The SLENZ Update – No 17, October 19, 2008

SL not only option, but …

more positive VW view

Eduserv Foundation report

Second Life is not the only option for teaching, learning and other educational activities in virtual environments according to an autumn 2008 “snapshot” of UK Higher and Further Education developments in Second Life.

But it is becoming more positively viewed as an education tool by UK educators who in general believe that virtual worlds will become a mainstream part of education over time.

The report containing these observations, (http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation/sl/uksnapshot102008) summarises to October 2008 an important on-going investigation into the use and uptake of Second Life by UK Higher and Further Education.

The survey’s main goals include: ascertaining the “state of play” of Second Life developments within the Higher and Further Education sector, discovering how these developments are supported, exploring functionality and determining the impact of these developments.

The on-going survey – this the fourth report over 18 months – is funded by the five-year-old, UK-based Eduserv Foundation, which undertakes activities that support the effective application of information and communication technology in education.

The foundation has committed funding to ten substantial research projects related to e-learning, one of which is this Virtual World Watch project.

Responses to the survey were received from staff and research students in 36 UK universities and two colleges, two companies, and the Joint Information Systems Committee’s Regional Support Centres.

With the theme that “Second Life is not the only fruit” in the virtual worlds the latest report sums up the views of a large number of respondents who have either carried out some kind of teaching and learning activity in Second Life, or were planning such events for the new academic year.

These included collaborative learning and design, seminars, workshops, tutorials and induction courses. Several lecturers and supervisors, the report said, used Second Life to hold tutorials, or communicate with remote undergraduate or PhD students; a significant number of universities are carrying out research as to the effectiveness of using Second Life especially in teaching and learning.

“Positive benefits were mentioned by the majority, such as student skill acquisition, ease of communication and the ability to meet peers one would otherwise not meet. Problems such as the amount of work required to run in-world sessions were also reported, the snapshot report said.

As with previous snapshots, the two issues of obtaining funding for virtual world development, teaching and learning, and technical problems, predominated.

But the general reaction of peers and academics to virtual worlds seems to have improved over time. “More respondents reported largely positive, or a mixed, attitude locally and in the wider university sector,” the report said. “Some academics who were previously cautious or negative about the use of virtual worlds in education became more positive after using the technology, or seeing the benefits.”

Finally “Looking ahead, most respondents who chose to answer thought that virtual worlds were more likely to be a “mainstream” feature of UK education, rather than a “niche” or “novelty”.

“However, several of these respondents felt this would be a gradual long-term development over several years.”

Many respondents, the report said, had used, or were considering examining, virtual worlds and on-line environments other than Second Life.

The three most mentioned of a dozen other applications were Google Lively, Wonderland and OpenSim. Lively, however, was found to be disappointing in terms of education-relevant functionality, Wonderland had considerable communication potential, and OpenSim had attractive options for creating a closed virtual environment.

ThinLinx for sustainability?

The question of whether cloud computing and thin personal computers can  increase sustainability in an energy-greedy world is about to be answered  by a small Australian  husband and wife team with their US$100 Hot-E PC.

“… you could put 50 of them in a classroom and they’re only using 3 watts each instead of 200 or 300 watts that normal PCs use,” the thin computer’s creator John Nicholls said recently from his home on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Although initially created with  a focus on the third  world Nicholls says he now envisions future revisions of the Hot-E being used as extra PCs in ordinary homes.

But to me it could develop into the ideal hardware on which to mount the thin software of a Second Life style virtual world client (32mbs) if not via the so-called cloud.

With his wife Jeanne he has developed the line of palm-sized personal computers containing the bare minimum of horsepower with most processing and data storage handled by a remote server accessed over the internet.

Targeting cost- and power-conscious small and medium businesses, schools and developing countries where normal PCs are prohibitively expensive, impractical or draw too much power Nicholls has reportedly claimed  his company ThinLinX, has just partnered  a major, global software company.

The ThinLinX website (http://www.thinlinx.com/) currently sells the thin range for A$250 each but Nicholls says he is now on the verge of launching a new, faster range, with the entry-level model selling for “just under US$100″.

With the on-going improvement in broadband connections companies such as Google and Microsoft have already released software applications that live on the internet instead of locally on the user’s PC.

Nicholls told the Syndey Morning Herald recently  he envisioned future revisions of the Hot-E being used as extra PCs in the home.

“If you had a media centre running in the lounge and it’s got a TV tuner built into it plus a hard drive that stores DVDs and movies … I could see kids sitting in the bedroom being able to watch TV, movies and play MP3s using the Hot-E,” he said.

He didn’t mention the possibility of accessing multiple user virtual worlds or playing MORPGs on-line but given the right graphics card they just might answer the sustainability question posed by some academics about computer use in teaching and virtual worlds in particular.

RL fashion/design & training

In FRI country … Red Chantilly Lace Dress by Xand Nagy. Picture by Callipygian Christensen.
Courtesy Shengri La: Utopian Micronation

Fashion and consumer packaging designers are to be given access to and the use of 3-D tools with the Second Life client interface following the signing of a multimillion dollar  IBM Global Business Services agreement between IBM and the Fashion Research Institute (FRI)  earlier this month

The agreement to implement a first-of-a-kind Virtual World Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Enterprise System also will allow designers to connect to the OpenSim virtual world platform to create packaging and fashion products, provide efficient workflow queues, and allow groups with an interest in the product to collaborate and modify designs. The program will also generate virtual product samples and accurate factory specifications that enable high quality product mass-manufacturing in the real world.

FRI, headquartered in New York, NY, conducts research into technology-based initiatives and develops emerging technologies to overhaul traditional fashion practices and methodologies. FRI’s mission is to reduce the carbon footprint and change the environmental impact of the industry in ways that are sustainable, replicable, respectful of the practitioners, and meaningful for all stakeholders. FRI maintains Shengri-La, a five-island complex in Second Life, and an OpenSim complex.(See blog: http://shenlei.wordpress.com/)

“We’re proud to pioneer the first big business solution that leverages the OpenSim virtual world platform to address economies of scale,” said Shenlei Winkler (Shenlei Flasheart),  CEO of FRI. “The Fashion Research Institute understands how to design real world consumer goods using a virtual world environment, and IBM understands the scaling challenges of global enterprise. Taking on both simultaneously is a winning move.”

This virtual world enterprise solution, expressly created as a product design environment, will offer a fundamentally new work-flow system which will address critical issues facing the design industry, such as ensuring manufacturability of designs and decreasing substantial sample costs by two-thirds. Users of this solution will ultimately be able to enter a virtual world, receive training on the systems, and take a design from concept to prototype — with every step short of actual manufacturing being done virtually.

FRI will offer an IBM-backed and co-developed enterprise solution providing a simpler and more intuitive user interface than currently existing design-industry-oriented software including scalability for businesses of all sizes. Users of the IBM-built technology could see product sample creation costs and time to market decrease dramatically.

The initial proof-of-concept solution expected to go live in in the second half of 2009 will be piloted by up to 20 international design houses. Ultimately this solution will be offered as a design service or enterprise installation, to creative industry design houses of all sizes globally.

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