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University of Central Missouri
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Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660-543-4640
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Virtual Harlem Makes Debut at UCM

Contact: Mike Greife
WARRENSBURG, MO (Dec. 13, 2007) – A group of UCM faculty and students recently joined scholars from around the world in a tour of New York’s historic Harlem district, a feat accomplished without leaving the comfort of UCM’s James C. Kirkpatrick Library.

By logging onto the virtual world of Second Life in the Harmon Computer Commons, the participants were transported back to 1920s Harlem, touring the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theatre, the Teresa Hotel, the Midnight Ramble video store, a fashion museum and a rent party.

Virtual Harlem
UCM student Alyssa Sharp joins the inaugural tour of Virtual Harlem in the University of Central Missouri’s James C. Kirkpatrick Library.

Bryan Carter, associate professor of English at UCM, facilitated the tour. Virtual Harlem was developed in Second Life by Carter’s honors colloquium class this fall after receiving a grant last spring and working throughout the summer to create a curriculum. Students conducted the research on the various aspects of their virtual while experiencing it “in-world.”

The result was a learning experience that brought a unique period in American history to life while allowing students to hone their research skills. In addition to the UCM students, the development team included builders from Pleiades Consulting in Canada, a group of dedicated UCM library employees, and volunteers from the Alliance of Internet Librarians.

As the class facilitator, Carter, represented by his avatar, led those gathered in the Harmon Computer Commons on an inaugural tour of Virtual Harlem. Along the way, he encountered UCM students from the class who had entered Virtual Harlem from different physical locations, prepared to tell the group about their research and what they learned about the Jazz Age during fall semester. Carter also greeted those who were participating from as far away as Norway, Sweden and Italy.

“This is not only a history lesson about a period in American history for this generation of students, but an opportunity to learn about the cultural and social factors that affected the way people lived,” Carter said. “Students can add to this virtual representation of 1920s Harlem with comments from their own environment, exploring Harlem on their own while interacting with their peers from around the world.”

Virtual Harlem was conceived by Carter in 1997 during his doctoral studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia using complex virtual reality software and programming. Since then, it has evolved and is located in the virtual world of Second Life as an interactive environment offering real educational content that continues to be developed by students and residents of Second Life.

In addition to the appeal and learning opportunities offered through Virtual Harlem, participants also are given the opportunity to interact with real-world businesses that have set up a presence within the environment, such as the Midnight Ramble video store, as well as many of the more than 11 million residents of Second Life. Together they create a unique community of learners, business owners, educators, researchers and Second Life “residents” who are ready to share interests, experiences and information.

Virtual Harlem was developed through funding from the National Black Programming Consortium, New York; the Government of Norway, and the UCM College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.