Using Unity 3D Software for Developing Games and AR/VR Educational Content

  • Animations, Simulations and Games in Education

    Educational technologies are not clearly defined and their scope and capabilities are always expanding and emerging, so animation software is certainly within the purview of Ed-Tech.  Technical educators and educational designers, in order to integrate modern technologies into classes need sophisticated software tools to design, develop and implement interactive, realistic and rich content beyond just talking head recordings.  To this end, the software application called Unity (which works on Windows and Mac) and others like it, can be used by educators to design, storyboard and develop compelling 2D and 3D animation content in the form of educational animation, games and simulations.  The trend for gamification, which attempts to apply game orientation to such varied contexts as corporate education, professional development, customer service, e-learning, advertisement, entertainment/edutainment, is still in rather primitive stages because of the gap in the realism that it can provide.  However, unified tools like Unity3D enable educational designers to take advantage of its myriad capabilities to enhance teaching and increase student engagement and tap more fully into the learning contexts of millennials.  It can lend itself to future applications in education, including VR.  Using simulations and virtual environments for educational situations can help teach in scenarios which may be dangerous, inaccessible, and prohibitively expensive.  Tools like Unity3D can also, for example, provide an avenue to implement AR and VR functionality to educational games for disabled students.

    Despite being mainly a game and simulation designer tool, Unity3D can empower educators who prefer to think outside the box to learn new digital literacies, especially for STEM education.  For example, the game Martha Madison, which was developed using Unity3D, and is aligned with Common Core standers, engages girls in STEM learning and careers using the RPG (Role Playing Game) gaming model.  Unity3D enables the deployment to many different devices, including mobile, websites, game consoles and PC’s.  As a tool to build customized course content, it has a learning curve, and may not be for all educators, but those that want to extend the stick-figure and whiteboard mentality for teaching can use these newer technologies.  (Häfner, P., Häfner, V., & Ovtcharova, J. 2013).  Educators need to take it upon themselves to develop content.  In today’s educational environments, there is usually not “them” or “they” to do it, so it must be “us” or “me” to do it.  Who better to create gamified educational content than the teachers themselves?

    In order to see how emerging software tools like Unity3D can be used in the mainstream for educational applications, we just need look to the recent past where evolutions of manual educational tools such as blackboards and erasers, videotaped content, and flipbook-type animation (ala Disney), which were used to model movement and situational content, to software tools and usages such as the transition from individual cobbled-together suites of software applications such as WordPerfect/Lotus 1-2-3/dBase in the 1980/90’s to a fully integrated application suites like Microsoft Office, and further into open source with a community based open source version such as Apache Open Office.  Just as educators can now learn to use sophisticated productivity applications like Word and PowerPoint, albeit at varying levels according to their needs.  However, educators teaching in technological curricular areas, especially STEM, in order to remain ahead of the curve and to teach technological courses, can benefit twofold by learning and using modern software.  They can instruct students in how to use the tools, but also use the tools to develop content beyond just writing text..  For example, teachers often utilize PhotoShop, but can also use Maya, 3DS Max and Blender for animation and graphics design per their needs; tools such as iMovie, MovieMaker and Sony Vegas; audio tools such as Audacity, GarageBand; use other game engines such as Unreal, Torque3D, CryEngine, Horde3D, and GameMaker; or implement software development tools such as Eclipse and Visual Studio to learn new programming languages.  Courseware needs to be stepped up from the mundane models of the past.  To incorporate educator-authored multimedia assets such as graphics images, audio clips, video clips, and animation sequences, educators need to learn the tools and upgraded their own skills and knowledge.  The course enhancement technology tools such as Respondus, Panopto, YouTube, Zoom, and other web-based tools such as social media serve the core teacher needs, but more specialized tools are needed beyond these.

    Multimedia Software and Hardware Enables Creativity, Teach Design Strategies, and Support Project-Based Education

    Multimedia design software such as Unity3D includes a suite of components which can be utilized in different magnitudes.  For example, they provide editing and capturing tools for authors to create the basic static components or dynamic elements for animations, games and/or simulations, which can be learned and used either with or without programming by both educators and students to create the components that go into the game, and establish the storyline and gameplay.  This provides an important educational technology tool for the creative endeavors of game-based learning and gamification for teachers to integrate into their coursework.  For educational designers, this may be the universal tool or method for instructional design (Dede 2011).  Unity can also be integrated with many hardware platforms and advanced hardware devices such as Oculus Rift, Oculus Touch and other VR/AR gear, which go far beyond mouse/controller/keyboard in 2D and 2½D environments, leveling up to full 3D.

    Unity provides services such as analytics for gaining insights into player behavior, an asset download store for purchasing multimedia elements to use within the game, deployment capabilities to provide a way to distribute the finished product, collaborative tools, and certifications for users to gain credentials with certain levels of expertise in the application (Pantelidis , V. S., 2017).  Also, students can team up with instructors to form their own content, for example in project-based courses.  They can leverage concepts in software project management, and implement an agile, 360-degree learning/teaching/development cycle.  Student involvement in their own education by using more sophisticated, interactive and collaborative tools can help them convey new meaning, ideas, abstractions, visualizations that traditional tools and environments does not afford.

