SLENZ Update, No 140, September 28, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

Virtual world makes mastering

interview skills  much easier

… when virtual ‘really feels real’

“Fabulous”,  “amazing” and “fantastic” were only three of the superlatives used by the  more than 20  educators and researchers who toured the SLENZ Project’s two builds on Kowhai  in Second Life and listened to commentary from educators, developers and builders during the  virtual worlds’  prestigious, annual Jokaydia Unconference  on  Sunday.

The superlatives were used  by virtual visitors from around the world to describe  the concepts, designs, the builds and the practises being  used in the the SLENZ Project’s two pilot education programmes,  Foundation Learning (Bridging Education), under lead educator, Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), of Manukau Institute of Technology, Auckland,  and Midwifery under lead educator, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky), of Otago Polytechnic.

The Jokaydia attendees probably  would have been even more blown away had they   been able to watch the Pooky Media [producer Pooky Amsterdam,  director Russell (Rosco) Boyd]  machinima production  on  Foundation Learning, “Foundation Interviewing in Second Life,”  which was placed on general  release on YouTube later that the day.

Jo Kay, herself, one of Australia’s leading virtual world educators, said of  the video, “Impressive! Congratulations too all involved in the project and the video,” and   SL’s PimPeccable commented,  “Brilliant and professional.”

BirthUnit jokay unconference_019Arwenna Stardust (RL: Dr Clare Atkins) talks to the Unconference visitors.
BirthUnit jokay unconference_015Inside the  Skill Mastery Hyperdome …  demonstrating a “catwalk” rezzed.

The Skill Mastery Hyperdome, the centre of  the foundation learning  “class space”,  is described by PookyMedia in the preamble to the YouTube video, as “a step into the future, an environment in which students can learn, develop and practise skills that will help them progress on their career pathways and achieve their life goals.”

And it obviously is – and eventually, like the Birthing Centre,  will become the SLENZ Project’s “gift” to virtual world education, having been created under Creative Commons attribution license in OpenSource. It is scheduled to be made freely available  with all bells, whistles, scripts and animations in Second Life on completion of the project.

Foundation students who are use the Hyperdrome build are preparing to enter academic and/or training courses as diverse as nursing, teaching, business, police, travel and tourism, IT, engineering, and social work. Foundation Studies provides the basic building blocks and the scaffolding to enable students to enter and succeed in their selected career pathway.

Acitivites provided in this build are designed to enhance communication skills, specifically the skills needed in an interview situation. These students can  select appropriate interview apparel from Rapungakore (“…you have come to the right place”), the clothing store,  which is part of the Hyperdome.

Noting that irrespective of their ultimate career goal all students will need to develop interview skills and strategies,  Merle Lemon,  has pointed out that the hyperdrome environment allows students to experience virtual interviews, to take on the roles of both interviewer and interviewee, and to develop confidence in answering and asking questions in a professional manner.

“The opportunity to rehearse variations of the interview scenario will lead to further enlightenment through reflective evaluation and deliberation on their own behaviour in action,” she said.

The Manukau Institute of Technology  students, whose reactions are canvassed in the video, find that  the Second interviews “really feel real” with one student even worrying that he was being interviewed for a “real job” which he couldn’t accept accept because of his student commitments.

The SLENZ Project is funded by the New Zealand Government”s Tertiary Education Commission.

BirthUnit jokay unconference_011The Unconference participants tour the birth centre.
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SLENZ Update, No 139, September 24, 2009

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

SLENZ members  on  international

virtual world conference  circuit

1. Cochrane at SLaction 2009

valverdeset1_002The Valverde conceptual design … as envisioned in Second Life.

There are two Second Life conferences over  the next few days which will feature  the work of members of the SLENZ Project team, underlining just   what can be achieved both by individuals and team members in a virtual world, even if one’s country is isolated in the real world.Slactions

The presentations also  demonstrate the unique  around-the-world, immersive, day-to-day collaborative nature of  working in virtual  worlds – something that  is seldom achieved in real life without the benefits of  virtual technology.

