The SLENZ Update – No 121, July 31, 2009

VIRTUAL WORLDS “BOOMING” despite doomsters

“Twitter makes the noise while

Second Life makes the money”

-Victor Keegan, The Guardian UK

Second Life can do his … Tribute to Lachlan Campbell from the
Second Life Relay for Life benefit event – July 11, 2009.
LabGraal: Vocal, Rosalba Nattero

While Facebook and Twitter are lauded to the skies,  neither has found a way to make money – whereas virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, Entropia Universe, Habbo Hotel, Club Penguin and Second Life are all profitable because their business models are based on the digital elixir of subscriptions and micropayments,  according to Victor Keegan (pictured) in the UK  Guardian.

It’s a formula that other websites, including newspapers, would die for,” he says. ” Twitter makes the noise, Second Life makes the money … actually, they are booming.

In a message which will have the virtual world doomsayers frothing at the mouth Keegan quotes the UK consultancy,  the world-leader in understanding the marketing dynamics relating to virtual worlds,  as reporting that membership of virtual worlds grew by 39 percent in the second quarter of 2009 to an estimated 579 million, although not all are active.

“If you think virtual worlds are a passing fad, look at the figures,” Keegan says “Almost all of the 39 percent growth came from children. Girls used to grow up with their dolls; now they are growing up with their avatars. This goes largely unreported because the users don’t read newspapers, but as Kzero reports, – aimed at five- to 10-year-olds – has 76 million registered users.keegan, victor

“If you move up to 10- to 15-year-olds, users rival the populations of countries – led by Habbo (135 million), Neopets (54 million), Star Dolls (34 million) and Club Penguin (28 million).

“It starts tailing off among 15- to 25-year-olds – apart from Poptropica (35 million) – but it underlines the likelihood that as youngsters get older they will be looking for more sophisticated outlets and for ways to link existing social networks such as Facebook or MySpace to more immersive virtual worlds. The telephone was a one-to-one experience; email linked friends and colleagues; Facebook extended this to friends of friends but virtual worlds offer – as Twitter does in a more constrained context – the opportunity to link with anyone on the planet sharing similar interests.”

Keegan, noting that Second Life  is consolidating as it tries to make the experience easier and less crash-prone,  says it is still the creative laboratory of the genre even though it may not end up as the preferred platform as new business models take advantage of the rapidly improving technological developments elsewhere.

“In order to get a more streamlined experience, most of the new virtual worlds don’t allow users to make their own content,”  he says. ” Twinity, which has just raised €4.5m in new funding, has a virtual version of Berlin and Singapore (with London still in the pipeline): you buy existing apartments or rent shops but can’t build yourself. – still in testing mode – promises much better graphics and more realistic avatars at the expense of not allowing members (as opposed to developers) to create their own content.”

“With technology moving so fast and a whole generation growing up for whom having an avatar is second nature, virtual worlds have nowhere to go but up.

“Only they won’t be virtual worlds – just a part of normal life,” he concludes.


For the full kzero reports go here and here and here

The SLENZ Update – No 120, July 29, 2009


Research: VWs may help put you at ease

when dealing with your own health

mammogramUniversity of Toronto researchers put their avatar through
the paces of a virtual mammogram. Picture itbusiness.

Health researchers believe that the Web 2.0 world may be able to teach them something that the medical industry has never been able to master — the ability to make people feel comfortable and at ease when dealing with their own health, according to  the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

“If you have to get a mammogram and you can walk through the process before it happens, it may help you get more informed and ask more reasonable questions of your healthcare practitioner,” Dr Jennifer Keelan, with the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, told, when discussing a University of Toronto study of healthcare activities in Second Life.  “I’ve never been taught to do a breast self-exam before. I found it interesting as a woman to go through that exercise, and I think the detail was sufficient for a person to try in real life.

Authored by student Leslie Beard and supervised by Keelan, the study published in a recent Journal of Medical Internet Research, examined 68 virtual sites where health was being taught or supported and concluded that even if healthcare is conducted in a virtual world, it may have real world applications.

