The SLENZ Update – No 43, January 31, 2009

2.Would you believe Kermit?

pasteure2

Although I don’t agree with a lot of what she says I would recommend that you should read knowledgeable educationist/researcher Eloise Pasteur’s (pictured above and left below)  reply to  my blog (SLENZ Update No 42) on  the necessity – or not – of providing oneself with a “credible” avatar when either doing ‘real’ business or endeavouring to provide a ‘real’ education in Second Life (http://eloisepasteur.net/blog/index.php?/archives/252-Wouldnt-you-believe-Kermit.html).

To me, using Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”,   the Second Life avatar –  his, her, its credibility –  and the avatar profile/groups/picks etc is part of that message, reinforcing or devaluing it.  For those of us who might argue that education in Second Life is more powerful than either tele 0r video-conferencing for business  or other forms of e-communication or e-learning because of “presence” it would seem obvious that the credibility of the avatar is all important, unless one is a “kidult” in the virtual world of such virtual world’s as Habbo Hotel or on the teen grid, and even there “presence” in a fantasy sense is important.

Even the creators of video games such as Grand Theft Auto know the value of “presence.”

It is well-known and possibly an unfortunate fact in the real world, outside VWs, that 80 percent of one’s initial perception (judgement) of another individual is based on appearance: That subconscious value  judgment  is made not only  by white male chauvinists in the real world  but also by the sweetest, most progressive, liberal humanitarians no matter how much they attempt to modify their behavior.   To say this doesn’t happen in a virtual world, which is a microcosm of the real world with all its faults,  is to wear blinkers.  No matter whether it is right or wrong, a number of researchers have already established  that those with “power”  “acceptance” etc in Second johnniefbLife are those with the best-looking or most cleverly-created avatars, even if fantasy figures which are in context.  Researchers have also established, at this stage anyway, that avatars with black “skins” are not treated the same way by the denizens of Second Life, as those with lighter skins.

Yes, Eloise, Second Life is like Real Life  (JW pictured RL, right), whether we like or not  and whether or not we can change it. And yes Eloise the visual appearance of the presenter is important to me and other  “ordinary people” – rather than academics –  both in Real Life and MUVEs because that is  where my/our initial value judgment comes from, no matter how much I wish it was otherwise.  The importance of visual appearance to 99.9 percent of the denizens of Second Life and other similar Virtual Worlds –  given the fact that obesity and age are ubiquitous in the Western World, from which most SL users are drawn –  is demonstrated by the lack of  fat, ugly, or aged, ugly avatars, either male or female, among  users, with even a few days experience. The first thing the average user does is get rid of the “noob” skin and then  tinker with their shape and height before picking up clothing.

Eloise, you might not focus on the presenter in Real Life,  but I do,  believing that academics who rely on, and repeat almost line for line,  boring PPT presentations, don’t have anything new to impart and don’t know their material. A  PPT presentation should be no more than an adjunct or an aid to  a presentation: if that is all one relies on for learning/information one doesn’t need the “presence” of either the real person or an avatar, or even need to be in a virtual world for the learning/business process to take place. Virtual Worlds, for better or worse, are about people interacting with each other,  rather than with the magic board or a slew of cryptic PPT slides.

In both worlds a credible presenter and his/her or message will hold one riveted.  One doesn’t look at the clock or out the window. This will become more and more evident as voice  takes over more and more within VWs.

pasteureYour willingness, Eloise, to completely “ignore the appearance of the avatar … because I just don’t look at them” at the presentations you attend would suggest to me that there is no necessity for you to be in a Virtual World  attending those presentations – they could just as easily be done via email/text or other less bandwidth hungry forms of e-learning.

Having been in SL with a variety of avatars for some four years and other VWs/MMORPGs longer I have to agree with Eloise, however,  “that avatar appearance is totally independent of the quality of their mind and the quality of what they have to say.”

That given, however, I am unlikely to listen to a heavy breathing, male, minotaur avatar, with membership of various BDSM, “rape” and Gorean groups in his profile  and a large exposed genitalia, discussing equality for women with anything but a sense of derision if not disgust.  But I too have learned things such as building/terraforming/scripting from fairies, elves, furries, butterflies, herms, males who are females and vice versa  and even “beasts”, on occasion, but not in a “formal” education sense, and only after getting to know them.
Finally, Eloise,  as you say, as  educators, we have a multitude of roles, duties and responsibilities to our learners.

“One of those can be loosely summed up as ‘putting the learners at ease so they can learn,’ ‘ you say, and another “challenging inappropriate behaviour for example bullying, racism and sexism.”

Additionally I would add, no matter how old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy it may seem,  as educator-avatars we must also think of our own appropriate behaviour/appearance/context etc if we are to be wholly effective both in Real Life and Second Life. Both are parts of the Real World. – Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh

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The SLENZ Update – No 42, January 28, 2009

Would you believe ‘Kermit?’

pressconf_002

People like to have fun with their avatars but, is a big, green, frog credible as a senior Linden Lab executive (no don’t say it), a large organisation’s Chief Financial Officer authorative as a friendly Beagle pup, or a renowned educator and SL guru believable as a flittery, monarch butterfly?

