NZVWGrid Upgrade – VLENZ Update, No 179, January 24, 2011

NZVWGrid  news

Auckland  U Portal ‘upgrades’

OpenSim  hardware

Will host 30-50 sims

The water-driven sawmill on Avalon (akl.nzvwg.org.8002.Avalon 2)

The  “virtual world team” at the University of Auckland will be “productionising” its  Opensim installation – Hypergrid address: akl.nzvwg.org.8002.aotearoa – over the  the next couple of weeks which should see the university’s portal on the New Zealand Virtual World Grid ready to accept more tertiary institutions.

Announcing the move,  Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga),  the Associate Director, IT Services,  at the University of Auckland, said the university  would now have separate servers for Development, Test and Production.

“The system will have four grunty production servers, which should host 30-50 sims, along with a separate database server for it all,” Dr Diener said. This  would add further stability to the user experience on the opensource OpenSim Version 7, HG 1.5 portal, he added/

The Auckland Portal now has voice working with Freeswitch, but the team is investigating licenses for Vivox as well. It also is investigating the use of the Havok physics engine which when and if implemented should further enhance the NZVWGrid experience, making  it near if not eqaul to the Second Life experience.

Dr Diener said  it  planned to subdivide  sims and “sell for $0 of course” the parcels to individuals  on the Auckland portal, which already includes Auckland University  and Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology sites as well as a SLENZ site  which will include the SLENZ Project builds from Second Life. There are also plans for a Virtual Life Education New Zealand  entry point.

The gateway point for Auckland Portal will become the Aotearoa sim which  also includes a Hypergate point to the hundreds of virtual world OpenSim  grids already mounted around the world.

Scott Diener, on Aotearoa, with Combat System sword

Dr Diener has written a gaming system that includes a battle meter and weapons scripts that works well  in Second Life (0n sale at Academe), and appears to work  in the Opensim environment “….not great…but okay,” he said.

“I will be refining that as well, and intend to use it with some of the projects I laid out last year (eg involvement in the Life Games Project), he said, adding he was seeking other interested participants for this project.

Meanwhile the SLENZ project developer and wellknown Second Life builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) has been given a commission to build some facilities for the University of Otago on the Otago portal (www. nzvwg.org) and he has also secured design work with the Manukau Institute of Technology, an orginal participant in the SLENZ Project, which is still determining whether to go with  Second Life, JokadyiaGrid or  the NZVWGrid for its current year foundation education work.

At

 

Academe in SL ... where the Falcon gaming system was developed and is on sale. The Falcon system sale site in SL pictured above.

MUVE education at NMIT– VLENZ Update, No 176, August 11, 2010

New Zealand  MUVE activity

NMIT launches  course covering

3d immersive environments

Class of 2010: The first NMIT class in 3d immersive environments.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  has successfully launched and is into the fourth week of an online course on multi-user three dimensional virtual environments (MUVEs) and their relationships to other multi-user technologies.

The 16 students, enrolled in the course (A&M624, Immersive 3D Environments), based on  the  NMIT Second Life islands  of Koru and Kowhai, are being tutored on-campus by Dr  Clare Atkins  (SL: Arwenna Stardust) and online by former SLENZ developer and New Zealand’s most experienced virtual world builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman).

Dr Clare Atkins

The course has been designed to  develop knowledge and understanding of using current generation commercial software as well as providing in-depth knowledge of specialised processes, techniques and media, according to Dr Atkins.

While the course includes explorations of other virtual environments, most of the classes  focus on the use of Second Life.

The course will take 60 hours class time,  with at least  half the classes in a virtual world, mainly Second Life.

Dr Atkins and Griffiths are known in New Zealand for creating and championing the successful $NZ500,00 Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) Project,  which  over an 18-month period created and established two pilot  education programmes, one with Otago Polytechnic in midwifery, and the  other  in Foundation (Bridging) Learning  with Manakau Institute of Technology.  The  Foundation Learning course, under  the leadership of MIT lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), has now become a permanent course within the MIT structure, with a large number of students participating in it.  Otago Polytechnic, however, decided at the conclusion of the pilot programme not to take the midwifery course any further.

