This SBIR Phase II project, "A multi-user virtual Biology environment for discovery-oriented science education", is intended for consideration under the NIH Development of Discovery-Oriented Software and Tools for Science Education category through the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) following a Phase I project with the same title. The Virtual Cell is a multiuser, fully immersive 3D virtual environment for learning cell biology. While exploring the simulation, students are able to identify organelles, perform experiments, diagnose faulty cell mechanisms, and collaborate with other users on their work. This virtual world is coupled with the Virtual Cell Animation Project, an award-winning series of animations of biological processes that occur in plant and animal cells. These efforts have been shown to improve student understanding of cell biology in a number of controlled studies (McClean et al., 2001;Slator et al., 2005;McClean et al., 2005). WoWiWe Instruction Co is in partnership with the One-To-One Institute through the Kauffman Foundation in a project to distribute the Virtual Cell to secondary school students in Michigan. Approximately 3,000 students will be included in a pilot study starting in Fall 2009. Following a successful pilot project, full deployment to 150,000 students will occur in 2010. One of the goals of the NIH is to "develop, maintain, and renew scientific human and physical resources that will assure the Nation's capability to prevent disease". The development of human resources as health professionals remains a high priority for the NIH and the nation as a whole. To further this mission, WoWiWe Instruction Co proposes to engage in a commercial endeavor to expand the content of the Virtual Cell virtual world and sell it to interested parties, primarily secondary school students, ranging from casual adopters to schools and others who will use it in a more structured fashion. Five objectives have been identified to maximize the technical and commercial effectiveness of the Virtual Cell: Objective 1: Convert six animations to fully immersive, interactive learning modules Objective 2: Build server infrastructure to handle anticipated users of the Virtual Cell learning environment and measure the throughput of the infrastructure prototype to determine efficacy for Phase III efforts. Objective 3: Implement appropriate educational levels for the new modules using reproducible methods. Objective 4: Beta test deployment methods by adding implemented modules through a hosted website and measuring student feedback with anonymous survey instruments Objective 5: Implement innovative automated agent based software testing. This Phase II project will position WoWiWe Instruction Co to open revenue streams through both collection of Virtual Cell modules and other IVE technologies in other content areas. This in turn will support marketing to different demographics (across the K-grey continuum). These revenue streams will allow us to continue to research more effective methodologies for educating the future health scientists and professionals of tomorrow.
The relevance of this project to public health is three-fold. First, the research is aimed at developing and distributing new models for science education, thus providing new methods of learning in the classroom and leading to a more scientifically literate public. Second, through test results, this project lays the groundwork for other topics to be developed for science education in the same media. Third, the project promotes learning of the sciences in a virtual modality, like the online games that currently absorb our youth: for example, World of Warcraft and Second Life, among many others.