It’s a shame, when one can be “anything”  in Second Life, that  educators and others in leadership roles, if they want to  achieve anything based around credibility, cannot and should not, in my view, adopt/create avatars that are distracting, disruptive,  incredible, discreditable  or just downright tacky and/or profiles, including picks, that provide a counter-productive message.

I believe, in this period before Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity occurs and we evolve into online beings, that the real life humans behind the screens of all avatars  – particularly students  – are inherently conservative and are conditioned to seeing their educators, even if no longer “the sage on the stage”, as credible representations of earthbound homo sapiens, adhering to an appropriate standards of  appearance, costume, gesture and language.

To me, possibly because of my conditioning (and age),  – and I know this is probably not politically correct – a  frog or a minotaur, a furry anthromorph or a centaur,  a werewolf or a butterfly, a man without a head, a male avatar with an exposed penis or a female avatar with exposed nipples, are at the very  least distracting and at worst destructive of any learning impulse  I or any other student  might have.

The same goes for avatar naming, costuming and profile writing: if an authority figure has a name like “Jerkoff Nightly” ( a name rejected by the Lindens)   is wearing filmy kajira (Gorean slave girl) silks or features in  their picks the stores of Stroker Serpentine,  xCite or a BDSM sim, I probably would not  learn much from him/her either, athough, as some “with-it” educators have said to me,  its obviously my problem rather than their problem

This issue was brought home to me at a recent Linden press conference where the figure who had the most to impart was a large, green frog [pictured above (right) with the knight (centre) and the Beagle (left) plus others].

Another key player was the tiny, armoured knight almost lost  on a stool,  while the Linden Lab CFO , who also had important information to give, was the friendly Beagle.

Geeks may be united in seeing nothing wrong with this sort of roleplaying in “real” situations, be they business or education,  in SL: Geeks, however, no longer represent the majority of people entering virtual worlds. The masses coming in now are real people conditioned by the real world.

The perception of these “reasonable” people  is important.

No matter how much one would hope otherwise we do bring our perceptions with us from real life into the SL world for better or worse. This has been demonstrated on a number of occasions with a lack of equal-treatment by SL residents for dark-skinned avatars. It’s also shown in the disregard some have for SL furries.

I have nothing against  fantasy avatars for fun but educators and business types must remember that their “working” avatar is  yet another tool that they have available  to interact with the world: if they are only there to have fun as  a fantasy figure  it is fine to adopt a fantasy avatar but if they  are in world to impart serious information/work  that they want to be believed then their avatar should be packaged accordingly. In real life  even Heidi Klum would not wear a lingerie to a normal business meeting nor Hilary Clinton a frog costume to a cabinet meeting.

I have no actual research to back my thoughts on avatar credibility but  I have been in virtual world’s long enough to know that the best-looking, attractive, human-like avatars with easy-to-remember names are generally the ones who get the best initial results in social interaction. It then remains for them to hold this position through their communication skills.

No matter how good a communicator one is, the wrong choice of name, avatar or costume or inappropriate words on a profile, I believe, could put one behind the eight-ball, if not get one laughed out of the virtual classroom or business meeting.

That is both a waste of time and money.

What do you think?

Valuable ‘roadmap’

kamimoA valuable addition for educators working in or planning to move into  education in virtual worlds,  the newly-published “Learning and Teaching in the Virtual World of Second Life”, provides a roadmap to SL instructional design, learner modeling, building simulations, exploring alternatives to design and integrating tools in education with other learning systems.

Published in English by the Tapir Academic Press, of Norway,  the book has been edited by Judith Molka-Danielsen (SL: Aklom Haifisch) and Mats Deutschmann  (It’s available for  350,00 kr from http://butikk.tapirforlag.no/en/node/1195).

molka_danielsenjMolka-Danielsen (pictured), one of the more experienced European academics in SL, is associate professor (Førsteamanuensis) with the Department of Informatics at Molde University College (Norway). Teaching and doing research within the Information Management program at the university she leads a research group and manages  Kamimo Education Island in SL (Kamimo Island (134, 162, 25), a virtual platform for education, co-developed by Molde University College,  the University of Kalmar (Sweden) and the University of Central Missouri (USA). The island has been developed by Design Container.

This book, which includes input from some of the smartest educators in virtual worlds from across the real world,  is based on the experiences at Kamimo, the first Scandinavian project to experiment with the design and testing of teaching platforms for life-long learning in SL.  Besides detailing the experiences and lessons learned in that project and from other educational projects in SL the book identifies the gaps in traditional forms of education.