Aaron Griffiths

Commenting on the first couple of NMIT classes Griffiths said that although the students  had appeared reluctant at first they had  quickly realised the potential (of Second Life) “… that it’s more than a game” with the student blogs starting to show their realisation of this.

” I am well pleased with this class…. most seem committed to learning ,” he said.   “Building  is slow, of course(and its) a HUGE step for many of them. I guess I am rather passionate about these environment … hopefully that rubs off on some.”

” The hardest part really is the limited time I have with them …  (there is) one hell of a lot to get across in such short spaces of time.”

Griffiths and Atkins  are detailing  the class’ activities  in a  blog, Immersive 3d environments, which also links into the student blogs:   this blog gives an interesting glimpse into how the lessons are constructed and are proceeding as well as student reactions.

NZVWG – VLENZ Update, No 172, June 03, 2010

Does the Emperor have any clothes?

New Zealand’s NZVWGrid  ‘newbies’ get

free avatar skins, hair, eyes and clothing

A ‘noobie’ appearance is no longer necessary in the  NZVWGrid …
free avatarskins, eyes and hair have been made available for users  …

New Zealand academics, researchers and  virtual world builders,  using and testing the alpha phase of the New Zealand Virtual Grid (NZVWG), no longer have to look like ‘noobs’ even though given some of the vagaries of the OpenSim environment they might sometimes feel like that.

Open source  avatar skins,  eyes, hair and clothing  have  now been made freely available on the Auckland  portal of  NZVWG at Kapua 6  (NZVWG  Kapua 6/88/116/34), and are  likely to be made  available  near the Auckland entry point to the MUVE on Kapua 3  as well as at other Portal entry points.

The full permissions skins have been created by the likes of Eloh Eliot,  Ziah Li,  Greybeard Thinker and others, with  the clothing obtained  from a variety of sources outside  the Second Life environment, such as free, full permission listings of clothing textures.

All are being made available under   “Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported” Creative Commons licenses.

The  NZVWG Project which grew out of  Otago University’s ONGENS programme is a joint venture of the University of Auckland,  the University of  Otago the University of Canterbury and  the Wellington Institute of Technology, Weltech.  A number of other institutions both in New Zealand and oversea have expressed interest in the project which is supported by New Zealand Telecom.

It is an open access national virtual world grid based on open source software. It operates on NZ-based servers hosted at Otago, Auckland and Canterbury Universities, and leverages other national investments in IT infrastructure through deployment on the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network).

The grid has been set up with an academic focus and will be used for research and education, as well as for proof-of-concept application deployments and testing.

The project, based on opensource OpenSim  technology, is being led by one of New Zealand’s foremost virtual world education   champions, Dr Scott Diener,  an academic and  Associate Director, AC Tech, Information Technology Services,  at the  University of Auckland. Diener is well-known, both  as himself and as his Second Life personna, Professor Noarlunga, in MUVE  education circles around the world for his development of medical simulations and teaching programmes within Second Life.

Although little educational research is currently being done  in the alpha test phase of  the NZVWGrid there are opportunities once testing is completed. Besides  Diener’s Second Life University of Auckland virtual medical centre project in Second Life, which  may migrate to the NZVWG,  Otago University  has set up  the Otago Virtual Hospital in NZVWG (OtagoMedicalSchool/162/99/2800)  and is also hosting scenarios for medical students to gain experience practicing as doctors.   Some members of the now completed SLENZ Project are also active in the NZVWG although  there are no plans at this stage for a sequel to that successful research project.

… as well as  both men’s and women’s avatar clothing
and a limited range of footwear.

SLENZ, VLENZ Update, No 170, April 22, 2010

Latest  SLENZ  Project/NZ VW news

SLENZ Project  may be over but

lecturers still use the builds

Foundation Learning  in use, free builds popular, viewing  by Indian Minister

The Wellington-based  Natraj School of Dance welcomes
the Hon. Minster Sibal and Indian delegates to WelTec.

