The SLENZ Update – No 67, April 8, 2009

SL and secondary schools

Evidence of education benefits  grow

Evidence of the benefits of Second Life use in Secondary Education are growing as  New Zealand secondary school teachers look towards the possibilities of the immersive medium.

The latest report in The  Herald, published in Plymouth in the United Kingdom claims that 80 per cent of the 24 Year 9 students at Stoke Damerel Community College involved in the Second Life pilot scheme had hit their Key Stage 3 target for the subject within a term – against a target of three terms.

Media advanced skills teacher Darren Towers, commenting that the project was breaking new ground by helping children learn and giving staff a chance to assess its use as a teaching tool, said the pupils taking part were so passionate about the pioneering approach to learning that many chose to miss their break to turn up early for the weekly one-hour lesson, which would now be extended to an after-school club.

“So much has been written about the negative effect video games have on youngsters, but here we’ve utilised a cyberworld to show such a format can be used very successfully for both academic learning and improving social and leadership skills,” he said.

The Herald published an earlier report on the project at the maths and computing college in which Towers said it was hoped the Drake Island site on the SL Teen Grid would help to promote reading and writing among the 13-to-17-year-olds.

“We are trying new ways of looking into teaching to adapt to how young people spend their time,” he said. Another report  was in the Business and Games Blog which referred to the creation of  the teaching environment by the TwoFour Group.

At the moment  only Christs College, in Christchurch, appears to be internationally known as a participant in virtual worlds but other secondary teachers are known to be looking at possibilities and have made enquiries to the writer of this blog site.

Christ’s is listed as one of the 24 schools from Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Chile, Portugal, Canada and the United States participating in Skoolaborate, a global initiative successfully using a blend of technologies including, blogs, online learning, wiki’s and ‘virtual worlds’ to transform learning  for students aged between 13 and 18 years of age.

 

 

 

The SLENZ Update – No 66, April 8, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT

Foundation Learning Kowhai build begins

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The contrast between the build for The Birth Place (Te Waihi Whanau) and
The Foundation Learning project’s new build is quite striking.

There is a futuristic, almost organic building  growing out of the ground on the Kowhai Island, where the three-pilot   SLENZ Project – Midwifery, Foundation Learning and Orientation – is being created in Second Life.

Being designed/built by SLENZ lead developer Aaron Griffith’s (SL: Isa Goodman) , the “Clothing Centre”  has been designed to be  rezzable-on-demand, like all the Foundation buildings are likely to be.

The “centre” will be used by Foundation Learning students in the pilot programme to choose and put on the appropriate clothing for  job interviews and other interactions  set up by Foundation Learning lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa)  and her colleagues, before being assessed as to appropriateness for purpose by themselves, fellow students and educators.

When the build is finished it will be joined by rezz-at-will “classroom”  “conference” and interview spaces  for use by the students taking part in pilot programme.

The initial building  has been designed by Griffiths in close consultation with Lemon, to ensure relatively low lag – it will contain comparatively prim-heavy clothing, hair and other avatar accoutrements – and for ease of newbie camera use and movement.

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In the beginning …

The ground or first floor has been designated the display area with pose stand changing areas on the balconies on the second floor, closed changing rooms on the third floor and a fourth floor, at the top ,with the ability for a room ( holodeck) to  be moved  or fired 100 metres  into the air for complete privacy, something Lemon considers necessary and which may be in demand because of the cultural and religious diversity of her student body.

“It’s more to cater for those students, mainly female, who are culturally sensitive and do not wish to change their clothes within sight of anyone having the remote possibility of seeing them changing, even as an avatar,” Griffiths commented.

The floors will be connected by easy-to-use TP points.

Lemon, Griffiths said,   had specified a circular building with glass and metal. Working with her  – she had supplied pictures and sketches of her ideas – he had begun with mega cylinders before moving eventually to sculptie prims because they proved both easier to get the desired shapes and also were more attractive.

The build although having a light airy feel because of the arches and  iconic  Aotearoa-New Zealand panels of blue-green, see-through  paua (abalone) shell textures, still has form and substance. It is only 30 metres in diameter.

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Those “paua shell” panels
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Progress … the builder, Isa Goodman, and the “client”, Briarmelle Quintessa,
are working together.

The SLENZ Update – No 65, April 8, 2009

Coming to a screen near you

Another Second Life may live behind firewall at your work

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IBM in Second Life … now trialling stand-alone Second Life

Business and sometimes academic administrators’ worries about the lack of security of intellectual property within Second Life  appear to be about to be put to rest by Linden Labs with the announcement that  the stand-alone version of Second Life solution is currently in the alpha phase.