With a preface by Graham Davies the book includes contributions from Mats Deutschmann & Luisa Panichi, on Instructional Design, Teacher Practice and Learner Autonomy;  David Richardson & Judith Molka-Danielsen on Assessing Student Performance;  SLENZ’s Dr Clare Atkins & Mark Caukill on Serious Fun and Serious Learning: The Challenge of Second Life; Lindy McKeown on  Action Learning in a Virtual World;  Bryan W. Carter, on Enhancing Virtual Environments;  Bjørn Jæger & Berit Helgheim on Role Play Study in a Purchase Management Class; Marco Bani, Francesco Genovesi, Elisa Ciregia, Flavia Piscioneri, Beatrice Rapisarda, Enrica Salvatori & Maria Simi, on Learning by Creating Historical Buildings; Toni Sant, on Performance in Second Life: some possibilities for learning and teaching; and James Barret & Stefan Gelfgren, Spacing Creation: The HUMlab Second Life Project.

It concludes with Mats Deutschmann & Judith Molka-Danielsen discussing Future Directions for Learning in Virtual Worlds.

So you need a Holodeck?

I”m indebted to  Thinkerer Melville for showing me just how useful Holodecks can be in saving prims in an education or business environment.  Re-introducing the idea of using a holodeck as a prim miser he created the video above to hammer home his point that  holodeck scenes do not use up prim allocation except when they are in use. It was something that I had forgotten for the moment – but its something that might prove useful for educators looking for another lecture hall or workshop which wont take extra prims when students are not on hand.

He noted that Butch Dae, the inquiring character in the video, had collected a whole simful of holodeck builds, some bought from Novatech where the machinima was shot, and others obtained for free (http://rezzable.com/blog/thinkerer-melville/holodeck-made-business).

Butch can be IMed in world if you are “seeking better/faster/cheaper ways of finding, storing, retrieving information to in turn create knowledge faster.”

The SLENZ Update – No 41, January 23, 2009

Xstreet ‘in from cold’

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The Linden Lab’s acquisition of  Xstreet SL and OnRez – the two leading Web-based marketplaces for buying and selling creations for Second Life –  will not lessen marketplace competition, according to Lab executives.

And it could eventually lead to Xstreet SL retail virtual world products being made available to other grids, such as OpenLife, although this is not under active consideration at present.

This was made clear at a Linden Lab in-world press conference (pictured above)  during which there was a frank discussion of just where the organisation planned to take its most recent acquisitions, bought from Virtuatrade and the Electric Sheep Company for undisclosed amounts.

OnRez will be folded into the more successful Xstreet SL entity following the acquisition which Linden executives say, rather than lessening competition, will increase retail competition through an easier user interface – both from a buyers’ and sellers’ point of view – being made available to SL creators and retailers.

Apotheus Silverman and  key members of the Xstreet SL team have joined Linden Lab to integrate the Xstreet SL platform more deeply into SL with  a single, unified SL marketplace. (Press release: http://lindenlab.com/pressroom/releases/01_20_09)

Suspension of disbelief

The more a virtual immersive experience is based on design strategies that combine actional, symbolic, and sensory factors, the greater the participant’s suspension of disbelief that she or he is “inside” a digitally enhanced setting, according to Christopher Dede (pictured), Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Technology, Innovation, and Education, Harvard University.

chris_dede22Noting that immersion is the subjective impression that one is participating in a comprehensive, realistic experience, he said in an abstract of an article in the January issue of Science that “Studies have shown that immersion in a digital environment can enhance education in at least three ways: by allowing multiple perspectives, situated learning, and transfer.”

But, SLENZers take heart, he added in his article, “Immersive Interfaces for Engagement and Learning”, further studies were needed on the capabilities of immersive media for learning, on the instructional designs best suited to each type of immersive medium, and on the learning strengths and preferences these media develop in users.

Just what SLENZ is doing mate!!

His article is in the subscription only:  http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/323/5910/66 but he can be reached at: chris_dede@harvard.edu

75% SL tasks completed

One should watch out for Dr Steven Hornik’s (SL: Robins Hermano) “Really Engaging Accounting: Second LifeTM as a Learning Platform” when he finalises the research paper.

It will be a unique and important document for virtual world education researchers and providers.

Hornik of the University of Central Florida’s  Kenneth Dixon School of Accounting,  uses SL to teach a financial accounting course titled Really Engaging Accounting   (http://mydebitcredit.com). The aim of the project is to engage students in what is normally a very non-engaging course and ensure they develop basic accounting literacy.

In the course, SL is used asynchronously to help students learn basic concepts related to the accounting equation: Assets = Liabilities + Stockholders Equity; to learn how to manipulate the equation using debits and credits; and to become debits and credits themselves as part of the T-Account Game. They also participate in weekly web-based lectures and other web-based learning.

Taught since the fall of 2007 class size has grown from an average 250 to close to 900 in 2008, with 75-80 percent of the students completing assignments in SL.

hornikstevendr1In a preliminary draft of his study of the course, albeit released inadvertently,  Hornik (pictured left) said the courses have demonstrated that through the use of SL’s building and scripting tools, “environments can be created that in some cases lead to student engagement, and for those cases positively affect student performance”.