The Second Life Education New Zealand Project may have been concluded but things are still happening on the  Second Life island of  Kowhai where  the Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Birth Centre builds are  sited.

SLENZ lead educator Merle Lemon, (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), of the Manukau Institute of Technology, and other lecturers are continuing to use the Foundation Learning build for normal real life classes in interview preparation, practise and assessment as part of that school’s Foundation Learning programme.

And the lead educator for the Midwifery Studies  pilot programme run by Otago Polytechnic, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) has fielded a number of enquiries from British and US academic institutions  interested in making use of the  Birth Unit build as well as the knowledge gained from teaching in it.

At the same time more than 50  free-to-the-public, full permission  Foundation Learning builds and more  than 15 Midwifery Studies’  Birth Unit builds, created by SLENZ Project Lead Developer Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman), have been picked up from the Kowhai Island welcome area. Goodman has also begun a series of tutorials and advice on the builds  here and  the first of series of articles looking at scripting of the builds here.

India’s HR Minister views SL

Toddles Lightworker (left), of WelTec, greets guests from New Zealand
and India who attended the  Indian Minister’s WelTec SL “viewing”.

Meanwhile on the neighbouring island of Koru, also run by  Nelson Marlborough Institute of  Technology,  SLENZ developer  and Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec) lecturer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) hosted a  Second Life  ‘viewing’ by  India’s  Hon. Shri Kapil Sibal, Minister of Human Resources Development (India’s equivalent of the NZ Minister of Education) during a visit to the Wellington Institution.

The Minister’s viewing – he asked a question about accessing Second Life from India  as there were  India-based researchers present in Second Life  –  came as part of discussions on collaboration with New Zealand in the area of vocational training and technology. Cochrane has a  special interest in  the use of virtual worlds for vocational training and technology. The meeting was also attended by Arwenna Stardust (RL: SLENZ Project joint leader, Dr Clare Atkins).

During his visit to WelTec the minister spoke about India’s immense demand for education and training with a population of more than 546 million under the age of 25.

WelTec CEO Dr Linda Sissons  said, “India and New Zealand share a special relationship in the fields of vocational education, applied research and innovation … both face unprecedented social and economic challenges and also have tremendous opportunities in co-operation, especially in the technical and vocational education and training sector.

The New Zealand government has also recently reaffirmed its commitment to an international relationship with India. and both nations confirmed their commitment to deepening education cooperation with the resigning of an Education Cooperation Arrangement, which was first signed in 2005.

An SL visitor from Mumbai, Zeus Zetkin, as Ghandi, with the University of Auckland's JudyArx Scribe  at  the WelTech  Sl viewing.

In SL for the “viewing”, Mumbai’s Zeus Zetkin,  (RL: Siddharth Banerjee, of Indusgeeks.com), as Ghandi and
JudyArx Scribe (RL: Judy Cockeram, of the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture).

SLENZ Project, VLENZ Update No 168, March 26, 2010

SLENZ  PROJECT DOES IT AGAIN

Midwifery Studies Build 1.0

available free to public

Much of the SLENZ birth unit featured in this PookyMedia
machinima has been made available free of charge.

The SLENZ Project  announced today that its Midwifery Studies Build Version 1.0, is now available for free pickup from the  Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT)  Second Life  island of Kowhai.

The build is being made available by NMIT, which ran the the New Zealand Government-funded SLENZ Project, under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 3.0.

The Midwifery Studies Build is the second to  be made available to  the public. The project has previously made its Foundation (Bridging) Learning Build available under the same criteria.

The full details of  both packages  are available on Lead Developer Aaron Griffiths’  The SLENZ Builds Technical Blog

The  packaging of the builds marks the culmination of the 18-month, $NZ500,000 SLENZ Project, the team members of which have now launched Virtual Life Education New Zealand to continue   their research as well as  to provide advice to virtual world users.

Call for “sharing, collaboration”

“Making the midwifery build available to the public means that the final deliverable for the SLENZ Project is now done,” SLENZ Project joint leader Terry Neal said.