Of those 68 sites, 34 were taking part in health education or awareness raising activities just like The Women’s Health Center at the Ann Myers Medical Center, referred to by Keelan in discussing the mammogram, which although a virtual healthcare facility,has nurses and physicians  who are real. They work here to reach out beyond the physical boundaries of the hospital and work past the innate discomfort of demonstrating good technique for self-examination mammograms.

“For many (medical) users, Second Life activities are a part of their Web 2.0 communication strategy,” the study said. ” The most common type of health-related site in our sample  were those whose principle aim was patient education or to increase awareness about health issues. The second most common type of site were support sites, followed by training sites, and marketing sites. Finally, a few sites were purpose-built to conduct research in SL or to recruit participants for real-life research.”

“Studies show that behaviors from virtual worlds can translate to the real world,” the study concluded. “Our survey suggests that users are engaged in a range of health-related activities in Second Life which are potentially impacting real-life behaviors.”

Discover Magazine asks:

Can Training in Second Life Teach

Doctors to Save Real Lives?

Auckland University’s associate director of information technology Scott Diener (pictured right) gets a notable mention in Discover magazine’s  report on virtual reality medical training programs which it says may bring big changes to the way health-care professionals learn their craft.

The article, among other things, looks at Diener’s  virtual Auckland University Medical Centre, and specifically at  a postpartum-hemorrhage simulation which has been operating since January for nursing students.DienerScott

Quoting Diener, Discover notes that so far, around 20 students have used the simulation on Auckland University’s  Second Life island of Long White Cloud, with overwhelmingly positive results.

“After they’ve ended the scenario, the faculty sits down and talks about their decisions,” Diener said. “From a learning perspective, it’s the post-scenario debriefing that does more for the students than anything else.”

The SLENZ Update – No 119, July 25, 2009


Midwifery tutor passes on

‘lessons’ from 1st SL  class

Lead educator for the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery pilot for Otago Polytechnic and Canterbury’s CPIT, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) (pictured),  after running her first  teaching sessions in Second Life, has come up with  nine interesting and valuable  lessons for  any neophyte virtual world teacher.

Although most seasoned Second Life educators will have already solved these the issues she raises  they are worth thinking about again as one reads her blog, Sarah’s Musings.Stewart, Sarah

Stewart’s sessions were based on the second learning activity that has been designed for junior midwifery students as part of the SLENZ Project’s midwifery pilot.
Her key lesson appears to be: “If you are new to Second Life as a teacher, have someone with you who can help out until you grow more confident in your abilities. I am still learning about Second Life myself so found it really useful to have Leigh (Blackall) with me to support me.”

Although disappointed at the lack of discussion and apparently interaction that took place with the small number of  students Stewart  enjoyed taking them around. Her final word to herself, however, says it all: “… be very organised with what I do and say, and make sure I am as prepared for eventualities as I can be.”

While reading  Stewart’s blog its also worth while looking at her  two explorations/ examinations  of  “birthing places” in Second Life, no matter how unrelated to real life some of those birthing places are and how whimsical they may be.

The blogs are here and an earlier one, here.

The SLENZ Update – No 118, July 23, 2009

Dayam … I missed this

Brouchoud, Cockeram  work  together

for a striking  architectural machinima

The University of Auckland

Jon Brouchoud (picture right) (YouTube: Keystone1111 SL: Keystone Bouchard ), of the ARCH Network has mounted a striking  machinima  of  the work of  Judy Cockeram (SL: JudyArx Scribe)  and her Second Life class project from the School of Architecture and Planning at the University of Auckland.

Brouchard say in his orginal report ( here) that  as Cockeram and Auckland University have continued to leverage their virtual ‘Living Sketchbooks’,  when the machinima was made there were 115 first year students exploring the virtual space of Putahi Island which continued to evolve each day.

“After visiting the site several times since construction started, I can confidently say that it does, in fact, feel as though the place is alive,” he said. “Instead of pinning up sketches on a wall, students are exploring design concepts in an immersive virtual environment, where they work amidst the growing virtual community that has grown to hundreds of thousands of users strong, along with a rapidly growing number of architecture schools that are actively exploring virtual worlds in education.”