This, “in the context of accounting which traditionally might be viewed as the opposite of engaging, provides an extreme example of the power of Second LifeTM to create socially relevant, immersive, engaging learning environments,” he said.

“This study has also shown that time-on-task can far exceed expectations if tools are designed to actively involve the students and allow them to become immersed in the activity.”

Besides, Hornik said, the study also showed that one antecedent to successfully engaging the student is spatial presence.

“Thus, when building and designing environments it is necessary to create places where students are able to perceive a sense of place and a sense of ‘being there’,” he said.

“These virtual places are no less real than a physical world classroom space, the geography is no less real, the experiences are no less real because they take place in a 3-D environment,” he said.  “The results indicate that the more genuine we can make the experience, the more engaged our students are likely to become.”

But Hornik has one  important caution.  It would be wrong to view these new learning platforms completely through rose-colored glasses, he said,  as there can be adverse psychological reactions to these environments, such as dizziness and nausea, and the results of this study show that if student experience these adverse conditions their performance suffers.

“As we routinely test students for learning styles and direct them towards learning material best suited for their styles, we may need to direct certain students away from 3-D immersive environments if it is determined they are having adverse reactions,” he said.

Coming events

January 31, 2009 – 10am SLT – 2pm SLT,  Info Island(http://slurl.com/secondlife/Info%20Island/112/105/33): Alliance Virtual Library Tech Fair 2009. Designed for educators, librarians, museum owners, and others who teach and/or create and provide information and exhibits  to view the tools that are available to  meet and hear  their creators. Speakers: 10am:  Eloise Pasteur, “Developing teaching tools in Second Life”; 11am:  JJ Drinkwater,  “Lowering the Barrier – The Library-Onna-Stick”; 12noon:  Fim Fischer,  Quiz System (Multiple Choice Board); 1pm:  Buddy Sprocket, SLOODLE. A comprehensive trade exhibition will be held along with the presentations.


The SLENZ Update – No 40, January 20, 2009

Birth Centre takes shape

birth1_001The beginning …

The SLENZ project’s “ideal birthing unit” is taking shape quickly with the  basic walls constructed on the  floor plan and already trialed for ease of  avatar use (movement, camera views etc).

The trials were done by  Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman), the Lead Developer for the SLENZ Project,  Deborah Davis (Aastra Apfelbaum) of the birthing unit design team and Sarah Stewart (Petal Stransky) (midwifery lead educator).

Griffiths, announcing progress on the build, said, “Consideration has been given to the fact that many of the users will be new to the SL environment. Therefore the overall plans have been scaled up to accommodate this in terms of  ‘room to move around’.

“Doorways have been made wider than they would be normally and the ceiling height extended for the same reason,” he said. “The central corridor, which contacts almost all the rooms has been given semi-transparent walls to allow users to view their surroundings and better orientate themselves, especially on occasions their camera crosses a wall boundary (the “my camera is here but where’s my  avatar” syndrome).

The build is taking place on Kowhai [the sim situated next to Koru(http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27) ] which has been dedicated to the SLENZ project for both the midwifery and the foundation studies units

Believing the basic layout is now satisfactory the team has started  to “flesh out” the the detailed physical aspects of the build; cupboarding, mantels, furnishings, shelving etc., and the relationship of each object to the design in terms of its assistance of the  birthing process.

birthx_001Progress…

It’s not Google but …

What is claimed to be an unique virtual world search engine has  been developed by a team at the University of Teesside, UK. (http://www.tees.ac.uk/sections/news/pressreleases_story.cfm?story_id=2903&this_issue_title=January%202009&this_issue=188)

Although not yet live Meta-Mole.com (http://www.meta-mole.com/Default.aspx), the Meta-Mole, created by the Centre for Design in the Digital Economy (D-LAB) based within the University’s Institute of Digital Innovation, will ultimately be a dedicated searchable online resource for the 350 plus virtual worlds currently existing on the Internet.mole

‘We were analysing virtual world platforms and realised that there doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive service offering to list and compare key data for major 2D and 3D environments,” Philip McClenaghan, deputy director of D-LAB said. “This surprised us considering the current popularity of virtual worlds. We intend to fill the gap with the Meta-Mole.”

The Meta-Mole has been designed to help both new and experienced users looking for virtual world environments as well as platform developers who want to gauge competition through providing a searchable directory of available platforms, “easily definable according to the need of the user”, according to Dan Riley, a Metaverse Architect at D-LAB. All data contained within the Meta-Mole will be  provided by the platform developers themselves along with official images and videos. The Meta-Mole allows for the sharing and comparing of information and provides access to the latest core, technical and specialist features on current virtual worlds, as well as those in development.

