The Future of Computing in the Classroom

With NECC winding up Ill give my $.02 regarding where I expect computing in the classroom is headed over the next 10 years.

  • Ubiquitous Computing: Computing “blended” into the classroom (IWB’s interactive surfaces & direct manipulation)
  • Advanced Visualization: As capabilities increase – those extra resources will be leveraged to increase the users experience visually
  • Augmented Reality: Direct manipulation of “virtual learning objects” (Edusim is just a sliver of the possibilities) as if they were real


Collaborative 3D Virtual Environments and Advanced Classroom Visualization – White Paper


Download the PDF version here


Collaborative 3D Virtual Environments and Advanced Classroom Visualization – A Case Study

Richard L. White – The Southeast Kansas Education Service Center at Greenbush (SEKESC) – June 20, 2009


As computational capabilities exponentially improve,  and classroom visualization capabilities exponentially increase, understanding the possibilities becomes an important factor in improving classroom student engagement through advanced 3D visualization, simulations, and virtual/immersive environments.  Detailing the use of  hardware combined with open source 3D visualization, simulations, and immersive environments software “tool kits” for the classroom, as SEKESC has deployed them, will be the focus of this white paper report.

Implementations and Details:

For the past several years SEKESC has researched 3D immersive education technology, and developed solutions based on open source technology to address the emerging field of 3D immersive education.  Immersive Education is designed to immerse and engage students in the same way today’s best video games grab and keep the attention of players. Immersive Education supports self-directed learning as well as collaborative group-based learning environments delivered over the Internet or using fixed-media. Shorter mini-games and interactive lessons are injected into larger bodies of course material to further heighten and enrich the 3D Immersive Education experience.1  The focus on open source solutions was a strategic decision based on two factors:  cost benefits, and the ability for to modify and extend the open source 3D virtual environment tool kits to specific and specialized needs.  Our work in this emerging educational domain revolved around two use case scenarios: one laptop per student, or the “one to one laptop” configuration and group learning activities through the classroom interactive whiteboard.

The first use case to be reviewed is the “one to one laptop” scenario.  In this scenario SEKESC leverages the OpenSimulator (Opensim) open source project  on our GreenbushGrid platform.  OpenSimulator is a 3D Application Server which can be used to create a 3D virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols. OpenSimulator allows the development of an environment using the technologies the designer chooses.2 The GreenbushGrid employs the Opensim technology to create a “client-server” platform where all server based virtual world activities take place on a protected and “behind the firewall” SEKESC hosted simulation server.  SEKESC controls all user accounts and traffic to this platform for the students.  Classroom activities using the GreenbushGrid platform include group based virtual world building activities using in-world construction tools for students to collaborate on “constructionist3” activities and problem solving.  A few sample GreenbushGrid projects include: Virtual Mars – Students colonize the Red Planet, after “eco-bots” have been deployed to search for habitable locations; Eco City – Students build an environmentally friendly city powered by windmills and evaluate the benefits of alternate energy; and CSI4 – Students solve a crime in their very own CSI lab based on blood types and footprints found at a bank crime scene.

The second case to be discussed is the group based 3D immersive education learning activities taking place through the interactive whiteboard.  In this scenario SEKESC leverages the OpenCobalt opensource project for our Edusim5 platform.  OpenCobalt  is a free and open source virtual workspace browser and construction toolkit for accessing, creating, and publishing hyperlinked multi-user virtual environments6.  Powered by Croquet technology7, Open Cobalt uses an ordered group messaging protocol eliminating the need for virtual world servers. SEKESC distributes the Edusim version of OpenCobalt virtual world browser toolkit free and open source to users while focusing on premium support, content, and educational virtual worlds for the platform.  As a central server is not required and there is a peer to peer architecture, Edusim can run uninterrupted on any computer inside the classroom with the proper graphics card, drivers, and enough RAM.  Edusim focuses primarily on the classroom interactive whiteboard for the delivery of lesson “worlds” to the whole group, with each student having a student response system to answer teacher directed inquiry questions (graphic a).  The Edusim environment also allows for exploratory inquiry because of its dynamic 3D virtual world space.  Since Edusim is multi-user, multiple interactive whiteboards can be connected for classroom to classroom learning activities (graphic b). Future planned implementations include a 3D immersive group learning hardware termed the “Mobile Immersive Learning Labs” where SEKESC developed 3D immersive learning world lessons can be an experience in a higher fidelity than the typical interactive whiteboard.  This concept is currently being prototyped and involves 3D virtual learning spaces projected onto a surrounding surface to give the visual effect of being “inside” the learning material (graphic c).


The SEKESC “Collaborative 3D Virtual Environments and Advanced Classroom Visualization” projects are heavily focused on student engagement through deep visualized environments.  Appreciating the rapidly evolving capabilities of modern computing, SEKESC sees a significant educational technology trend beyond mobile computing reliance on heavy 3D visualized environments, virtual reality, tele-immersion, and augmented reality. SEKESC remains focused and committed on leveraging the modern computational capabilities to improve the classroom learning experience.


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(graphic a)

Edusim image

(graphic b)


(graphic c)

Stereoscopics, Haptics, & 3D Virtual Worlds for Learning

In some of my earliest planning for Edusim back in 2007 I developed a “List” of developmental functions (the Nov. 2007 post with complete list is here).  Among the items of that list were haptics, a surround physical space (as we are working on with the “mobile immersive learning lab“) and stereoscopics (Stereoscopics – red/blue object shading (Students wearing glasses for visual effect).  I even went as far as doing some VERY early prototyping of the concept the following month and getting a bunch of the glasses.  So you would imagine my delight when I came across the (@daynuvSecondlife viewer with Stereoscopics built inA good overview of the viewer is here

Wearing low-cost stereo glasses, users can now experience the 3d world of Second Life in full stereo. Objects pop out of the screen and terrains stretch into infinity, a truly unique enhancement for exploring 3d worlds. Linden Lab will soon provide the stereo function as a standard feature of its viewer. Using anaglyph technology or polarized light, Second Life can be experienced in stereo on laptops or desktops as well as on advanced projection systems similar to IMAX theatres‘.


 Another big step forward !