At the time Judy described the project thus: “They are currently in their first semester doing an Architecture media course, ARCHDRC102 which includes paper based drawing/collage etc for the first six weeks then in the second six weeks we are considering technology –the aim is to get them working in a creative way – they come with strong drawing and modeling skills that enable them to design in an unimpeded way and we are using Second Life to put the focus on design rather than the interface of a ‘big’ cad package.”


It’s something I shouldn’t have missed from the New Zealand Second Life scene because it’s so good. I take my hat off to them both.

Thanks to Dr Clare Atkins, SLENZ Project joint leader,  for the heads-up.

The SLENZ Update – No 117, July 23, 2009


Universities must adapt roles for

students changed by Web 2.0



Some rapprochement will be necessary between  Web 2.0 – the social web – system and the current  “hierarchical, substantially introvert, guarded, careful, precise and measured” tertiary system if higher education is to continue to provide a learning experience that is recognised as stimulating, challenging and relevant.

This is a conclusion reached by the recently published (May 12, 2009) wide-ranging British Report of an independent Committee of Inquiry into the impact on higher education of students’ widespread use of Web 2.0 technologies.  The committee was chaired by Professor Sir David Melville (pictured) former Vice Chancellor of the University of Kent and the current chair of LLUK (Lifelong Learning UK) Council and of the JISC-funded Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience.

Noting that  Web 2.0 has had a profound effect on behaviours, particularly those of today’s young people, “Higher Education in a Web 2.0 world” (PDF here) says in contrast  to the current university norms the  social web has  led  young people to a strong sense of communities of interest linked in their own web spaces, and to a disposition to share and participate. It has also led them to impatience – a preference for quick answers – and to a casual approach to evaluating information and attributing it and also to copyright and legal constraints.

“The two worlds are currently co-existing, with present-day students effectively occupying a position on the cusp of change,” the report said. “They aren’t demanding different approaches; rather they are making such adaptations as are necessary for the time it takes to gain their qualifications.

“Effectively, they are managing a disjuncture, and the situation is feeding the natural inertia of any established system.David Melville

“It is, however, unlikely to be sustainable in the long term,” the report said. “The next generation is unlikely to be so accommodating and some rapprochement will be necessary if higher education is

to continue to provide a learning experience that is recognised as stimulating, challenging and relevant.

“The impetus for change will come from students themselves as the behaviours and approaches, apparent now, become more deeply embedded in subsequent cohorts of entrants and the most positive of them – the experimentation, networking and collaboration, for example – are encouraged and reinforced through a school system seeking, in a reformed curriculum, to place greater emphasis on such dispositions.”

It would  also come, the report said,  from policy imperatives in relation to skills development, specifically development of employability skills. These would be backed by employer demands and include a range of ‘soft skills’ such as networking, teamwork, collaboration and self-direction, which were among those fostered by students’ engagement with Social Web technologies.

Higher education with a key role in helping students refine, extend and articulate the diverse range of skills they had developed through their experience of Web 2.0 technologies had to adapt to and capitalise on the evolving and intensifying behaviours that were being shaped by the experience of the newest technologies by  “building on and steering the positive aspects of those behaviours such as experimentation, collaboration and teamwork, while addressing the negatives such as a casual and insufficiently critical attitude to information.”

I’m  indebted to SLED lister, Dr Bob Hallawell,  of Academic Lead Learning Disabilities,School of Nursing, Midwifery and Physiotherapy, at the University of Nottingham,  for the heads-up on this interesting report. Education Guardian comment here and UK Web Focus report here.

The SLENZ Update – No 116, July 22, 2009

The Saint Leo experience

Building a university ‘community’

on a Second Life campus

… and gaining real new students virtually


Saint Leo University, Tampa, Florida  has only been  active in Second Life for one year but, according to an interview published by  Pathfinder Linden,  has already  succeeded in a surprising way:  it has  enrolled new students directly from Second Life for  its distance education Center for Online Learning.

The Centre allows students to pursue degree programs regardless of physical location.

Saint Leo’s has three islands in Second Life.

