Teaching with Technology Home » Virtual Campus Orients New Students to WesternU

For most students, Welcome Week can be an overwhelming experience, characterized by tight schedules and information overload. This summer, a virtual recreation of WesternU’s esplanade gave new students the opportunity to learn about the campus as well as policies and procedures important to their success—all before they arrived.

orientation-esplanade

Two years in development, the project was a collaboration between IT’s 3D Modeling and Gamified Learning team and 10 WesternU offices, including our:

  • Booth Bookstore
  • Harriet K. & Philip Pumerantz Library
  • Harris Family Center for Disability and Health Policy (CDHP)
  • Office of Financial Aid
  • Office of Health and Safety
  • Office of Information Technology
  • Office of Learning Enhancement and Academic Development (LEAD)
  • Office of the Bursar
  • Office of the Registrar
  • Office of University Student Affairs

The virtualized campus includes 50 hidden challenges designed to familiarize students with the key university departments and policies. Points are awarded for completing each challenge, and bonus points are awarded when students click on various objects in the environment.

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An overhead map provides the starting point for each student’s quest. Selecting a location on the map automatically transports students to their destination, where they can move in any direction to find a specific office or department and its related challenges. They can then move through the virtual esplanade at ground level from one building to the next, or they can use the map at any time to return to the overhead view and immediately transport to another destination.

orientation-challenge-questionAt each destination, challenges appear in the form of true false, fill-in, or multiple-choice questions. These questions can be easily answered by using the Info icon and searching the university website for the necessary information. Extra points are earned for successfully completing all the challenges for a given department or office.

Students must earn a total of 5000 points to complete the game and print a certificate of completion, which they can redeem at the Booth Bookstore for a small gift.

 

 

orientation-fountainStudents who fail to complete all the challenges can earn extra points by clicking on objects in the virtual esplanade. These objects provide additional background on the university, its programs, and the campus environment. In some cases, Info links provide optional access to related WesternU News articles.

Click here to view a brief demo of the Orientation.

 

 

 

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Development of the campus esplanade began with references images obtained through Google maps and street views. Using Maya, a computer modeling and animation software, Educational Applications Designer Jeff Macalino developed a prototype building based on the Pumerantz Library. By using Jeff’s prototype to establish 3D specifications for all buildings on the esplanade, IT was able to contract out the development of the other structures on the esplanade. “Given the scale and complexity of the environment we were virtualizing, delegating parts of the project was crucial. But first I needed to create a standard for the look and feel of the environment that would help the contractor understand what kind of detail we were looking for. While the contractor worked on the buildings, I created the esplanade and connecting structures, and together we eventually we brought the virtual campus to life.”

 

Once all the buildings were created, Jeff had the painstaking task of assembling the buildings in a virtual environment and creating the infrastructure to connect them all together. It was at this point that walkways, benches, foliage, and other elements in the environment were added. As with any project dependent on 3D imagery, optimizing the digital files to minimize lag time and other performance issues was paramount.

With the optimized virtual environment completed, the next step was to add the game mechanics, navigation, and other functionality using Unity3D, a multi-platform game development tool. Fifty questions submitted by representatives from each of the 10 offices were added to the content database, along with descriptions for each of the bonus objects in the virtual landscape. One of the more challenging aspects of game development was first-person navigation along the esplanade. “We started with left and right arrows on the screen to provide directional options, but found it a bit confusing to users who may have been moving the opposite direction. So we gave them more control by using a Google Streetview-like navigation system where they clicked on the surface they wanted to travel to.”

Internal tests were conducted with IT staff and office personnel to identify and correct any bugs before release in July 2016. A spinoff project, initiated by Michelle Emmert in the College of Osteopathic Medicine and released around the same time, provided new COMP students with a DO-specific version of the virtual scavenger hunt prior to Welcome Week.

Quote from Kim and Michelle

A brief prerecorded demo of the New Student Orientation Game can be found here. 

For more information, contact

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Kim DeKruif, Registrar, at kdekruif@westernu.edu

 

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Michelle Emmert, at memmert@westernu.edu

 

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Jeff Macalino, Educational Applications Designer, at jmacalino@westernu.edu

 

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