The SLENZ Update – No 86, May 19, 2009


The world’s first  ‘real’ virtual graduate?

Texas State Technical College’s virtual college (vTSTC) student Julie Shannan (pictured in SL left)  earlier this month became the first known student to graduate from a recognised learning  program done completely within a virtual world.

She graduated with a certificate in digital media.

Shannan, who has a bachelor of arts in biology from the University of Texas at Austin, now also holds the distinction of being the first graduate of the vTSTC digital media design program as well as the first student to take an entire college curriculum within the virtual world of Second Life.

She now plans to take the next step in the digital media design program, and obtain an Associate’s degree at vTSTC.Shannan,Julie

“This is a significant milestone for education not only because it is the first graduate from an environment of this nature, but due to the fact that this single event represents the validity of virtual world education as a real method for educational delivery,”  Chris Gibson, associate vice president of Educational Technology at TSTC, said.

Shannan said of her course,  “… In my second life I have explored the inside of computers and servers, collaborated with people across the world, traveled to world class art museums, built 3D products for my logo designs, explored a tsunami from the ocean floor, and many more experiences I could never do in my real world. … Thank you again for this once in a (second) life opportunity.”

Additional vTSTC certificate and degree offerings are set for release in September this year.

Texas State Technical College bought its first island in Second Life in January, 2007, and founded the college’s virtual learning environment in the fall of 2008, offering a Certificate of Completion and later an Associate’s degree in Digital Media. TSTC is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award Associate of Applied Science degrees and Certificates of Completion.

The SLENZ Update – No 85, May 19, 2009

More in mind of beholders than real?

A new take on internet addiction


Internet addiction – a question of perception.
Picture courtesy:

When the preconceptions of  “digital newcomers” and “digital outsiders” are removed from the equation, the prevalence of internet addiction  appears to be limited, according to Dr Nicola F. Johnson, of the University of Wollongong, NSW, Australia,  in a recently released a book.

“Digital outsiders (and some digital newcomers) find it unfathomable to understand the preoccupation that digital insiders have with their online lives,” Johnson argues in her  The Multiplicities of Internet Addiction – The Misrecognition of Leisure and Learning, which is available on Amazon at US$99.95.Johnson, N book

This is because, Johnson says, those those who are not experienced online (digital newcomers) and those who are not interested (digital outsiders) find it difficult to understand the value, worth and social capital received by avid users (digital insiders or those for who have been connected all their lives)  in what appears to be an unhealthy obsession. It is not what they – the newcomers and outsiders – did in times past.

“As I have argued,” Johnson (pictured lower left), a lecturer in curriculum and teacher education, says, ” these practices are not only misrecognised as obsessions or addictions, but they are misunderstood.”

Contesting the claim that computers – specifically internet use – are addictive, Johnson argues that the use of the internet is now a form of everyday leisure engaged in by many people in Western society and one which is reflective of the benefits and employment of microcomputers within society.

She does not assert, however, that internet addiction does not exist, just that it is a much smaller subset of use than usually claimed.

Leisure and learning

Instead she offers an analysis of the nature of addiction alongside an evaluation of the current  usage of computers, and explains how new learning spaces have developed which are also sites of leisure.

“These sites,” according to a publisher’s review of her book, “challenge traditional notions of childhood …”

Discussing  both leisure and learning in this digital age she “informs our understanding of the discourses surrounding internet addiction and our grasp of the emerging relationships between leisure and our learning, as well as the increasing blur between our private and public spheres,” the publisher says.

Blogger Lowell Cremorne describes the book in  Metaverse Health as an engaging read, “not least for the very objective look it takes at the concepts of internet addiction and framing the issue within the realities of a net-connected society that has changed immensely in the past 20 years or so.

She says, Bourdieu’s Theory of Practice is the frame for Johnson’s qualitative study of eight New Zealand teenagers and the illumination it provided on the perception of  dgital insiders, digital newcomers and digital outsiders. Additionally, Cremorne says, there’s some fascinating discussion on how expertise is being developed by digital insiders and how this expertise is, at best, only partially gained from the traditional educational institutions in place at present.

Johnson, Nicola F.It’s the elaboration of the experiences of these eight teens that allows Johnson to weave in a great deal of the substantive research that’s occurred into the nature of addiction in regard to online activity.

