| |  Graduate     Villa     | |  Northern        | |----------|Intrfaith|| |
5||    Dorm     Villekulla  | |     Quadrangle   | |  DU Prep |  Center || |
| |_________________________| |__________________| |__________'`--------'| |
|  _________________________   ____7th_STREET____   _____________________  |
| |     |Cfetria|   | Dorm  | |.-------.f.------.| | .--.__.--. .-------.|W|
4M|     |_______|   |-------| ||Student|s| Admin|| |(         | |       ||E|
|O|Hotel School |   | Human | ||Union  |a|      || |[ Library | |Educatn||S|
|G|_____________|___| Potent. ||_______/ `------'| |[_________| |& K-12 ||T|
|U _________________________   ____LSU_STREET____  |.-----.     `-------'|H|
|E|.-----------..---------. | |                  | ||Engl.|.-----.::::::::E|
3|||  Business ||Communcatn\|H|                  |S||     ||     |.-----.|I|
|S||___________||____  ____||O|                  |A||_____||Cltrl||     ||M|
| |.------. .--------''----.|U|  Southern Quad   |N|.-----.|Studs|| Law ||E|
|R||Engin-| | Tech Complex ||S|                  |D||Hist.||     ||_____||R|
|U||eering| |    __________/|T|                  |O||_____||_____|.-----.| |
2N||______| `---'.---------.|O|    flag!pole     |Z|.----. .----. |Poli ||S|
| |.----------.  | Medical ||N|                  | ||    |_|Soc | |Sci  ||T|
| ||Archtcture|  | Complex || |                  |S||Psych_ Work| |_____/|R|
| |`----------'  \_________||S|      .'N`.       |T|_----'_`----'________|I|
| |.------------..---------.|T|      W-+-E       |  ____JEANNE'S_LANE____ P|
| ||Programmer's|| Science || |      `.S.'       | |.-------------------.| |
1| |\__Centre___/|  Bldg.  || |                  | ||    Arts Center    || |
| |______________`---------'| |__________________| |`-------------------'| |
|_________________________________6th_STREET_______________________________|
            1                        2                     3
The use of semi-graphics for the map of the Diversity University

Purely text based MOOs are quite obsolete these days. Current possibilities of interactivity in the WWW environment, including the Java language are great temptation to create new full graphical multimedial MOOs. The main advantage is mainly the much easier navigation, the ability to show your WWW pages to others, playing sounds and video sequences, integration of video conferences etc. In order to clarify the difference from previous MOOs a new acronym MUVE has been introduced to describe this new version (i.e. Multi User Virtual Environment).



The features of current educational MUVE

Among the common features of these environments, first of all, there is the effort to keep the standard of decent behavior of the visitors. The example given below shows the entering information for every visitor of the virtual Diversity University. It is also typical for many of the current MUVEs. If the visitor doesn't wish to obey the rules, he/she is expected to leave immediately.

DIVERSITY UNIVERSITY IS NOT A GAME
It is a place where many people from various backgrounds come to do work and interact in a mature and responsible environment, and as a visitor you are expected to behave in an appropriate manner.
Swearing, offensive language, obscenity, harrassment, and rudeness will not be tolerated here. If you must do that, do it somewhere else.
If you're not sure if something is ok or not, ASK FIRST. If someone asks you to stop doing something they find objectionable, STOP. For a more complete list of what behavior is and is not considered appropriate here, type 'help manners' once connected.
If you cannot agree to these conditions, type @quit to leave the MOO.
Rules of conduct at Diversity University

In case someone wants to obtain the right to create his/her own characters and objects, he/she must prove his/her identity (e.g. e-mail address at a decent server). Sometimes the user is asked to sign the rules in person and hand it in to the administrator by snail-mail or fax. Dealing with the users in this way slows the procedures down, but, on the other hand, it decreases the possibility of their potential misbehavior.

It is determined by its history that the current MUVEs mostly keep the text system of commands of the old MUD as the users are used to it. Of course, among the most important ones, there is the HELP. To login as a guest may be done using the command CONNECT GUEST. If you wish to find out who has been logged in and what is his/her location in the city, WHO should be entered. An interactive message can be sent by using the command SAY, which can often be substituted by quotation marks (e.g. “Hallo). Should you wish to address only one single person, you have to WHISPER. To enter another room, the GO is used and the direction or target follows. When a room is entered, a description appears. We can LOOK at many other objects or characters. There are also many other commands. But these differ by implementation; therefore, they should be studied with every individual MUVE. The commands are the first thing a visitor should be interested in before entering the city. Let's look at some of the implementations in more detail.