In another sense, however, she said,  it is just the beginning.”

The team was thrilled that scores of  people had picked up the Foundation Build and hoped that the interest in the Midwifery Build would be similar. “Our dream is that learners all around the world can benefit from what we have done,” she said. “We also hope that others will imitate us in making what they develop freely available.

“Development in virtual worlds is not cheap and the more we can share rather than duplicating our efforts, the more we will have  available for all of us.”

Neal said she would love to see educators  all over the world focusing on “how we can design, develop and use virtual environments to significantly improve how all people learn, rather than creating builds for ourselves and locking them away.

“The cost is in creating not sharing,” she said. “However, I know people have to make a living and organisations vary in their commitment to a more sharing approach.”

Neal paid tribute to the Tertiary Education Commission and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology for their commitment “to sharing so generously”.

The Midwifery Studies Build (791 prims) contains all the items required for the Normal Birth Scenario developed by the SLENZ team for the SLENZ Project midwifery pilot, including the birthing room, midwives’ office, treatment room and outdoor courtyard.  Ceilings on the rooms have been removed to facilitate camera access.   The SLENZ Midwifery Studies Resource Pack includes the SLENZ Mother Controller (HUDs created by SLENZ Developer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker).
All package items are full permissions.

The Birthing Unit build, now available free.

The items are provided inside a 24 x 40 metre megaprim base (SLENZ Midwifery Studies Rez Base) and can be rezzed from this base once it is positioned.

Griffiths plans to hold technical discussions which will focus on a users’ first interaction with the Foundation Studies and Midwifery Builds.  It will look at the scripts used to welcome users and offer them introductory information.

He is available for help with the builds  and would appreciate feedback [debnaar@clear.net.nz]. Griffiths is currently investigating the production of OAR files for both builds so they can be used in alternative OpenSim environments.

The Midwifery pilot was conducted in conjunction with Otago Polytechnic and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT).  Midwife Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) was the Lead educator on the project.

Pickup your Birth Unit Build from the pyramid right foreground.

SLENZ PROJECT EVALUATION, VLENZ 165, Mar 10, 2010

SLENZ PROJECT EVALUATION RELEASED

SL Research project ‘successful’ but

marred by technical difficulties  …

Full PDF of Evaluation Report available here

Education conference delegates view a Birthing Room

The SLENZ team achieved “a remarkable success in creating and delivering” the core of the SLENZ Project, according to the official evaluation report of the $NZ500,000, Second Life  research programme released today.

This was despite the fact that both the project and student/educator learning  and engagement  had, at times,  been hampered  by  technical  challenges and difficulties during the 18-month long project, said Michael Winter, the independent evaluator of the project. He is  a veteran educator and senior researcher with  CORE Education, of Christchurch, New Zealand.

At the core of the project were two builds – a Foundation Learning Centre and a Birthing Centre – which were used for virtual world teaching as part of the project to determine the benefits or otherwise of virtual world education, and how these benefits, if any, could best be harnessed.

“The creation and effective employment of the two builds is a great success of the team,” Winter said. “In the process, the project team established a valuable corpus of experience in developing and using virtual world resources for tertiary education.”

The pilot programmes, Winter said, had both increased the engagement of learners with a familiar game like environment where learning may intentionally be a product of serious play; had been successful in creating experiential learning situations not available in ‘real life’;  had had only limited success with providing the  opportunity to learn the skills necessary to operate socially, technically, and ethically in an online global virtual world;   but had  provided an opportunity to “experience and practice collaborative, cross-cultural problem solving in social networking environments.

Although the report   appears a little short on hard facts, figures and comparative measurements it contains much  interesting anecdotal evidence from both students and educators and the conclusions reached  by Winter should be helpful to all  contemplating  or launching a new educational programme  within a Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE) such as Second Life.

Michael Winter

Winter said  that  the “success of the project”, which incorporated Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Midwifery Education pilot programmes, had  largely been due to the project management skills of the real life Project Manager (Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions) who  had been responsible for managing the budget, interpersonal communications, and ensuring that timelines were adhered to and deadlines met.