Today (September 24)   Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) (pictured left), a lecturer in Cybertechnology and Human Computer Interaction at WelTec and a SLENZ Project developer,  will “work” with Dr Isabel Valverde (pictured right),  a performer, interdisciplinary choreographer and researcher originally from Portugal,  to  present “Weathering In / Com Tempo: An Intervention towards Participatory Multi-modal Self-organizing Inter-corporeal” at the SLACTIONS 2009 research conference at the NMC Conference Center, Babbage Amphiteatre, in Second Life ( SL time: 11.30am, Sept 24; NZ time: 6.30 am, Sept 25;  GMT:  6:30pm. Sept 24, 2009 ).Valverde,Isabel

IMG_0503In Weathering In/Com Tempo (WI), a joint paper by Valverde  and Cochrane,  they will detail  their initial concept and interface design work on the dance-technology project that questions reductions of our corporeal intelligence in a hybrid embodied environment, where participants are invited to playfully interact physically and virtually with one another as hybrid-embodied entities.

The  intelligent physical-virtual networked  environment is being designed to act like another player, interacting with the participants through related flow of sensed aspects with the ultimate goal of becoming a  more inclusive, integrated and connected interface for human-environment hybrid living systems.

In  their concept they envisage that the project,  to be staged in an enclosed space, will incorporate a form of  augmented reality (3D motion, haptic and weather data) achieved through  a variety of  hardware  and software means – the five participants will wear clothes that facilitate the capture of motion data and provide haptic feedback –  with the bridging to the physical environment from the virtual environment being through audio and video projection of the virtual space into the physical space and via data transmitted to micro-controller actuated servos embedded in clothing or micro-controller mediated switches that control a smoke machine, fans and sprinklers.

Bridging to the virtual environment will be through live data transmitted from: micro-controller monitored sensors embedded in clothing, weather data and 3D motion capture data, and stereo audio and video streams taken from the physical environment onto SL screens.

In her paper Dr Valverde  expects Weathering In will lead to a) the development of a grammar of personal and relational behavior (through performative and choreographic research in particular site specific space/time frames); b) the development of an electronic Corporeal Network (that senses corporeal data and actuates haptic feedback through the internet into and out of a MUVE/SL); c) the development of performance technologies (through hybrid modes of practice, based on contemporary dance, Movement Therapy forms, Contact  Improvisation, Yoga, and Tai Chi,).

Ultimately, she believes,  the development of the  WI interface prototype “will be the embodiment of a theory of corporeality for the post-human era”.

2. SLENZ at Jokaydia Unconference

Jokayunconf

SLENZ Project lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), lead developer Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman) and joint co leaders Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) and  Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel) will all  feature at the Jokaydia Unconference over the weekend when the two educators lead a virtual tour of their virtual “lecture halls” on  the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Facilitated in world by Briarmelle Quintessa the   Sunday, September  27 (Aust time 4pm; NZ time: 7pm; SL time: 11pm, Saturday, September 26 ) session on the SLENZ Project will allow  educators and visitors to  see what the Kiwis are doing on the island of Kowhai where two projects for students (midwifery and foundation or bridging education) are currently being run. Participants will be able to meet and speak with members of the  SLENZ team involved in both pilots.

Jokaydia Support will be provided by by one of Second Life’s best known educators, Jokay Wollongong herself.

But that’s not all there will be at the Jokaydia  annual Unconference which starts tomorrow, September 25, and has been designed to  to celebrate the year’s discoveries and achievements and welcome Second Life residents both old and new to share their work in workshops, presentations, panels or discussions.

It  is worthwhile looking through the schedule and planning on at least taking in one or two  sessions on Jokaydia or at other venues both in Real Life and Second Life. There will be valuable lessons in all of them.

The unconference is designed for educators, academics, researchers, policy makers, curriculum designers,  IT industry,  digital media developers, students and anyone interested in diverse views and approaches to learning and teaching to build and strengthen their personal learning networks through shared interests.

Meanwhile midwifery pilot lead educator  Sarah Stewart and Otago Polytechnic’s principle midwifery lecturer  Dr Deborah Davis are to present a paper entitled “Using a Virtual Birthing Unit to teach students about normal birth” at the  Australian College of Midwives 16th national conference in Adelaide tomorrow.

SLENZ Update, No 138, September 22, 2009

Why aren’t NZ  secondary schools

using virtual worlds, video games?

or are they …  but just below the radar?

DrFuturityAhead of the game …  Christ’s College, one of New
Zealand’s oldest schools, is in Second Life.

Given the ever- burgeoning popularity of  video games, Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs)  and virtual worlds, or Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) – they are all now mainstream –  and the growing body of evidence attesting to their effectiveness as a teaching aid one wonders why more New Zealand secondary schools  aren’t involved in Second Life’s Teen Grid or other virtual worlds.