Moose Crossing - MOO Scripting Environment Logo Moose Crossing

This virtual environment is mainly designed for children. It has been founded and run by Amy Bruckman, a former post-graduate student of the MIT MediaLab and a member of the research team of the project MediaMoo in the early 90's. Now she serves as Assistant professor at the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, where the whole Moose Crossing application is in fact run. One of the most astonishing features of this environment is that it remains on purpose only textual. It can only be worked with by using the special client software, which, until recently, existed only in the Macintosh computer version (MacMOOSE). Today, the Windows version (WinMOOSE) is also available. Both of them are currently at everybody's disposal on the server GaTech as a freeware. It is necessary to apply for the username (character). The form including the rules must be signed by the parents on behalf of their children. One of the conditions is to agree to the fact that all the activities may be recorded for research purposes. The adults, mainly the teachers and parents, may also enter. But these adult characters may be told on the spot by the Ranger flag (r).

WinMOOSE window
WinMOOSE window

The connection by the specialized client software offers many advantages to the formerly only possibility of connection by Telnet. It enables to create two separate environments, where, in the first one the character is commanded and a contact with other characters is maintained. In the second the features of the environment and objects can be adjusted by programming. For this purpose a special script language is used. It is possible not only to set the textual description of the objects but also their behavior in certain situation. Although it may seem to be difficult to master this language for children between 10-13, it is not so. There are many children who prefer to stay in this stimulating environment rather then playing stupid computer games. The well constructed HELP and commented samples of relevant scripts assist in mastering the language. The most helpful are other more experienced users always prepared to assist with problems. One may get more real idea of how the system works if he/she familiarizes with the following sequence, which has been recorded after the registration of a new 12-year-old girl named Storm. Her assistant and guide was an experienced member of the community, 13-year-old girl Rachael. The recorded conversation below is genuine, only the identity of the speakers has been changed.

Rachael listed all the users before Storm's first login, and found out there was a new user coming. She sent her a following letter (e-mails are the common feature of the Moose Crossing).

From: Rachael
To: Storm
Subject: hi
Dear Storm,
Hi! My name is Rachael. Who are you? I am thirteen years old and I am female. I have been on moose crossing scince january and whould love to be your friend.
The best times to go on moose crossing are on mondays and fridays afterschool.
Rachael


Fortunately Rachael was present at the time of Storm's first login. Of course she asked her (PAGE) if she would join her (JOIN). Storm agreed.

Clover arrives, following Rachael.
Rally arrives, following Rachael.
Rally says, 'Greetings Clover'
Rachael says, 'hi'
Storm says, 'hello, all'
Rachael smiles.
Rachael says, 'Rally and Clover are my pets.'
Storm smile
Rachael says, 'how old are you?'


Here Rachael checked (LOOK Storm) the description of Storm, which everybody can create himself or herself. And she found out that Storm had none so far.

It was quite difficult for Strom to recognize that Clover and Rally are not regular characters, but they are object of Rachael, which follow her all the time.

Storm says, '12'
Rachael nods.
Rachael says, 'Are you at the media lab or somewhere else?'
Storm says, 'this is the first time I've been here!:)'
Rachael says, 'I mean in real life where are you? I'm at my house.'
Storm says, 'same here'
Storm says, 'anyone here like star trek?'


A discussion about the popular television series followed. I will leave this part out, as it is not relevant for our subject.

To explain the discussion above, I should point out that the children, during the early stages of the project, connected themselves mainly from MIT Media Lab, where there were regular lessons held.

All the sentences that begin with a name and 'says' are the products of the SAY command. Those sentences beginning with a name followed by any other text have been created using the EMOTE command (e.g. Rachael nods).

Please note the hint of starting parallel discussion in the part above. Similar situations are quite common in chats. They emerge due to the impatience of one of the participants during the waiting for the reply.

The cooperation of the girls went on. Storm looked at Rachaels description (LOOK Rachael).

