EBM and Clinical Support Librarians@UCHC

A blog for medical students, faculty and librarians about their use of evidence based medicine, clinical literature, Web 2.0, sources and search strategies

News, Web 2.0, Technologies, Virtual Worlds: Creating Stage Sets, Telling Virtual Stories

Last month on this blog I posted about how many of us who use the Internet know little about programming or technical requirements which enable the front webpage of the library to interact with the backpage (or, all those strings and gadgets that allow the front end to operate seamlessly). Perhaps the same analogy could be drawn for folks who spend time in Second Life or Lively but have little knowledge of how these virtual environments are technically assembled and manipulated, worlds which appear to have 3-dimensional depth, sound and color but are lacking any form of physical substance.

This post is about how students at Carnegie Mellon University, working in small groups, learn to create virtual environments from the beginning. They are becoming digital storytellers by participating in a course entitled Building Virtual Worlds, one of the many accomplishments of CMU professor Randy Pausch. The power of their group – thinking together and problem-solving – is greater than any of its individual members… a theory powerfully illustrated for me as I watch medical students solve clinical questions together in PBL.

Following is some background information about this CMU course:

Head-Mounted Display Building Virtual Worlds’ goal is to take students with varying talents, backgrounds, and perspectives and put them together to do what they couldn’t do alone. The key thing is that there are no “idea people” in the course; everyone must share in the mechanical creation of the worlds. Students use 3D modeling software (Maya), painting software (Photoshop), sound editing software (Adobe Audition and Pro Tools), and Panda3D, a programming library originally developed by Walt Disney Imagineering’s Virtual Reality studio, to display our virtual reality worlds. The course uses unique platforms such as the Head-Mounted Display and Trackers, the Jam-O-Drum, the TrackBox, the Playmotion, camera-based audience interaction techniques, Quasi the robot, and others. hello.World

Note that the course does not try to teach artists to program, or engineers to paint. Teams are formed where everyone does what they’re already skilled at to attack a joint project.

The Show itself is a collection of student-created worlds. Each world was comprised of a four to five student team and was completed in a two to three week time period. In all, 80 worlds were created this semester (2007)! The worlds were a vast array of stories and silliness, ideas and ingenuity, and we just wish we could show them all. “

The 2007 Virtual Worlds Show was held on campus at Carnegie Mellon on Dec 5 2007, and the work was shown in front of a live audience. I watched several of the student projects.

This one stayed with me: “Help Me Carrot Eye“, created by Will Houng, Chris Antimary, Shaun Budhram, and Ross Popoff in 2004. I needed to watch it a couple of times in order to appreciate the depth of the landscape illustrations (and the story line):


To view links to archives of video or other projects by CMU students, click here or here.


Randy Pausch was an exceptional educator who passed away on Jul 25 2008 at the age of 47, from complications of pancreatic cancer. Many of you probably have heard of (or listened to) his Last Lecture, taped Sept 18 2007, which has been viewed 5.5 million times on YouTube. Following is a link to the CMU Computer Science department page describing his work:

Randy Pausch joined the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science faculty in 1997 with appointments in the Computer Science Department, the Human-Computer Interaction Institute and the School of Design. He soon launched an interdisciplinary course called Building Virtual Worlds, in which student teams designed interactive animations. A showcase of the projects attracted a standing-room-only crowd to the campus’ largest auditorium [held annually during finals week]… Pausch and Don Marinelli, professor of drama and arts management, extended this approach by creating the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a joint program of the School of Computer Science and the College of Fine Arts. This master’s degree program trains artists, engineers and computer scientists to work together as they spearhead developments in digital storytelling and other new forms of entertainment technology…. He was a key member of the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Perhaps his most ambitious effort was Alice, a computer programming environment that enables novices to create 3-D computer animations using a drag-and-drop interface. Students concentrate on making movies and games, but they also are learning to program. Carnegie Mellon makes downloads of the Alice software available for free at www.alice.org “.


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