theoretical foundations

Constructionism - Collaboration - Narrative - Interaction techniques

garden corner scene


The main constructive activity is to build and develop small local ecosystems on the bare parts of the island. The terrain serves as an open land which the child explores to decide where to plant and populate. Various seeds for planting garden vegetables and trees are stored in crates and serve as starting points for building micro-ecosystems on the island.

When the user drops a seed on the ground, the corresponding plant, flower or tree will start to grow. The pace in which this happens can be predetermined; we may choose to see the system grow very quickly, or, in the case of a school project, extend it over the period of a semester.

The tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins and other plant objects contain a set of characteristics that contribute to their growth. They all have values for their age, the amount of water they hold, the amount of light they need, their proximity to other plants of their kind. These values determine the health of the plant and its size. Visual cues aid the child in determining the state of a plant or flower. When the cloud has been pouring rain over it for too long, the plant opens an umbrella; when the sunlight is too bright, it wears sunglasses. Sound in the environment also enriches the surroundings in a variety of ways. Different environmental sounds are experienced depending on where each participant is standing (e.g. the children by the shoreline will hear the water, in the rainforest will hear the birds, etc.)


GULLIVRs network component allows multiple networked participants to explore the same virtual space. Multiple distributed GULLIVRs running on separate VR systems are connected via a centralized database server that guarantees consistency across all the separate environments. The communications library supporting GULLIVR is based on a client-server model that uses Multicasting, where the number of remot e clients is limited only by bandwidth and latency. A user can enter or leave the scene at an y time without disturbing the others.
photo of kids collaborating


Narrative is a component of NICE that we're still working on. As implemented in this stage, it revolves around the construction of the ecological microworlds and the decisions being made through the interaction with the genies. Every action is being recorded whether a child is participating or not. Even when there is no interaction, the world continues to evolve through time. Each child may choose to join or leave the story set at any time, while the stories on the island continue and others can explore its mysteries. The narrative structure captures every action that is taking place in the form of simple sentences such as: "Amy pulls a cloud over her carrot patch and waters it. The tomatoes complain that they didn't get enough water. Claudio plants his first tree." Before it is published on the child's WWW page, the story sequence goes through a simple parser, which replaces some of the words of the objects and characters in the text with their iconic representations. This gives the story a picturebook look which the child can print to take home and reflect on.

Interaction techniques

We are currently investigating techniques for easier use of the system by kids. At the moment, we are using the standard CAVE interface device, which is a wand with a joystick and three smaller buttons for various operations. Our focus is to maintain a style of interaction that does not require any adjustment effort by the children, nor obtrusive and heavy hardware to be worn.

photo of kids in NICE

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