A girl with brown hair and green eyes. On her head is a sliver headband with silver strands. At the end of each strand is a silver ball. Around her neck is a silver chain.
She is awake and looks alert.
Carrying:
Franky Rachael's Bean
Rachael is wearing a tye die shirt and overalls.
Rachael smiles.
Rachael says, 'Do you like the way I look?'
Storm says, 'you look bea-u-ti-ful!'
Rachael hugs Rally.
Rally squeals happily.


The last two lines represent an example of the work of children with objects. This is what they like the most about the Moose Crossing. The objects do not only have to have the description, but they are also able to perform the pre-programmed actions. That is why the Rachael's Rally knew what to do when he was hugged.

Then Rachael helped Storm to make her own description (DESCRIBE ME AS ). Storm created the following lines:

You see a tall, black haired, white - skinned girl, wearing all black. she is wearing lots of silver jewelry.


It is possible to create even more characters (NEW_PERSONA) and switch among them very quickly (BECOME CHARACTER). So this is the way to change the appearance easily.

Storm says, 'could you show me around?'
Rachael says, 'certainly!'
Rachael says, 'anywhere in particular or just everywhere?'
Storm says, 'everywhere! please'
Rachael says, 'well, let's go up!'


Rachael showed Storm different places of this virtual city. Storm created her own room using the command BUILD. Then they went on.

Main Street
You're on the edge of Our Town. Looks like there's space to build some shops here!
Obvious exits:
..west.........MOOSE Crossing
..north........North Main Street
..east.........Town Hall
Storm is here.
Rally arrives, following Rachael.
Clover arrives, following Rachael.
Rally says, 'Hello Clover'
Rachael has arrived.
Rachael says, 'I suggest n'


'n' is short for North. It meant that Rachael wanted to go to the North Main Street.

Storm says, 'how do you make animals?'
Rachael says, 'Well, it depends if you want a new type of animal or one that already exists.'
Storm says, 'new type'


Now Rachael needed to see the appropriate codes to create the desired object. She listed the parental objects of her pig Rally (PARENTS Rally).

Rally(#381) generic_greeting_creature(#402) Generic Teachable Object (#225) Generic Puppet(#223) Generic Following Object(#342) Generic Gendered Object(#77) generic thing(#5) Root Class(#1)

But Storm didn't see all this.

Storm says, 'i'd like an animal to follow me around'
Rachael says, 'type "create #223 named ".'


Storm named her pet Jasper and described it as a frog.

Rachael says, 'neat idea! I wish I thought of a frog!'
Rachael says, 'to make it follow you type "set Jasper's following to me'


The next logical steps were the programming of the features of the object.

Storm says, 'how do you make him say things'
Rachael says, 'You could make a script, so that if you type something it will do something in return, like huging Rally..'
Rachael hugs Rally.
Rally squeals happily.
Storm says, 'how'
Rachael says, 'if you go to the pencil, it will make a thing appear.
Fill in the blanks.'
Rachael says, 'then, when you have a script ready to fill out, you type "on this.'
Rachael says, 'let me give you an example..'


The environment in which the scripts for Moose Crossing are made can be seen in the next picture. This is a simple attempt to learn my pet Bagent at least to great.

Environment for writing scripts for Moose Crossing
Environment for writing scripts for Moose Crossing

I believe that there is no need to go into any further detail. Our aim was to understand what are the benefits of this application and what the children do there. Due to the cooperation and help they offer each other, there is no need for any teachers' assistance. Believe or not, even in this textual environment, there is the possibility to create many fantastic worlds where children are very happy.



Logo TappedIn TappedIn - Teacher Professional Development Institute

The second MUVE, which I would like you to meet, is equipped with the 2D graphics, but the text mode is still present as an additional tool. There is a wide variety of similar MUVEs. This is an exception because the users are only teachers sometimes followed by their students.

It was founded by Stanford Research Institute, an institute interested in new forms of education. It is located at the SRI Center for technology and education in Menlo Park in California at the sever Sun Microsystems Enterprise E3500 donated by the Sun Co. within their academic activities support scheme.

