The motivation for the lab..
I've had a few comments...both off-line and on-line about the motivation for and use of the lab. Most have been constructive (some clearly not). So I thought that I would provide some background...
The lab was funded from the University through a Provost Opportunity Grant. This mechanism attempts to support unique and innovative educational opportunities that have the potential to have a significant impact on the educational mission and values of the University. The Virtual Worlds lab was strongly supported by the School of Engineering in going forward to the Provost's office.
While I can't say what was in the minds of the Administration in approving the grant, I can provide a summary of the background of the project (largely excerpted from the original proposal):
The new Virtual Worlds facility is intended to be used as a focal point for a broadly based experiential learning environment, thus it is strongly consistent with the University and School's mission and values! Here, the term “Virtual Worlds” is understood to mean the area of simulation and gaming in its broadest sense. The new facility coupled with an associated educational thrust has the potential to form the basis for extensive positive change in core engineering courses, CSE SAGES seminars, and a large variety of courses in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department and possibly in other CSE departments.
Such a thrust can form a framework to (1) permeate the teaching environment of the School and the EECS department with strongly experiential-based learning opportunities, (2) re-energize existing undergraduate courses, (3) provide the basis of new, relevant, and exciting courses, and (4) serve as the basis of a new interdisciplinary curriculum that will provide diverse, immersive learning opportunities for specific cross-school fields such as art, dentistry, medicine, and music.
The general area of simulation and gaming is having a tremendous influence in a large number of disparate commercial, governmental, and educational contexts. While in the regional and national economy, simulation represents a significant component in this framework, the gaming area alone represents an incredibly large market (over $10B/yr) for technology. Providing an education directed at contributing to technology in this area coupled with the use of games and simulations to motivate educational development presents a compelling opportunity for CSE and EECS. While there are a variety of universities that are beginning to explore and implement curricula in this area, Case stands out in being one of the only research and educational institutions that emphasizes fundamental concepts while at the same time proposing to use games and simulations as a major vehicle for educational experiences and as the basis for a new curriculum.
School of Engineering and University Relevance
The lab will also provide the School of Engineering with a cornerstone facility that is of broad potential interest to students, research sponsors, and supporters of the School. Demonstrations and direct experience with the auditory, visual, and tactile experiences involved in virtual simulation and gaming will keep the EECS department at the forefront of technology in this area of direct relevance to our lives.
The EECS Department has one of the largest undergraduate student populations in the university. It is hoped that this facility coupled with the immersion of students in simulation and gaming experiences throughout the existing curriculum and the development of a new curriculum thrust in this area will significantly re-energize the undergraduate teaching and learning engineering experience and provide a mechanism for our students to interact, in a concrete, substantive manner with non-engineering students across Case, the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA), and the Cleveland Institute of Music (CIM).
In particular this year will see the first offering of EECS 396L - Advanced Game Project which is an interdisciplinary course taken by EECS students, music students, english students, and Cleveland Institute of Art students. This is promising to be an extraordinarily exciting course in which large student teams will conceptualize, realize, and implement games of their own creation, i.e from concept to wrapper.
This year will also see the implementation of EECS 290 - An Introduction to Computer Gaming and Game Design course. This course is an introduction to many aspects of computer game design and programming and is directed at students who have only had ENGR 131 - the freshman Elementary Computer Programming course.
Finally, this year will also see the use of the lab in our more traditional courses: Artificial Intelligence, Networks, Graphics, and Simulation to provide an exciting motivational and instructional framework. I think that it is important to point out that the area of gaming represents a computationally "stressful" application...in that many games use the full range of available computer resources - ranging from requiring specially designed architectures, high processor speeds, advanced graphics capability, and sophisticated programming techniques - all of which indicates that developing capabilities in these gaming related areas should clearly provide the student with the tools to apply these basic ideas in other applications.
Next year an additional course at an intermediate level (presuming a pre-requisite of Data Structures course) will be offered.
In summary the attraction of the lab (and presumably why it was funded) is that it will satisfy several of the important goals noted earlier: allowing for the offering of new and exciting courses in the important application area of gaming, providing a facility to be used as an experientially oriented application framework in our more traditional courses, and as a vehicle for strongly cross-disciplinary courses and projects across the University (and University Circle!).
Wow...that was certainly a long blog entry for me...but I hope that I've been able to address some of the concerns that have been raised. Please do not hesitate to raise others with me...though in a few weeks I will be in the throes of the new semester (teaching EECS 396L - the game project course that I noted earlier and EECS 351 - Introduction to Communication Systems and dealing with the final construction and operation of the lab!) and will likely have little time for blogging!
Thanks and hope that you're enjoying the end of the summer!