October 6, 2015

Examples of virtual worlds, simulations and mobile apps from Ontario

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Carleton Virtual

This is the second in a series of guest blogs on innovative developments in online learning in Ontario post-secondary institutions. (The first was examples of hybrid learning.)

In this post, Judith Tobin of Contact North| Contact Nord focuses on examples of virtual worlds and simulations, and mobile apps. Here is her guest post:


In my previous guest blog, I highlighted examples of online and hybrid learning innovations in Ontario post-secondary institutions that were serving as vehicles for bringing new ideas into the classroom, such as restructuring class time, collaborative learning, and changes in the teacher/student relationships. This time, I have focused on applications of leading edge technologies, including virtual environments, simulations, and mobile apps. These technologies are just beginning to have a role in learning and considerable research and experimentation are taking place to determine their optimal contributions. The innovations below explore student learning and responses, while working to make the technologies easy to use and flexible.

Virtual Worlds and Simulations

The Virtual World Design Centre at Loyalist College in Belleville has been working with virtual environments for a number of years, using the open source software Second Life (http://secondlife.com) since 2006.  They have recently adopted the Unity 3D authoring tool as they find it more adaptable for educational purposes. 

 Virtual worlds are successful in education because students identify with the characters and the situations portrayed and so become active participants in the events on screen. The learning from these experiences carries over into real life applications.  In an award-winning and educationally successful project, the staff in the Virtual World Design Centre created a virtual border crossing at which students’ avatars take on the roles of border crossing guards, interviewing travellers who present challenges of documentation, prohibitions, smuggling, and difficult communication.  The virtual traveler interviews take place in class and each encounter is then analyzed by the entire group so that best practices are identified.  Applications for completely online learning are being investigated.

Virtual environment of a border crossing

The students at Loyalist found the virtual experience provided them with more than enhanced content learning; they also developed confidence, observational skills, and the capacity to respond to developing situations.

 Other virtual environments created at Loyalist included a virtual hospital tour for secondary school students and a factory simulation for the repair of machinery for food processing. Experience in these virtual worlds prepares students for more effective and informed exposure to the real environments.

Carleton Virtual is an online virtual environment resembling the physical setting of Carleton University in Ottawa that was constructed to explore how virtual environment can be used to enhance learning.  An English-as-a-second-language teacher used the virtual meeting space so that her students could practice language usage and collaboration skills in a risk-free environment. They used the virtual classrooms, meeting rooms, and other spaces, with many students participating more actively in the virtual spaces than in a face-to-face classroom.  A virtual archeological site allowed students to better understand the archeological processes that create knowledge, when a visit to a functioning site was not possible.

The virtual archeological site

At the Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning in Oakville, students in the Veterinary Technician Program could no longer have access to live animals and cadavers for both ethical and health reasons. In response to this need, the Network for Innovation and Leadership in Education built a 3D dog skeleton with images that can be manipulated and disassembled. The skeleton was then built into a web-based learning tool as a complete package for online student learning, including mobile applications.  The simulation is being tested for educational effectiveness.

Mobile learning

In Fall 2012, all full-time, first-year students enrolled in the four-year Bachelor of Business Administration Program at Nipissing University in North Bay will receive iPads. Leading up to this innovation, pilot projects are being undertaken to explore applications for teaching and learning.  For example, connectivity was set up so a professor could use an iPad while moving about the room and illustrating and annotating normally static PDF documents, then saving the revised slides for class distribution. Meanwhile, the students would use their iPads to add their own notes to the same slides. The first year of the iPad usage will be dedicated to introducing students to software for document preparation and research; more advanced learning applications will be developed over time to emphasize the collaborative and creative possibilities of the iPad.

Nipissing is also exploring the development of apps for mobile learning but, for ease of access and flexibility of revision, these would be web applications hosted on web servers that would look and function like apps. 

Using mobile apps to encourage language learning and practice outside the classroom has been the focus of recent work at George Brown College. Extensive research is being done on student ownership of mobile devices and data plans, preferences for activities in mobile learning, and an instructional design framework to encourage active participation and extensive language usage. From this, a set of design principles for effective mobile learning was created. The Mobile Learning Specialist at George Brown would like to collaborate with colleagues in other institutions on mobile learning developments.

Research and evaluation

Research is an essential component of all these innovations as post-secondary institutions ponder and test how these technological and software advances can best be used to serve learners.  They are often expensive and require technological and pedagogical sophistication to develop and implement. The educators want to be sure they are using them as tools for effective learning.

