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Tutorial Outline: Interacting and Designing in Virtual Worlds on the Internet

Meeting hall in TheU Virtual University campus

Tutorial Coordinator and Primary Instructor:


Social activity in a cyberspace virtual world: wedding in Alphaworld

This tutorial will introduce participants to multi-user social virtual worlds hosted on the Internet. The instructor and various virtual presenters will be on hand to introduce and demonstrate the environments and help tutorial participants engage in live exercises. These collaborative exercises will involve the formation of teams of participants who will design a 3-D space, construct that space and its interfaces, and support usability testing of the space by participants at the tutorial and in on-line virtual presence.

Material to be covered in the course

The course material will touch on several areas of interactive design. Throughout the program, from the introductory and tour sections to the design and collaborative hands-on building exercises, the following areas will be stressed:

3-D Interfaces: participants will engage in hands-on construction of 3-D spaces and interfaces. Within seconds of each change, the views of all participants will be updated. This facility will permit collaborative construction and evaluation in real time. Tools available for building include: in-world Renderware objects which can be replicated and positioned with simple cursor key commands, VRML scenes which can be imported, sound and voice which can be attached or transmitted through the space, and images which can be generated by scanning or paint systems and mapped onto objects. In addition, controls to affect the behavior of objects, selectable surfaces, and links to world wide web sites and other media can be added into the 3-D scenes.

Virtual community: during the tour section, we will visit several on-line virtual communities which have appeared within virtual world environments. Participants and demonstrators alike will be able to communicate with members of these communities, asking them about their experiences there. During the hands-on exercises, an ad-hoc virtual community will be created within the group of physically present and virtually present participants. Roles will be assigned in advance and by poll at the time of the tutorial.

Cooperative and Participatory interaction design: collaborative design and hands-on construction of several different types of spaces within a virtual world will be undertaken. Consortium participants have extensive experience in designing full scale virtual community spaces, shared information spaces and 3D music soundspaces (please see for details). Based on past tutorials we have conducted, we will split the tutorial into teams. Each team will begin the design session with a brief brainstorming period, develop it further on paper and whiteboard, present it briefly to the whole tutorial for critique and then proceed with the on-line construction of the space and its interfaces. In addition, certain participants who are not physically present at the tutorial will be invited to assist the tutorial virtually from their locations around the world.

Usability testing: the spaces and interfaces constructed by tutorial participants will be immediately available to be evaluated by other participants, either physically present or virtually participating. If there are facilities to allow the virtual world areas to be visited by tutorial participants during the remainder of the conference, more usability testing could be carried out.

Teleworking, CSCW and CSCL: one key objective of the tutorial is to give participants enough background in the medium that they can identify possible applications in cooperative work and distance education. Input from recent programs at CSCW '96, CHI 96, CHI 97, SIGGRAPH 97 and other conferences as well as our experiments with a prototype virtual university will provide some additional food for thought.

World wide web component: the World Wide Web will play an important part in the tutorial as a repository for the course notes, step-by-step guides and extensive background and references for the social and technical aspects of virtual worlds. All of these materials will be provided and hosted on the Digitalspace server for a period of time before and after the tutorial. In this manner, participants can be better prepared for the tutorial by visiting these web pages in advance. Links and documentation created during the tutorial can also be posted on this website to provide participants a valuable follow-up.

Social issues: the use of special terms, emergent subcultures and norms of community behavior will be highlighted and will likely be experienced during the course of the tutorial. Our colleagues have used some ethnographic techniques to document emergent community in virtual worlds and this will provide some applicable background.

Learning objective

The learning objective of the tutorial is to give participants enough background and hands-on experience of this new medium that they can use on-line inhabited virtual worlds in their research or professional projects. It is our hope that the tutorial will also encourage more computer and networking professionals to participate in the development of the virtual worlds medium.

How the tutorial will be conducted

Meeting with Professor Sandy Stone of U.T. Austin in ACTLab Traveler Utopia

The primary instructor will open the tutorial with a comprehensive computer and video presentation explaining the origins of the virtual worlds medium. A tour of several virtual worlds will be given next with the environments run live over the Internet and projected centrally for the participants. In the final part of this section, the particular virtual environment which will be used in the afternoon exercise (Active Worlds, Onlive Traveler and possibly other environments) will be introduced and live hands-on experience can begin.

