nmc virtual worlds

Virtual Worlds Case Study:

Virtual Polluted Ithaca – Cornell

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Interdisciplinary learning through interactive roleplay
This project for Cornell University was the result of collaboration between two traditionally separate faculties coming together within a case study of interest to both.


  • Realistic recreation of a neighbourhood from satellite imagery
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration
  • Support of role play activities and individual, interactive learning

cornell quad

Purpose: This project considered the real life case of ground water pollution in the city of Ithaca, New York, which was of interest to both the Faculty of Law studying the legal implications and ongoing law suits around the case, as well as Engineers and Scientists studying the physical manifestation of the phenomenon. In real life both disciplines are required to interact with each other and local residents to collect data, create reports, represent clients and develop mitigation strategies. In creating a realistic and evocative environment in which to role play, communicate with the other parties and collect data from interactive elements within the sim, this project added these hitherto missing elements from traditional teaching methods within separate faculties that shared common subject matter.

In use: The layout was developed by interpreting satellite imagery and maps to develop the topography of the sim, as well as photographic studies of the neighbourhood to create a realistic and familiar environment that related well to the real world data available such as contaminated plot numbers and ground water seepage locations. Additionally interactive elements such as a gas detector giving a real time read out of the varying level of contamination around the neigbourhood, and a court records office where additional research materials could be located, contributed to create an engaging & rich environment for the students to learn in as well as conduct the role playing exercises. These were conducted in carefully recreated situations such as a resident’s home and a solicitors office.

Because many of the students would be new to Second Life, the project was also supported with a newbie orientation area and ready-made avatars and outfits suitable for immediate use in their role playing scenarios.

Finally, the use of external information sources such as web pages linked directly from in-world elements and the provision of custom tools that allowed the teachers & students themselves to add more material to the experience as they use it has lead to a rich and multi-level experience which demonstrates many of the best uses of Second Life for education in a single project.