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Case study : Anthropology in UNISTRA

Page history last edited by David Gauckler 6 years ago


University of Strasbourg (UNISTRA)




1.1 Decision making process

This course is part of a more general project including tests on the use of VW in teaching.

The project is split in two phases:

  1. Firstly, a course about the virtual reconstitution of ethnographic fields;

  2. Secondly, build a scenography around serious games applied to cultural anthropology. 

This course is about phase one. 

The two main purposes of the course was: 

- acquiring the skills in 3D modeling in the Opensim environment and using Open Source tools and softwares;

- acquiring the basic techniques in ethnographic fields reconstitutions inside virtual universes destined for teaching and research. 

The goal of the project is to demonstrate that it is possible to reconstituate (rebuild) ethnographic fields in virtual environments with an educational purpose. The 3D modeling of a part of a french Guyana Teko village named Camopi has been chosen as an example. The project lies upon ethnographic materials earned between 1970 and 1990. Another aspect is to introduce students in cultural anthropology to 3D modeling as a tool that expands the visualization processes of ethnographic fieldwork with virtual immersive capabilities. 

The speaker had the opportunity to benefit the strong support of the department in charge of the development of new technologies in education. He has also additional skills that allow him to fix most of the problems including technical problems. 


To the best of our knowledge, this course is the only one proposed in this field. The added value was to proof by this course that VW could be an interesting matter for the anthropology

The course involves a face-to-face component. A first session was held in face to face to explain the course and to be sure that everyone has enough autonomy to engage the distance sessionIt is difficult to evaluate the outcomes of the course in terms of competencies because it is rather an open mind course. It was the first time the course had been delivered in such a way because the in-house VW existes only since 2013


Before this session, in face to face,  the approach was only theoretical, this time students were able to create by themselves and test a VW in that purpose. The materials was the same than in the face to face course, the only difference was in the way they were used. All the material from the previous sessions in face to face session were available in this course through the different signs created for this occasion.

This course will be given again in 2015.


Technical supports

The University of Strasbourg decided in 2012 to launch a project which aimed to create a VW for education, research and employability for its students. The fact that we built everything from scratch allow us to prevent the most classic problems. Our main technician was also strongly involved in teaching and this was a real asset for the courses.

The promotion of VW is taken into account by the digital uses department, there are increasing participants in this project and the idea is to set up a system where some designers’ students would create teaching environment for other students. Some workshops are also organized to promote the use of VW as simple users but also as “builders”. It is of course not possible to create everything from scratch. So we have our own WV and we can set up a dedicated area on demand


The pre-train of the participants is a key element of the success. Our answer was to propose a tutorial in the welcome region with a short run with different steps, in each step the user has to do something to familiar himself with the environment. 


1.2 Aims/objectives

Specific aims/objectives of the course/learning event should be defined taking into account:

The target was Students L1 in anthropoly. The course was compulsory.

The teacher is an anthropologist but also an expert in cyber technologies. He built the whole region and is also involved in several others projects in the VW 

As explained above: The goal of the project is to demonstrate that it is possible to reconstituate (rebuild) ethnographic fields in virtual environments with an educational purpose. Students acquired the skills in 3D modeling in the Opensim environment and used Open Source tools and softwares;

They also acquired the basic techniques in ethnographic fields reconstitutions inside virtual universes destined for teaching and research.


1.3 Funding

There are no extra cost for this, everything is provided but the central services

We have all the expertise but it is limited to some experimental courses.


1.4 Environment and the participants

The UNISTRA use its own virtual world which is called EVER. Every teacher has the opportunity to deliver a course in the virtual world.

  • 14 students of anthropology
  • The course delivery took place in face-to-face sessions at University and online in the in-house VW

We have a welcome region for the first connexion with a tutorial. This could be considered a meeting point. Another idea is to create groups so teachers can see if his students are connected or not and find them if there are lost.

