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Proposals for the Virtual University - Patrice Arnera & Eric Busch



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Proposals for the Virtual University
Patrice Arnera and Eric Busch
University of Sophia-Antipolis
Nice, France


Today, our world is going through a silent but real revolution: the electronic revolution.

As past revolutions, the industrial revolution for example, this electronic revolution is going to affect the structure of our society significantly and will hence imply drastic changes. In this perspective, every field of human knowledge (arts, sciences, economy...) as well as human behaviors will have to link their evolution to multimedia.

Our purpose will therefore be to bring students and professors together during virtual workshops via the electronic networks. These virtual workshop will serve as a starting point to different reflections on multimedia's influence on different domains as well as for launching experimental projects.

To achieve this, we want to develop a virtual architecture (similar to that of The World Chats) in which participants could meet on-line and, in real time, exchange messages, ideas, etc.


Our purpose is not to create a normal university on-line, but rather to create an added value to already existing university. That is a virtual environment where student, professors, experts and non experts could meet and discuss topics either in workshops, private open discussion or messages: to practice connective intelligence in a structured virtual environment.

What is a workshop?

Workshop: group of people with different qualifications leading a given project to achieve a specific goal. A workshop can be constituted for a limited lap of time (few hours to few months).

In this environment, an exhaustive database of people and documents will be constantly reinforced by the publishing and reading of documents in the Virtual Library.

For the moment, the Virtual Reality University is located in the Alpha Worlds, a virtual world in which 75 000 registered users live. The VRU is located next to Sherwood Towne which is a virtual city which served as the basis of social experiments on human behaviors in virtual worlds.

The VRU is a multinational university constructed by the world 24hr a day in all time zones and where users can be everywhere and nowhere and are not restricted with being somewhere.


In general terms, the project aims at distributing knowledge in multimedia technology and networks among university students and professors in order to prepare them to tomorrow's electronic world and to practice "connective intelligence" in a structured virtual environment.

More precisely, the VRU has the following aims:

To create a "transnational" university:

A university in which students and professors from the whole world could interact, and therefore bring together their cultural differences in the purpose of connective intelligence.

To design for tomorrow by matching practice and theory by:

1. Supporting lifelong learning:

As we have mentioned in the introduction, today technologies are evolving so fast that people constantly need to update their knowledge in a certain field in order to keep up to date and avoid becoming obsolete.
This implies that people do not have to go to university for 5 years and then never come back anymore, but rather that they will have to go through different phases of training at different period in their professional lives.

2. Enhancing the cooperation between students and professionals:

Through workshops run by professionals, databases, using real-life simulations, ... students will get a better insight of what their future professional career will look like if they follow such or such kind of studies.

The above also implies an improvement in connective intelligence by sharing and exchanging information and expertise and an enhancement of the cooperation between the academic world and the actual market.

3. To teach multimedia by using multimedia


Just in time education:

This principle is the engine to achieve our aim of providing lifelong learning. The VRU will in fact supply what people will be asking for, at the time they' ll be asking for it.

Learning is exchange:

The end of mass communication also implies the end of mass education. VRUí s mission is to bring back the old model of mentors and followers and transforms the lecture to a journey of initiation through the virtual world and towards knowledge. In this perspective, the VRU refuses the Push U Pull U model of education to an exchange model of education.

How you learn and also a certain curiosity attitude/ question in attitudes.
Different from the academic system, virtual university has a flat hierarchy, there is not a single person with all the knowledge but every person has the same status. Exchange of information is the main rule of the virtual university.

Learning is exchanging and not only receiving information/knowledge.

This will be an open university, where professionals, students, and novices can meet and exchange knowledge, information. Students can meet people who work in a professional environment and share their working experiences. On the other hand, professionals can inform themselves about a specific topic for a given project. Otherwise, they can re-fresh their knowledge.
Workshops can be created in short term with the help of the registrar.