Although, according to Cremorne, the book’s research base means it’s more likely to be consumed and digested by those who are doing research or study in the area,  the book deserves wider recognition and debate.

“Work like this balances out some of the excesses on the mainstream media side of the equation,” she says. “It’s only a lack of dissemination of this perspective that will ensure the sensationalism camp prevails for some time to come.”

Born and bred in Tauranga, New Zealand, Johnson moved to the University of  Wollongong in February, 2007, to become a lecturer in the Faculty of Education (her blog). She previously taught in a New Zealand intermediate (middle school) for five years, working full-time while completing her Bachelor of Education degree, and beginning her Master of Education degree. In 2002, she opened a private music school teaching classical and contemporary guitar to students aged from 6-60 to support her full-time postgraduate study. She was awarded a Deakin University Postgraduate Research Scholarship in 2005 and 2006 and received her Ph.D in  2008 for her thesis on “Teenage Technological Experts: Bourdieu and the Performance of Expertise.”

The SLENZ Update – No 84, May 18, 2009


Memorial University  wins Canadian award  for  SL  shipyard project

memorial shipyard

Distance education – Memorial University’s shipyard.

Canada’s Memorial University of Newfoundland, in the province of  Newfoundland and Labrador – similar to New Zealand  with its rural isolation –  has  just won a Canadian  national award in recognition of its innovative use of Second Life’s virtual technology in teaching and learning.

The Award for Excellence and Innovation in Use of Technology for Learning and Teaching from the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE)  was presented, for the second year in a row,  to Memorial’s  Distance Education and Learning Technologies (DELT), in partnership with Dr David Murrin, adjunct professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and director of R&D/senior engineering specialist at IMV Projects Atlantic in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The project, according to Pathfinder Linden,  involved the application of Second Life as a teaching and learning tool in Engineering 4061: Marine Production Management, in which faculty and engineering students  incorporated classroom theories and principles into a simulated, immersive environment where students could enact the role of an engineer, and design and construct their own shipyard.

“I was interested in using 3D virtual world technology in my class to better engage students in their learning and generate excitement about the course content,”  Dr Murrin said. “I wanted students to experience and realize the scale of real life shipyards, and gain a deeper understanding about the importance of material flow and the positioning of materials when building something of such enormity.”

Shipbuilding Yard

Students were provided with space on one of Memorial University’s islands in Second Life to build a shipyard with given parameters that would be capable of building three vessels in a year. Using this virtual world, students could meet online and walk through the shipyard to evaluate the functionality and suitability of what they had built. If flaws were discovered, students could then go back to redesign and rebuild to make it more effective.

Memorial is the largest university in Atlantic Canada, offering more than 100 degree programs to a student population of 17,000.

Memorial has two campuses in St. John’s, including the Marine Institute, one in Corner Brook, on the Gulf of St Lawrence, eight hours west of St John’s by car,   adjunct campuses  at Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador,  and in Labrador City, co-located with the College of the North Atlantic , and one in Harlow, England.

Given the geography and climate of Newfoundland and Labrador, DELT, a division of the university, has 40 years of experience as a leader in the field of distance education, Memorialmaking Memorial unique among Canadian universities in that it offers online and distance education, media, design and production capabilities and teaching and learning support all under one roof.

Darin King, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Education, offering his congratulations to Memorial, said, ”  Given the rural nature of Newfoundland and Labrador, our province has been a leader in the use of technology and distance learning, particularly at the post-secondary level.

” The award of excellence recognises how well the Second Life team integrated the 3D technology into a typical engineering course, helping engineering students build a successful, working, virtual shipyard. The students became the designers and the engineers and their level of involvement enhanced their overall performance in the course.

“Our government is a strong supporter of technology in the classroom, recognising how well it can supplement teaching and learning.,” he said. “At the K-12 level, for example, we recently allocated C$2.2 million for computer replacements and C$1.5 million over a three-year period for a technology integration plan. At Memorial, C$1.5 million has been allocated to increase the number of courses available through distance education. In addition, government has supported the implementation of a common cutting-edge technology for distance learning in the K-12 system, Memorial University and College of the North Atlantic.”

The SLENZ Update – No 83, May 16, 2009


So you want an ‘out-of-body’ experience in Second Life…

Video of an early experiment in virtual out-of-body research.