    Use of tools like Unity3D can also enrich student experiences by teaching them new literacies in multimedia, computer graphics, animation, interactive design, and programming.  Developing multimedia for a multitude of applications should be considered a digital literacy which current and future students will need to create just as they learned developing textual content in the past.  For example, sites like Wix enable students to develop web content without programming, enabling them to be developers, while providing students to self-direct their learning by creating compelling and engaging simulations and games in their respective curricula (Davies, R.S. 2011).

    Community-Based Access to Self-Directed Learning Resources

    As much of the future software infrastructure and eco-systems will be based in “cloud” resources, Unity has a learning website which can be used by educators and students to learn how to use the software to develop content.  It provides video and text-based tutorials, documentation and a knowledge base for reference, training in the form of live classes, and courseware to enable integration into the classroom, as well as paths to certification.  This is a web-based component of the Unity software system which enables educators to learn the technological tool so that they can create game content for their courses.  This is an essential capability when encountering new software.  Oftentimes there is not a specific course to learn new software available or accessible, so by having a web-based resource as well as instructional videos on YouTube, for example, educators can ramp up on the software and start using it either for instructional purposes, as with STEM or Computer Science educators, or for any teacher to utilize it for course design purposes.  Teachers of the future, besides being pedagogical experts, need sophisticated tools to develop educational applications.  Game-based learning can provide teachers and researchers opportunities to incorporate virtual and augmented reality into their coursework.

    As a Tool for Multidisciplinary Education, including Art, Computer Science/Engineering/STEM and General Education

    Using animation, including games and simulations for educational content is cross-disciplinary and provide activities for students in a variety of college studies including STEM, education, reading and writing, media and broadcast communications, business, and many others.  STEM students can utilize the software for designing, testing and simulating experiments with gravity and physics.  General education writing and reading students may utilize it for storytelling.  Artistically minded students and curricula can take advantage of Unity3D as a culminating tool after developing multimedia artwork in the many supportive software applications that are available.  By including a sophisticated development tool, the educator can enrich their TPACK components (Mishra & Koehler 2008) to have a rich canvas to teach with beyond the mundane tools that are typically used in the classroom.

    The Unity Game Engine can be incorporated into ISTE standards for K-12, and used for CCSS and NGSS, but may be more appropriate for higher education.  Education professionals in educational technology can take advantage of the tools offered by Unity for interactive course and lesson design and instruction.  Even though the high tech capability of developing a game can be considered a far cry from simply instructing in the classroom, having modern tools are essential for enriching the classroom whether onsite or online.  (Cuban, L. 1993)

    The notion of having educators become game developers will become more mainstream, just as we have sites such as Wix and Weebly to enable web development without programming.  Educators need to find new ways of customizing content for courses, and to engage the millennial students that they are teaching.  Through the use of Gamification and tools such as Unity3D, educators and researchers can tap into the psyche of these students and find new ways to engage them through incorporating innovative technology that aligns with the ways that today’s students receive information.  Many of the gameplay experiences that today’s learners have, contribute to their construction of knowledge which can be translated from game-player to game creator.  Constructivist approaches can be applied (Ben-Ari, M. 2001) when integrating software like Unity in STEM curricula and programs, whether in K-12, or in higher education.

     

    Works Cited

    • Ben-Ari, M. (2001). Constructivism in computer science education. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, 20(1), 45-74.
    • Blascovich, J., & Bailenson, J. (n.d.). Immersive Virtual Environments and Education Simulations. Immersive Virtual Environments. Retrieved January 12, 2017, from https://vhil.stanford.edu/mm/2006/blascovich-ive-education.pdf.
    • Cuban, L. (1993). Computers Meet Classroom: Classroom Wins. Teachers College Record, 95(2), 185–210.
    • Davies, R. S. (2011). Understanding Technology Literacy: A Framework for Evaluating Educational Technology Integration. TechTrends, 55(5), 45–52. (PDF)
    • Dede, C. (2011). Developing a research agenda for educational games and simulations. Computer games and instruction, pp. 233-250. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
    • Häfner, P., Häfner, V., & Ovtcharova, J. (2013). Teaching Methodology for Virtual Reality Practical Course in Engineering Education. Procedia Computer Science, 25, 251-260. doi:10.1016/j.procs.2013.11.031
    • HUSSEIN, M., & NÄTTERDAL, C. (2-15). The Benefits of Virtual Reality in Education. Department of Computer Science and Engineering CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY UNIVERSITY OF GOTHENBURG Göteborg, Sweden, June 2015.
    • Mishra & Koehler (2008) – SITE 2008 KEYNOTE ADDRESS (45 min) Original TPACK article: Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017–1054.
    • Pantelidis , V. S. (n.d.). Reasons to Use Virtual Reality in Education and Training Courses and a Model to Determine When to Use Virtual Reality . THEMES IN SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION Special Issue, Pages 59-70 Klidarithmos Computer Books . Retrieved January 12, 2017.
    • Unity Learn Website: https://unity3d.com/learn
    • Unity Main Website: https://unity3d.com/
    • Unity Store Website: https://store.unity.com/education?_ga=1.94578780.1521054953.1485745540#educator
    • http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/glpc_gamesforadigitalage1.pdf

     

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