Enviromorphing according to user profile:

Enviromorphing is the fact that the whole environment is shaped by the userí s own characteristics. By defining a profile on their first log-in, users will state their field of interests, and during their journey, the environment will be constantly reshaped to match his profile. User will therefore have access only to what they are really looking for. When people come to the virtual university, they can choose, very precisely their own information. They can also consult and contact the persons that they want, following their interests of the moment.
As we have seen before, this feasible by letting user define his profile at anytime as well as the system recognizing the user's evolution.
Define default keywords or criteria which can be customized. Can have as much as possible to as refined as possible, or remain at a basic level.

In the register, people give in their names, e-mail addresses, working qualifications, field of interests, and also workshop participation. People are selected in this register by their profiles. The register is the key to find contacts and people in a specific field of knowledge. In the register, you put out the people which you are interested for formation of new workshops. In this way, the register creates a real database.

Here is an example of which information a student and a professional profile will be looking for:

Profile: students

identify level ( graduate, undergraduate....)

identify the field of study and interests...

identify level of knowledge in a specific topic


get educational background
get a degree, exams
get a knowledge in this specific topic
take part in workshops or discussion (exchange ideas)
visit other fields of study as those taken in real university
prepare a professional career
update info obtained during previous years of studies
launch projects or participate in experiments
meet students, experts ...
get in different kind of education

To bring

a new vision
connective intelligence
proposal for discussion
receptive brains
research papers to be published in the library
cultural aspects depending on backgrounds


library (both reading and posting)
chat rooms
simulation room
classrooms, workshops...
all areas but should respect a certain behavior.

Profile: professional


  • search info
  • do a specific workshop
  • refresh knowledge, actualize knowledge
  • talk to other professional- researcher/ talk to students
  • search for cooperation
  • info about the university or curriculum
  • to do a simulation or an experiment

To bring

  • real life working experience
  • publications or others products
  • teacher
  • give consultancy: contribute to a discussion
  • request for research, stagiaire

Access to

  • Library ( non confidential info)
  • public places in the university
  • open discussion rooms
  • meet person

General services of university

  • Library
  • environment for workshop-team work
  • environment for individual studies courses-contact with teacher
  • place to meet colleagues, specialists, professionals (informal, organized specific discussion)
  • university information desk
  • a simulation room/ room to set up experiment- ask for students to be the best person
  • place to leave publication or products
  • classroom to teach-or videoconferencing

  • Provide a virtual staff

    Not only will there be a real staff, composed of professors, experts and professionals but there will also be a virtual staff. The virtual staff will consist of bots. Bots will be used as automated serving of classrooms and instructors, guides, people finders, librarian bots...


On-line chats

Documents published in the library

News wall:

A wall where messages about what is going on in the VRU at what time, for example, the organization of workshops, conferences, recruitment, contacts...
The News Wall will follow the concept of enviromorphing and propose only what fits in the userí s profile.


The library is the place where users search information about such or such topic. The library will consist of a data base with links to Web sites as well as article published by users themselves (similar to a visual newsgroup).
The library contain a data base of people and contacts and will of course follow the enviromorphing concept.


For the moment, the Virtual Reality University is built in the Alpha Worlds. However, we intend to develop the Virtual University in the VRML 2 language as soon as the technology becomes available.

Here is an example of a possible scenario which could occur at the Virtual Reality University:

  1. Landing
  2. Student looking for orientation level: graduated from high school, looking for a major in communication
  3. Student meet Bot is a guide: Bot greets students, Asks him what he wants to do
  4. Bots tells student to follow him
  5. Bots guides the student inside the communication corridor
  6. Walking through the corridor, the student finds a door marked ěMass Communicationî
  7. Interested by this field, the student goes in the the room and faces several other options. One of them is broadcasting.
  8. The student, very much interested by this field of study enters the room and the bots leaves him.
  9. At this point, the student goes into the workshop rooms and meets a U student who tells him about the functioning of the workshop and explains the library and the simulation room. TheU student brings him to a mailbox and by clicking on it access the room coordinator's e-mail.
  10. After an overview of what this field of study offers, the student meets a guide bot who gives him the advice to go to the simulation room.


