The SLENZ Update – No 13, October 05, 2008

Rehearsing Real Life – 1

Simulated “real life”  training without the pitfalls and dangers of actuality appears  to be to be one of the killer applications for Virtual Worlds such as Second Life, especially for  New Zealand training institutions involved in adult and/or distance education.

From the courtroom training  of neophyte lawyers by the University of Queensland to the Second Life training of Canadian  border controllers these specialist simulation applications are beginning to chalk up points leading to better performing workers  who can better handle crises and diverse situations when they are  put on the job in real life.

One of these successful developments is IBM Research’s  “rehearsal studio”  which has allowed IBM employees to gain hard-to-learn skills and practice client engagement interactions in a Virtual World.

In a release from San Jose, Ca,  IBM Research, noting it had been demonstrated that people learn most of their required skills on the job rather than in classrooms, said it had created a virtual worlds rehearsal environment, based around real-life experience, designed to help its employees practice and learn high-level skills with their teammates.

Jim Spohrer, director of service research, IBM Almaden Research Centre, said, “We see many possible applications for this technology that lets you practice, play out different scenarios and gain insight quickly — an ideal environment for learning in a range of jobs. Learning in a virtual world helps us move the participants to front and center stage while still receiving valuable backstage coaching.”

IBM Research specifically designed its 3-D environment to help IBM employees conduct more successful client engagements in an area such as implementing a software system in a constantly changing auto parts business and conducting crisis management. In the rehearsal space, IBM Global Services teams interact with avatars in real-time and learn how to implement a successful services project. In one scenario, an IBM project manager tests out different auto parts production schedules — doing “what-if” analysis, such as creating excess inventory and sourcing different suppliers. The session runs eight hours in total and is recorded as a video, which can be searched and replayed to identify key episodes and provide feedback.

IBM internal research shows that compared to traditional classroom environments, on-the-job virtual learning can deliver improved efficiency and increase speed of learning by 10 times while decreasing the cost by a factor of 10.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from participants indicates that using avatars in a virtual world empowers them to take more risks, test their judgment and see the results of their decisions quickly,” Spohrer said. “Having IBM employees practice services engagements in a virtual world helps expose them to business situations they wouldn’t necessarily experience until clocking in many more hours of real-life work. Since typical services projects can run months or even years, using rehearsal means people can compress many months of learning in days.”

By tapping a virtual world for learning, IBM researchers are aiming to overcome two obstacles facing workplace education today. First, the virtual world places learning in an interactive, social context, shattering a bubble of individual isolation. Second, the virtual world embeds learning as part of employees’ every day work experience, rather than a special out-of-the-office training.

IBM is developing a software toolkit that is interoperable with other virtual worlds such as Second Life and Active Worlds that allows software developers to design rehearsal scenarios using drag-and-drop icons. By creating a toolkit, IBM imagines that one day experts could customize and design rehearsals for such difficult-to-learn capabilities as medical surgery and financial negotiations.

IBM’s 3-D Internet initiatives, please visit http://www.ibm.com/virtualworlds/.

Rehearsing Real Life – 2

Training future Canadian border guards in Second Life has resulted in a 28 percent  improved result in the average grade for student interview skills, according to Ken Hudson, of  Loyalist College’s Virtual World Design Centre, based in Ontario.

Hudson, who spoke recently at a conference in Tampa, said that in “2007 – without using Second Life”, student interview skills average grade was 58 percent. In 2008 – after using Second Life simulation, student interview skills average grade was 86 percent.”

The accompanying video, according to Wagner James Au, in New World Notes (http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2008/05/border-crossing.html), demonstrates this “pretty unexpected application of Second Life:  a mixed reality simulation of border crossing encounters for trainees for  the Canada Border Services Agency.

“In other words, training in the virtual world for the guarding of real world national borders. (Which come to think of it, are largely virtual too.),” he said.  “The alternative to this SL-based, VOIP-enabled simulation of the US-Canadian border, I suppose, is a costly real world simulation (booth, working gate, actors, cars, etc.)”

The virtual simulation of the US-Canada border crossing, enables students to practice quizzing travelers about their backgrounds. The program is one of several at Loyalist College that uses virtual worlds technology, including sims that teach prison guards and journalists. Almost ten percent of the student body has used Second Life in the course of their schoolwork.

One big draw for Loyalist is the low cost of building in a virtual world — no consultants were hired to build the simulations.

“We figured out early the way to make it efficient is to do everything ourselves,” said Hudson. Hudson works with five part-time designers to build and maintain the simulations, all of whom are graduates of the school’s animation program.

Blogger Kenny Hubble has Hudson’s interesting Tampa slide presentation at http://kennyhubble.typepad.com/kenny_hubble_worlds/2008/09/sledcc-tampa-presentation.html

Tame that lag

Lag, whether its young lag or old lag (just kidding) appears to be one of the biggest problems for personal users of Second Life in the New Zealand scene, especially in areas outside the major centres where cable  and high speed Broadband availability, appears spotty at the best and non existent at worst.

But, despite the lack of timely New Zealand-wide implementation of  reliable, consistent Broadband by the major telecommunication companies, not all the blame can be sheeted home to them.

Sometimes – probably more often than not – the problems lie in your own computer equipment, even though it is often hard to accept your choice of equipment or its age might be the reason that you are having a less than pleasant experience in Virtual Worlds.

The best guide that I’ve seen to finding out whether your computer is performing up to expectation and how to improve that performance so that when you hit a key it works in Second Life has recently been put out  by Tateru Nino in Massively.com  who says that one’s own personal computer lag is probably one of the least popular forms of lag, since a lot of people infer it to means that it is somehow their own fault.

The fact is, she says, your computer can only do so much work per second. The more work you ask it to do, the longer that work takes. ( http://www.massively.com/2008/09/29/massivelys-guide-to-reducing-your-second-life-lag-your-compute/)

Building guide

Killer Guides,  a well-known e-book producer in the MMO sphere, has recently launched Second Life Building Guide, an easy-to-understand 120-page primer on content creation in Second Life.

The Building Guide provides building techniques and tips to get you started on building your own remarkable objects in SL. Discover the how-tos to building, get a firm grasp of all the tools and techniques and equip yourself with the most effective strategies for creating  textured, prim-friendly original objects. With the know-how and expertise offered in this SL Building Guide, almost anyone can master the complex building skills and become a successful builder in no time.

This guide, although it doesn’t go into such things as sculpty prims and their use, is a worthwhile introduction for those who want to get started on building.

Available for download it is priced at US$29.99. http://www.killerguides.com/guides/sl/guide/second-life/building

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