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Special Annual Awards

2008 Campus Technology Innovators: Virtual World Learning

2008 Campus Technology Innovators

WITHIN THE AESTHETIC CAMERA project in Second Life, Ball State students can check out cameras, dollies, light systems, and more to create their own original movies.

Innovator: Ball State University

Digital arts students hone their filmmaking skills in Second Life, where they learn to function just as they will one day in a complex, competitive, and demanding cinematography world.

Increasingly, educators are exploring the internet-based virtual world Second Life as a viable learning environment. The Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation (IDIAA) at Ball State University (IN) has already received national honors in the real world for its work in emerging media through developing virtual applications. The institute's professors and students gained acclaim for years of accomplishments in emerging media art forms, so it made sense to extend these efforts into a virtual environment. The IDIAA is now capitalizing on its success with 3D animation and virtual applications, and exporting these into Second Life.

Ball State has launched a digital cinematography program in Second Life, created through support from Ball State's College of Fine Arts, the Office of Information Technology, and the Office of the Provost. The initial project work, The Aesthetic Camera, now in pilot, is being developed as a formal course offering. The digital arts program focuses on virtual filmmaking, or "machinima," as it is known in Second Life. Students can check out cameras, dollies, light systems, and more to create their own original movies. They also can film in a Star Trek-inspired holodeck, which allows them to select among a wide variety of virtual set locations. "All of the equipment has been virtualized and scripted," says John Fillwalk, IDIAA director and associate professor of electronic art. "This means that the equipment has features similar to its real-world counterparts; all of the virtual equipment is controlled by a single HUD [head-up display] for consistency and ease of use. Students will be able to learn concepts such as three-point lighting, and then immediately apply those concepts-- in a virtual hands-on mode-- to what they've learned on their sets."

Ball State's efforts to export emerging media applications to Second Life are backed up with a sophisticated, collaborative planning/support process.

Several technologies were employed by the program creators as they ventured into Second Life. Beyond Second Life itself, Apple and Adobe graphics and digital media tools figured prominently in back-end development. Numerous other tools-- notably, Fraps, the video-capture and benchmarking software-- played important roles. Blackboard is used as the course portal as well as the main assessment tool for student experience. (The project was the recipient of the inaugural Blackboard Greenhouse Grant for Virtual Worlds.)

Most striking may be the IDIAA's approach to development. Fillwalk explains: "The IDIAA at Ball State has generous support and funding through the Lilly Endowment, and for the past several years we've been working on a variety of different projects with a blend of faculty; experts both internal and external to campus; students, of course, both undergraduate and graduate; and staff. We have backed up our efforts to export emerging media applications to Second Life with a sophisticated, collaborative planning/support process."

Bottom line? The IDIAA is committed to developing hands-on, experiential, project-based learning environments for the students in all of its digital media projects. The university's entry into Second Life is another manifestation and extension of this philosophy. Students are the main beneficiaries of the digital cinematography program in Second Life (and related and future development work), but the hope is to share Ball State's achievements with the broader higher education community.

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