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M.U.P.P.E.T.S. gets a hand from Microsoft

President Simone & Shiela Sarratore
M.U.P.P.E.T.S. technology illustrating molecules in a virtual environment.

M.U.P.P.E.T.S. has caught the attention of Microsoft Research. And no, not Jim Henson’s well-known characters. At RIT, M.U.P.P.E.T.S. stands for Multi-User Programming Pedagogy for Enhancing Traditional Study – a collaborative virtual world designed to educate students about programming and graphics. The goal is to engage upper-division students in the education of lower-division students during their first-year programming courses.

This technology is the brainchild of Andy Phelps, IT assistant professor in
the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences. Microsoft Research has awarded RIT an $85,000 grant to continue to refine the M.U.P.P.E.T.S. technology and ramp up the software. The money will also go toward disseminating the software to other universities.

“Microsoft Research was interested in the technology because it wants to find new ways to encourage the study of computer science,” says Phelps.

“Computer science enrollment numbers are down nationally, in part because students aren’t motivated to learn by traditional computer science curricula. Microsoft Research is looking for ways to encourage students to want to learn, which is a shared goal of the M.U.P.P.E.T.S. project.”

Phelps, along with IT professors Kevin Bierre and Chris Eggert, and Dave Parks, M.U.P.P.E.T.S. lead programmer and engine designer, presented the M.U.P.P.E.T.S. concept at SIGGRAPH 2005, the international conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques.

This technology has been evolving for three years.

“The best thing that has come out of this project is the culture of innovation that has sprung up around it and taken root in the entertainment technology lab of Golisano College,” says Phelps.

Kelly Downs