Investigating Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds

Findings and Project Wrapup

  • Investigate learning within a virtual world where learners' space-suited avatars explore a simulated lunar landscape.
  • Based on an actual part of the lunar surface and tasks that Apollo geologists actually performed on the Moon.
  • Contracted with Avatrian, LLC to build the virtual MoonWorld, working closely with COTF.

The best way to learn is to do, but that is difficult if you want to understand the geologic evolution of the Moon which started evolving 4.5 billion years ago. The NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future at Wheeling Jesuit University created a virtual lunar landscape in the virtual worlds Second Life and in OpenSim to provide everyone a chance to don a spacesuit and lope across the surface of the Moon. MoonWorld was a research project, funded by NASA, that is no longer active. This website describes MoonWorld and the lessons learned from its development and testing.

MoonWorld recreates the surface of the Moon for exploring lunar science concepts through virtual fieldwork. MoonWorld is realistically based on actual lunar landscapes and NASA concepts for spacesuits, bases, rovers and life support. Space-suited avatar teams navigated a realistic geologic environment with simulated 1/6th g and limited life support. Teams engaged in authentic scientific inquiry to seek solutions for planetary geology challenges. A MoonWorld mission helped learners build knowledge of geologic processes and content, with the main focus on stratigraphy - the study of rock layers. To accomplish this, avatars explored the lunar surface, closely observing the terrain, collecting samples, and making measurements to piece together the history of one part of the Moon — the Timocharis region of Mare Imbrium. Following field work, teams entered the lunar base to synthesize their data and observations and to make sure the life support system is still pumping out air, water, and food.

MoonWorld included both simple and complex impact craters as well as secondary craters, rays, a lava flow and a volcanic dome. The learning objective was for each team of avatars, based on their collection and analysis of observations, measurements, rock samples, and a drill core, to determine stratigraphic relations between these landforms — in what sequence they formed, and what evidence supports that conclusion.

Videos/Machinima about MoonWorld

Where is MoonWorld?

MoonWorld is modeled on the Timocharis crater in southern Mare Imbrium. Here is a location map. Mare Imbrium (white circle) is a vast pile of lava flows that can be seen by eyeball.

Here is a closer view of the Mare Imbrium region, taken with a 5" telescope from a driveway in Wheeling by Debbie Denise Reese. The circled crater is 33 km wide Timocharis. You can see it with a small telescope.

Here is an Apollo photograph (AS15-M1689) of Timocharis crater. You can see all of the main components of an impact crater - rim, terraces stepping down to the floor, flat floor (covered with impact melt) and central peaks.

And here is an overhead view in "Second Life". The lunar lander is at bottom left, Timocharis is top center, and the lunar base is bottom right.

What do you do at Timocharis Base?

Explore 16 Field Stations

Avatars measure topography, classify morphology, collect rock samples, drill a core, plant crops to maintain oxygen, water, food levels, and work in teams to analyse and synthesize data.

Before exiting to the surface avatars are issued spacesuits.

After getting into your spacesuit and checking your oxygen supply you select the tools needed for exploration on the surface.

Drilling a core through the rim of Timocharis to investigate changes in lunar materials with depth; mission control at top right provides guidance.

Often the first and last thing an astronaut does on the lunar surface is look up at the distant blue and green Earth. The Moon has a stark gray beauty, but it is not home, yet.

Inside the Lunar Base

Once avatars complete their field work they return to the lunar base to analysze their collected samples and synthesize all of their data into a history of the Timocharis region.

Rock samples and drill core are brought to the Research Facility within the base for analysis.

The Core Analysis Tube conducts chemical and radiometric dating analyses of the core sample and displays the results on the large monitor.

Perhaps the most important part of the lunar base is the BLiSS facility. BLiSS (Biological Regenerative Life Support System) are plant growth chambers that avatars tend to continuously create enough oxygen, water and food for human survival.

Two Versions of MoonWorld

Moonworld was developed in Second Life, a virtual world commercial platform open to adults (18 and older when we started). Teams of four players could register and schedule an expedition. They were unsupervised. This SL version could be used for teacher professional development, but the only reason for teachers to use it would be if their students could access MoonWorld. To enable this we had our developers, Avatrian, LLC, port MoonWorld into OpenSim, an open sources version of SL. The chief benefit was that MoonWorld would run on our servers and we could completely control access so that there would be greatly reduced threats to student safety from predators and bullys.

BLiSS Sim for iPad

Stay connected with plans for future habitation of the Moon, Mars, and long—duration space travel by downloading the NASA—sponsored Classroom of the Future iPad app, BLiSS Sim.


MoonWorld is part of a suite of three integrated educational lunar activities:

  • MoonWorld gives avatars an opportunity to personally explore a virtual lunar surface, reliving the Apollo astronaut type experience while learning geologic processes.

  • Selene is a videogame to create the Moon and modify it through impact cratering and volcanism.

  • MoonGazers is a series of classroom and outdoor activities to understand lunar phases and to actually observe the celestial body built during Selene and explored during MoonWorld.

MoonWorld Engages

Comments from MoonWorld Avatars:

  • The images of lunar surface structure are fascinating. I now want to find out more about the formation of the impact craters. Are these (I assume that they are) accurate representations of actual areas of the surface? One could really get excited. . . . Extremely immersive.
    Professor of Information Technology — specializing in e-Learning

  • The proverb says, "Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand." So when we learned about the Moon surface and rocks I didn't tell my students the facts or merely show them pictures. I got them involved in a mission to explore the Moon. The freedom to explore allowed them to question... discover... It was not easy. They failed many times. They kept trying and wondering... My students were interested. Motivated. And curious.

  • I have tried the Moon World in SL. WOW! Unbelievable. It's one of the best thing[s] in SL so far.
    Science teacher for grades 5/6