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Islands of Enlightenment
In recent years, educators have been expanding the use of virtual learning to engage youth, and one such set of virtual worlds is hosted by WNYRIC.

The “Islands of Enlightenment Projects” – led by WNYRIC technology coordinator Andrew Wheelock - began to grow four years ago after winning a $50,000 New York State Education Department (NYSED) grant with the goal of providing students with a redefined way of learning.

These "virtual" islands are computer-based environments that allow students to interact using avatars. These avatars can move from island to island for varied educational experiences.

First came the “Understanding the Holocaust Project,” which let students, using historically built avatars, interact with a digital recreation of the streets of Amsterdam, circa 1944. This offered students a better understanding of the timeless book, The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank.
This was followed by “The Heir of the King,” which took students on a medieval role-playing adventure to better understand medieval society, as well as “Arthurian” literature. Other virtual worlds help students to explore the interplay between art and architecture and a “Teacher Gaming Academy” that helps instructors develop their own video game to assist their students with learning.

With this framework of learning in place, a new project began this year, entitled The Digital Art Museum. Relying on the expertise of art and technology teachers, the focus is on letting students build and create works of art and architecture in hopes of having a digital art museum. Visitors to  the museum  will be able to view other students’ work and build their own art pieces based off those works by taking pictures and hopefully collaborating over distances on artistic projects. The skills and creativity that are learned through this process can directly help students interested in the computer science, art, gaming, and architecture fields.

WNYRIC offers Erie 1 BOCES school districts access upon request. Teachers receive two days of curriculum and technology training on how virtual environments work, and how to use them effectively for student learning. Then WNYRIC staff will help the teacher implement the program in their school and be able to manage student-created content.
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