The Meta-Mole will initially be released as a Beta version focusing on 3D virtual world platforms. Forterra, Blink 3D and Twinity are among those who have already uploaded their details.

Watch out for

Watch out for  Virtual World developments at the Uni of Auckland’s, Architecture and Planning School.  Judy Cockeram (JudyArx Scribe), a senior design tutor at the school,  is doing the ground work for a proposed  100-student  virtual world course in and about Architectural Media.

Recipe for success?

forterra-whitepaper

To prepare for the coming hard times in the real world  its worth reading a white paper authored by Chris Badger,VP Marketing, Forterra Systems Inc, entitled “Recipe for Success with Enterprise Virtual Worlds.” http://www.forterrainc.com/images/stories/pdf/recipe_for_success_10509.pdf

He notes that with the slashing of budgets for travel and gabfests, virtual world applications are significantly cheaper than video conferencing, telepresence, and travel, yet represent a more engaging and enjoyable learning medium than Web or audio conferencing and most Web-based learning content.

The study is based on a Masie Center Learning Consortium’s (a think-tank focused on enterprise learning and knowledge)  exploration of   learning use cases in a virtual world through the use of  a virtual world sandbox provided by Forterra and using  Forterra’s On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment(OLIVETM) software platform.

The balance of the white paper describes the use cases for Accenture and ACS Learning Services, the results of their efforts, the lessons learned, and the “recipe for success” going forward for new organisations considering how to convert their interest in virtual worlds to tangible field pilot programs that deliver business results.

Useful links

Links to transcripts of the weekly meeting of the SL Education Roundtable as well as transcripts of the annual EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds sessions. All transcripts open in a new tab or window. http://homepage.mac.com/jessid/slroundtable/

Good free skins, shapes, hair, clothes etc for the newbies amongst us –

The Free Dove: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Gallii/113/54/33

The Changing Room for Women-Ladies at Noob Island: http://slurl.com/secondlife/NOOBISLAND/245/13/22

FREEBIES STORE of Free Union: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Thinktank/33/23/24

Free clothes etc – men and women in cubes: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Richmond/42/142/23

The SLENZ Update – No 39, January 15, 2009

SL ‘valuable’ for HS science

globalkids

The value of virtual world education for high school students has been demonstrated  in a  recent independent evaluation of a Science through Second Life project run in New York last year.

The project integrated Second Life and a wide range of web tools into a standards-based high school science class in New York City, according to Rafi Santo (pictured), Senior Program Associate Online Leadership Program, Global Kids.(Access pdf of evaluation at http://groups.google.com/group/GKVirtualWorldUpdate/browse_thread/thread/860139ff56a01e29)santorafi

Global Kids is a New York-based organisation that provides a range of international education and leadership development programs in 21 public high schools and myriad online venues. Its MacArthur-funded work is leveraging after school programs, online dialogues, contests, machinima, and virtual worlds to bring attention to voices of youth on the role of digital media in their lives.

The independent evaluation’s key findings on the Science through Second Life project  included:

  • Students’ attitudes towards science-related careers changed positively with the StSL curriculum.
  • Students’ self-efficacy and self-confidence in their abilities to do science-related work increased.
  • Compared to the traditional science curriculum, the number of students reporting being overwhelmed by science class fell by 50%.
  • Low achieving students’ grades improved significantly compared to the previous semester.
  • Students’ collective intelligence skills improved throughout the semester. More students reported that they felt more comfortable working with others to get something done using digital media in the post survey.

For further information on  the Globalkids organisation: www.globalkids.org

OpenLife getting ‘V’ money

openlifesiltop

The OpenLife grid, which  has been proclaimed as a major albeit still small  competitor (45,000 residents) to Second Life,  is going to adopt a virtual currency system, so users can buy and sell items freely, according to VirtualWorld News( http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2009/01/openlife-grid-to-adopt-virtual-currency.html)

The new virtual currency system is currently scheduled to go live at the end of February, obviating one of the major concerns that the current user base has voiced. OpenLife is currently the largest grid running on the OpenSimulator 3D application server program.

OpenSimulator essentially allows individual users to create their own virtual world “grids” on their own servers that look and function much like Linden Labs’ Second Life. In fact, the technologies involved are so similar that it is possible to use a Second Life client to connect to any OpenSim grid [An experimental Grid, the ONGENS OpenSim Virtual World Grid, has been set up in the ONGENS Test Bed Facility between Otago University and Canterbury University to explore the possibilities of the technology (http://www.gni.otago.ac.nz/index.php/ongens-virtual-world-grid)].

“Exchangeable credits are a popular request from residents,” according to Steve Sima, founder of the OpenLife grid, in a statement to CyberTech News.

“However with interchangeable credits comes a range of new issues that must be addressed,” he said ” After a good six months of consultaton with Openlife users, we’re pleased to say we’re on track to deliver an in world payments solution in the forum of Openlife Credits before the end of February. This will follow shortly after new fixes and implementations in objects and inventory permissions are rolled out.”