Winter  also singled out the  Project Developer (Aaron Griffths, of Fxual  Education Services)  for special mention.  “As far as the design and development of the builds are concerned, the Project Developer almost single-handedly achieved a remarkable success with both builds,” Winter said. “He was able to incorporate the differing needs of both the Foundation and Midwifery educators, and in many cases produced aesthetically pleasing and functional designs. The ongoing process of development generally met the required deadlines, although sometimes at some cost in terms of stress.”

Terry Neal

Winter  made a  number of recommendations for future projects exploring the use of virtual worlds in education, which should be useful to MUVE developers and researchers around the world.  These included:

  • The Project Team, and Lead Educators at each institution should become familiar with the IT processes, and strike up an ongoing working relationship with members of the IT team. This could be greatly facilitated by the identification of a senior manager to act as a champion of the project within the institution.
  • Clear identification of the hardware and network needs required effectively to run the virtual world on the multiple computers within a particular institution. This would include addressing network security and fire walling issues.
  • Clear communication with students who will be using the virtual environment off-site regarding hardware and software requirements to access and make use of all the features of the virtual world.
  • An indication to students of the broadband requirements and hardware specifications to run the virtual world effectively on their own home computers, including connection speed, and the likely impact on broadband usage.

    Aaron Griffiths

  • Give more attention and time to ensure that users become fully familiar with using Second Life. This could involve a more thorough orientation process including working with buddies experienced in Second Life.
  • Clear indication to students of expectations in terms of their participation and learning outcomes when using the builds.
  • Ensure that each stage of the build actively involves and engages learners, and avoids them spending time “just looking”.

Summaries

Foundation Learning pilot

In his  summary of his findings on the Manukau Institute of  Technology Foundation Studies pilot programme, led by lead educator,  Merle Lemon,   Winter noted that  the Foundation build had provided a rich environment for learners to develop their job-hunting skills, despite criticism of its external appearance.

“It provided the opportunity for students to review material they had learned in face-to-face sessions, and to practice dressing appropriately for, and taking part in, interviews,” he said, but “for many participants, the experience was marred by technical difficulties, which highlighted the need for careful planning and good collaboration with the IT department before introducing virtual world learning into on-site programmes.”

The  MIT staff, Winter said,  were generally keen to be involved in future work with virtual worlds, but stressed the need to resolve technical issues.

Midwifery Education pilot

In his summary of the Otago Polytechnic Midwifery pilot programme, led by lead educator Sarah Stewart,  Winter said the two completed stages of the Midwifery build had represented “a significant success of the project”.

He, however,  again noted technical problems involving both hardware and connections to the internet  –  as well as navigation difficulties within Second Life by both  students and tutors -as hampering the results in this distance education part of the SLENZ Project.

On the question of user navigation,  he said,  “It is likely that a longer and more careful period of orientation might help participants overcome these difficulties.”

But he said, “Those students that accessed the build, and who were confident with the environment, reported a high degree of engagement and enjoyment of the experience, especially in working through the scenario with a buddy. They found this experience removed some of the stress, compared with face-to-face role-play. “

Visitors look over the Foundation learning build

VLENZ Update, No 161, February 02, 2010

VLENZ PROJECT

Steering Committee named

for  new VLENZ Group

A new steering committee, which includes some of  New Zealand’s  leading virtual world researchers and educators,  has been named to head  the Virtual Life Education New Zealand (VLENZ) group, formed after the finish of SLENZ Project.

The  new leadership group is:  Dr Clare Atkins, of Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions, Dr Scott Diener, of the University of Auckland, Merle Lemon, of Manakau Institute of Technology, and Aaron Griffiths, of Fxual Education Services.