The teacher involved in the course were also the creator of the virtual region. The location was really dedicated and we have not still too much external visitors till now 

Back up plans were always prepared, the teacher had an adobe connect account if necessary and the course had also a parallel session in Moodle


Because of the the way that this course was built and the fact that it is an open mind course, the demonstration of the possibilities of uses and especially how to customize the avatar, were part of the course.The first part of the course was devoted in handling the Opensim viewer and the study of his main features and control panels. Importance was next given to the avatars and their customization: body, face, hair and clothing. The students were also introduced to the work with the body and clothing templates. These elements were treated again at the end of the course with the NPC (non player character) creations of the indigenous people.


1.5 Logistics and timetabling

Students came from the same country, so there were no problem of synchronisation. 

It is worth noting that major technical (especially sound issues) can take much longer than 10 minutes to solve, especially for new practitioners. Some specific problems due to the student’s personal computer can disturb the course much more than just 10 minutes. This is why we asked a technician to be present during the second session.

There were only one group for a duration of 50 hours.


Extra self-study was not compulsory but warmly welcome. Some of the most involved students went further on and built some elements in the dedicated area

The first session took place in face to face in a specific place with the configured computers. During the first session they created their account and started practicing the VW


1.6 Course syllabus

The two main purposes of the course was: 

- acquiring the skills in 3D modeling in the Opensim environment and using Open Source tools and softwares;

- acquiring the basic techniques in ethnographic fields reconstitutions inside virtual universes destined for teaching and research. 


1.7 Advertising the course

Advertising occur through the host dissemination network: the Internet website of the Faculty and the course document guide.




2.1 Technical issues and support

Technical issues are solved rapidly by the teacher staff.


2.2 Interaction

The students are first trained in the control of the Opensim viewer. The teaching is made live through the vocal channel. The teaching resources (PDF, MP4 video…) are all available on moodle when necessary.


2.2.1 In-world Communication Modes

Several types of communication modes are used:

Active: Written / Spoken inside the virtual world (Opensim): voice and inworld chat. Slide presentations are used in synchronous mode there are shown as panels of information. Students can read them at every moment outside of the course itself. Internet webpages and short videos as demonstration purposes are already used. The chat is used to an exchange between students and for asking questions to the teacher.

Passive: Reading/Listening (Audio/Visual): the documents used in active mode are usable in passive mode. The students can come back at will to read or view them again.

There is no assistant in our course.


2.2.2 Interaction triggers

There are no interaction triggers in our practice.


2.2.3 Session & Group Management

Groups and friends for each group of students are created in the course.

The course is made in openspace: no need to use chairs with controllers. There are regions for the live course and regions for the students to experiment with the creation tools of Opensim.

We use the built in Opensim map and teleportation. To find people, teleport to them or offer a teleport to them, and get them where they need to be we us the friend panel.


2.2.4 Additional Means of Communication

We use also mail, forums through moodle to support communication with and between course participants.


2.3 Resources and Materials

There are available in moodle: videos, webpages links and PDF resources. There are also text panels, videos, webpages available inworld.


2.4 Risks and Ethical issues

The course in not open to general public. Students are well identified and strangers are not allowed to participate. The world is regularly saved to avoid problems with crashes and/or foreign attacks. The Opensim grid of the University of Strasbourg is only for university teaching and research purposes. It has no contact to SL and is therefore safe.




3.1 Participant assessment

The course assessment is generally made outside of the virtual world in form of a report in form of a PDF or an oral exam through Teamspeak or Adobe connect. Inworld group tasks like construction and programming tasks (lsl scripting) can serve for evaluating the students. 


3.2 Virtual exercises: assess or not assess?

The participants are aware in advance of the assessment criteria for their performance during the exercises. Not all aspects of participants’ performance in the virtual world is assessed. We use several types of assessments: inword and IRL like decribed in point 3.1.


3.3 Process of integrating virtual participation in your course description.



3.4 Challenges

We do not use the virtual world in the assessment at this time.


3.5 Evaluation


3.5.1 Course evaluation

Once the course has come to an end the evaluation part will give us an idea of how it worked in order to have the opportunity to improve and/or make changes.


3.5.2 Evaluating tools

We are recording the whole course in video using the fraps application. This allows us to evaluate the course. Other teachers are invited to participate for evaluation too.


3.5.3 Evaluation design

It does not exist at this stage.


3.5.4 Task/activity evaluation

It does not exist at this stage.


3.5.5 Evaluating tools

It does not exist at this stage.



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