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Virtual Environments are computer generated, three dimensional models of the real world. A student can 'walk' around these environments using a joystick, and interact with these environments using a touchscreen or mouse.
Many students with severe learning disabilities may also suffer from a physical disability. There exists a predominance of computer based learning systems which are described in terms of abstract symbols systems, for example, English or Mathematics students with severe learning disabilities have difficulties in acquiring and using such systems of disembedded thought. This cognitive impairment may be compounded by a mobility problem, restricting real world encounters of a rich and varied set of experiences (and probably further compounded by well meaning but over protective parents).
Virtual environments may prove to be one way in the unlocking of some of these problems. In the first instance, to give equal mobility and dexterity to each user, regardless of their real world mobility. Secondly, all virtual environments have their own natural semantics. That is to say that a kitchen, for example, looks and behaves very much like a kitchen in real life. In the virtual kitchen at VIRART it is even possible to make a cup of tea. Concept attainment in virtual environments can occur through practical activities, by-passing the need for disembedded thought.
Furthermore, a whole range of virtual environments can be built to model a rich and varied set of experiences. Studies at VIRART have shown that skills learnt in a virtual environment can transfer to the real world. In this way, students with severe learning disabilities can build a range of basic life skills in virtual environments to supplement their real world experience. The following virtual environments have already been built and distributed to the special needs community by ROMPA.