SLENZ Update, No 144, October 14, 2009

The Virtual World campus

250+ US universities now  offer

degrees linked to ‘virtuality’

Video game/Virtual World design courses boom …

staftrs… and at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School too. (logo AFTRS)

The fact that more than 250 of the United States colleges and universities in 37 states are offering degree courses this school year, involving video-gaming and virtual world technology, demonstrates just how mainstream computer-based “virtuality” is becoming, at least in the developed Western World, if not quite yet in New Zealand

The figures are up 27 percent over the previous year, according to a recent report by Mara Rose Williams in The Kansas City Star, quoting the Entertainment Software Association, which monitors the US video gaming  industry

According to the  association’s Rich Taylor, video-game design is the fastest-growing industry in the United States. “A generation that has grown up playing video games is entering college. Schools are responding to that.”

At a time when students are graduating into a shrinking job market,  the video gaming industry is flourishing, Taylor told Williams.  Last year, games and game consoles reached US$22 billion in sales, he said, with 68 percent of people of all ages playing video games, with video game consoles in almost 50 percent of US households  and 95 percent of young people playing them. He added that more than 80,000 people today are employed by the video-game industry.

“Schools realizing that video-game design is a viable industry,” he told Williams, a statement which resonated with me when I visited a leading New Zealand University earlier this week, to find it didn’t have wireless on campus, and a session on Second Life on one computer on  the university’s Broadband system had to be booked three months in  advance.

The realisation of the necessity of moving into the virtual age in the US,  if not in New Zealand, was underscored last month with the report in Scientific Computing that   Northern Kentucky University, with a gift of US$6 million, had joined South Dakota State University and St. Paul College in Minnesota – miles from the virtual world hot seats of California and New York –  to create an US$7 million virtual world informatics center complete with a computer assisted virtual environment (CAVE). The facility, scheduled to open in fall 2011, will be named Griffin Hall.

Griffin Hall, designed to be a key real-world virtual-world research unit, will house NKU’s College of Informatics, which consists of three academic departments as well as an outreach unit, the Infrastructure Management Institute.

The US, however, is not the only place where there is considerable movement on the virtual world education front.

In Australia,  the Sydney-based Australia’s Film Radio and Television school has announced it will offer a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds next year. The course will concentrate on the development of original concepts for virtual stories, games, social worlds and innovative gameplay.studyataftrs

And with more than  80% of Higher Education institutes in the UK already  users of Virtual Worlds for educational purposes, Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland, announced some months ago it was  creating a 3D Web project with a “complete, integrated module” that would teach students everything they needed to know to get a 3D virtual world up and running. The skills will include hosting, managing and creating real estate, and user interactivity. The course will be taught in the realworld but also will be supplemented by elements in Second Life and will also use OpenSim.

The university is already active in Second Life with a number of its schools using the MUVE for such things as visualisation, clinical training, support, and training on a virtual x-ray machine in the Schools of Engineering and Computing, Nursery, Midwifery and Community Health, and Health and Social Care.

“In 10 years it will be as normal to navigate in and between virtual worlds as it is to open a Web site today,”  according to Ferdinand Francino, course designer, on the university Web site. “The new module will ensure our students are at the forefront of technology and are fully equipped with the skills they will need in future.”

Will we in New Zealand be ready for the day when:

Virtuality will permeate all corners of our life …

For instance “retail therapy” …

Well, this is one way  CISCO thinks virtual reality will develop.