The disclosure of the surprise enrollments  from Second Life was made to Pathfinder Linden by SaintLEOlions Zimer (see interview picture right)  in Real Life, Michael Dadez, a web analyst at the Center for Online Learning and  the person mainly responsible for Saint Leo’s Second Life presence.

Asked by Second Life’s Pathfinder Linden about an official enrollment from  Saint Leo’s  Second Life presence SaintLEOlions Zimer said:  “We have actually had more than one! It’s something we never thought would be a purpose of our presence in Second Life, but it has turned out well for us. We have had five students now enroll at Saint Leo University that have found us through Second Life! We are a nonprofit private University, so anything that shows a return on investment helps.”stleo_004

SaintLEOlions Zimer noted that Saint Leo’s used the virtual campus for programming, gathering, and a place to hold virtual events open to all of its almost 10,000 online and continuing education students along with 1,700 campus students.

“We also have another 1,700 graduate students,” he said. “It’s not easy to build a community when so many of our students are either online or not located on the main campus in Florida.

“I created this virtual campus with the students in mind and have given them residence hall rooms to live in, weekly live music events in the coffee house, and weekly contests. There also is an art gallery that features work from online and on campus staff and students as well as from residents all over Second Life. We have performance art shows and DJs.”

Agreeing that Saint Leo’s was exploring  new distance learning techniques to support off campus students and that the building of a community where students could socialise and make interpersonal connections was a key component of a successful university campus in real life, SaintLEOlions Zimer, said, ” Yes, that is what we are going for. I look at it as people look at going to work. If you love your job, it is never work. If you love school, it is never really school. It’s fun.”

In the coming  year Saint Leo plans on teaching virtual classes in Second Life that will count towards a degree (three credits), allowing people to take the classes as a non-degree seeking student, and applying to be a Community Gateway to help introduce new Residents to Second Life.


The SLENZ Update – No 115, July 22, 2009

Upcoming Aotearoa New Zealand events


GNI Project Symposium ’09

An invitation has been issued by Melanie Middlemiss to the GNI Project Symposium ’09 to be held from  8.30 am – 5 pm on Friday, September 4, 2009, at the  School of Business, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. Online Registration is free but must be completed before 5pm, Friday, August 14.

The one day symposium has been designed to bring together academic and telecommunications and internet industry leaders to discuss current and future issues relating to convergence in the ICT and Telecommunications arena.

Discussion topics will include: Next generation networks and LTE convergence; Evolved Packet Core; IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS); Applications and services; WiMAX-LTE; Architectures and standards for service development and operation, such as JAIN SLEE; Multimedia telephony and service convergence; Integration of real-world services and applications within virtual worlds and augmented reality systems; Convergence of the network core vs. convergence on the application layer; Next generation web and telecommunications services;

The Global Network Interconnectivity (GNI) Project was established at the University of Otago in 2006 to develop expertise, provide knowledge sharing and conduct activities supporting new ICT technologies that contribute to telecommunications, multimedia, and information systems convergence.

The Project currently runs  the alpha release virtual world Grid ONGENS.

This is an experimental Grid set up in the ONGENS Test Bed Facility between Otago University and Canterbury University to explore the possibilities of Virtual Worlds and Web3.D technology.

This grid is currently running the OpenSimulator software, and utilises the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network) connectivity between New Zealand’s tertiary institutions, and research organisations.

The GNI Project plans to develop this Virtual World Grid into a New Zealand National Virtual World Grid initiative, and is seeking funding and expressions of interest to be involved in this project.


One of the “development” sim islands in the ONGENS virtual world

Teaching and Learning +

eFest 2009  conference


The New Zealand  Teaching and Learning Conference and eFest are joining forces for 2009. The combined conference will held Wednesday,  September 30 – Friday, October 2, 2009 at  UCOL in Palmerston North, New Zealand. It will have an  “Open Space” unconference day on Tuesday,  September 29.

