I’ve been thinking nostalgically back this morning to my earliest foray into teaching and learning in virtual environments at Kingston University with the launch in 1994 of the ICP Online, an Erasmus Virtual Mobility programme to address the restrictions on exchanging significant numbers of students between European universities in my Kingston-led Erasmus project (ICP-UK-1429). Supported by bespoke video chat rooms and quiz software for formative assessment, both developed at Kingston University, the web-based ‘virtual university’ offered a common core programme of study to students in all of the participating universities. The ‘twinning’ of students across ten European universities from 1995 ensured inter-institutional collaborations at student level. Participating students were, at the end of the course, awarded a ‘Virtual Mover Certificate of Participation’.
I’d conceptualised and founded the inter-university ‘Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Collaborative Learning Environments’ in the mid-1990s. The acronym gave us the name of our virtual university, CircleU, when the programme was extended in the years 1997 to 2000 to include real-time MUVE-based collaboration, first in a Kingston-built VRML2 virtual campus and, subsequently, in ActiveWorlds (at that time the most fully functioned and widely used multi-user virtual environment). Lectures were delivered in-world through avatars, while all teaching materials were made accessible in-world to participating students; online teaching was complemented by very successful Summer Schools in Spain and Italy. A few indicative screenshots of CircleU, and photographs from the Summer Schools, are displayed below:
The decision was taken in 2000 by the then School of Information Systems to shelve the development of the Masters programme and hence, sadly, to no longer support the project at Kingston University. All development ceased in that year.
I moved on to other things, though in retrospect I was silly to have done so. For in the years 1994 to 2000 we had pioneeringly laid the foundations for an innovative and highly successful virtual university. But, alas, at the time it was hard to see the wood for the trees and so our achievements were not so obviously apparent to me. Time now, 12 years further on, to work on it anew.