You might  just be able to become your avatar, or at least  have the illusion that you are, in the not too distant future. It’s all a question of  “presence”. an issue which is hotly debated by educators  in Second  Life and other virtual worlds and which is seen as the key to virtual  world learning success, when compared with other on-line technologies.

A group of  neuroscientists has found that research subjects fitted with goggles that stream video from cameras strapped to another person (or mannequin) can experience that body as their own, not just in a fluffy, philosophical way but with measurable physiological changes, according  to  a report in the open-access journal Public Library of Science One

The paper’s authors, Valeria I. Petkova and H. Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm  – although they were not the first to do this  sort of research – argued that their work could prove important for future human-robot collaborations — and give hope to those dreaming of uploading their brains after Ray Kurzweil’s forecast Singularity.

“The present findings could have groundbreaking industrial and clinical applications” the neuroscientists  were quoted by  Wired Science late last year as saying. “Experiencing ‘becoming’ a humanoid robot in tele-robotics and feeling ownership of simulated bodies in virtual reality applications would probably enhance user control, realism, and the feeling of ‘presence,’” they added.

The gaming industry,  already taking steps down that road with Mirror’s Edge, which lets players see other parts of their virtual body in motion producing a sensation real enough to induce carsickness, the creation of  the soon-to-be-marketed  mind-reading  headsets – they do have some drawbacks – and the on-going Indian sub-continent development of holographic mobile handsets capable of projecting, capturing and sending 3D images and thus giving one peripheral vision, as it were. The last are expected to be on the market  next year.WillowShenlin

According to  Wired Science, while the research might be biological, the ability to make headway on this centuries-old problem is technological. The development of light-weight head-mounted displays that are capable of displaying real-time video is the key advance in creating this curious body-swapping illusion. The research follows a slate of publications by the same Swedish group and another European team on generating out-of-body experiences using video and virtual reality tools.

“These experiments have demonstrated how remarkably easy it is to ‘move’ a human centre of awareness from one body to another,” they write. “This speaks directly to the classical question of the relationship between human consciousness and the body, which has been discussed by philosophers, psychologists, and theologians for centuries.”
I was pointed to the Wired Science article by SLED lister, Cathy Anderson,  but it was lister and Second Life “presence” guru Sabine Reljic (SL: Willow Shenlin – pictured left) who pointed me again to the 2007 video above and another demonstrating the possibility of the out-of-body experience and of becoming one with your avatar, as well as to the results of  earlier experimentation.

Interestingly Reljic has looked at the  few mobile headsets, currently on the market but found most are “quite disappointing”.

“In some cases, putting the headset on was enough to (make me) realise that the “immersion” was not going to happen – (side vision not taken into consideration, etc,” she said.

Creator of the Rezed group Social Presence in Virtual Worlds,  Reljic, from North Carolina,  is doing  doctoral research focused on social presence as a variable of a successful Second Life  educational experience.

The SLENZ Update – No 82, May 15, 2009

The reality of unreality

When an avatar changes his/her appearance


Tere Tinkel aka RL, Terry Neal

Immersed in Second Life one thing you notice, as in the real world, is when another resident changes his or her appearance – especially if they  are close to you, as in a work or social relationship.

I don’t mean just a little tweak mind you – but a real change.  These changes, often made once one gets comfortable with the technology, often mirror the reality and dreams of the personality  behind the avatar and sometimes the real appearance, if one is really confident.

But one, I would say particularly a student,  can determine the level of confidence – and competence –  behind an avatar just from one’s appearance no matter how fantasy the figure is.

This is why I believe it is important for educators to have an avatar that  builds respect, in an educational environment in virtual worlds such as Second Life, or at least an avatar which gives the appearance of being intelligent and friendly, not matter what the advocates of “stick men” and box figures argue.

Sometimes that avatar might mirror your real life physical appearance, at other times the reality  that you perceive inside yourself.  An avatar  based on Freddie Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street or Chuckie  might  be fun and create some fear but  loses out on credibility, unless of course one is a man or woman who carries a hatchet and wants the virtual world – and one’s students to know that, even if only subliminally.

This was brought to mind recently at a SLENZ working meeting on Koru  when SLENZ project co-leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel), returned from a real life trip to India into  world as a n ordinary girl next door, rather that the blue-haired houri she has been for all the time I’ve know her in-world.


Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) when he is in working garb
rather than being a dragon.

It also was brought to mind when I first saw the human-like lecture room presence of SLENZ developer and Weltec lecturer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker ) rather than  his more normal presence as Puff the magic dragon, or some dragon  of that ilk, who has been pictured in this blog a number of times.

This normalisation of appearance must be catching because Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer and Foundation pilot lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa – right middle) arrived  at the in-world meeting in conservative garb rather than her normal more flamboyant, and one might say more limited attire,  while Otago Polytech Midwifery pilot lead educator, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) also has changed her appearance, somewhat in the run up to the launch of that pilot.


Merle Lemon in the form of the “conservative” SL educator Briarmelle Quintessa.
Arwenna Stardust (Clare Atkins) is in the background.

There are some who never change, however, and strangely to me in real life I have begun to recognise their avatars as being really who they are. They include joint project leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) who, for me, has almost become the  light-bathed, elfin princess with golden tresses in real life, and  lead developer, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) ,  who I see in my mind’s eye as being Isa the “good man” rather than Aaron when I speak with him in real life.

Petal Stransky

Sarah Stewart as  SL’s Petal Stransky.

And,  of course, there is SLENZ learning developer Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Goalpost) who sometimes term’s himself the group contrarian, and is little changed  from his early days with SLENZ and I don’t think ever will.

For me it’s all a matter of perception  – and  immersion –  and I suppose my own superficiality when it comes to appearance both in  Second Life and real life. I am a great fan of  WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

The problem is we do all make subjective judgements  – no matter who we are – based on appearance, especially in learning environments in all worlds.  Our judgment depends   on who we are., and where we’ve come from. After all in both worlds beauty  (and one might say the appearance of brains) are solely in the eye of the beholder.


The never-changing persona of Leroy Goalpost – in real life, Leigh Blackall.

Progress on Kowhai

Meanwhile, according to joint project leader, Terry Neal, on the SLENZ sim, Kowhai,  good progress has been made on on the SLENZ pilot, Foundation Stage 1,  with Griffith completing   an easily rezzable/de-rezzable  interview room, a catwalk, and the “outfit shop”. Lemon  is  currently making an introductory video and wells as planning the specific scenarios needed for Foundation Stage 2.

Midwifery Stage 1  is almost complete while the context and learning design has been completed for Midwifery Stage 2, with working beginning on animation poses.

With Orientation Stage 1 completed Cochrane and Atkins  were able to successfully use  a subset of the lesson plan developed by Cochrane and Blackall  to orient the initial batch of educators connected with  Midwifery Stage 1.

Neal said that work on Orientation Stage 2 was  focused on creating a resource package that distance students and others  could use on their own rather than in f2f environments.


The Foundation pilot’s catwalk, like its outfitter and various interview rooms,
can be rezzed on demand.



The SLENZ Update – No 81, May 12, 2009


Exciting introduction to SL with bonding  and play

Petal- group with Sarah

Trainers, Dr Clare Atkins and Todd Cochrane with Kate Spencely, Dr Deborah Davis
and Sarah Stuart. (Pictures from Sarah  Stewart)

The importance of a time for “play” when people are initiated into Second Life was reinforced for  the SLENZ Project’s joint leader, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), when  she led an orientation workshop for a group of mainly SL “newbie”  midwifery educators from Otago Polytech’s  School of Midwifery.

“I learnt again just how important it is to allow people the time and opportunity for play when they first get into Second Life,” she told a SLENZ Project meeting on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Second Life  island of Koru. “They want to play around with how they look and how they can change themselves and what they can do. I’ll never forget them all doing the chicken dance and laughing (in real life). It was very much about bonding and the creation of confidence.

“… nobody, but nobody, is  not concerned with how they  look,” she said, adding that although there had to be time for “play” the learning process had to be focused and based on a clear structure of what had to be achieved in the time frame.

Atkins, of NMIT, and SLENZ developer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker), of Weltec, conducted the training session  for the eight educators from Otago and Canterbury midwifery schools, in person, on the Otago campus and on the SLENZ island of Kowhai, in what was both a real life and Second Life “bonding and learning” workshop.

Human nature

Cochrane said, “Working with the midwifery instructors was absolutely fantastic.

“I also I learned a lot about, well, human nature.