The library is the place where users search information about such or such topic. The library will consist of a data base with links to Web sites as well as article published by users themselves (similar to a visual newsgroup).

The library contains a data base of people and contacts, and will of course follow the enviromorphing concept.

The aim here is to create a self running database accessible by all to facilitate the search of information and prevent obsolescence of information.

The library could also be accessed by all as a pay-for-information database and could be used as a worldwide database constantly refilled by researchers publishing their latest results or thesis. Publishing information could be free, and access to documents could be payable either by the number of minutes spent or by the number of documents consulted.

The VRU could be physically hosting this enormous database, which could be accessible by every forums, firms or anyone in the world at any time.

This could become the fastest way of getting latest trends in such or such domain, and hence a necessary tool for forums students, experts as well as researchers.


For the moment, the Virtual Reality University is built in the Alpha Worlds. In the Alpha Worlds, the Virtual University is accessible through our Web page by following this procedure:

Downloading the Alpha Worlds software from

Teleport to the virtual forums by clicking on Teleport to the VRU Main Gate on our VRU Prototype Web page

Here is an illustration of what the VRU looks like in its demo shape:
Overhead view of VRU Library

Shown here from above is a corridor linking a room to the library.

An independent Alpha Worlds server dedicated to education will soon be available and the first draft of the VRU will be located there. This first draft will be part of TheU project which is developped by Contact Consortium.

However, we intend to develop the Virtual University in the VRML 2 language as soon as the technology becomes available.


Here is an example of a possible scenario which could occur at the Virtual Reality University:

In this simulation, the student is writing a thesis on experimental psychology and is therefore looking for supporting material in the VRU.

The student meets a bot who welcomes him and asks him what he is looking for.

The student answers that he is looking for some supporting material for his thesis.

The bot teleports him to the library in which only materials referring to the students field of interest are indexed.

In the library, the student is reading through the index and select a document by Dr. Psychoexpert.

The students instantaneously receives the document in his e-mailbox and along with the document is a note saying that Dr. Psychoexpert will be running a workshop on such topic in the VRU between such and such dates.

The student, interested by attending a workshop ran by Dr. Psychoexpert returns to the VRU on these dates and takes part in the discussion.

Here is another possible scenario:

Mr. Drawthings is working on the layout of posters and printed works. He as recently bought computers in order to integrate Computer Aided Design to his work. However, Mr. Drawthings has never learned to work with computers. He has heard of the Virtual Realtiy University and its Lifelong Learning concept. Mr. Drawthings decides to visit the VRU in order to update his knowledge on that matter.

Mr. Drawthings arrives at the VRU Main Gate and is greeted by a bot. the bot looks human and uses common language, thus making Mr. Drawthings feel at ease.

The bot asks Mr. Drawthings about what he wants to do, and Mr. Drawthings answers that he would like to know more about Computer Aided Design softwares.

The bot teleports Mr. Drawthings to a room in which small demos of Computer Aided Design softwares are running.

Mr. Drawthings clicks on a computer labelled "Pictureshop 4.2", the software that he would like to use on his machines.

Mr. Drawthings gets a short description of the software and screen shots describing its main features as well as screen videos showing "how to".

Interested by this software, Mr. Drawthings clicks on a button labelled download software.

A dialogue box appears asking Mr. Drawthings if he allows his financial information to be uploaded to the FTP server.

Mr. Drawthings acknowledges yes and confirms his choice.

The VRU connects on an FTP server, and in a matter of minutes, Mr. Drawthings receives the complete software.

Mr. Drawthings is also informed that they are several workshops or lecture sessions in the VRU that constantly explain the evolution of softwares and teach users how to use them.

This screen shot shows a student in the VRU:



Patrice ARNERA


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