Newswise — Appalachian State University and Clemson University are partnering in research, development, and implementation studies related to 3-D virtual worlds through the newly established Carolinas Virtual World Consortium.

The consortium will leverage both universities' faculty expertise to secure funding that will drive research and innovations in virtual world technologies, practices and implementations, particularly those focused on education and training, according to Sean Williams, associate dean of the graduate school at Clemson University and associate professor in Clemson's Department of English.

"The experience of Appalachian faculty in using virtual worlds as part of a learning environment and the research resources of Clemson make this partnership a natural," said Dick Riedl, a professor in Appalachian's Reich College of Education.

The two universities have already collaborated on grant proposals to help fund their work.

"We've assembled an amazing team of researchers and teachers. and the creative synergy we've generated positions us to ask - and answer - some questions that nobody else has even considered yet," Williams said.

Riedl, along with Appalachian professors John Tashner and Stephen Bronack, created the software program Appalachian Education Technology Zone to enhance the online learning of master's degree students enrolled in Appalachian's instructional technology, library science, educational leadership, and curriculum and instruction programs. The 3-D computer environment received the 2006 Campus Technology Innovators Award from Campus Technology Magazine.

The Clemson team represents disciplines from across the campus, such as computer science and educational technology, as well as communication, rhetoric, industrial engineering, psychology and sociology. "These researchers have already earned significant federal funding for their work, most notably from the National Science Foundation, led conferences on virtual worlds, published a number of research papers, and most recently were asked to prepare a special edition of the internationally respected journal, Technical Communication, on 3-D virtual worlds in workplace settings," Williams said.

The growing popularity of 3-D virtual worlds and their potential merger with e-commerce will likely change the way companies and clients conduct business in the future. For example, IBM recently created a virtual business center to facilitate interaction between their sales people and clients. Kimberly-Clark uses virtual reality technology to better understand consumer behavior.

It is estimated that people spend more than $1.5 billion (in real currency) on virtual items every year as part of their online game playing or virtual world interactions. That number is expected to climb as the popularity of virtual interactions grows.

Research from the consortium will help inform regional, national, and international policy makers of the educational and economic impact of virtual worlds and similar social and immersive technologies. The consortium also will promote and support policies related to employing and implementing virtual worlds in educational settings.

"There is a lot of potential for the three-dimensional environment," Riedl said. "There is a real sense of presence in these worlds that is missing from interactions via e-mail, blogs and Web pages. We know that when people have a strong since of presence, they are more engaged in what they are doing, whether it's taking a class or collaborating on a project. If we can take the lead in understanding the power of these kinds of programs and how they are best used, we will have contributed a great deal to the field."

Register for reporter access to contact details