The Appalachian Education Technology Zone program is utilized for online courses in instructional technology, library science, educational leadership, and curriculum and instruction programs.
"We were concerned that the planned and serendipitous interactions among students and faculty weren't there," Riedl said. "We wanted to do more than just push content," commented professor Richard Riedl, one of three creators of the program.
Along with Riedl, professors John Tashner and Stephen Bronack saw something lacking in the online learning program. AET Zone gives a personal interface by using interactive 3-D content over the web.
Using technology created with software from the Massachusetts company Activeworlds, students use an online identity called an avatar. The avatar navigates an environment which resembles a college campus and other scenes. They can type messages or communicate with VOIP. The software uses very little bandwidth and can be operated through a dial-up modem.
"They love it," Riedl said of students using the virtual campus. "The students had a few trepidations when we first introduced the program, but now they can't imagine not learning this way. Most of the students had taken other online courses before, but AET Zone allows them to meet and make friends though the system."