Page last updated at 18:05 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Students can enter virtual world to test school design

Classroom design
Classrooms for new schools can be tested in a virtual world

Students and teachers in Birmingham will be able to test plans for rebuilding schools using a computer-game style virtual world.

A project linking universities and software developers will allow schools to experiment with different furniture layouts and building designs.

It has been likened to playing a computer game in which characters can move around a 3D environment.

Birmingham has plans to rebuild or refurbish 82 secondary schools.

This virtual tool will help with one of the biggest Building Schools for the Future projects in the country.

Gaming generation

Birmingham City Council's education director, Sylvia McNamara, says it will give "students, school leaders, governing bodies and the local community the opportunity to creatively engage with design concepts".

Allowing more people to test ideas, such as the furniture, fixtures and fittings, will improve the usefulness of the finished design, says Emma Leaman, who works for the council as a "transforming education officer".

"It's intended to make sure schools are not just built with one person's vision," she says.

The intention is to allow schools to explore their new surroundings before the buildings are opened - and to allow schools to engage with plans during the design process and before the construction begins.

The on-screen avatars who explore the design include wheelchair users, allowing the design to be tested for suitability for disabled students.

The Learning Environments Virtual Reality Online Simulator (LEVROS) has been developed by a technology company, MOOFU, with the Institute of Education, University of London, Birmingham Local Education Partnership and Kenn Fisher of Melbourne University.

Dr Fisher says that young people of the internet generation are used to such computer game environments.

"Simulation is increasingly being used in many educational and training sectors to minimise laboratory and practical costs," he said.

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