Virtual campus simulates challenges Georgian students face in the workplace
February 06, 2013

Students at Georgian College’s Orillia Campus are tackling complex issues that can’t easily be replicated in the classroom thanks to the online 3D world Second Life. Using advanced gaming technology, they’ve adopted life-like avatars – graphic representations of themselves – and are collaborating on real-world professional scenarios.

Image of Georgian College's virtual campus

Georgian College’s virtual campus allows students to tackle real-world challenges that can’t always be replicated in the classroom.

The Second Life campus houses a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder resource centre, a conference centre, counselling labs, meeting spaces and more. Currently, Child and Youth Worker students are using the virtual campus to practice therapeutic interventions and hone their counselling skills.

“Georgian’s virtual campus allows students to work through some of the more difficult scenarios they may face in the workplace in a safe, non-threatening environment,” says program co-ordinator Dr. Howard Bloom, who is facilitating a seminar in Second Life that runs concurrent to his students’ field placements. “It has helped to break down some of the initial anxiety students can feel about practising their counselling and intervention skills in front of peers. The confidence they gain in the virtual world can help them excel out in the real one.”

Student Amber Miller agrees. “Second Life allows me to plan and deliver presentations with minimum anxiety so I can perform with confidence,” she says. “I am a hands-on learner, so I really enjoy the experience.”

Professor Adam Stibbards tested out the virtual campus in one of his interactive counselling labs. He says the implications for such online technology are far more reaching than the classroom. “Students saw how this technology could be used working every day with children and youth,” he notes. “They believed that technology could be a real benefit for children or youth who are too shy or resistant to talk in a face-to-face setting.”

Students in virtual world walk into counselling labs

Students can hone their skills in Georgian’s virtual counselling labs.

The virtual campus resides on a Georgian College island created by Computer Studies students as part of a systems project course taught by Jaret Wright. The course pairs students with local organizations to help them automate an aspect of their business. In this case, students were matched internally with Bloom who shared with the students some of the limitations faced when delivering particular courses.

The students worked with Bloom on the project from vision through to implementation. They not only had the opportunity to strengthen their technical expertise, but they learned how to run a project and work as a high-performing team – skills Wright says all employers desperately need, but sometimes struggle to find.

“This project is a great example of the interdisciplinary approach Georgian takes to education,” says Mary O’Farrell-Bowers, Dean of the Orillia Campus. “Computer Studies students benefitted from using their technical skills on a real-world project while connecting with course content in an area they traditionally may not have been exposed to. This type of collaboration is a win-win for all.”

Plans are in the works to expand Georgian’s use of Second Life.

  • Bloom is piloting virtual office hours, where students can meet with him to talk about any questions or concerns they may have about course content or other college-related matters – right from the comfort of their own homes.
  • Police Studies is designing a traffic accident scene for an investigations course.
  • Community and Justice Services is developing an online correctional environment.

Funding for Georgian’s virtual island was made possible thanks to a grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder education and research.