The JISC-funded Open Habitat project was a collaboration between the University of Oxford, Leeds Metropolitan University, King’s College London, the University of Essex and Dave Cormier, based in Prince Edward Island. It took an innovative approach to encouraging creative online collaboration in Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) - the online 3D spaces in which each user is represented by an ‘avatar’ or 3D character.
The project generated solutions to the challenges of teaching, learning and collaboration in MUVEs. These solutions were primarily in the form of guidelines, models and exemplars, but were also supported by the development/appropriation of software tools and services in and around the MUVEs themselves.
During discussions with members of the Emerge community, teaching staff and students, it became clear that MUVEs offer a number of interesting opportunities for teaching and learning. These include the ability to collaboratively design and build objects/structures and the sense of presence or ‘being there’ that comes across when interacting in a MUVE.
The Open Habitat project built on these principles by running a number of pilots that were integrated into the teaching of art & design and philosophy.
A competition to build a structure in the Second Life MUVE was set as part of the first year Art & Design undergraduate degree based at Leeds Metropolitan University. Parallel to this, the project facilitated discussions in a MUVE with students who attended one of the University of Oxford’s online short courses in philosophy. The art & design students had the opportunity to meet face-to-face during the pilot, in contrast to the philosophy students who were distributed around the world.
The pilots were designed to explore the effects of working in a MUVE on collaborative group work and on the effects of being represented as an avatar over and above using text, sound or video to communicate. In addition to this, the pilots were designed to encourage communication between the two disciplines to assess the potential of MUVEs to bring together diverse student groups.
The Open Habitat project predominantly used the Second Life MUVE because of its ubiquity and relative stability. The project also experimented with OpenSim, an open source MUVE, and a MUVE provided by Sun Microsystems. At the time of the project, these were representative of the widening range of 3D collaborative environments that were emerging across the web and which afforded intriguing opportunities for teaching and learning.
To find out more, visit the Open Habitat project website or contact:David White, Project Manager