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Meramec Faculty Recognized for Work in Classroom and Online Worlds

December 09, 2011

Refugee camp in Second Life  
A view from outside a refugee camp in Second Life.

St. Louis Community College-Meramec faculty members Cindy Epperson and Tim Linder are featured in the November/December 2011 edition of “Exploring Humanitarian Law,” a newsletter for international humanitarian law educators from the American Red Cross. The professors worked with their respective classes to design and create refugee camps in the virtual world Second Life.

Epperson, who teaches a universal human rights course every spring semester, brought global events in Egypt and Libya to the classroom in spring 2011 by integrating international humanitarian law with a study module provided by the Red Cross. The module tasks students with the following:

“Your team of humanitarian workers has been selected by the government of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria to research and develop a refugee camp in their nation near the Libyan border. The camp must accommodate 10,000 refugees who have escaped the armed conflict of the past month in Libya. Your plan should assume that people will arrive without food or water and have only what they can carry with them. Reflect on “The Experience of Fleeing” exercise you recently completed to think about what people will and will not have with them.”

In addition to the assignment criteria, the student-designed camp had to:

“The students learn about refugees and the various issues they face. I wanted to offer a sort of simulation for the students to think about how refugees are at special risk for violation of their human rights, especially refugees who end up living in camps,” Epperson said. 

“After studying what human rights are, the difference between theory and practice and how the world community has organized to protect human rights, the students then plan a refugee camp that honors the UDHR.“

Refugee camp in Second Life  
A view from inside a refugee camp in Second Life.

The two-week project, originally created on paper, took on new life in an online, virtual environment, as Epperson reached out to Linder, who teaches an interactive design course.

“Tim's students take our work on poster board and create a camp in Second Life,” Epperson said.

Second Life is an online virtual world, or “grid,” that enables users to interact using user-created avatars. The grid is filled with three-dimensional models built by users, and the avatars interact within this world.

“My students can create an avatar and move throughout the camp created by Tim's students. It gives students a sense of experiential learning,” said Epperson.

“The interactive design students utilize the plans, ideas and resources from Cindy and her class to develop the virtual refugee camp,” said Linder. “Students learn the process of modeling, texturing and design for a real-time virtual environment with the added benefit of collaboration with other students inside and outside their own class.”

Linder added: “In the collaboration with Cindy, another plus is that students are also exposed to additional concepts and issues surrounding human rights and refugee camps.”

Working with other faculty in a classroom environment is nothing new for Linder.

“A portion of the course is devoted to development of virtual environments,” he said, “I have had several collaborations both on and off campus for my students."

Past collaborations have included the creation of environments and collaborations with students and faculty at Meramec, Mizzou (University of Missouri) and the Sorbonne in Paris, to name a few.

The time and work spent by the spring 2011 universal human rights class will not go to waste. The spring 2012 class will also be immersed in Second Life.

“This coming spring semester, my students will create their poster board camps, then compare and contrast them to the Second Life camp and then real-life camps, which are less comprehensive and not near as nice as what our students create,” Epperson said.

The idea for incorporating other courses is already in place. Epperson hopes to collaborate with architecture, engineering and horticulture courses in the future.

Refugee camp in Second Life  
A student designed refugee camp in Second Life

There is still time to enroll in Epperson's class IDS:201 697 Universal Human Rights and Linder's ART:125 695 Interactive Design I.