I. Hatzilygeroudis1, K. Kovas1, F. Grivokostopoulou1, Z. Palkova2

1University of Patras (GREECE)
2Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra (SLOVAKIA)
In this paper, we present a hybrid educational platform developed to assist tutors in teaching and students in learning about the challenging domain of Solar Energy production. The platform combines traditional learning procedures offered to students via Moodle, a very popular Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), with learning procedures and scenarios delivered to learners in a 3D Virtual World environment.The Moodle VLE focuses on the management of the learning material processes and can help the tutors with the course organization and administration and also with the supervision of the students’ performance. Moreover, it can help the students to get the proper theoretical background on the domain of Solar Energy. The 3D Virtual World environment gives students the ability to interact with various 3D devices and constructions. They can get close or in the interior of the devices and see their functions. In this way, learners can get a deeper understanding of the functionality of special devices and machineries such as solar collectors, energy machines and transmitters etc. The 3D World also allows visualizing some theoretical concepts in engaging and comprehensive ways through 3D representations. The platform has been (and is still being) developed in the context of the AVARES LdV project. The 3D Virtual World is developed in Open Simulator, an open source platform for creating multi user Virtual Worlds. In the 3D Virtual World, the learners can thoroughly examine the 3D devices and the constructions, navigate through the learning material presented, watch tutor’s presentations and communicate with voice chat and instant messages with their classmates and the tutor. The 3D Virtual World developed consists of: Solar Energy Island,3D Auditorium,Classrooms/ Meeting Rooms.

The Solar Energy Island consists of:
•Presentations projected on 3D boards, providing the theoretical background.
•3D objects and constructions.These objects include 3D models of devices and systems presented in theory and were used to visualize some topics in an easier to comprehend form. For example, 3D models such as the solar system with planets rotating around the sun, tube collectors, solar panels etc.
•Flash Animations projected on 3D boards. These interactive multimedia animations are associated with corresponding presentations and are mostly used to elicit specific topics through interactive examples.

The 3D auditorium was designed to help the tutors make presentations and talk with the learners. Tutors are able to load specific presentations available in the VLE or even upload their own slides. The Classrooms and Meeting Rooms can serve as meeting areas or small classrooms.
The hybrid educational platform developed provides both synchronous and asynchronous distance education. The tutors can schedule lectures in the virtual word and teach specific aspects of solar energy domain. On the other hand, the learners have the ability to study anytime they want and can get in the virtual world and experiment even if the tutor is not available.

An evaluation study was conducted. The participants were eighteen students of a Vocational High School accompanied by their two teachers. The evaluation of the system gave very promising results about the learning capabilities of the method. The results of a questionnaire shown that the majority of the students liked the platform and the 3d virtual world and that they found the learning approaches entertaining and comprehensive.