The conference themes are “Teaching excellence – excellence in teaching” and “The changing role of the teacher in the 21st century”. 2009efestlogo

Speakers at the conference proper are scheduled to include Dr Angie Farrow (pictured left), a senior lecturer at Massey University, New Zealand specialising in drama and creative processes, and a playwright, Colin Cox, Colin Cox, currently the only Master Trainer of Neuro Semantics in the world,  Helen McPhun, a learning and development specialist, Dr Lisa Emerson, a Massey University lecturer and recipient of a Prime Minister’s Supreme Award in  2008 and Paul McElroy, chief executive at UCOL.

Angie FarrowThe two principal sponsors are: Ako Aotearoa, the National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, and UCOL.

You can download the registration form here.

The SLENZ Update – No 114, July 15, 2009


Import builds from easy-to-create

Google Sketchup  3D models

… at a (very) small cost

A demonstration in real time (9 minutes without preparation) of
how a 70 metre square can be created in SketchUp (using the
Sketchlife extension) from 10 metre square tiles, textured
using a single texture image spreading over all
the 49 tiles, and uploaded to Second Life.

West Australian Second Life resident Mrs Brandi ( EvgeniSergeev in his/her product details/YouTube publications)  has developed Sketchlife to allow Second Life residents  to create and upload builds/models using free, easy-to-learn Google SketchUp, a programme which is simple enough for it to be used regularly by primary school students in many New Zealand schools.

Created by University of Western Australia student “EvgeniSergeev”  ( is that a nom de guerre?) as part of the 2009 project for putting The University of Western Australia into Second Life , Sketchlife is being billed as an application that can convert 3D models made with Google Sketchup to Second Life through the use of an “importer” briefcase available free from the Mrs Brandi’s table at the university’s build in Second Life.

Brandi_001Mrs Brandi’s table with free Sketchlife …
the Sketchup-import truck behind is free too.

“After winning Google’s ‘Build Your Campus in 3D Australia and New Zealand‘ competition ( in 2007, the models are on Google Earth) and also creating a VRML-based virtual campus with more detailed models,” Mrs Brandi explained to Wagner James Au of  NewWorldNotes, “we had about two dozen high-quality SketchUp models of buildings, and there was no easy way to put them into Second Life. That’s an island-full of buildings which are complete and textured, so it seemed worth the effort to write an importer.”

Hence Sketchlife, which, according to Au,  Brandi says is also useful for creating Second Life builds from scratch in Sketchup.

“Quite complex models could be built,” he/she said. “There is a limit of 512 prims per upload, to keep things sane (but if one needs more, they can be uploaded in multiple stages.)”

You can obtain the Sketchlife client for free from Mrs Brandi’s table in SL, though as with many but not all executables,  there is a price:  LS1 per primitive with no texture;  and L$2 per primitive with at least one texture. However, a model containing only one prim with at most one textured face can be imported for free allowing experimentation without one having to pay anything.

EvgeniSergeev explains in his product pages that  while  most 3D modelling tools use meshes (vertices connected by edges which define faces),  Second Life has adopted solids, referred to as primitives as their building blocks.

“This guarantees that there won’t be any stray polygons flying around, but it also prevents mesh models from being imported automatically,” he/she says, adding, however, that while  the in-world modelling tools in Second Life are quite good,  they are stone age compared to the 3D modelling power tool that is SketchUp.

“Therefore, if we can’t bring SketchUp to Second Life, we’ll bring Second Life to SketchUp.”

The video below shows  this happening: a very simple model of the words “Hello World” is built and uploaded using Sketchlife tools. It demonstrates the process: press “Export”, copy and paste the model key, drop the textures into the box, and, finally, copy and paste the build key. The process is the same for all models.

The SLENZ Update – No 113, July 13, 2009

Case Study: Loyalist College

Big Improvement in  tests, training

outcomes with use of Second Life

Canada’s Loyalist College has often been held up as the benchmark in training benefits  for  the use  of Second Life  – not least by this blog –  but now a case study,  even though done by and being promoted by Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, presents a compelling case, despite the hyperbole,  for the benefits of Second Life training and teaching and learning.

The latest study, “Virtual World Simulation Training Prepares Real Guards on the US-Canadian Border: Loyalist College in Second Life,”  details how training simulations in Second Life have directly resulted in significantly improved test scores at Loyalist College, near Toronto, Ontario, and have directly applied to real-world on-the-job performance of the student participants.

