TimeScope: an Educational 3D Multi-User Role-Playing Environment

Jennie SHARF <timescope@sharf.com>
New York University

Teresa HSU <timescope@sharf.com>
New York University

Elizabeth RYAN <timescope@sharf.com>
New York University


Description TimeScope is a 3D multi-user virtual environment where high school students learn history by role-playing historical characters. Students explore relationships between historical trends, events, and people by creating a virtual historical world. The TimeScope poster session will describe the educational theories, methodology, curriculum integration, teacher and student-centered tools, and technology requirements.

Concepts Constructionism Jean Piaget described active learning in his constructivist theory, which says that people learn by actively constructing and interrelating knowledge and ideas, rather than by assimilating facts. Seymour Papert built on this theory with constructionism, in which people construct knowledge “felicitously” when they build objects that they can share with others (Papert, 1991). It is this active construction of knowledge and objects in a shared virtual environment that we hope will help students learn history. TimeScope provides a structure in which students weave information into a living map of characters, places, and objects that relate to one another through political movements, scientific paradigms, and economic views.

Role-playing and Identity When students choose the character they will role-play, TimeScope poses to students the following questions: What kind of person might I have been during this time in history? What kind of person do I want to be? How did these people become who they were? These questions are particularly relevant to teenagers who are forming their ideas about the world and exploring their identity. By exploring characters that they have an interest in, it is hoped that students experience the kind of active, self- directed learning that leads to a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them.

Teacher- and Student-centered Tools Creating a virtual historical world with TimeScope requires no programming or 3D modeling by students or teachers; they simply customize object templates using forms within the world. Students learn history, not how to program or model 3D objects and environments. Busy teachers don’t have to learn new technology.

Integration with Class Curriculum TimeScope historical learning activities are designed to be applicable to all time periods. TimeScope 3D objects come in time and locale-specific modules, which consist of appropriate object or building templates and 3D files. If desired, teachers can also request additional objects not included in the module. TimeScope is used in conjunction with (to augment, not replace) a regular history class, and comes with a teacher’s toolkit. This curriculum kit includes a suggested class schedule, worksheets, and directed role-playing assignments, constructed so that in-world activities do not degenerate into 3D chat. To evaluate students’ progress, each assignment in the TimeScope curriculum results in a student-created object that can be examined by the teacher for evaluation purposes.

Global Learning Community For the global community of history students, TimeScope is a valuable persistent, online resource. Students put what they’ve learned into an interactive 3D knowledge base of objects which can be explored by others even after the class has ended. Sister classes in different cities or countries can visit each other’s historical spaces. By publishing their work to a global audience, students are encouraged to take ownership of and responsibility for the learning process, and are more likely to create a final product that they can be proud of.

Three Dimensional Space TimeScope has several features that are specific to 3D: Neighborhoods are arranged geographically, giving students a sense of the large space that separates different regions and often, different political and economic trends. Students participate in activities which require them to create and interact with 3D objects that represent historical ideas in the TimeScope world. Actual “physical” objects help serve as mnemonic devices for students, as well as support different student learning styles.

Technology requirements The platform for TimeScope is an object-oriented, real-time, networked multi-user 3D environment. Students interact with the world via client software, and the server receives and delivers real-time changes to the environment through an Internet connection. The database of objects is stored on the server and updated whenever it receives a message from a client. Once a change to the database is received, the server sends messages to all connected clients informing them of the change.

Conclusion TimeScope offers the following benefits:  promotes self-directed and active learning  provides a shared context for information  provides multiple viewpoints for history  provides activities for students of different learning styles

These goals are accomplished by enabling students to:  experience what it was like in a certain time period and culture  engage in primary research and independent analysis  publish to a global audience, encouraging responsibility  create a knowledge base of interactive, 3D objects that can be shared by a global community of learners