Rady School to Launch VirBELA, a Virtual Reality Learning Space for MBA Students


What if it was possible to step into a conference room in California and be face-to-face with a colleague in China? Although it seems like science fiction, new immersive 3-D technology makes it possible and Rady School MBA students will be the first in the world to test out this type of virtual collaboration. The Rady School's groundbreaking project, VirBELA (Virtual Business Education Leadership Assessment), will create an immersive, virtual world where students can design a life-like avatar and interact in real time, much like the popular online game, Second Life. In this unique virtual environment, students will collaborate in global teams, socialize and network, receive coaching and attend seminars. The project is made possible by a $1.7 million Ideas to Innovation Challenge grant from the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).

"This visionary project could drastically, and positively, alter the MBA experience in terms of how students gain information, how they interact with each other and how they develop skills," said Rady School Dean Robert Sullivan.

Alex Howland, Project Manager of VirBELA, explained that the project's inaugural program will be a cross-university MBA business simulation competition. This will be the first business competition to take place in the virtual world and unlike many traditional competitions, the teams will be comprised of MBA students from multiple universities around the globe.

"The goal of this competition will be to develop global competencies by giving students experience working across time zones and with different cultures," Howland said.

The business simulation is "green" focused and teams will work together to design their product, figure out where to invest and how to incorporate green technology. Because the competition is taking place in the virtual world, researchers will have the opportunity to observe how the teams interact. "We will research how people collaborate in the business competition and facilitate discussions with participants about those collaborations providing direct feedback to students about their teamwork skills," Howland said.

VirBELA has chosen a design firm to create the virtual world and is working with UC San Diego Visual Arts Department for research and development and to enhance the user experience. VirBELA is taking a cross-disciplinary approach to developing the virtual world, bring graphic designers, software engineers, computer engineers, business experts and organizational psychologists together to work on the project.

Beyond the business competition, the VirBELA design team will explore the vast potential for this virtual learning environment. The team is also considering using the VirBELA virtual world to host conferences, connect students with job recruiters and provide a virtual campus tour, among other projects.

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