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Virtual Worlds Case Study:

Colorado Tech

Colorado Technical University is a for-profit institution providing both undergraduate and graduate education, with campuses in five cities and extensive online offerings. The essential focus of the Colorado Tech island in Second Life was marketing-driven — that is, the project was conceived from the beginning as a vehicle for recruiting —but the institution also wants to provide significant educational offerings in Second Life. These educational outcomes were developed as direct extensions of the institution’s already existing strong online presence.

As such there were five critical design challenges that needed to be met for successful completion of the effort:

  1. A campus needed to be created, in both form and function, that all five campuses of the CTU family could feel meet their unique needs; this campus needed to have the “feel” of a real-life college campus, and also reflect the unique mission of CTU.
  2. The sim needed to provide an engaging showcase for student work, which would be drawn from projects in the disciplines of engineering and computer sciences.
  3. Fully half the sim needed to be devoted to completely flexible use by classes and faculty.
  4. The sim needed to draw high traffic counts to meet its recruiting goals; as such, both retail and event spaces were included.
  5. Prims needed to be used very efficiently to allow a sufficient number to be devoted to classroom use; as such the entire project had to be designed so that at least 50% of the prims would still be available upon completion.

A design was developed using a scale model which easily allowed a variety of ideas to be explored before full-scale construction began. The final design essentially used a model of Pike’s Peak, a central feature of CTU’s headquarters city of Colorado Springs, to divide the island into two halves. The “front half” was designed to be the arrival point on the sim, and would include a number of richly detailed and textures architectural spaces. These included an Alumni Center that could be used for gatherings with prospective students and supporters; a gallery that would feature artworks from Second Life; an amphitheater for formal events with a stunning view of the mountain; a retail space; a student showcase; and a conference room.

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To meet the marketing and recruitment goals of the project, special “welcoming” scripts verbally greet visitors, and during business hours, provide a live link to a real person at the CTU admissions offices.

As the project proceeded, a design challenge unfolded as to how to make student work, which generally focused on programming skills rather than design, “fit” visually with the richly detailed architecture of the campus. The solution was inspired by the work of one of the CTU faculty, Cynthia Cologne (aka Lyr Lobo), who used the theme of an amusement park to structure student projects in her programming classes. For example, for one of the projects students designed a Ferris wheel as a solution to a problem involving nested rotations.

A boardwalk was developed to provide a home for these projects, and included a handful of permanent “carnival” elements like a Hall of Mirrors, a House of Horrors, and cotton candy and hot dog vendors. Spaces in between these allowed the placement of the student-made amusement park rides in a way that provided a contextual enhancement to both the campus and the student work. Retail spaces were placed adjacent to the boardwalk so that CTU-branded materials — t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc. — could easily be distributed, adding to the playful element of the concept.

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The mountain itself was used to create wandering nature trails that encouraged exploration. A conference facility was placed on the top of the mountain, and provides a sweeping view of the entire sim and the NMC Campus estate which the island adjoins.

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The two-story Campus Information Center, the focal point of the campus, sits at the base of the mountain. Water elements make the division between building and landscape subtle and fluid.

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The back side of the island was landscaped into eight flexible instructional areas, each 40 x 40 meters. Careful placement of trees and other natural elements provided an element of privacy to classes while tying the two halves of the project together visually. Waterfalls, lush greenery, and natural outdoor sounds accentuate the environment. Animated creatures, some of which are scripted to come when virtual food is placed out, add an element of discovery to the sim and encourage exploration.

Colorado Tech is open to the public and can be visited via http://slurl.com/secondlife/Colorado%20Tech/200/126/22