There are a few involved or considering getting involved  – mostly private schools  and at least one, Christ’s College, Christchurch, through  Skoolaborate–  but one wonders whether New Zealand’s digital generation is being left behind the rest of the world. Or are those New Zealand schools using video games  and MUVEs just keeping their heads below the parapet? I know  a number of New Zealand teachers who are very competent in Second Life  but none of them admit to  teaching in virtual worlds.

New Zealand however,  is not the only country whose digital generation  might be missing the virtual education wave.

The South Koreans and Chinese definitely aren’t  but a couple of recent blogs on the situation in US schools would suggest many there are, despite  the increasing involvement of US tertiary institutions in virtual worlds.

US-based Dana Oshiro  recently asked the question, “Shouldn’t Schools Have Embraced Second Life By Now?” in his blog  ReadWriteWeb, and Washington-based lobbyist and virtual world’s blogger Max Burns (pictured left) asked a similar question in his Pixels and Policy blog .Burns, Max

The questions from both of them could easily be applied to New Zealand education where one often wonders whether the neo-Luddites still rule.

Oshiro wondering why, mainstream educators still don’t have the green light to teach in virtual worlds, said: “Many argue that video teleconferencing and instant messaging have replaced the need for virtual world interaction.” He then added though that neither of these offer the same “immersive” experience as a virtual world.

Max Burns, who has apparently been asking the question for some time, after noting that the University of Texas’ has used  $US2.5 million in grants to partner with SecondLife to “road-test” education in virtual world and create  a public resource of the resulting data, asked, “Why aren’t public schools everywhere doing this? It seems primed for inner-city schools where resources are strained and classrooms overflow with bored, disconnected students.

He then quoted a Tufts University report which demonstrated that kids from the digital generation  learn best when they learn in the context of a game – in this case, Second Life and virtual worlds take advantage of this generation’s immersion in technology to teach and entertain.

He detailed the  problem in the US of getting the greenlight to adoption as being bureacracy.

He said: ” It’s everywhere in the public school system, where the average state high school must deal with, in mostly this order: 1. in-house administrators; 2. district superintendent; 3. local school board; 4. city council; 5. local Board of Education; 6. State Department of Education; 7. Federal Department of Education.

In New Zealand, I could have added, that the problem is compounded by the fact that Telecom has appeared to have deliberately worked for competitive reasons  against allowing the quick spread of  high-speed, inexpensive  Broadband across the country, especially into the provincial towns, although the Government  currently might be moving to fill the vacuum  the telco has created. But despite the trumpeting of Telcom and TelstraClear among others, New Zealanders outside the major centres by and large have no idea what Broadband is even though it is being promoted and they are paying for it. Their services are still often little better than  dial-up – if better –  being notoriously slow and unreliable  at the times when most New Zealanders want to use the services, the evening.

CCbannerChrist’s College students … leading the way in New Zealand? (Christ’s College picture)

In the US, according to Max Burns, the education in secondary schools problem is being solved by establishing legal  “virtual”  Charter schools, for instance in Oregon. Charter Schools receive government funding but receive exemptions from the course requirements and bureaucracy of public schools. The only requirement? Show results.

“For those committed enough to buck the bureaucracy, the future of education is increasingly virtual,” Burns said.

In New Zealand and Australia it also  is the private school sector that is apparently showing the way.

But if New Zealand is going to move down the path of virtual education too, New Zealand’s education authorities should be thinking about these questions now. The yshould be asking where are the virtual world qualified teachers  going to come from?  How do we train them? How do we immerse them so they become virtual education champions rather than  negative real world whiners and neo-Luddites? Where are the  future New Zealand virtual education designers and builders going to come from? How do we retrain the digital migrants or dinosaurs  in the teaching profession to handle this new education generation, where in future  just as much mainstream schooling will probably happen in a  virtual world without boundaries as  in the face-to-face classroom?

Or are we just going to bury our heads?

SLENZ Update, No 137, September 19, 2009

LIFE IN A NEW ZEALAND VIRTUAL WORLD

ONGENS  gets its first ‘Kiwi Tavern’

as  virtual ‘Aotearoa’  grows …

ONGENS1_004Sign of the ONGENS times … The Kiwi Tavern  at Port Cook.

Even though the New Zealand National Virtual World Grid appears to be going through a difficult and, at times, fragile gestation, there is a small band of enthusiasts who are willing to put up with the frustrations of working in an Alpha test world to ensure that the ONGENS Grid moves through Beta on into a full-blown phase which will allow productive  education research and possibly hypergrid access to  other open-source, OpenSimulator virtual worlds.

