The SLENZ Update – No 21, November 02, 2008

How ‘real’ are VWs?

A research team, led by North Carolina State University’s Zelnak Professor of Marketing and Innovation, Dr Mitzi M. Montoya, has developed a new way of measuring how “real” online virtual worlds are – an important advance for the emerging technology that can be used to foster development of new training and collaboration applications by companies around the world. ( http://news.ncsu.edu/news/2008/10/wmsmontoyavirtual.php)

The research was focussed on developing the measurement tool specifically for business applications in the virtual world because the productivity and effectiveness of workers interacting via online environments is closely linked to how well the workers are able to feel as if they are actually in the virtual realm.

“This is an important issue,” Montoya said, “because we believe that if users feel they are ‘present’ in the virtual world, they will collaborate better with other members of their team – and the more effective the virtual world will be as a setting for research and development or other collaborative enterprises.”

Additionally, Montoya said “an increased sense of presence in the virtual world leads to better comprehension and retention of information if the technology is being used for training purposes, and trainees are happier with the process.”

The measurement scale, called Perceived Virtual Presence (PVP), factors in how users interact with the virtual environment, with their work in that environment, and with other users.

“Now that we have developed the PVP scale,” Montoya said, “it can be used to determine which PVP levels are most conducive to training, collaboration or other applications.” Effectively, the PVP scale can be used to design a virtual environment that has the degree of reality that will best cater to a company’s specific needs.

Montoya developed the PVP metric with Dr Anne P. Massey, Dean’s Research Professor of Information Systems at Indiana University.

Distance Education Event

November 10-14, 2008 – The US Distance Learning Association is sponsoring National Distance Learning Week (NDLW)  to promote and celebrate the growth and accomplishments occurring today in distance learning programs offered by schools, businesses, and governmental departments (USDLA). In support of this initiative, and highlighting the global reach of virtual environments, several organisations are collaborating to present and celebrate the tremendous potential of the virtual world of Second Life for distance learning. November 10 (Free in SL -12:30 am SLT and run through 8:00 am SLT): a full-day conference will include presentations from within Second Life and in real life at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne (audio capability and the latest version of Quick Time required) . http://slurl.com/secondlife/Selmo%20Park/67/174/26

The first presentation will be at 12:30 am SLT from students of the L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris presenting “Eden of the Lost Animal.”

Other featured speakers include Bryan Carter, University of Central Missouri; Ed Lamoureaux, Bradley University; Jeremy Kemp, San Jose State University; Claudia Linden from Linden Labs; AJ Kelton from Montclair State University; Tim Linder, Meramec Art Department; and Beth Ritter-Gluth, Literature Alive.

Collaborating organisations include: University of Central Missouri, the Alliance Virtual Library in Second Life,  the Bibliotheque Francophone, and the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs de Paris. Info: Bryan Carter at: bc&@mac.com

Healthcare training

Margaret Hansen (SL: Maggie Waechter), of the San Francisco School of Nursing, has provided a lot of the answers on what virtual training in healthcare in worlds like Second Life can achieve and at the same time pointed to the directions virtual healthcare training should take. (http://www.jmir.org/2008/3/e26)

Entitled “Versatile, Immersive, Creative and Dynamic Virtual 3-D Healthcare Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature.” the Hansen overview comes to the conclusion that Virtual worlds  “may change the way people learn and live in the future”.

“The major strengths associated with virtual worlds are one’s ability to design and construct unique environments and then share them with others in a collaborative fashion,” she said in her report. “Educators may write specific learning goals for students to complete while learners actively build and interact in environments that promote creativity and social networking.”

Other advantages include  “virtual training approaches that yield results and are invaluable for healthcare professionals, and improvement in students’ access to places otherwise difficult to reach and heightened student engagement because the real-time social interaction and gaming aspect spurs chances for “discovery-based and goal-oriented learning”.

She, however, does not shirk from the challenges faced by healthcare education in 3D worlds, detailing what criticism there is.

She concludes in part: “Virtual 3-D learning environments may encourage active learning while students create and explore activities similar to those of a “field trip”, versus the experience of a static classroom setting. This reaching out and meeting new avatars and practicing communication skills in an aesthetic environment may help maintain today’s students’ interest in learning and provide valuable experiences that may enhance student engagement, promote participation, and motivate self-directed learning.”

Picture below: Maggie Waechter (the avatar of the author) visiting the Sexual Health sim in SL.

OpenSpace Land revolt

An avatar/resident revolt over Linden Lab’s signal of  a 67 percent  hike in the purchase price and maintenance fee of “OpenSpace” SL sim land has led to headlines,  avatar self-‘immolation, forum and blog protests and the threatened exodus of  hundreds of avatars for other virtual worlds.

The proposed price rises have also  worried educators who have used “cheap” “OpenSpace” sims to make their regions more attractive as well as ordinary residents who have used the “void” spaces for a multitude of purposes other than just decoration.

The most balanced coverage of the events so far has probably been provided by noted Second Life journalist Wagner James Au (pictured). http://gigaom.com/author/wjamesau/
He notes, however, that there have been protests like this throughout the world’s five-year history, but without a competing virtual world offering all the unique features of Second Life, angry customers have largely stayed put, despite their grumblings.

“Now, however, there is an increasingly viable alternative: OpenSim, an open-source platform for developing virtual worlds, that was, ironically, made possible after Linden Lab released its viewer code,” he said. “Though still in beta mode, OpenSim has attracted developers with IBM, Microsoft, and numerous startups, so it’s bound to rapidly improve.”

Given the fact that registrations for one OpenSim jumped dramatically in the days after the Linden announcement it might be wise this time for the Lindens to take notice before more residents start voting with their tiny avatar feet.

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