Peter Wootten, Senior Visual Arts Teacher from Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design reflects on the WHEN2050: 3D Virtual Worlds Project. “When 2050” is the second stage of Dulwich High School of Visual Arts and Design student’s deployment in a virtual world, Trinity. Student involvement in When2050 was born out of the success of the students’ first foray into virtual world experience in the Trinity project 2010. There was clearly an awareness of students being extended in their development and refinement of digital skills and conceptual thinking practices that begged the exciting question of where could this experience lead them if provided another opportunity. The NOW + WHEN project run by the Australian Institute of Architects for the Venice Biennale, provided a rich source of inspirational material for my students to explore as the basis for a conceptual theme. As with our 2010 project, MACICT provided the technology, guiding force and support to ensure the project’s implementation. The class involved is a Year 10 visual arts class and so aesthetics is a core consideration in any design project. However, learning and development is a priority in other areas of involvement which have crossover implications for other Key Learning Areas:

  • creative solution making;
  • building and construction methods;
  • digital technology skills;
  • utilization and manipulation of basic geometric shapes as foundation to design exploration;
  • developing “scripts” to activate unique design components’
  • an appreciation of holistic approaches to design including consideration of the requirements of work spaces, public areas, relaxation areas, natural spaces, eating/dining areas, movement of people. Students were inspired to extend their brief by incorporating interior design solutions so that their building concepts became lived spaces with furniture, light fittings, crockery, carpeting, artwork, and colour schemes;
  • incorporation of sustainability functions to meet the environmental needs of the future through the incorporation of research skills and appropriation of relevant concepts to enhance and extend the depth and quality of the final project in reviewing current visionary practices within current professional practices, key contemporary architects and their body of work, and classical building forms of ancient Greece and Rome in the use of the column, barrel-vault, arch and dome.



The Year 10 visual art class involved in this project attend Dulwich High school of Visual arts & Design, the only specialist visual arts and design high school in NSW. The students in the class have a wide range of artistic skills between them, but individually some students struggle with certain art forms e.g., a student may be very competent at video production but mediocre in drawing skills. A typical art making task therefore involves most students being comfortable with the challenge of the task while others must overcome personal and peer issues of not being good enough and therefore veer towards procrastination. These become issues to be resolved between the student and teacher.

However, one of the most outstanding outcomes of When2050 has been the witnessing of all students being empowered through the use of the technology to produce their concepts. This empowerment through technology is liberating for the students as they are no longer restricted by skills (the means of expressing their concept) and are all on a level playing field to focus on the key task requirements of designing a building for 2050. The flow on from this is that all students have attained and maintained confidence, high levels of engagement and enthusiasm, strong communication and interactive participation/ mentoring skills. Design outcomes have been outstanding in students being free to explore with few limitations or impediments to the realization of their ideas. In effect it is as if students are given free rein in a magical world where their imaginations can run freely … and actually have their ideas “materialize”!

There is an amazing educational advantage in using this technology that not only provides creative solutions making competencies but also secures student engagement in quality teaching and learning parameters. Creative solution making is a key component of the NSW Board of Studies Visual Arts Curriculum. It has been extremely gratifying to observe students begin with rudimentary ideas and explore the possibilities of design while also maintaining the incorporation of a concept theme, sustainability issues and construction requirements. The technology provides for the quick activation of ideas, construction of shapes, use of textures all within a 3-D space. Alterations and additions to design are activated within seconds or minutes. Students are fully engaged in the whole process of having the power to create major structures, to move around, in and out, above and below their building structures. This is total immersion within the “art work”. Actions bring quick responses to solution making.

This is in contrast to traditional art making methods with the limitations of scale, pace of work and restrictions in quickly formulating alternative ideas, experimentation of shapes and textures of 2-D forms and the overall limitations of concept visualization on a flat surface. You cannot get in the drawing and significantly nor can anyone else! There is also the wonderful experience of all students whether working as individuals or in teams, creating within the same virtual world space. Class work is on exhibition for all to see. Students can observe what others are doing and be inspired to proceed in particular ways, seek assistance from others or collaborate on concepts. An audience or future client can be there within the space with you…walk or fly around and within the space. Total engagement, experiential connectivity. A major part of the WHEN2050 project is documenting the process of the student’s journey in Edmodo (Facebook for education purposes).

Students begin the documentation from their basic idea, theme linked to the “Now+When project, the incorporation of historical foundations in architecture and other research links and begin in words to record, explain and question their thoughts and actions in each of the work sessions. Not only does this provide a documented journey but it is a place for student reflection as well as a way for the teacher to monitor how each student is going and provide feed back either directly in Edmodo or to the student in class. In effect it provides a safety function where any problems or concerns may be quickly spotted and addressed. Students feel that the teacher is actively involved in what they are doing and supported in the process. Students can also observe what their peers are experiencing in the process and lend support, ideas to each other. Writing about becomes easier because all the students are so engaged in their art making and process. Students are provided opportunities to review their entries and make spelling and grammatical corrections providing application to literacy skills. The When 2050 task has required me as the teacher to devise a unit of work that would be extend the students beyond what they achieved in 2010. Key concerns were to provide a rich task that would engage, challenge and creatively inspire the students while utilising foundation knowledge in architecture that served as catalyst for ideas and the implementation of construction principles.

Students were assessed on:

  • Aesthetics
  • Design concept within a virtual world circa 2050
  • Application to a theme
  • Sustainability in architectural design
  • Edmodo documentation of the process
  • Individual and group work
  • Research in contemporary architecture.

I was in the virtual world with my class as well as being in the classroom as they worked with their computers. I was able to chat to them in the virtual world, in the real space of the classroom or in Edmodo. In other words, it allowed me to have a closer engagement with each student or team and to be aware of what technology were minimized and offered solutions in using the technology to advance student ideas. They also communicated to the class through Edmodo. Students were also fortunate to have Richard Goodwin, artist/architect and one of the contributing architects to the NOW+ WHEN Venice Biennale project conduct workshops with them. Richard explored the use of public spaces and the interconnectivity of buildings “reaching out to the world”. Students also explored the architectural mantra “form follows function” and how that might apply to their own designs.

In addition, the class had a very inspiring workshop with Russell Lowe, Senior Lecturer Built Environment course at the University of NSW. This was an extremely valuable learning experience as Russell screened first year virtual world architectural designs produced by his year one students. The University of NSW course is cutting edge in world practice and placed our students project in context as also being a forerunner in learning technology for high school students and a prized experience for any future student in architecture. The students were impressed by the fact that while their project is visionary and futuristic in nature, it was also placed in context of how future architects are being trained at the university level.

The completed buildings of the WHEN2050 project exceeded all my expectations and confirmed the initial question: Could the virtual world technology expand the educational experience? The answer is YES. Concept resolution, attention to detail, design considerations, digital technology skills, sustainability were all addressed to a very high degree of execution that reflected a quality of work that was beyond their age. The project leaves me with a dilemma when I began the project with the question of: Where to now? I would very much like to take these students into the virtual world and find ways to extend and challenge them beyond their current experience. I do have some possible activities which would be exciting to explore, but whether that occurs or not I know that my class have been taken to level of educational engagement that I must maintain if not develop. There is no looking back, be that in a virtual world or real world!