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The Virtual Cell Project. Phillip McClean Alan White Brian Slator. North Dakota State University. Educational Role-playing Games “Learning-by-doing” Experiences. MultiUser Exploration Spatially-oriented virtual worlds Practical planning and decision making.

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The virtual cell project

The Virtual Cell Project

Phillip McClean

Alan White

Brian Slator

North Dakota State University

Educational role playing games learning by doing experiences
Educational Role-playing Games“Learning-by-doing” Experiences

  • MultiUser

  • Exploration

  • Spatially-oriented virtual worlds

  • Practical planning and decision making

Educational role playing games learning by doing experiences1
Educational Role-playing Games“Learning-by-doing” Experiences

  • Problem solving

  • Scientific method

  • Real-world content

  • Mature thinking

Advantages of virtual worlds
Advantages of Virtual Worlds

  • Collapse virtual time and distance

  • Allow physical or practical impossibilities

  • Participate from anywhere

  • Interact with other users, virtual artifacts, and software agents

  • Multi-user collaborations and competitive play

Technical approaches
Technical Approaches

  • Networked, internet-based, client-server

  • MultiPlayer

  • Simulation-based

  • Implemented in Java applets

The virtual cell project

The VCell VRML Worlds

The Cell

The Laboratory

The virtual cell project

The virtual cell project

VCell Login

Use VCell login box to

connect to the cell

The VCell VRML file will load in the Client Window.

The virtual cell project

VCell Instructions


information about organelles, etc. is available here.

Goals for each level are listed here

Instructions from Lab Guy

The virtual cell project

Transporting from One Place to Another

Click on the Lab Guy icon to move between

the Laboratory and the VCell.

The Do It Box gives you choices for destinations.

For example, this selection will send you to the VCell for your next set of experiments.

The virtual cell project

Performing Experiments

Fly around organelles and perform experiments

Choose actions here

Choose assays here

Experimental Results

The virtual cell project

Deduction of Organelle Identity

Choose Identify action here

Choose organelle to identify here

Successful identification based

on experimental results

The virtual cell project

Achieving Another Goal

Information for new goal

New Action and Assay

Experimental Results

The virtual cell project

Completing Another Goal

Updated Goals

Success again!

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Guessing Not Allowed

Appropriate experiments required for identification.

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All Goals Completed

Directions for proceeding to the next level given.

The virtual cell project

ETC Exercise Instruction Window

You arrive in the Lab. Click on the Lab Guy to receive your next instructions.

Lab Guy welcomes you back

and gives you your next assignment

The virtual cell project

Mitochondrial Function:

Electron Transport Chain Animation

ETC Membrane Complexes

Molecules in motion

Molecule Key

The virtual cell project

Chloroplast Function:

Work in Progress

User in Sub shoots photons to activate photosynthesis

Photosystem Complexes


  • Not “multiple choice” recall

  • Content specific:

  • Problem solving, hypothesis formation, deductive reasoning

Assessment by scenarios
Assessment by Scenarios

  • Assess computer literacy

  • PreTest: Present scenario, students propose course of action or solution

  • Engage in learning experience Control vs Virtual

  • PostTest: Present similar scenario, student response

  • Analysis of assessment data

The virtual cell project

Current Implementation

NDSU General Biology Class

600 students total

300 control students

150 alternative (WWW based, but not VCell)


150 VCell students