We can connect by means of the ordinary MUD client (e.g. GMUD), which enables us to work only in text mode. TappedIn also offers us, as we said above, to work in the graphic mode as well. An average WWW browser that has been installed on every computer connected to the Internet can be used for this. Usually we want to combine these two approaches. Then it is better to use for the text mode the java applet TAPestry, which can be run via the WWW browser and doesn't have to be installed beforehand. This kind of connection also guarantees the synchronization of both independent programs. The navigation can then take place both in the text mode in TAPestry and in the graphic form on the WWW.

Map of TappedIn with basic links
Map of TappedIn with basic links

As in many MUVEs, we can connect here as guests. Then we are first taken to the reception, where there is always a professional guide prepared to assist. The guest is not allowed into all of the rooms. He may visit the library, visit the auditorium, where lectures take place, or café, where the teachers meet, discuss and read the materials that can be found there. As a guest you can also visit the public rooms of the founding and sponsoring firms on the second floor. You will not be allowed any further.

On the higher floors, there are private offices of the users of this virtual city. Those can be created by the regular registered users. The registration consists of filling a form and verification of an e-mail address. My office is located on the eastern corridor of the sixth floor. It is marked E615.

My virtual office in TappedIn
My virtual office in TappedIn

As we may see in the picture, it is still equipped quite simply. In this semi-graphic form, with a flower, the table and chairs, it has been generated by the system itself. It can be improved later. By a simple click on out we may leave on the corridor. In the right part, next to a map, there are the most frequent commands displayed. One of them is the calendar, which offers a list of monthly events that you can join.

Under the map, there is a list of all the objects situated in the office. As we may see from the picture, at the moment of saving the screen I was there alone. There are also several other objects. The Whiteboard is in every room of TappedIn. It functions almost as a real blackboard. We can write on it the notes and messages that everybody can read and erase.

The next object called Intro with a WWW icon belongs to the category of Notes. In this case it is a link to my personal Web site, where I introduce myself. Generally the notes are just textual bodies, which can be viewed simply and quickly. On the contrary to the notes on the board, these can be carried with us and used anytime. The Instructors based in TappedIn have their pockets full of notes describing and helping in various situations. This is the only way to react to more enquiries at the time.

My Bagent belongs to the category of teachable objects. These objects slightly resemble the objects from Moose Crossing - but only superficially. Besides the general description of the image of the object (as seen in the picture) we can also define the text reply to a certain command. If the owner allows, other person can do this as well. This feature of the teachable object can be used also in education- for instance when describing the properties of different animals, things, persons or events.

The recorder is a valuable aid. It is one of the ready-made objects, which can be obtained from the room called Supplies. If you have it with you, you can record all discussions that took place during your stay in TappedIn. You will receive the record as e-mail later. It is especially helpful, when you visit a lecture and you want to go back to it again later. A very useful feature is the possibility to assign an icon to every object, including the characters. It is a simple link to the relevant graphic file that can be located anywhere on the Internet. It is a habit that the teachers in TappedIn use their micro faces as icons.

We should also have a look at the independent window of the Tapestry program. Some commands can be executed in both applications i.e. Tapestry and the Web (the navigation, viewing the objects, help etc.). But there are also such commands that are only implemented in Tapestry. For instance, it is the projection of a page of your choice to all the people present in the room at the time (PROJECT url), to work with the local mail or real time discussions.

Text mode of  TAPestry
Text mode of TAPestry

At the example here, we can see a dialogue that took place between me and the instructor Judi during my work on the materials for this article. It was about eight o'clock of my time and about midnight of hers. We were the only people in TappedIn at the time. She logged in only by chance as she forgot about something and as soon as she found out I was present she decided to greet me using the PAGE command. My reply was divided into three messages. My messages cannot be seen, but it was something about the time difference, that I am in Prague and that I wish her good night. After a while I decided to check if she is still on and where she is (WHO). Then I viewed the available information about her (ID Judi). Then she started to react again to my previous messages. In the end she said good-bye to me and disconnected.



The methodological aspects of MUVE

It is not a coincidence that many researchers are interested in the MUVE. It is regarded as an environment, which features are very close to those, where many people of tomorrow will spend a great deal of their time in. This society is often referred to as information society and the environment as the cyberspace. MUVE is an artificial test-space where we can observe the behavior of people and, eventually, to try to influence it. We could also test the education schemes for the future, as it is of high importance in the Information Society. So far, the technologies have often been reduced to a mere source of information. But education itself is a highly social phenomenon. It is dependent on the interactions among people. One of the best ways of concrete realization of education processes is the personal involvement in problem solving tasks. It is a fact that the exchange of opinions helps to solve many problems. MUVE is, without doubt, a highly constructionist environment as it forces the users to his/her own active approach in solving particular problems. Together with the natural support of socialization it absolutely corresponds with the current streams of educational theory.