Thank you, Judith, and if anyone else would like to do a guest post of an innovation in online learning at their institution, please contact me at tony.bates@ubc.ca

Further reading

For more details on each application go to the following links:

Border Simulation – Student Learning in a Virtual World: Loyalist College

Simulations for Learning: Loyalist College

Carleton Virtual: Carleton University

A Simulation-Based Learning Tool for Students in the Veterinary Technician Diploma Program: Sheridan Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning

Going mobile: Nipissing University

Mobile-assisted language learning: George Brown College

For more examples of innovation in online learning in Ontario, go to: Pockets of Innovation



Creating a mobile learning app from scratch

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Morgan, T. (2012) Creating a mobile learning app–what we learned, what’s left to learn Explorations in the ed tech world, March 14

You’re the ed tech co-ordinator in a small college, and you need to develop a mobile app for a specific purpose. How do you go about it? This was the situation Tannis Morgan was in, when members of the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC) approached her for an app for students who are emergency responders (firemen, paramedics and police) for a course on emergency response management.

Tannis in her post takes us through the process, which took in her case 21 months. From her post, the technology was the easy part. The hard part was going through institutional procedures and policies and getting through the Apple bureaucracy.

Anyone else want to share their experience?

Financial Times highlights online business degrees

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from Wikipedia, 2012

Financial Times (2012) Online Learning, March 12

This special edition of the UK-based Financial Times has about a dozen articles about online learning in business schools.

The articles cover a range of the more prestigious business schools now offering blended or fully online programs.

It should be noted that this is a market where cost is a major factor – one school charges $89,000 in tuition fees for its online MBA. However, some prestigious schools also offer online programs in the $25,000 range.

It is interesting to note that in the FT’s ranking of 48 business schools offering online programs, Athabasca University’s executive MBA is the only Canadian school listed. There is also an interview with an Athabasca University student taking their executive MBA

The FT also compares the rankings of online programs within their overall rankings of business schools:

Of the 48 schools featured in this year’s FT Online MBA Listing, 12 have full-time programmes ranked in the world’s top 100 in the FT Global MBA Ranking 2012.’

On the technology side, there is an article on the use of iPads in business education, and also an interesting article on the use of mobile learning in business programs by Carina Paine Schofield: Business schools need to think beyond convention

All in all, this is a useful guide to students thinking of doing an online business degree, since it really doesn’t matter where you live, so long as you meet the institution’s admission requirements. However, be aware that there are many other good schools not mentioned in this edition.

It is also a useful resource for those trying to move their business schools into the 21st century: many of the more prestigious schools are already there. Show it to your Dean!


JET&S: Special journal issue on technology supported cognition and exploratory learning

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The Journal of Educational Technology and Society, Vol. 15, No.1, has a special edition on technology supported cognition and exploratory learning.

From the editorial:

The IADIS CELDA 2010 conference aims to address the main issues concerned with evolving learning processes and supporting pedagogies and applications in the digital age. There have been advances in both cognitive psychology and computing that have affected the educational arena. The convergence of these two disciplines is increasing at a fast pace and affecting academia and professional practice in many ways. Paradigms such as just-in-time learning, constructivism, student-centered learning and collaborative approaches have emerged and are being supported by technological advancements such as simulations, virtual reality and multi-agents systems. These developments have created both opportunities and areas of serious concerns.  

Editors of this special issue selected a number of papers presented at IADIS CELDA 2010 conference that were very highly rated by reviewers, well received at the conference, and nicely complementary in terms of research, theory, and implications for learning and instruction. These papers have been edited and revised based on feedback from conference participants and subsequent review by the editors of this special issue and reviewers recruited to assist in this process. The organizing committee of IADIS CELDA 2010 proposed a special issue of Educational Technology & Society Journal based on selected papers from IADIS CELDA 2010. The result is the five papers included in this special issue. 

As well as the five special papers, there are another 26 papers in this issue covering a diverse range of topics, including (at the post-secondary level):

  • Effects of Different Levels of Online User Identity Revelation
  • Student Satisfaction, Performance, and Knowledge Construction in Online Collaborative Learning: a cross-cultural perspective
  • A Context-Aware Mobile Learning System for Supporting Cognitive Apprenticeships in Nursing Skills Training
  • Exploring Non-traditional Learning Methods in Virtual and Real-world Environments
  • Providing Adaptivity in Moodle LMS Courses
  • Agent Prompts: Scaffolding for Productive Reflection in an Intelligent Learning Environment

Although the papers are in English, most of the authors are from either Eastern Europe or East Asia.