One of those  enthusiasts is Auckland University academic Dr Scott Diener who “shouted”  the first “drinks” – a tankard of Kiwi ale – to  virtual world builder Cira Emor, who is re-creating the build of a log cabin(piece by piece!), and your’s truely Johnnie Wendt, who is creating a beachside “slum”, Arcadia Asylum Memorial City, with a little bit of help from the creations of the  late and much lamented Second life “artist” Arcadia Asylum.

Besides its two  regions, soon to be three, in Second Life, the University of Auckland  has something like 12 regions  on the ONGENS Grid, some named Kapua (a small cloud) keeping with the university’s  virtual world Second Life theme of  Long White Cloud or Aotearoa.

As well as constructing  Port Cook – it is still in the ongoing construction phase – Scott (SL :Professor Noaralunga)  has also opened up two storefronts under the buildings  which are giving away “freebies”  such as office and home furnishings. Another  has been allocated for the supply  of  freebie textures, to be stocked in cargo boxes.

ONGENS1_005
Johnnie Wendt,  Scott Diener (pink shirt) and  Cira Emor at the Kiwi Tavern.

Designed primarily for research into  the benefits of virtual world education and Web3D technology the ONGENS Virtual World Grid, within the  ONGENS (Otago Next Generation Networks and Services)  Test Bed Project, championed by Dr Melanie Middlemiss of  Otago University, is a joint project on which the Universities of Canterbury and Otago and part of the GNI (Global Network Interconnectivity) Project, The GNI Project has been designed to  develop research, enterprise training, and knowledge sharing activities to support new ICT technologies, such as JAIN SLEE, on the way to telecommunications, multimedia, and information systems convergence. It is  funded by the New Zealand Tertiary  Education Commission Growth and Innovation Pilot Initiative (The SLENZ Project is also funded by TEC).

ONGENS2_001One of the ONGENS residents, Wendy Steeplechase, at the Port Cook furniture store.

Since the  launch of the grid Canterbury and Otago have been joined by the University of Auckland  and WelTec, each with a node and regions within the ONGENS Grid. Students from  WelTech have already used the  grid for real world learning projects.

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

ONGENS2_003The attractive stone buildings in Port Cook – the tunnel leads through a forest to a castle.
ONGENS2_002The Port Cook Harbour … from the inside
ONGENS1_007… and the  harbour entrance from the outside with the castle in the background

THE ONGENS team plans to develop the ONGENS Grid into a New Zealand National Virtual World Grid initiative, and is currently seeking funding and expressions of interest for involvement in the project.

Meanwhile in a related project, an Otago Open Source Software Initiative has been set up by Otago University’s Department of Information Science to provide advice and support to schools and small-medium sized businesses (SMEs) in New Zealand on a range of open-source software technologies that have the potential to reduce IT operational costs, leverage productivity and enable companies to “work smarter”.

“The main issue holding back schools and small businesses from moving to open-source solutions on the desktop is the often limited support and documentation that makes much open-source software a difficult proposition to maintain and manage,” a spokesperson said. “This lack of documentation and support often results in the running cost of open-source software, i.e. the costs associated with lost productivity due to downtime and the cost of in-house technical-staff time required to support the software, quickly outstripping the initial purchase price of a commercial alternative.

“It is this situation that has lead the Department of Information Science to establish the Open Source Software Initiative to support the take up of open source software by schools and SMEs by using its expertise to develop standardised, tested software bundles that “work” and to provide a support forum with “expert advisers” to assist in the identification of appropriate open-source solutions,” the spokesperson said.

SLENZ Update, No 136, September 17, 2009

CAN NEW ZEALAND USE THIS LESSON?

Texas shows the way forward in

virtual world education …

UTSLcampus

John Lester (SL: Pathfinder Linden) and Leslie Jarmon (SL: Bluewave Ogee)
meet in front of the virtual version of Johnson Claudia Taylor Hall
at the University of Texas System.(Picture: Pathfinder Linden)

The New Zealand tertiary education system  should probably be looking at  following the virtual lead of the University of Texas, although perhaps not on  a such a grand scale.

After four years of research and “toe-dabbling” the University of Texas has  launched its State-wide 16-campus system into Second Life  as part of a year-long project that will bring students, faculty, researchers and administrators into Second Life to explore the use of virtual worlds as “an innovative, low-cost approach to undergraduate instruction.”
At the same time the New Zealand  tertiary education system remains at the stage of “toe-dabbling” with the arguably  successful SLENZ Project slated to finish at the end of the year  and the OpenSim ONGENS New Zealand National Grid Project simmering – one might unkindly say bumbling – along in Alpha mode with inadequate funding and resources despite a small band of hard-working devotees doing their best to create a homegrown virtual world and build support across the whole New Zealand university spectrum.

