University of Valencia (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2014 Proceedings
Publication year: 2014
Pages: 5525-5529
ISBN: 978-84-616-8412-0
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 8th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 10-12 March, 2014
Location: Valencia, Spain
The objective of this communication is to present a virtual environment for educative activities in university curricula. The basic elements of a virtual educative environment are the environment itself and the avatars. A virtual environment is a computerized simulation of a real environment in which actors can play certain roles. The actors are the students, who go into the environment through their avatars. The avatars are simulated characters who can move, speak, write texts or manipulate objects at the students’ commands, that is, they can interact with the environment. Another element we are interested in is the virtual robots, called bots or non player characters (NPCs). The bots have an appearance similar to avatars, but their behaviour is governed by scripts (computerized code), not by humans. The virtual environments are being developed very fast, mainly for leisure purposes, but their educative potential deserves attention from educative institutions. Our team is interested in developing educative virtual environments to implement exercises and practices for students of the Psychology degree in the University of Valencia (Spain).

The main advantages of these materials over conventional ones are:
a) the exercises (practices) are held in an environment more similar to that in which the student will find themselves once they are in a professional context;
b) the students are required to integrate the skills and capabilities they have acquired in the different subjects of their curricula to solve problems in a systemic way;
c) enhancement of activity as a way of learning, and
d) flexibility in time and space given that the student can perform the exercises at any time and from any computer connected to the Internet.

We are working in two main directions so far, bots and virtual environments. With regard to the bots, we are making tests with Pandorabots (that is, a bot supported by Pandorabots) whose characters and environments are supplied by SitePal. The character is very realistic and the environments very simple and we have implemented bot and environment on a web page which contains the instructions for the students carrying out the activity. We have generated a knowledge base on AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language) for the bots in such a way that “they” simulate the kind of dialogue that characterizes some behaviour disorders (e.g. anorexia). The student can practice the dialogue protocol required to identify the problem of the “patient”. With regard to environments, we are operating with OpenSim and have taken advantage of the free scenes available on the web to generate a virtual campus. We have located bots in that campus whose characters have been taken from standard avatar characters in OpenSim and have connected them to the knowledge base in our Pandorabots in such a way that they are able to express themselves and simulate the psychological characteristics of interest. We have developed some exercises in a comprehensive way so that the student can practice the process that begins with the identification of the problem, its evaluation and the intervention required to solve that problem.

Work partially supported with funding of Unitat d'Innovació Educativa, University of Valencia.
Educative 3D environments, bots, NPCs, Pandorabots, Psychology, OpenSim.