First virtual campus in Asia opens at PolyU
By Liz Heron| 26 September 2009

Students can "fly" to live tutorials and field trips held in cyberspace on Asia's first virtual campus at Polytechnic University.

The virtual campus, which uses the latest generation of Second Life technology to create learning opportunities in live, interactive virtual reality, opened yesterday to all students and academics.

The HK$1.6 million virtual campus was launched by PolyU's president, Professor Timothy Tong Wai-cheung, at the opening of the world's first global research conference about Second Life applications, held at the university.

SLActions 2009 began in Hong Kong and is continuing non-stop for 48 hours at universities in the United States, Brazil, Portugal, Britain and Israel, with speakers timetabled in their local time zones.

Tong pressed a button on a remote control to "cut a ribbon" in an image of the virtual campus displayed on a projector screen, while other colleagues cut a real ribbon before conference participants to open the novel learning environment.

Vice-president Professor Suleyman Demokan said: "Today's youngsters really are digital natives. The traditional one-way teaching in the classroom no longer interests this generation of students. They are eager for more sensory inputs and expect to be engaged through multiple channels in their exposure to knowledge."

Initiatives such as Second Life could engage students in new and exciting ways, Demokan said."They can walk or fly around different localities, explore virtual cities, design virtual buildings, work as managers in a virtual hotel or as nurses in a virtual hospital," he said. "Students not only enjoy this kind of learning, but they can take charge of their study and work in an environment that mirrors their future work closely."

Tutorials, projects, work placements and field trips will be conducted from the virtual campus, which has already been used to teach more than 800 students in the departments of computing and applied social science, and the schools of design and hotel and tourism management.

The virtual campus has a central "island" modelled on PolyU's real-life, dense, red-brick campus in Hung Hom, but students can also fly to two other islands housing a virtual version of its teaching hotel, which is currently under construction, and four imaginary hotels.

Project director Dr David Herold said he taught four tutorials a week on the virtual campus to students taking urban studies courses, introduction to modern society and introduction to media. He said other applications in the pipeline included paramedic training using a simulated accident scene, and nursing training involving robot avatars programmed to behave like psychiatric patients.

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