Asee peer logo

Virtual World Technology to Support Student Collaboration in an Online Engineering Course

Download Paper |


2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

The Best of the Computers in Education

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Robert L. Avanzato Pennsylvania State University, Abington

visit author page

Robert Avanzato is an associate professor of engineering at the Penn State Abington campus where he teaches courses in electrical and computer engineering, computer science, and information sciences and technology. His research interests include mobile robotics, intelligent systems, computer vision, virtual world technology and innovative education.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Virtual World Technology to Support Student Collaboration in an Online Engineering Course

The benefits of online learning include asynchronous access to learning resources, flexible scheduling, meeting demands of non-traditional and adult students, multi-campus and international participation, and accommodating learning preferences for many students. Some of the challenges of online learning include student isolation, difficulty collaborating with other students enrolled in the online course for team projects, and challenges in the effective presentation and sharing of the team projects. This study evaluated the use of Terf Virtual World Technology (3Dicc) to support student collaboration in an online undergraduate, sophomore-level, computer engineering course in digital design. Virtual world technology provides a persistent, 3D immersive environment in which students log into the platform with personalized avatars and enter customized, virtual workspaces that support avatar navigation, text chat, voice communication and a webcam. Course materials and lectures can be made available to the students through the virtual world as well as 3D models such as circuit boards, microcontrollers and FPGAs. These immersive 3D features and communication capabilities go beyond the feature set of traditional course management systems, and the virtual world acts as a supplement to the course management system. Most importantly, the Terf product allowed student teams to work collaboratively to share documents, display documents and images on virtual display panels to facilitate team projects and improve student interaction and communication. The virtual world technology also has several distinct advantages over conventional collaboration tools such as Google Hangout, Facebook and Adobe Connect. Several of the benefits include the immersive nature of avatar-based interactions, the availability to customize 3D virtual environments (such as lecture halls, laboratory spaces, virtual instrumentation, etc.) based on the course topics, and the ability to import relevant 3D models into the virtual space. The virtual world technology in this study supported many activities including special topics lectures on robotics, virtual discussion sessions involving 3D models of microcontrollers and FPGAs, virtual office hours, and a virtual poster session in which teams of students presented work that could be viewed in a 3D environment by other students and from visitors from around the globe. The feedback from the students was very positive and the virtual world technology allowed the instructor to assign group activities and strengthen student interaction in an online course that would not have been possible without the virtual world tool. Although the academic performance was comparable to online offerings of the same course without the use of virtual world support, the virtual world technology improved engagement and facilitated student team collaboration in the engineering online course, basically expanding the scope of the course. As online engineering courses become more prevalent, virtual world technology will play an integral role in offering a more engaging and academically rich environment, especially in the area of student collaboration, communication and interaction with 3D models.

Avanzato, R. L. (2017, June), Virtual World Technology to Support Student Collaboration in an Online Engineering Course Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--29106

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2017 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015