The college’s move into training in Second Life followed  the post-September 11, 2001, abandonment of  on-the-job training – three weeks seconded to a professional border guard to experience the routine – with the result that traineees moved into the role less well-equipped to do the job.

In a bid to solve the problem the Director of Educational Technology at Loyalist College had a virtual border crossing simulation set up in Second Life.

Key: “Sense of presence”

“The amazing results of the training and simulation program have led to significantly improved grades on students’ critical skills tests, taking scores from a 56 percent success in 2007, to 95 percent at the end of 2008 after the simulation was instituted,”” according to the executive summary of the case study. “The success of the program has encouraged over 650 students and eight faculty to explore Second Life for mixed purposes. It has also generated enough interest and demand from other learning institutions that Loyalist established a Virtual Design Centre that employs former students with Second Life classroom experience to develop new virtual learning environments.”

The case  study notes that  its the “sense of presence” that makes the Second Life training simulation so effective: You actually feel like you’re in a “real” environment when you are in a virtual world, despite the fact that you’re physically sitting at a desk in front of a computer.

Professor Kathryn deGast-Kennedy (Journal of Virtual Worlds Research article here and pdf here),  the Coordinator of the Customs Border Services Program at Loyalist College, said, “Even though I have been a Border Services Officer for 28 years, I felt the same level of anxiety in the virtual border crossing as I did 28 years earlier. That experience made me a believer that working within Second Life was as real as it could get.”

“Second Life is amazing and unprecedented,”  Ken Hudson, managing director, Virtual World Design Center at Loyalist College, said.  “No single technological addition has ever impacted grades at the college in such a positive way. The affordable tools of Second Life allowed us to explore potential applications for education. Loyalist College believes strongly that were it not for Second Life, we would not be involved in virtual worlds whatsoever. The learning in these spaces is amazing, and when we are working with 30% increases in success, there is nothing more memorable than that.”


Cross a border – virtually but in reality too.

The SLENZ Update – No 112, July 09, 2009

ThinkBalm makes data live

This machinima should be  in

everyone’s SL PR toolkit …

One of the most difficult things to explain to  virtual world neophytes or non users – particularly  if one is seeking funding from them – is just  how useful virtual world technology can be in conveying information in a practical, easy-to-understand, entertaining format.

Those virtual world residents who have already taken the guided tour or walked through    ThinkBalm’s Data Garden, an experiment in data visualisation in Second Life, will already understand just how data can be made to come alive.DriverErica

For those  who are not yet residents or are neophytes to virutal worlds  the new nine-minute video from  ThinkBalm’s Erica (pictured right)  and Sam Driver makes it very clear.

Erica says in her blog “a tour through the garden is an interactive next-generation ‘webinar’ experience.”  She is right.

The data garden is based on the findings of the thought-provoking  ThinkBalm Immersive Internet Business Value Study, Q2 2009.

For people like me – the mathematically as well as time challenged – it gave new insights into the findings of the Value Study and what  data can mean for those who are considering virtual world uses for their educational institution or business. It is especially useful for those who have little virtual world experience but are involved in virtual world funding decisions.

Although only a primer it gives one an understanding of both the data and the possibilities of virtual worlds. It should be in every immersive world booster’s public relations/information toolkit.

Meanwhile the first ThinkBalm Innovation Community professional networking event is scheduled for Tuesday, August 4, from  8am-11am SL Time on Amazon Developers Island in Second Life for  “people passionate about work-related use of the Immersive Internet who are looking for a job, looking for someone to fill a job, or simply curious about their options”.

The 250-member ThinkBalm Innovation Community has been set up “to advance adoption of work-related use of the Immersive Internet”. Since late 2008 it has evolved into a mix between a social network, collaborative laboratory, and guild. It is focused exclusively on work-related use of the Immersive Internet — virtual worlds and campuses, immersive learning environments, and 3D business applications.

ThinkBalm,  is a Rhode Island-based company which offers independent IT industry analysis and strategy consulting services.