For the design portion, 2 or 3 assigned teams within the tutorial will gather separately to brainstorm their given design challenge, using paper and whiteboard. These teams may opt to create a design document in some presentation format (web page, powerpoint). At the end of the design section. The design can be described briefly (5 minutes) to the entire tutorial for critique.

Hands-on exercises will be conducted initially by the primary instructor guiding participants to move through and interact within the virtual environment on their workstation. The presenter will be running and projecting the same view for the whole class to reference. At the same time, two or more assistants will move through the class, providing assistance as needed. During the collaborative building phase, all attention will focus on the workstations of team participants, with assistance from virtual presenters and the physically present instructor.

Schedule of events

Star Wars Tatooine prototype world

If a full day tutorial can be accommodated, the following schedule of events will be presented. If a half day tutorial is the only option, another schedule can be offered.
Time Event Tutorial instructor
Morning: first 1.5 hour block Introduction to online virtual worlds, background, terminology, applications. Questions addressed. Bruce Damer, primary instructor
Morning: second 1.5 hour block Tour of online multi-user virtual worlds projected for participants, hands-on introduction of environment to be used in later exercises. Questions addressed. Bruce Damer, primary instructor
Afternoon: first 1.5 hour block Brainstorming and paper/whiteboard design of 3-D space to be collaboratively constructed by participants, presentation to whole tutorial Other participants physically or virtually present
Afternoon: second 1.5 hour block Collaborative construction of space in virtual world. Documentation of efforts Other participants physically or virtually present
Summary: possible additional allotted time, up to 20 minutes Summarizing results and impressions by polling participants, both physically and virtually present, conclusion of tutorial Bruce Damer, primary instructor

Samples of materials to be included in the tutorial notes

Avatars in a virtual Icelandic street in OZ Virtual

A good representative sample of the materials to be included in the tutorial notes can be found at:

In addition, web-based course notes can be updated following the conference. In this way, user experiences, documentation of the designs constructed and other new information can be provided to participants and the rest of the Internet community.

Other course notes can be provided in the paper package, including an annotated bibliography and basic introduction and tour of the medium. Exerpts from the book on the subject written by the primary instructor can also be provided.

History of the prior tutorials

This tutorial was first given at MediARTech, a large Internet and media conference in Florence Italy, in May of 1996. In addition, the full tutorial or portions of it have been presented at the following venues:

Noteworthy and distinguishing ideas and approaches illustrated

The new medium of multi-user virtual worlds allows a large number of ordinary users of the Internet to construct and interact within a visual digital space. Since early 1995, the number of these environments has grown to several thousand distinct virtual landscapes and the user population has exceeded 250,000. Noteworthy about this medium is that it puts tools into the hands of ordinary Internet users which allow them to build and inhabit collaborative visual community spaces. In effect, it empowers these users to engage in interaction design within the context of a cooperating community. This technology could be seen as a graphical extension of MUD and MOO environments but it exhibits some of its own unique characteristics, including:

Tutorial Presenters

The primary presenter is Bruce Damer, President and CEO of DigitalSpace Corporation and a founding director of the Contact Consortium, a non-profit research membership organization dedicated to the development of the virtual worlds medium. Since 1995 the Consortium has engaged in extensive usability testing of virtual worlds provided by its member companies, which include Intel, Silicon Graphics, Electric Communities, Microsoft, Black Sun Interactive, Nippon Telephone and Telegraph (Software Division), Philips, 3D Labs, The Palace, British Telecom, OZ Interactive and others. The Consortium has engaged in the collaborative construction and staffing of a virtual town called Sherwood Forest, a virtual university called TheU, a generative VRML garden called Nerve Garden and has hosted numerous research and discussion groups and regular social experiments in these online worlds. For more information on instructor Bruce Damer, see his Home Page.

Other demonstrators will join us virtually from around the world as avatars in-world to assist with teaching, demonstration and participate in the collaborative exercises themselves.

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