“They were completely interested in the way their avatars looked and moved,” he said. “Getting the right clothing and the shape of their avatar’s figures right turned out to be the major activity. I had expected this to take some time but not to the extent that it did.

“I was completely stunned when one pulled out an animation that made her avatar walk , in a more than catwalk manner, and that everyone wanted their avatars to walk that way too.”

The lead educator for the midwifery pilot programme, one of three SLENZ Project pilots, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky), said she had been “very encouraged by the enthusiasm” of the educators who attended the two-day workshop.

Noting that some had been apprehensive about the move into virtual worlds, she said, “They were extremely enthusiastic, very reassured and very excited at the end.

“It was good to have it face-to-face. There were some ups and downs during the two days but everyone is now a lot clearer where we are and where we have to go in the next few months.”

Stewart, however, noted that while the majority of participants had found the “play” – trying on new clothes, doing the chicken dance etc – “valuable”, there has been some who had wanted to focus only on what needed to be done and felt they didn’t have time for those sort of things.

SLENZ learning designer Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Post), who had a major hand in setting up the training session, said proof of the success or otherwise would be in seeing  if and how the midwives came back to Second Life … “we need to observe these midwives,” he said.

From his point of view, though, the workshop  had been “very successful” and he had enjoyed “watching it from a distance … The fact that the midwives were physically together  might have lifted the spirit. It will be interesting to see if it really does translate into persistent use.”

The pilot is scheduled to put its first  real students into Second Life May 25.

Petal Midwives do the chicken dance

The chicken dance – need for a moment for play in orientation.

The SLENZ Update – No 80 , May 11, 2009

Need a virtual loan?

Creating a ‘real buck’ – virtually-speaking



The Linden dollar  has  had its ups and downs and Linden Lab’s is probably making a fortune out  of  of its forex dealings, but there is still no dedicated “real world” banking/forex facility in  Second Life, or any other virtual world.

That, however,  is now changing  with the creator of  the Swedish-based virtual world, Entropia Universe, MindArk, being  granted a license from the Swedish government to open Mind Bank, which will exchange Swedish kronor for Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs).

The currency will be used by Entropia’s 1 million users to buy and sell goods on the planet Calypso, according to a report in Businesweek by Olga Kharif.

The PED is among a growing number of alternative currencies changing hands in virtual worlds, social networks, and other web sites which are clamoring to make it easier for users to spend money and carry out other transactions while online as the on-line virtual market becomes a multi-billion dollar opportunity for virtual currency creators, she said.

China’s virtual goods economy, the largest in the world, is worth US$800 million and growing 30 percent a year, according to Shaun Rein, managing director at China Market Research Group.

SL ‘Economy on a tear’

In Second Life, one of the biggest US-based virtual economies, transaction volume is expected to rise 39 percent, to $500 million this year, according to the world’s creator, Linden Research. “

Our virtual economy has been on a tear,” Tom Hale, Linden’s chief product officer, told Businessweek.  “It’s grown much better than the real economy. It’s a wonderful, wonderful business.”

“We’ll try to make the link between real and virtual world as close as possible,” Andersson,  of Entropia’s MindArk, said. Users currently buy and sell land, minerals, and tools by depositing US dollars or Swedish kronor directly into the game. Once Mind Bank opens, users will be able to link real-world checking and savings accounts to the virtual world. Eventually they’ll be able to take out PED loans.

Services such as eBay’s (EBAY) PayPal and credit and debit cards currently provide a way for people to pay for virtual goods or site-specific virtual currencies but  many  users balk at the high fees levied by financial services on the sub-$1 transactions commonplace in the virtual-goods world. “

As users of Second Life  have found to their cost, however, the mere setting up of virtual banks is not without tears. The onetime unregulated, unofficial banking system in Second Life is believed to have cost users hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions. Their real money  turned  virtual  and disappeared almost overnight when the banks which had been offering outlandish interest rates, collapsed.

As Businessweek notes,  as virtual trading’s use spreads, so could accompanying problems, such as fraud.

Sites have to ensure that users can’t “manufacture” virtual currency without paying for it with real money or earning it in game play.

The sites themselves may need to be regulated by the government to prevent fraud, according to Mark Methentis, a lawyer and author of gaming-law blog, Law of the Game. “We need transparency, as with other investments, [including restrictions on insider trading],”  he said.