Georgia district implements virtual-world technology

Virtual simulations will help engage students, district officials said.

A major metropolitan school district has announced that it will offer a 3D virtual-world environment to every classroom teacher in its 35 schools.

Forsyth County Schools in metro Atlanta, Georgia’s ninth-largest school district with 38,000 students, is using Dreamland Metaverse to host the NOBLE Virtual World on the OpenSim platform, which offers the ability for enterprise-level account management, school groups, and tools and procedures that make for a secure online environment for students.

Forsyth County Schools has attempted to use virtual-world technology in the past, but concerns about student safety and a lack of management tools prevented the district from fully implementing a virtual world.

“NOBLE” stands for New Opportunities for Better Learning Experiences, said Jill Hobson, the district’s director of instructional technology.

The system will let district ed-tech leaders “deliver immersive learning adventures that engage students in more authentic and engaging ways,” she added.

Unlike digital games, a virtual world is not pre-scripted, and users are able to create whatever they might imagine. Many educators champion the use of virtual worlds to promote student creativity, construction, role playing, and collaboration.

For instance, developers have built a to-scale model of a section of the Berlin Wall to help students understand aspects of the Cold War.

“After visiting the 3D model, with its guard towers, dog runs, booby-traps, and barricades, the students internalized the Soviet repression of East Germany in a real and meaningful way,” said Steve Mashburn, the grid master for NOBLE. “They developed higher-order thinking skills such as creativity, data analysis and problem-solving by working in teams to devise an escape plan over the wall. They then placed their own graffiti art to the west side of the wall to express their understanding of the Cold War.”

“For the first time, we are no longer constrained by the limitations of time, space, and physical resources,” said Bailey Mitchell, the district’s chief technology and information officer. “Students can build any world they can imagine—from a space station to a medieval castle. They can reenact the moon landing or the signing of the Magna Carta within the NOBLE World. Anything is possible!”

Educators are enthusiastic about the opportunities the 3D virtual world presents.

“This program is educational on so many different levels,” said fifth grade teacher Tracey Abercrombie, an early adopter. “I’m excited to bring in the economic lessons of supply and demand, as well as profit/loss, when they begin buying and selling in their virtual stores.  The sense of community that is building through this experience is awesome, and I can see talents in my students that I wouldn’t normally get to see. This is the most fun I’ve had in my career.”

Other resources and companies for educational virtual worlds include:

Media Grid

  • Media Grid standards, technologies, and initiatives are developed by an international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, and companies. Immersive Education, a Media Grid initiative, is an award-winning learning platform that combines interactive 3D graphics, commercial game and simulation technology, virtual reality, voice chat, web cameras, and rich digital media with collaborative online course environments and classrooms.

Project ScienceSpace

  • This resource aims to explore the strengths and limits of virtual reality (sensory immersion, 3D representation) as a medium for science education. The project is a joint research venture among George Mason University, the University of Houston, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Active Worlds


  • In 2011, the company announced a joint collaboration with Exeter Township School District (Reading, Pa.) and Manhattan-Ogden USD in Kansas to pilot Avatar Storytellers, an immersive learning virtual-world curricula for grades 5-7. Students inhabit customized avatars and write 3D avatar-based quests and digital stories inside the 3D world. The company hopes to launch a full-scale program in the near future.


  • Educators can create learning interactions such as games, simulations, brainteasers, interactive diagrams, virtual worlds, and more. Educators can embed these interactions into online courses to improve learner engagement.


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