The announcement  while it will be welcomed by OpenLife users could put paid to Linden Lab plans to attempt to spread a generic virtual currency through virtual worlds.

… but SL gets act together?

Are the US timezone Sunday “log-in disabled”  periods which have bedeviled Second Life users around the world recently – especially on Mondays in New Zealand and Australia – about to become a thing of the past?

It would appear from FJ Linden’s (Frank Ambrose) most recent update on improving the infrastructure that underpins Second Life (and the resulting forum dialogue) that Linden Lab is still confident it can overcome the problems which occur for all residents within and outside Second Life when user numbers reach 80,000, now a normal US Sunday afternoon and evening ocurrence, which has led to scheduled meetings in other timezones being disrupted when participants haven’t been able to log in. As the outages occur on Sundays they are not a “working” priority/problem in the US.

The easy answer, of course, is for  those in other timezones  to schedule meetings at other times but as more people join the  SL “over-population problem”,  if it is that,  has to be solved.

And that is what the Lindens appear to be doing. (http://blog.secondlife.com/2009/01/12/second-life-grid-update-from-fj-linden/)
While admitting its been a bumpy few weeks, with Level 3 outages, and central database issues, Frank says  “the good news is that LLnet (data center fiber network) continues ahead of schedule and we should be starting traffic migration in the next week. We’ve also made some headway in the area of asset storage. Right now, central database issues are our core focus and have been at the center of most of the recent grid problems.

“The benefits of LLnet are to not only get us off of our dependency on VPN’s for inter data center traffic, but also lay the foundation for diverse internet providers that will allow us to handle an outage on a single provider (currently Level 3) and potentially improve latency,” he says. “Most of our widespread and highest impacting outages have been network related, and that is why LLnet has been my top priority since joining Linden Lab this past summer.

“I expect final testing to be complete by the end of January, and production traffic cutover immediately after.”

Attaboy Frank!  We await the results with bated breath.

Useful link

A selection of books about Second Life (or virtual worlds) primarily  focused  on general descriptions, history, and sociological perspectives, but  also including several how-to guides is at:

http://www.worldcat.org/profiles/srharris19/lists/273349

The SLENZ Update – No 38, January 12, 2009

Full SL instruction ‘pays’

Post-secondary school instructors who conduct classes fully in Second Life are significantly more satisfied than those who use Second Life as only a small supplement to a real-world classes, according to an international research project  from the  University of Florida, reported in the Winter 2009 edition of the International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences.

westbowersWith respondents from 15 countries and 25 academic disciplines, the research paper, “Assessing the Value of Virtual Worlds for Post-Secondary Instructors: A Survey of Innovators, Early Adopters and the Early Majority in Second Life, was done by PhD student West Bowers (K. Westmoreland Bowers, pictured)  Matthew W. Ragas and Jeffrey C. Neely, of the University of Florida’s  College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

The purpose of this study was to assess the value of Second Life among post-secondary instructors with experience using Second Life as an educational tool. Using Everett Rogers’s diffusion of innovations theory, survey respondents (N = 162), were divided into three adopter categories: innovators, early adopters and the early majority.

The number of respondents from different countries and disciplines, the authors said, indicated the considerable potential  virtual worlds,  such as Second Life, had to be adopted across many different borders and in many areas of academe.

The authors said no significant differences had been  found in the instructors’ levels of satisfaction with Second Life as an educational tool or their perceived effect on student learning across adopter categories even though instructors who conducted classes fully in Second Life were significantly more satisfied than those who used Second Life as only a small supplement to a real-world class.

“Overall, personal interest factors, rather than interpersonal communication factors, most influenced respondents’ decision to adopt Second Life as an educational tool,”  the authors said.

It appeared from the research that the instructors, despite their adopter category, found using Second Life in their curricula to be both satisfying and as having a positive impact on student learning.

“This bodes well for further diffusion and adoption of Second Life or a similar kind of virtual world program as an educational tool,”the authors said. “This is consistent with the fact that a commanding 93.8% of respondents reported they intend to use Second Life as an educational tool again.”

Respondents also had indicated that the more Second Life was integrated into the class structure, the more satisfied they were with it. they said.  Specifically, instructors who conducted classes fully in Second Life were significantly more satisfied than those who used Second Life as only a small supplement to real-world classes. For administrators and instructors considering using Second Life as an educational tool, these results indicated that a fully immersive Second Life experience, rather than isolated experimentation, could be the most rewarding.

The paper goes on to discuss the theoretical implications  of the findings and provides practical advice/suggestions.(For full paper:  http://www.waset.org/ijhss/v3/v3-1-5.pdf)

‘Real’ in WoW is really real

golubalex11Resto Shaman (Alex Golub) in WoW
(Picture WoWInsider.com)

Through studying the MMORPG, World of Warcraft, and other virtual worlds  social scientists have come to realise that “real” and “in the same room” are just not the same thing, according to Alex Golub, a Professor within the Faculty of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii.