The Lindens have announced that they already have nine alpha installations in the field in organisations such as IBM, Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC), New Media Consortium (NMC), Intel, and Northrop Grumman and are planning to go into a limited closed beta phase this summer with general availability later this year.

The server solution is completely disconnected from the main Second Life environment but includes all Second Life’s rich functionality in the box.

There is no word yet about interoperability, but if it is possible to securely TP from Second Life main grid, behind the firewall for a specific task or work, such as prototyping, internal confidential conferences, seminars and work meetings, as well as private training, the new set up, depending on  that magic  word “cost” could prove a boon for Virtual World adoption, giving  enterprises the best of all worlds.

The Linden decision was based on the fact that enterprises, governments, and educational institutions  have consistentlycommented over the years that although they see tremendous promise in virtual worlds and the Second Life environment they could not incorporate  the core of their business into a virtual world unless they could do it behind a firewall.

Some of the most interesting comments/questions on the move have come from Lowell Cremorne in the Australian-based  Metaverse Journal.

He sees the key implications as being the minimisation of  key security and intellectual property issues,  and as being another nail in the mirror world – eg Twinity et al – coffin.

The SLENZ Update – No 64, April 2, 2009

THOSE SLENZ BUILDS

Getting immersive realism on the SL ground

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The “real” thing … the drapes and Isa Goodman

AN essential ingredient of getting the SLENZ Project  off  the ground  has been to ensure the builds have enough realism to ensure a “suspension of disbelief” occurs, according to the project’s lead developer, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman).

This, Griffiths (pictured) told the SLENZ team recently, was to allow users to become fully immersed in the experience without feeling it didn’t look/feel real. “This is a difficult task when faced with the rigidity that building using Second Life’s 3D primitives have inherent in them, given the hard lines that these building blocks present,”  he said.

It had been circumvented in the past, he added,  through an intense use of multiple primitives to form every bend or curve of an object but this not only loaded a scene with primitives (more download requirements) but also added to the workload in creating and aligning textures to each of the primitives to create a complete object.

Although noting that the creation of organic shapes was now possible in Second Life using sculpties (sculpted prims created with texture maps), Griffths said, the creation of the number required to achieve the desired results within the hours defined by the SLENZ Project budget “just wasn’t a possibility.”img_05021

Therefore, he said, he had been excited to discover within  Second Life Rusalka Writer’s large sculptie sets with what he feels is the desired level of realism to make the build “that much more than a  2D  drawing” one can move through.

“So now, in the birthing room for example, we have rumpled eiderdowns and flowing drapes as opposed to the not so real faked 3D using shadowed textures on rectangles,” he said.

The   Rusalka Writer sculptie sets at her shop in Bahoozamoth, Griffths, a director of  F/Xual Education Services, said, were full permissions and inexpensive compared to most of the sculpties sets he had seen in-world.

Griffiths said that besides the realism/immersion issue he also had been concerned for sometime about the lack of interaction with the build in Stage 1 of the SLENZ midwifery build.

“Yes one can open doors and walk around, draw or open curtains (now beautifully flowing *smiles*) etc., but really in terms of  interactivity this stage of the build is currently limited to clicking on objects and
receiving information either in the form of notecards, dialogs or links out to the web,” Griffiths said. “The realism mentioned above will definitely create a more immersive experience and given that this (build) has been designed as an ideal birthing unit ( i.e. one that generally cannot be experienced in the real world) there will be a learning aspect in terms of sensing the atmosphere that such a unit could bring to the birthing
experience.

“But interactive… well not quite,” he said adding that he had been struck  by the fact that when he had recently met some of the midwives in-world for a walk-through  without exception, when they had entered the birthing room, they had attempted to enter the birthing pool.

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The “real” thing … all the midwives wanted to try the birthing pool.

“Well you would wouldn’t you?” he asked, and added, “… yet this aspect of engaging with the build had not been really considered for this stage despite his and other’s interest in the capability of MUVEs to present the aspect of play in a learning experience.
Building on that observation,  he said he had talked to the midwives about the possibilities and it had been suggested that, as well as clicking on each of the items displayed to present different birthing techniques (e.g. the birthing pool, the leaning mantle, the rope etc) and linking out to information on the  web relating to the theory involved, “we create pose animations for each of the objects that would optionally allow the users to “assume the position.

