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Pioneering researchers at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus are in the running for a top UK teaching award. 
A team of computing engineers based in the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) has been shortlisted for a prestigious Times Higher Education (THE) Award for their contribution to information and communications technologies (ICT).

The Times Higher Education is the UK’s premier weekly academic publication and universities and institutions across Britain submitted more than 500 entries in 18 categories for the awards.

The Serious Games and Virtual Worlds team (SGVW) has been nominated in the THE Outstanding ICT Initiative of the Year category.

Formed just three years ago, the SGVW team is quickly gaining an international reputation for cutting-edge innovation in a new and constantly evolving field, the use of ‘virtual worlds’ in education.

Video game technology is maturing and  becoming a serious educational tool, with Ulster and many universities using “Second Life” and other virtual world platforms as teaching and learning aids.

The SGVW’s main focus is on creating flexible 3D virtual world technology and expanding its use in university teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  These are the so-called STEM subjects that are pivotal to worldwide economic growth.
The project team comprises Michael Callaghan, Kerri McCusker, Julio Lopez Losada, Dr Jim Harkin and Dr Shane Wilson.

Lecturer and SGVW team leader Michael Callaghan said: “We are delighted our ‘Engineering Education Island’ project has been shortlisted for this prestigious award by leading UK educational experts.”

Research associate Kerri McCusker added: “Virtual worlds provide the ideal platform to engage the next generation of learners and we are excited that we have this opportunity to disseminate our work to a wider audience”.

Michael Callaghan explained: “The Engineering Education Island project demonstrates the benefits of linking virtual worlds and virtual learning environments in the creation of the next generation of teaching tools.  It allows students to learn collaboratively and competitively in immersive spaces in engaging and innovative ways”.
Experts believe virtual world technology – as a complement to learning, not a substitute for teaching  – will be as commonplace in schools and universities in 10 years as computers are now.

The team is based in the ISRC, located in the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems in the Faculty of Computing and Engineering.

The ISRC has around 100 specialist researchers from more than 15 countries and carries out world-class research in highly complex computer engineering disciplines such as Computational Neuroscience, Cognitive Robotics and Brain Computer Interfacing.

Once futuristic concepts are being turned into reality, with benefits for healthcare, industry, education and leisure.

The awards ceremony will be on Thursday 25th November at the Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London.