Golub, who has previously done “immersive” anthropological research with  the people of Papua New Guinea, similar to that done early last century by Bronislaw Malinowski, has been using the same techniques to study the  culture of raiding in WoW.

“My unique angle is that I am doing anthropological fieldwork in WoW, living and playing with a raiding guild and putting in 20+ hours a week keeping them healed and decursed,”  he told WoWInsider’s Lisa Poisso in a recent interview.
With his main research themes “American cultures of self-control, efficiency, masculinity and success amongst players of WoW,” he said, he is studying how guys behave badly in Vent, and how/why people become emo and/or talk about why other people are emo.

“I’m interested in how you get a group of 25 people to keep calm and collected as they try to do something really emotionally important to them, which requires relying on other people when its difficult to see them face-to-face,” he said.

“… everyone in my (WoW) guild knows each other in “real life,” because real doesn’t mean “physical world” – it means “things that people care about,” or as an anthropologist, I’d say, “things that people in a culture care about,”  he said.  “There is a guy in my guild who works in a cheese factory, turning over 90-pound blocks of cheese all day. I bet I know him better than he knows the guys in the control room measuring cheese temperatures or whatever, even if he sees them every day.”

He expects to publish  a book 0n the culture of raiding in WoW in  2010. ( Full interview: http://www.wowinsider.com/2009/01/06/15-minutes-of-fame-anthropologist-digs-into-wow/

In SL the blind may ‘see’

slblind

It may come as a suprise but IBM is developing a prototype Virtual Worlds User Interface for the Blind.   The prototype “accessible rich Internet application” (ARIA)  gives blind users the ability to participate in many virtual world activities.

According to IBM the interface provides basic navigation, communication, and perception functions using GUI (graphical user interface) elements that are familiar to blind computer users.

As a way of enriching the virtual environment with descriptive semantic information, sighted users contribute annotations of virtual objects and places using a scripted gadget equipped by their avatar. These annotations are then made available to the blind users through the special user interface.

Although this interface for the blind is a GUI and can be used by sighted people, the virtual world space is not rendered pictorially. Instead, all information flowing to the user is text-based in order to allow compliance with ordinary screen-reading technology. Recorded verbal descriptions are also played for the user.

Currently, the application interfaces only with the Second Life platform; however, IBM says, as a long-term goal, it might be possible to make this user interface portable to more than one virtual world implementation. If successful, that portability would enable blind users to learn only one client application that is specifically tailored for their needs rather than learning a separate new application for each virtual world.

Read more at:  http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/virtualworlds/

Event

January 25-30: Linden Lab’s Inaugural Education Support Faire, in Second Life, at Supporte /151/152/36, designed  to bring together educators, academics, and students to explore the support mechanisms available to residents who use Second Life to enhance real world educational efforts. The venue is designed around a natural atmosphere with trees, rivers, and beaten paths, highlighting the theme of ‘Ecosystems of Support.’ A final list of scheduled events and participating/presenting Resident Support Organizations will be emailed to the SLED mailing list on January 21.

The SLENZ Update – No 37, January 2, 2009

The year that was …

I feel sure that during the year a lot of New Zealanders lost their embarrassment over being residents/participants  in virtual world’s like Second Life and began to see MUVEs as part of their “real” world.

Although the Lindens do not disclose  the number of Kiwis accessing Second Life on a regular basis reliable sources in the telecommunications industry  claim that new  Kiwi registrations on Second Life have been similar to the adoption of Broadband by the general populace – not earth-shattering but showing considerable progress compared to some years.

The major problems still facing New Zealand users of  high bandwidth applications, however,   are still the exhorbitant, one could say rip-off costs, associated with Broadband as the major telcos  attempt to milk the last drops out of their near-monopoly cash cows and the fact that their claims of delivering consistent, reliable broadband speeds in many centres outside  the major cities,  are at least questionable if not immoral. In many case, during the evenings, when most high bandwidth users  need their Broadband for “playing/working”, the speeds are little more than dial-up and sometimes even worse.  Despite this the major telcos have  continued to  promote and sell  Broadband in these areas and have charged an arm and a leg to those who believed what they were told about “real” Broadband and what it could do for them.

To use the great Aussie word the claims were generally bulldust, and if there is a hell somewhere organisations like Telecom/TelstraClear should be made to eat  copper wire.

Although Actrix, New Zealand’s oldest internet service provider, and Orcon, are now installing their own equipment in exchanges, Inspire.net is planning to do the same in the provincial areas of the lower North Island, and others are putting their toes in the water, the telecommunications industry, outside FXnetworks does not have the ability to give a worthwhile, consistent Broadband experience for about 80 percent of Kiwi punters.