Dr Atkins and Terry Neal (pictured top right and left) were joint leaders of the NZ$500,000 Government-funded SLENZ Project;  Dr Diener(pictured middle right), the Associate Director, IT Services (Academic & Collaborative Technologies) at the University of Auckland, has led the development of the University of Auckland’s  much-lauded medical simulation project in Second Life,  is active in many international groups related to the use of virtual worlds in higher education, and  is a key player in the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG);   Lemon (bottom left),  an MIT lecturer, was a Lead Educator (Foundation (Bridging) Learning) for the SLENZ Project; Griffiths (bottom right) ,the founder of Fxual Education Services,  was the Lead developer for the SLENZ Project. Atkins and Griffiths initiated the SLENZ Project two years ago.

The VLENZ meeting early last week, which set up the steering committee, agreed  to the VLENZ name for the group,which will be a consortium of

individuals rather than institutions. It currently has 32 members drawn from education and virtual world research across New Zealand.

It will continue with this blog at slenz.wordpress.com, as well as becoming a sub-domain of the previously registered edumuve.ac.nz domain as vlenz.edumuve.ac.nz. It has a  Second Life Group  called VLENZ as well as a google group under the same name.

It is likely that the formal group will operate as a non-profit trust although this has not yet been finalised.

The group’s purpose and objectives are to be discussed  at meeting on the NMIT Second Life island of Koru at 10 am on Monday, Feb 8 (New Zealand time),  with the objective of finalising the  group’s  mission statement and initial goals.

VLENZ Update, No 160, January 20, 2010

A NEW START FOR 2010

NZ virtual world group off

the ground and running …

At the  NZVWG inaugural meeting: Arwenna Stardust, Rollo Kohimi
and Briarmelle Quintessa.

Fourteen  leaders in virtual world education in New Zealand attended the inaugural meeting earlier this week of  the New Zealand Virtual World Group (working name) on the NMIT island of Koru in Second Life.

The meeting, chaired by Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), one of the joint leaders of the recently-completed SLENZ Project,  was attended by university, polytechnic and others with interested in New Zealand virtual world education.

Professor Noarlunga

Besides SLENZ Project  joint leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel)   the University of Auckland’s Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), and multi-media improv dance exponent, Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime) the attendance also included educators from the United Kingdom and Tasmania.

The inaugural meeting, which was mainly an introductory session, set four items for discussion at the first working meeting which will be held at the KiwiEds’ meeting place on Koru at 10am New Zealand time next Monday.

Toddles Lightworker

The agenda items include:

  • Confirmation of the initial agreement that the  group should be  non-institutional  i.e.  a consortium of individuals committed to formal and informal educational initiatives in Virtual Worlds.
  • Group Structure: Determination of how the group should be structured and whether it should be informal or formal,not-for-profit, charitable  or commercial of something else and the roles which individuals could play in the group (positions) as well as tasks.
  • Steering Group:   Discussion of the possibility/necessity of establishing a  “Steering Group” and who should be on it.
  • Group Name:  Discussion and determination of a Group name.

    VonFaraway Meridoc

Besides those already listed among the  SL names   at the first meeting were: Toddles Lightworker (Weltec), CiderJack Applemore, Kattan Hurnung, Petal Stransky (Otago Polytec), Briarmelle Quintessa, (Manukau Institute of Technology) Work Quandry, VonFaraway Meridoc, Rusty Kemble, Anjil Kyoteri and Johnnie Wendt.

At the conclusion of the meeting Atkins confirmed that the formal evaluation of the New Zealand Government-funded SLENZ Project would be made available  shortly.

SLENZ Update, No 158, December 23, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

Yay! It’s a 2nd runner-up EDUBLOG

‘Oscar’ to  SLENZ  Project Team

‘Phenomenal’ result for team from Aotearoa/New Zealand

The SLENZ Project Team at work … the final 2009 meeting.  Key players, Terry Neal and
Aaron Griffiths at the head of the table, and Dr Clare Atkins, in black, left.

A chance meeting in Second Life three years ago between  Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), of the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology,  and  education-online tools developer and Second Life builder Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) came to a climax this week with  a second runner-up place for the SLENZ Project in  the prestigious, international EDUBLOG 2009 awards  in the “best educational use of a virtual world” category.

