Featured Case Study

Providing a 3D “virtual world” learning experience for professionals and educators in the field of climate science

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Business Need
Among the many areas of responsibility for the U.S. Commerce Department’s NOAA is the dynamic field of climate science. NOAA’s deep expertise in climate science is highly respected throughout the world and its knowledge constantly sought by climatologists and others, a reflection of the worldwide concern over global climate change.

As part of its continuing responsibility to deliver climate science professional development to a widely distributed universe, NOAA strives to utilise some of the advanced learning technologies that have gained popularity within the training profession. In 2011, it decided to expand its education programme to include training from Internet-based 3D virtual world technologies such as Second Life, the globally accessible, massively multiplayer environment created by Linden Research, Inc.

This new direction would serve global learners by allowing them to collaborate and receive training in a highly immersive environment that could embrace multiplayer gaming – a popular vehicle within the learning community. Computer game-based learning is rapidly gaining recognition as an effective tool to stimulate learning and improve retention, while reducing training delivery expenses by eliminating travel and other classroom training costs.

NOAA decided to pilot the concept at a three-day Virtual Workshop on Climate Change to be conducted entirely in the Second Life virtual world. Priorities included piloting the virtual workshop on climate change for 25-30 stewards. NOAA wanted to determine the feasibility of the dynamic environment, and especially whether new users can learn how to exist in the virtual world well enough to also learn the climate change content.

It also wanted to determine what learning tools are effective within the virtual world, and how to best use them. Those tools included presentation screens, interactive exercises, white boards, text and audio chat, the sharing of learning objects, breakout rooms, simulations, and games.

How we helped?
To support the implementation of the training programme, RPS invited NOAA presenters and climate stewards to RPS’ Showcase Island in Second Life. There, it delivered introductory training on how to communicate and navigate within the 3D environment, and how to use an avatar. It separately trained the presenters on how to employ virtual media tools to train students in engaging and interactive ways that will maximise their immersive learning experience.

Later, in September 2011, RPS hosted the three-day NOAA 2011 Virtual Workshop on Climate Change. The event included seven sessions with guest speakers and learning content, participation in text chats and avatar interaction, and other learning events.

During the virtual workshop, the climate stewards (K-12 science teachers and university professors) and NOAA’s climate change experts worked together in breakout rooms, using their avatars for polling and voting, and interacting with the tools and simulations.

At the three-day workshop, the highlight was a tour of NOAA’s Second Life island, where attendees enjoyed a presentation on gaming in virtual worlds, virtual tours of a melting glacier, a Tsunami beach, a plane ride into the eye of a hurricane, and a climate change treasure hunt.

Attendees and presenters at all events offered overwhelmingly positive feedback. Participants at the pre-conference events said they especially enjoyed opportunities to collaborate using text IMs during the presentations in the stadium, working together in breakout rooms, using their avatars for polling and voting, and interacting with the tools and simulations.

In the end, NOAA found this virtual training experience to be highly effective and their goals were met.