For those not familiar with the VHOS project, it is essentially a virtual space within the Active Worlds Universe in which the New York Hall of Science intends to create explorable/interactive exhibits through a collaborative process involving the contributions of Hall staff, Hall Explainers, participants of the Hall’s camp programs and finally (and ideally) casual visitors. The first phase of the VHOS project was simple enough– train a group of 18-23 year olds to use Active Worlds to a point in which they are comfortable creating things as well as showing others how to create things in-world. The second phase was a reminder that no design can be efficient without prototyping; middle schoolers have knack for showing you that the way you think they think is wrong and so anything designed for them will likely have to be revised on the fly. The third phase of the VHOS project was an interesting reminder for myself about how the process of designing something that actually meets needs is iterative. So while I was thinking that I could have veteran participants take a hand in delivering basic skills to newer participants, they just weren’t interested in being teachers. As a solution to this we introduced the “Easter Egg“. As new participants acquainted themselves with the basic navigation and building skills, veteran participants were given a “mission”; first, create an easter egg containing some scripting skills considered advanced for the newbies, then secretly place that egg somewhere on a newbies virtual property. So here we have veterans showing off there skill in a way that newbies can glean important skills from. Some veterans went as far as to create portals that will take you to a secret location containing your personalized easter egg.
Unlike the second phase, the third phase was focused on one content area. Participants designed and developed virtual exhibits dealing only with the phases of matter. During phase two of the VHOS project it appears that participants were a bit overwhelmed by the option of selecting any STEM topic of their choice. Too much time was spent narrowing down the focus of their designs and not enough designing. The effects of this can be seen when contrasting a phase two exhibit, which often illustrates a broad concept, with a phase three exhibit illustrating some characteristic feature of a substance transitioning from one phase of matter to another.
As we continue to run camps the VHOS becomes richer with educational experiences which will inevitably lead to the issue of categorizing the exhibits and directing the user/casual visitor in a way that facilitates learning. I’m excited to see where this is leading as there is already a feel of being in a place where someone has been before you, giving the space and how you experience that space siginificant thought.