New technologies for e-learning in 2012 (and a little beyond)

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© Duncan Campbell, 2012, Creative Commons license

In my e-learning outlook for 2012, I focused on mainly educational developments in e-learning during 2012. In this post, I want to look at some of the more interesting technologies that could have a major impact on e-learning. Since I’m not a technologist by background, I’m drawing mainly on secondary sources for this post, but (of course!) adding my own spin as an educator.

The NMC Horizon 2012 Higher Education Review lists six technologies over a five year horizon:

One year or less:

  • Mobile apps
  • Tablets

Two to three years:

  • game-based learning
  • learning analytics

Four to five years

  • gesture-based computing
  • the Internet of Things

I am completely in line with their prediction for adoption of tablets and mobile apps in 2012. I think learning analytics will be adopted more quickly than the Horizon timeline, but that’s a matter of timing rather than direction. I agree that game-based learning will become more prevalent, but I don’t see it as becoming widely used, because of the cost of design. It will be used in pockets or selectively rather than as a widespread tool. I see gesture-based computing (or haptics) as just one of a wider range of ways of interacting and interfacing with computers, of which touch screen technology is also a part. I thought they might also have included voice control.

The most interesting item on the Horizon list is the Internet of Things. This will be the way ordinary, everyday objects will become linked, through wireless technology, to the Internet, enabling, for instance, remote control through mobile phones of equipment in the office or house. This has fascinating possibilities. All we need as instructors or teachers is imagination as to how we can use the Internet of Things to enhance our teaching. However, don’t worry – this isn’t going to be ready for educational use in 2012.

General technology trends

I have drawn on two other sources:

Randy Muller’s Seven Technology Predictions for 2012 and Beyond (Global Knowledge) and

Peter Cashmore’s The Top 10 tech trends for 2012 (CNN).

These are general technology trends, not specific to education, so I have selected from within their lists as to what I think will be most relevant to education.

The changing user interface

There is some overlap here with the Horizon list, but these two commentators widen the range of factors influencing the user interface as follows:

  • voice control
  • gesture control/haptics
  • touchscreens
  • 3D

Taken together, I believe we will have a very different way of interfacing with technology within three years. Goodbye the mouse and the graphical user interface. The new ways of interfacing will open up more educational affordances which will make learning more engaging and exciting but at the same time present more challenges for instructors and course designers.


I’m really surprised the Horizon report didn’t highlight this as a significant development for 2012. As Peter Cashmore states:

HTML5 — the fifth iteration of the HTML standard — lets developers create richer, more interactive applications than ever. Why does this matter? As developers tire of building applications for every operating system out there — from Android to iOS to Windows Phone and beyond — HTML5 offers the opportunity to build an app once and have it work everywhere. The rise of HTML5 is bound to be accelerated by a recent revelation: Adobe is killing off Flash for mobile devices, meaning one of the primary methods of serving videos and rich applications on mobile phones is about to disappear. HTML5 will fill that gap. For us as consumers, that means richer applications and experiences on all our devices.

The end of the laptop?

Well, not quite, at least in 2012, but both Muller and Cashmore believe that for many users, tablets will replace laptops as the main form of ‘terminal’, especially considering the next trend towards cloud computing. Certainly for students, I see the laptop becoming rapidly obsolete, but for that to happen, we will need tablets with more ‘creative’ functionality than at present – and probably a large screen to which we can connect the tablet (given that I have five windows open at the moment in order to do this article).

To the cloud

The move to cloud computing will probably move faster in the business sector than in higher education in 2012, but nevertheless the trend for higher education is inevitable, because of the likely cost savings. The question is not whether HE will move to cloud computing, but how? Will we see ‘private’clouds with shared services, run by government agencies, that provide security and protection for institutions? Or will HE institutions ‘trust’ commercial cloud services? There are still legal and jurisdictional issues around privacy that are likely to slow the move to cloud computing in higher education, but over time I think these will be addressed.


Keep running. The technology innovation treadmill grinds on with no sign of letting up. This makes it all the more important we have strong educational criteria for making decisions about technology, as the choice continues to increase, and hence the complexity of decision-making.

But it is fun, isn’t it?

Your response?

What have I missed? Do you agree with some of the developments suggested here or are they off base? And what does this continuous development mean for educators? Over to you, readers!