Let us take a look at the brief summary of the changes of instruction tools as a result of the shift of methodological attitudes and increasing availability of the technologies made by Margaret Riel:

Past Tools for Learning
Promising Power Tools for Learning
Textbooks and worksheets
Primary Sources and student created materials
Linear text
Hypertext and multimedia
Models and materials
Virtual creatures and simulations
Direct observations
Tools for remote observations
Educational films broadcast reality
Virtual worlds interact with reality
Teacher delivers lectures
Many "expert" voices in classroom
Student reports to teacher on learning
Student generated lessons for others

It may be obvious that, in these new circumstances, the MUVE could offer a wide range of concrete possibilities. It may serve as a portal to the world of Internet, which may enable the fast access to the information needed. But, in this case, it is not necessary to search many servers on the web and go through a vast amount of irrelevant data. The information can be obtained simply by an inquiry addressed to a colleague who had solved this problem in the past. It is irrelevant if this colleague is a student or a tutor. Unlike in the electronic lists, the information could be received immediately and eventual questions may be answered.

The students and pupils may use the similar procedure in order to solve their own homework as well as long-term projects. MUVE makes the cooperation easier and the students from distant schools can work on the same project at the same time together. Not only the experts, but also the parents, friends etc. can help the participants. It is quite easy to organize a meeting in the virtual office of TappedIn, where a topic can be discussed.

MUVE can be used by the teachers for direct instruction. They can offer their students the relevant study materials and links. But this could be fulfilled by the ordinary Web. Moreover, they can teach the pupils to work with objects and let them to describe the given subject matter using these objects. The pupils can create, for example animals; they can work on their descriptions, and teach them to perform the activities as in real nature. MUVE could be incorporated into the methodology of other subjects in similar way.

It may seem that these activities such as chats or describing objects have only a limited value for the education process. But this would not be quite right. Except the fact of training for the life in the Information Society, there is also a considerable impact on their ability to make a precise and fast judgment and express it. Many of the formerly lagging pupils may get rid of their inferiority complex and make considerable progress.

To conclude, the MUVE can be sorely beneficial for education. The exploitation of it depends mainly on the abilities of the teachers and those who will construct it. Our aim should be to create the Knowledge Building Society. We have proved on smaller scale, that it is possible in Moose Crossing, where the children teach each other and find a pleasure in it. If we succeeded in initiating the Knowledge Building Society, the joke I offer below would be irrelevant.


And if I ever catch you downloading dirty pictures from the Internet
again, young man, I'll wash your mouse out with soap!

I am not saying that the virtual environment is purely beneficial. We have mentioned some kind of social interaction it offers. But it is not quite the same interaction that takes place face to face. One acts quite differently when meeting someone in real life then meeting someone in the virtual environment. Until recently, the psychological research has not been finalized in this subject. But interesting facts have been discovered already.

Every user can represent several characters in the virtual world. Each of them can have different features and can do even such a things that would be socially impossible in the real life. For example, they can try to find out what it is like to have the opposite sex. Mainly the men find this quite interesting. They can get help from the others easier this way. But they can also go through a real harassment. In general, we may say that the people are more pleasant and helpful in the virtual world then in real. On the other, it is more difficult to establish closer relationships due to the absence of non-verbal communication. There is also a real danger in the long-term engagement. Some may prefer the virtual world to the real one. Then he/she may be on the road to possible addiction and may get a serious mental illness. Several cases have been described where the Internet was the cause of the stress related diseases and sleeping disorders. Some people even committed suicide due excessive usage of the Internet. That's why we should be very careful when working with children in this field and do not exceed the save limits.

To express my opinion I have to admit that I found it somehow difficult to talk to people on the on-line chats. I am not one of those people who can spend hours uttering non effective social phrases, to introduce myself again and again to everyone that comes by. Moreover, all this in the language that is not my mother tongue. But we have to say that the experienced inhabitants of cyberspace have developed certain social skills and they are able to predict and avoid many similar problems. As soon as they feel they are bothering someone, they stop.



