Tabrizi Debuts Virtual Reality-Based Course
By Nancy McGillicuddy
When Professor Moha Tabrizi tried on his new sensory suit in East
Carolina University‰s Technology Innovation Lab, he wasn‰t looking to
create a movie or video game for Nintendo or Xbox, although the
technology is similar.
Instead, the ECU professor of computer science was tracking his
motions in order to create a virtual version of himself for an online
class that will debut on a pilot basis for the spring 2006 semester.
,We are not using this technology for its original use , movies and
video or computer games,Š Tabrizi said. ,Rather, we are recreating the
use of the technology for education.Š
|ECU professor Moha Tabrizi tries on a body motion
capture device for the virtual professor program. (Photo by Nancy
The technology aids an emerging medium known as Agent and Virtual
Reality-based online course delivery system, which has also been
applied to computer game and entertainment systems development. Tabrizi
is using the technology to create a virtual classroom where students
can view lectures online in an environment that mimics a face-to-face
The suit , made up of interacting black PVC piping, motion trackers,
facial trackers and gloves , utilizes the same technology that movie
and video game creators use to track the natural movement of characters
such as athletes in order to create 3-D environments. The suit is worn
to collect the necessary data, but not every time a lecture is
presented. The recorded movements of the virtual professor are then
re-created in the 3-D environment.
,It‰s an interactive and multi-media-based approach similar to computer
gaming instead of just reading online or viewing video,Š Tabrizi said.
The system fuses different technological elements, including a 3-D
platform, a course management system, an electronic whiteboard and a
The professor appears as an animated character. Lectures can be archived for students to use later.
The growing trend toward online education is apparent at
universities around the country, including ECU, which boasts about
4,500 distance education students. While the instruction is equivalent
to a face-to-face class, Tabrizi notes a discrepancy between the two
forms. The AVR is one of the first steps in yielding enhanced systems
for delivery of online courses, Tabrizi said.
,In online education sometimes the student and the instruction
connection is missing,Š he said. ,With this innovative technology, we
aim to solve the environmental connection. We are trying to bring
face-to-face interaction to online instruction.Š
Tabrizi said he has found that students prefer to observe and hear
the professor, ask questions and read materials with multimedia content.
,Despite recent efforts to integrate video-conferencing into
existing online course delivery systems, they do not produce an
environment resembling the face-to-face setting,Š he said.
Moreover, he said, adding video to existing systems increases the
network bandwidth considerably and reduces the capabilities of these
systems in areas with slow network infrastructure.
|Tabrizi's virtual entity, an animated character
based on his own movements, appears on an electronic whiteboard for
online course delivery. (Contributed photo)
Tabrizi said the Agent and Virtual Reality-based communication
architecture was created to optimize bandwidth usage so that the
project can deliver online education to underserved areas that do not
have cable or broadband Internet access.
,This innovative technology is being created in such a way that the
bandwidth requirement is reduced tremendously,Š he said. ,An
interactive lecture with a full screen can be received in real time or
archived, regardless of the type of network connection, including
Further applications of the AVR system include the training of
workers in hazardous material handling environments, medical clinics
,Our students participating in the development of this system will
benefit significantly by gaining experience in software engineering,
technology innovation, developing computer games and use of high tech
equipment,Š Tabrizi said.