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Ethnographers, Deep Thinking and Immersive Worlds

15-02-2022
Craig Frehlich


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C.Frehlich

This blog is part of a special series in cooperation with instructional designer Craig Frehlich. It explores different types of teaching strategies and shows how they can be enriched and enabled with virtual spaces. Each blog is accompanied by an example space with complete lesson plans for students and teachers.


What were some of your favorite books growing up? For me, they were ones that made me think deeply and push my observation skills. Books such as “Where’s Waldo”, “Eye Spy”, and “Can You Spot the Difference” would captivate me for long periods of time. Essentially, these interactive books pushed me to look carefully at the big picture through engaging in deeper observation.

As a veteran instructional designer, I now use these types of experiences when planning for immersive learning. These experiences promote high-level concepts related to “systems”, “change”, and “development”. By exploring these concepts, students develop an awareness and understanding that everything is connected. We are asking our students to look more carefully at the world around them.

An ethnographer is someone who studies human behavior in the natural settings in which people live. They are usually deeply immersed in the inquiry of a designated community for the purpose of describing the social context, relationships, and processes relevant to the topic under consideration 1. Good ethnographers must think about bigger concepts like cause and effect and unpack the “why”.

Re-creating learning experiences that allow students to be astute ethnographers can be a simple, yet effective instructional design tool for immersive learning in 3-D spaces.

For example, while studying “food webs” in science one could create two 3-D scenes: before and after. In the before room, the user could explore a complex ecosystem complete with a variety of producers, consumers, and decomposers in a pond or ocean habitat. Then, they could visit an “after” room whereby something has changed, perhaps the number of plants has been reduced slightly, and the user or participants have to figure out what has changed and think about how the consequences of that change might affect the health and well-being of the ecosystem.

Alternatively, students might use their ethnography skills to explore the concept of camouflage in imedu. A jungle ecosystem could be carefully designed with various organisms that have been camouflage powers. The goal of students might be to enter the 3-D space to seek and find the various camouflage organisms.

Ultimately, the goal of using virtual 3D worlds like imedu for teaching should be to provide quality learning interactions that promote deep thinking and provocation for our users through highly immersive engagements. 3-D spatial environments and assets available in imedu can help enhance our learning experiences when used effectively. However, students need to have rich and engaging activities in order to harness the power of this medium. Fantastic 3-D assets and beautiful worlds will not automatically catapult learning. Teachers need to carefully consider this new medium to ensure students are using higher-order thinking skills.


To see a full example of this teaching strategy:

Go to the Ecosystem lesson guide

Ecosystem Lesson guide


  1. American Anthropological Association, https://www.americananthro.org/ 

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