Signature Course: Building Virtual Worlds

In just two weeks, Carnegie Mellon University students create a brand new world. 

In Building Virtual Worlds (BVW), one of four core classes in the Master’s in Entertainment Technology (MET) program from CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), students are placed on small teams, with new groups and goals for each two-week round. Working together, they design and build interactive experiences. 

This unique course is part of the signature course initiative for the fall semester, which means Dave Culyba, an assistant teaching professor, has been working over the summer with the Eberly Center to improve the course in the short and long term. Like all signature courses, Culyba and his team will make enhancements to the overall course for fall, and incorporate a technology enhanced learning component that will be iteratively improved in subsequent semesters.

Culyba wanted to invest extra time and resources in the course because it is fundamental to the program, setting students up for the next three semesters.

“This course is the MET program in a nutshell. We throw our students into the work patterns, the philosophy and the practices that the whole two-year program really embraces,” he said. “Students come into the program with different skillsets and levels of expertise, but this course levels the playing field by challenging them to think in a different way, utilizing new skills.”

This year, Culyba is embracing the opportunity to make remote team practices a focus of the course. Culyba is exploring incorporating tools like Zoom, Discord, Slack and Trello to teach students about team coordination and planning in a remote environment.

A big part of BVW is work that students do outside of class. Traditionally, CMU provides space, technology and equipment for students to use while collocated. 

“As we go hybrid we are trying to be very intentional about work out of class,” Culyba said. “We are looking into providing space that can be scheduled and fall within the guidelines of the hybrid model, so that students can get some of the face to face collaboration that is an important part of teamwork.”

To help ensure a strong foundation of teamwork, Culyba will be incorporating CollaborativeU, a mini-course from CMU’s Open Learning Initiative that helps students learn to collaborate effectively. CollaborativeU and ConflictU were developed at CMU by Martha Harty, a special faculty member, and Ralph Vituccio an assistant teaching professor in the ETC.

Culyba said he is excited to set up his students to be leaders in their field and in the new world of remote work.

“We went into this wondering how we were going to deal with going hybrid. There are definitely challenges, but this is a chance to think about what it is we teach, how we teach it and what we want our students to learn,” he said. “It’s kind of exciting to rethink what we’ve been doing and make our work better. We’ll make it fit with the needs of next semester, but that better version is going to stick around.”

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