Avatar
The future development of MUVE

The following could be said in one simple sentence. The future development of the virtual environment on the Internet is on the 3D graphics simulations. For those who haven't had the possibility to experience this themselves, I will try to offer a little explanation.

The schoolyard in The Palace
The schoolyard in The Palace

There are certain parallels with the 2D space. The main difference is that the character is not represented only by a textual description or an icon. The character is three dimensional and often animated. Every registered (paying) user can adjust its appearance according to his/her demands. Nowadays we widely use the term Avatar. This description used to be used, in the Ancient times, for people, which embodied the God. In a similar way we embody our Avatars nowadays.

The development of these environments is far from cheap. In many cases these are only experimental and commercially focused implementations. The stay in there resembles the science fiction. Everything there, including the buildings and landscape, looks like a fiction, according to the authors' imagination. But only the registered users can build them.

Instruction in DIVE
Instruction in DIVE

The authors do not neglect the possible educational implementation. In those virtual cities, there is always a school. One example The Palace, which is still on the verge of the 2D and 3D graphics, is in the picture. We can enter the school, walk around the classrooms and pop into the library, to the hall etc. We can sit at the table and participate on a lesson (see the picture of DIVE - The Distributed Interactive Virtual Environment). The teachers can create their own specialized classes.

Učebna chemie v Active Worlds
Učebna chemie v Active Worlds

In the picture here is the class of chemistry in Acitive Worlds. The things you may see on the walls are objects that can be taken and looked at more closer. It is not necessarily only the text with graphics or a WWW link. It can also be a 3D model, which can be observed from all sides as well as from inside.

In the following picture, we can see the example of Inter Space environment, which is being developed by the NTT company. It is a simulation of the real world, such as museums, space shuttles and orbital station. There are also the models of planets and the whole solar system. All the planets are moving here, and it is possible to change the position of view.

The orbital station in NTT InterSpace
The orbital station in NTT InterSpace

The possibility to work with Multimedia, with sound and video included, enables the viewers to see the teacher in more human form then the one of Avatar. The videoconferences are the integral part of such applications. So we can meet almost anyone there. It would not be bad at all to have the opportunity to visit a lecture of a top specialist in any subject without having to leave your office. It would probably be worth paying a fraction of the price of the real journey to such an event for it.

Videoconference in Active World
Videoconference in Active World

The drawback is in initiating the attention of people to their own education. As the proprietors will probably have more commercial interests, they will want to get the registration fees from as many people as possible. Therefore, they will tend to offer more attractive contents to the viewers, such as pornography, tabloid events, so called action games etc. Jamie McKenzie called it very precisely the Mind Candy. I am afraid that we may soon witness this within the 3D MUVE applications. On the Internet, there are more and more multi-user games emerging. A promising hit may become the virtual environments of popular television series.

We can only wish the non-commercial and education focussed MUVEs to be as many as possible. Everybody should follow the example of the firm Active Worlds, which, as a reaction to the events round the world, promoted a new environment Peace World. It welcomes everybody who would like to contribute to the limiting of the current widespread violence.

My first object in Peace World – Universe Journey
My first object in Peace World – Universe Journey

To sum up all the important bits, I can state that MUVE opens many new possibilities for the exploitation of the Internet in Education. In some cases the textual environment is not only sufficient, even preferable, in other cases the graphics are needed. As the transmission of the graphical and video information needs links of higher capacity, there is a real danger that the further development of the 3D MUVE in the developed countries may even widen the gap between those countries and the rest of the world. This could also be reflected in the education sector.

List of the links to quoted 3D MUVEs:
The Palace http://www.thepalace.com
DIVE http://www.sics.se/dce/dive/
Active Worlds http://www.activeworlds.com
NTT InterSpace http://www.ntts.com/interspace/
Peace World http://www.activeworlds.com/peacew.htm


Bibliography:

In May 1999
BoBr Borivoj Brdicka
http://omicron.felk.cvut.cz/~bobr/
Department of Information Technology
Charles University Faculty of Education
http://it.pedf.cuni.cz/
Czech Republic

© 1999 BoBr