Despite progress with the work of SLENZ, adult e-education, particularly in MUVEs,  is going to face bandwidth and speed problems for years to come unless, as is  proposed in the health sector, the New Zealand Government  ensures that  alternate and possibly even private/local government/pirate  networks  are given specific incentives  to compete against the big players in the provision of Broadband outside the major centres.

The year that will be …

crystalball_001

While I am loath to take out my crystal ball – I’ve been more often wrong than right –  there are those who are willing to have a shot. One of these brave souls, Lowell Cremorne,   of  Australian-based The Metaverse Journal, has been quite specific with his forecasts.( http://www.metaversejournal.com/2008/12/31/ten-virtual-worlds-predictions-for-2009/)

While I don’t agree with all his pronostications, especially the one that new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life, I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that virtual worlds will begin to appear as normal daily life in television and  movies: I would go even further and say that by the end of this year that MUVEs, given the need for real life cost cutting, will become a formidable part of training, negotiation and just doing business in the real world, and a legitimate means of social intercourse both within and across continents: they will become a normal part of daily life for much of the 15 to 50 age group in the Western world with those not  participating being seen in some way as part of the left-behind generation, in much the same way as Ma and Pa Kettle were seen by the pre and Baby Boomer generations when they moved to the cities.

One can only agree that Governments are likely to step in with legislation, where they can,  on everything in MUVEs they feel they “must control”,  including certain if not all  sexual activity,  gambling and taxation etc,.  However, I think this will probably only lead to the creation and proliferation of “uncontrolled, unmonitored” private or pirate   MUVEs based on the OpenSim model  where  frontier law will be the only law and which will appear and disappear with startling irregularity for those in the know. Already there are “underground  worlds”  as it were in Second Life and the OpenSim movement will only increase the momentum for other more way-out blackmarket worlds.

Cremorne comments  that Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools  but I believe that  if New Zealand  telecommunications companies give New Zealand educators the right  bandwidth tools, the New Zealand education system, given the SLENZ team’s undoubted expertise and enthusiasm as well as the work of people like Auckland University’s Scott Diener will take us to the front of the educational field in MUVE technology. People forget that this is still only the beginning of virtual world technology. No one, anywhere has more than a toe in the water, no matter how many conferences they make presentations at.

And yes, I have to agree, despite all the improvements, Second Life will remain a frustrating experience for many, especially Kiwis outside the main centres. This is despite the improvements in the new user experience  promoted by the Lindens and the announcement of the  provision of standalone servers.  I would add, contrary to Cremorne”s thoughts,  that  with  Second Life moving away from “frontier law”, on the surface at least,  the  Teen grid will survive, but be incorporated into the main grid. This could widen the education appeal of the genre if it can overcome the  real world tabloid view of all “life” inside computers.

With Sony’s Playstation “Home”  and  XBox’s  offering  I have to agree that the user base for virtual world’s can do nothing but grow, but  until the creation of  a generic browser, a la the original Moasic model, users are likely to remain trapped behind the walls of their chosen simulation  or game be it Second Life or World of Warcraft, Habbo Hotel or OpenSim, Entropia or Vastpark  or any of the  numerous other MUVEs  on offer and in development.

In the meantime virtual worlds offer New Zeland and New Zealanders a rare and real opportunity to become a real part of the world out there participating with world citizens in world events rather than being cut off by wide oceans, time zones and the tyranny of distance.

The world as we know it …

bainbridgews“My general perspective is that virtual worlds are at least as real as many parts of the so-called real world,” William Sims Bainbridge, program director in human-centered computing at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), told Pam Baker of LinuxInsider last month.

“Is religion ‘real’?” he asked. “Is music ‘real?’ Is the stock market ‘real?’ These institutions are real only because many people take them seriously. They are socially and culturally constructed, rather than being innately real.”

Baker’s pieces on virtual worlds as we know them and  their benefits make interesting reading and present some insights that may not have been apparent before.

You can read them at: (http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-1-A-Place-to-Experiment-65656.html and
http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-2-Reality-in-a-Can-65673.html )

The US Army lands …

usarmy1

Yes the US Army is about to land in Second Life. Although it  has scores of bases scattered across the world it  will soon be occupying virtual territory in a bid to win recruits.
“Over the next 30 to 45 days you might, if you’re one of them Second Life avatar dudes, that likes to go populate islands within Second Life, you will find an Army island in Second Life,” Gen. William S. Wallace, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said during a presentation at the 26th Army Science Conference, according to Nick Turse at http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/12/the-armys-new-f.html

The US Army Second Life effort will comprise two virtual islands, one a “welcome center” with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter and the other offering “virtual experiences like jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of towers and using a weapon, to see if we can get some kind of recruiting benefit out of this social networking.”

It seems to me that the US Army move gives new meaning to the recent demonstrations in Second Life against the “war” between Israel and Gaza. Even so Al Quaeda  has reportedly been using virtual worlds as training grounds for sometime and perhaps the US Army is just catching up with the game although one might have thought World of Warcraft would have been a better place to seek potential recruits.