The placing  for the  the team from New Zealand was greeted with elation by SLENZ Project team members –  “the best Christmas present ever “- and seen by  independent educators, academics and  education institution administrators as “fantastic”, “phenomenal” and “unprecedented.”

The New Zealand team  won its second runner-up place in a competition which pitted it against 14 of the world’s best  “virtual world” education organisations. The winner of the title was  Virtual Graduation at the University of Edinburgh; the first runner-up, Virtual Round Table Conference; with the SLENZ Project sharing second runner-up status with  ISTE’s Second Life island.

‘Set a benchmark’

“I  think this is just phenomenal,” said Scott Diener, one of the world leaders in Second Life education and associate director, IT services, Academic Services, at The University of Auckland, in a message to the team. “The SLENZ team has truly set a benchmark against which other developments should measure.  I hope I can say ‘I am so proud of you’ without it sounding pretentious…because I am so proud of you.”

Tony Gray, the chief executive of the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology which hosted the SLENZ Project  initially  on its island of Koru in Second Life,  said in a message to Atkins on hearing  the news:  “This is a fantastic outcome and significantly achieved through your passion and commitment to the project. I am  very proud that NMIT should have first of all taken a lead and secondly that we can show a peer-reviewed achievement as a result.”

The SLENZ Project  grew out of that first meeting between Atkins and Griffths who both dreamed of seeing “students interacting with each other and their international peers, with the Second Life environment, with teachers, domain experts, inspirational speakers from all over the  “real” world”.  The project was funded by the New Zealand Government’s Tertiary Education Commission. It  has been completely developed under Creative Commons license with all builds freely available for use or acquisition by anyone with “full permissions.”

The EDUBLOG placings were chosen by public vote.

The SLENZ Project creations – 1. The Otago Polytechnic’s Birthing Unit during
a Jokaydia un-conference presentation

The SLENZ Project creations – 2. The Kowhai Island arrival pad.

The SLENZ Project creations – 3. Manukau Institute of Technology’s
Foundation (Bridging) Learning Pilot Programme

“I don’t think either of us ever really imagined that only three years later we would have been part of a team that had not only helped to realise that dream but had succeeded beyond our wildest hopes,” Atkins said today commenting  on the award to the NZ$500,00 project . It was designed to determine whether there were benefits from providing education in a virtual world and, if so, how those benefits could best be harnessed.

“The SLENZ project has been a very large part of my ‘real’ and ‘second’ life for the last two years and I sincerely hope that its successes will enable us to continue the work that it has begun,” Atkins, who is joint co-leader of the project, said. ” I think we have demonstrated, not only that the immersive and engaging experiences of multi-user virtual worlds have an enormous potential to enhance learning for all kinds and levels of tertiary students, but also that a small virtual team from New Zealand can create global-award winning experiences.
“Gaining this award is a recognition of the world-class work being done in Second Life by our educators, our designers and our developers and this is just the beginning,” she said. “I would like to thank those at the TEC who decided to take a bit of a gamble and fund the SLENZ project.

‘Brave decision’

“It was a brave decision to take in 2007 when education in this kind of environment was truly in its infancy but I believe that we have proved worthy of the trust that they displayed in us and that we have set the stage for some really exciting developments in the next few years.  The use of environments such as Second Life will change the way we teach and learn in the 21st century and I hope we have helped to sketch out the early plans of how this might be achieved.
Acknowledging the work of the development team, the Steering Group members,   SLENZ friends and support staff who enabled the project to run so smoothly,Terry Neal (co-Project Leader) “for keeping us all on track with such good humour” and  Tony Gray (CE, NMIT) for not only supporting the project but believing in it, she singled out Griffiths for “both  sharing the dream and for using his incredible 3D building and scripting talent to actualise it.”
Describing the award as “thrilling,” Project co-leader Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions Ltd,  said, “From the very beginning  we wanted to share our journey so others could learn from what we  could do well and what we could do better. I’m proud of what we have achieved, but its nice to know others value it too.
“It has been a wonderful team effort. Each of us has contributed in a different way but no subset of the team could have achieved what the team has. I’m  also proud that even though we are in such a small country we can still foot it with the rest of the globe when it comes to what is happening in virtual worlds.
“But we really need to build on what we have achieved over the last 18 months and maintain the  momentum through the recently formed New Zealand Virtual World Group (NZVWG).”

