By Nick Werner, ’03
Your next online meeting or class could take place in a virtual forest or on the virtual surface of the moon thanks to a new collaboration platform developed at Ball State University.
Much like a video game, Meet3D allows users to choose avatars and interact with a shared digital environment, all while conducting business or learning. Meet3D is the brainchild of John Fillwalk, director of the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts at Ball State, also called the IDIA Lab.
“I think people are getting Zoom fatigue,” Fillwalk said. “Meet3D makes online meetings fun. It gamifies it a bit. The platform provides rich learning environments with a sense of play and collaboration.”
Research into human behavior indicates that people retain information more when they can interact with a space, whether in real life or in a virtual environment, Fillwalk said.
In Meet3D, the meeting administrator chooses the virtual environment. There are about 10 that come prepackaged, such as a Paris street scene, classrooms, conference centers and customizable meeting spaces.
Clients can customize prepackaged spaces with a company logo on the wall, for example. Or, they can have the IDIA crew build an entirely new personalized environment.
This Fall, the IDIA Lab used Meet3D technology to develop a Virtual Teaching Simulator (VTS) for Indiana University’s School of Education. VTS allows preservice teachers (also called student teachers) to gain practical classroom experience at a time when many K-12 classrooms are empty and real-world opportunities are limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The project is funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation and is aimed primarily at preservice math and science teachers.
Other partners in the IU project developed an online suite of practice-based teaching activities that take place inside VTS. Preservice teachers from IU can move around the classroom and engage with virtual student avatars, all while receiving feedback from a coach, according to IU associate professor of education Meredith Park Rogers.
“We must find a way to continue to prepare high-quality math and science teachers through this pandemic and beyond,” Park Rogers said.
Meet3D participants pick from dozens of diverse avatars and can choose to interact with the virtual environment through the eyes of the avatar or from behind the avatar in a “third-person omniscient perspective.”
Administrators even have the option of starting meetings with fun icebreakers, like exploring a Holodeck type environment. The IDIA team is even working on a virtual escape room for remote team-building exercises.
Meet3D is available as an application or in a web browser. It also works with both desktop and mobile technologies.
“Meet 3D provides robust collaboration tools with a sense of play to augment the world of online meetings,” Fillwalk said. “This is something different and a new way to connect with people.”