“Not only would this be instructive in a sense but would insert an element of fun that I feel is distinctly lacking in this stage,” he said, asking for the team’s thoughts on the idea.

Looking forward to Stage 2 of the midwifery build where the SLENZ Project intends to simulate a normal childbirth scenario there had also been a boon in discovering the Rusalka Writer sculptie sets, he said.

“Again in terms of suspending disbelief it is important in my view that we create as realistic a ‘baby’ as is possible,” Griffiths said.

The creation of a prim-based, scripted robot, or an avatar-based bot, logged in specifically for the birth, had been discussed but both had their drawbacks: the prim bot ,though easily manipulated through scripting ,would be hard to make look real, while the avatar would have to be logged in (complete with floating name and title) and manipulated, with the problem of animation permissions to be overcome.

“What a joy then to find amongst the sculptie sets a full set of body part shapes that with good texturing may solve our problems in this respect,” he said.

“All-in-all a good week for the developer with a much better sense that the midwifery unit will immerse, engage and have the end result that we all are heading towards,” Griffiths concluded.

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The “real” thing … a bed that looks soft enough to sleep on.

The SLENZ Update – No 63, April 2, 2009

A lesson in architecture

‘Bar-raising’ Frenzy on Auckland U sim

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Described by  Jon Brouchoud (SL: Keystone Bouchard), noted blogger on architecture, a freelance virtual architect and founder of Crescendo Design, as set to become a bar-raising effort for demonstrating the benefits of using virtual worlds in architectural education, Auckland University senior tutor, Judy Cockeram’s (SL: JudyArx Scribe) Putahi prototype “Frenzy”  March 30 was definitely something to talk about.

That was despite being a little confusing, sometimes uncomfortable and at times difficult to  find one’s way around.

But  architects, students and others who attended – about 100 in all – described the event  as “extraordinary,”  “inspiring” and “fascinating”.judyarxfrenzy_0091

And the nine Auckland University third-year architecture students who had burned the midnight oil preparing the “Frenzy”, exhibited simultaneously in real life on a large screen, also were “rapt”, according to Cockeram, a senior lecturer in architecture and pictured as JudyArx Scribe at right.

The students had spoken in-world with real life architects, academics and “expert”  Second Life builders/designers, receiving  both advice and feedback.

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Cockeram   had invited her students  from the University of Auckland to explore architectural and urban strategies within the “existing and vibrant” Non-Profit Commons archipelago in Second Life, through building in their living sketchbook , allowing the effectiveness of their “urban intervention”‘ to become immediately evident.

The students, none older in-world than 40-days, let it all hang out  – the good, the bad and ugly -  asking the general SL public  to play with and talk about their ideas.

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Cockeram said, in her invitation to Brouchoud, who attended, “As an Architect in SL you have a unique perspective on the role of the crit in our education.

“In SL a traditional crit makes very little sense so we are trailing a different way of engaging in the process of exchanging and debating the ideas and fit of proposals and projects. The students are working on a project for the Non Profit Commons, a group who host a large number of RL Charities – the issues are most like those of a small town needing an urban intervention. But importantly because this is SL the students are still in a building phase so they can hear and take on ideas to improve their project before they have to walk their peers though.

“We hope the students of Tab Scott (noted SL architectural writer and academic) and the students of the Living Sketchbook will meet up for an in-world (and i dont know what to call it) debate/crit/party/presentation/ but a sharing of architectural ideas and ideals a couple of days later. We need your help to invent a format that stands the test of the Architect’s and Academic’s stare. As someone who has helped set those standards we want you to come and talk and push ideas and continue the climb to a an even more extraordinary world and Second Life.”

As she requested  visitors did “come and run, jump and fly through the thoughts of the first group of nine students to venture into the Metaverse from the University of Auckland’s Architecture and Planning School.

“Because they are the first this event will be on the big screen with nine others computers in front of the whole school over the three hours – we would love to have the metaverse wave back to the physical world.”

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After the event Cockeram described it as “absolutely fascinating for a first time. As a teaching event it was extraordinary. The level of student enrichment was far higher than expected and well outside the normal criteria.”

She noted that both academic and architectural students from around the world had visited and discussed the “projects” with the students involved.

Among the lessons learned, Cockeram said, however, was the need to determine how better to interface and present Second Life or virtual worlds  to people in  real life (even with the big screen most watched the students at the keyboards, rather than SL on the screen) to allow more real life interactivity and participation even if one is not in world.

The frenzy is now in the process of being dismantled.

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