‘Lil, happy dance’

Aaron Griffths Second Life alter ego, Isa Goodman, “smiled and did a lil, happy dance” inside Second Life, on hearing the news, according to Griffiths, the SLENZ Project’s lead developer.

Griffiths added, “This is a great achievement and I think all the team should be proud of what we have accomplished. It is wonderful to have peer recognition that we have done something right in our attempt to explore the educational possibilities of virtual worlds and I hope that New Zealand will not now drop the ball  as this award, I believe.  recognises, we are up there with the best.
“On a personal level I am very proud to have produced builds that have been received so well,” he said. “I believe it gives some credence to the methodologies used in them and in particular to the Foundation Studies build, which was deliberately designed to capture some of the elements of play that an environment like Second Life allows.

“It showed I think a possible pathway for developing learning that can engage and be fun and still have a positive outcome in terms of student achievement.”

The core SLENZ team members who worked on the project, besides Neal, Atkins and Griffiths, included from time to time, Merle Lemon, Sarah Stewart, Todd Cochrane, Leigh Blackall, Ben Salt, Henry Work and John Waugh.

The SLENZ Project’s final fling – the Koru Xmas Party 2009

SLENZ Update, No 156, December 13, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT

SLENZ in 14  international finalists

for top Edublog 2009 award

Your vote will count! Click Button TOP RIGHT and vote.

The SLENZ (Seoncd Life Education New Zealand) Project team has been  honoured by being named among the 14 finalists  for an EduBlog 2009 Award  in the category, “Best Educational Use of a Virtual World 2009.”

The award is among those which  “celebrate the best educational blogs on the web”.

Although the SLENZ Project originated from an isolated  small country – one might say at the end of the earth – the nomination shows  again that Kiwis can compete on  an even footing with the rest of the world when it comes to internet applications, such as virtual worlds, despite in-country broadband limitations and the “tyranny of distance.”

It demonstrates that virtual worlds can create a world  without borders:  that ordinary New Zealanders – anyone – can collaborate across time zones,  national borders, cultures, ethnicities and languages to provide benefits throughout the world.

Dr Clare Atkins (SL; Arwenna Stardust) (pictured right), the SLENZ Project co-leader said that she was  delighted, when told  of the SLENZ nomination in the final list.

She appealed to readers of  the SLENZ Update: “If you have enjoyed reading the SLENZ blog we are really pleased. We would love it if you felt a strong need to show your appreciation by voting for us.”

The other finalists include prestigious virtual world groups such as:  CANVAS (Children’s Art in the Virtual Arena of Scotland); DEN SL Blog; Edunation; ISTE’s Second Life island; Reaction Grid; School of Nursing, University of Kansas; SIGMS in Second Life;  Sloodle;  The International Schools Island (isi); The UC Davis Virtual Hallucination simulation; Virtual Graduation at the University of Edinburgh; Virtual Macbeth – Angela Thomas; Virtual Round Table Conference.

“For SLENZ to even be listed amongst these groups is absolutely wonderful, ”  SLENZ Update editor/writer, John Waugh (SL: Johnnie Wendt) said. “While I would love for the SLENZ Group to win the award  I am very conscious of the calibre of the other finalists – they are the best in the world from a myriad of educational uses and I have accessed them all.”

He  wished the other finalists luck  and concluded with a call for SLENZ Update readers and their friends to vote for  Second Life Education New Zealand at  Edublog.

The Second Life Education New Zealand Project was funded by the New Government’s Tertiary Education  Commission. It has been designed to determine the benefits of using virtual worlds for education and  how best these benefits can be captured.

The work of the team has been completely “transparent” with all documentation/discussions etc included on this site. The team’s builds and findings  have all be done under Creative Commons attribution, are all OpenSource, and freely available to all educators as “full perms” packages.

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