Virtual reality pilot project provides students in western Finland with useful learning tool

For centuries, teachers have taught and students have learned using a relatively small number of traditional teaching and learning tools, such as lectures, seminars, tutorials and books.  But a pilot project at the University of Vaasa in Finland has, to good effect, explored how the interaction between teachers and students can be enhanced through using the 3D virtual world known to the online community as Second Life.

Additional tools

A virtual island was created in Second Life to host a variety of teaching experiments. A virtual island was created in Second Life to host a variety of teaching experiments.

The “Second Life Virtual Teaching Pilot”, which operated at the University of Vaasa as well as the Vaasa Consortium of Higher Education between 2008 and 2010, used the Second Life platform to allow students and teachers to interact with each other through the use of a virtual character known as an avatar. Among other things, the Vaasa project saw the creation of a virtual island which hosted a variety of teaching experiments.

Project manager Pekka Liedes said that the pilot project had been useful in establishing how the processes of teaching and learning can be enhanced through the use of communication technology such as the Second Life social media platform.  The pilot project had also been useful in identifying how a virtual reality learning environment could be developed in the future.

Providing students with simulations of real working environments

Using the Second Life platform had been particularly useful for teaching and learning purposes in practical situations where students could access a simulation of a real-life working environment.

Tourism and hotel management students had, for example, designed a virtual hotel in Second Life and had tested the result on virtual customers. Civil engineering students, meanwhile, designed a virtual shopping centre in Second Life.

The plan was not to substitute the lecture theatre for Second Life, but there were a number of university course modules that lent themselves well to virtual reality teaching.  “So Second Life could be seen as a useful complement to traditional teaching and learning methods” Mr Liedes said.

The experience gleaned from the pilot project has been so positive that the Vaasa University of Applied Sciences has taken the pilot project a stage further by using the Second Life virtual environment to teach healthcare students, who are now taught some of their course modules in a virtual hospital in cyberspace.

Total and EU funding

The “Second Life Virtual Teaching Pilot” project had a total budget of EUR 51 785, of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributed EUR 39 210 through the 'Western Finland' Operational Programme in the programming period 2007-2013.

Draft date