That the Texas lesson, created by the UT System Transforming Undergraduate Education Program initiative, is being taken to heart, however, can be gauged from the fact that 0ne of the main ONGENS “builders” and virtual world enthusiast,  University of Auckland academic Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), describes it as “an astonishing development … in scale and concept.”

But despite some tardiness here all is not lost. The UT research into virtual world education  is to be made freely available to educators/researchers around the world and there will be opportunities for collaboration with the UT campuses, something New Zealand educators should look into.

Biggest challenge

The University of Texas’ Dr  Leslie Jarmon (pictured right), Faculty Development Specialist and Senior Lecturer in the Division of Instructional Innovation & Assessment (CIE/DIIA), at the University of Texas, at Austin,   co-founder of the Educators Coop in SL, and the primary investigator for this statewide  initiative, told Linden Labs’ John Lester that the  the biggest challenge to gaining approval for the  initial  one-year, 50-plus-SL region launch of the project  had been  finding the most effective language and concrete Second Life examples  to craft a proposal that would be heard by key administrators. JarmonLeslie

In a lesson for  New Zealand educators seeking virtual world education funding, she said, “When an opportunity arose, a real time demo of Second Life using Voice with real educators and Linden Lab officials answering the Chancellors’ questions right there on the spot was more effective than 100 pages of textual description. Very pragmatic, concrete, visionary ­ at the same time.”

Another key challenge, she said, had been rigorously ensuring that the provision of the virtual infrastructure for 15 campuses (9 academic campuses; 6 medical health science center campuses)  and information and training support would  not dictate which direction each campus would take as they discovered and created their own unique learning and research journeys.

“We’re meeting this challenge with the overriding mission of creating together a virtual learning community,” she told John Lester. ” Virtual worlds are a new human dimension for educational activity, and we¹re constantly exploring and learning alongside one another.”

“Step-by-step in this evolving system-wide virtual learning community, all of these players — and especially our undergraduates — will be seen as learners with expanded roles: learners as scientists, learners as designers, learners as researchers, learners as communicators, and learners as collaborators. We see endless possibilities on the virtual learning horizon.”

UTmeeting

UT campus Leads meet Second Life officials in Austin Texas to lay the foundation
for the Virtual Learning Community Initiative (VLCI). (Picture VLCI)

SLENZ Update, No 135, September 09, 2009

CATCHUP READING …

Innovate:  a Net Magazine for anyone

really interested in virtual worlds

I’ve been meaning to comment for some time that, for me, one of the most useful  magazines in the field of online education and virtual worlds is  Jim  (James L.) Morrison’s  Innovate.

As  Editor-in-Chief, Morrison (pictured right), Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership, University of North Carolina, publishes the online education journal for the   Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University.

Published bimonthly as a public service  it is sponsored, in part, by Microsoft.Morrison, James L.

The August/September issue includes articles on the role of virtual  realities in (and as) the classroom.

In one article, Ulrich Rauch, Marvin Cohodas, and Tim Wang describe the Arts Metaverse, a virtual learning environment for the three-dimensional reconstruction of important archeological artifacts and sites, allowing students access to places and works they would not otherwise be able to experience. In addition, students may create reconstructions as well as visiting particular sites. Embracing the principle that engaging students in the construction of a virtual teaching and learning environment can create a participative learning experience, the Arts Metaverse Project aims to enable students and academics to become joint researchers in creating and sharing knowledge beyond the walls of the university.

Two other articles describe efforts to create learning environments in Second Life. Mary Anne Clark, of  Texas Wesleyan University,  describes the creation of  Genome  Island, a virtual laboratory complex, supported by the Biology Department of TWU and constructed for teaching genetics to university undergraduates. Her initial trials of teaching in this virtual world, she said,  had indicated that virtual worlds offered a learning environment that combined active engagement with the convenience of online access.

“Encouraged by the results of my preliminary trials,” she said, “I taught a fully in-world course for non-majors in the fall of 2008, and I am now trying Second Life “light” (virtual laboratory experiences offered as in-class instructor demonstrations) with the current group of freshmen. When the current class is completed, I will be able to compare student responses to these two instructional modes with those from the “field trip” approach used with the pilot classes.”

Meanwhile  Anne Hewitt (pictured lower right), Associate Professor of Healthcare Administration, Seton Hall University, Susan Spencer, Danielle Mirliss, and Riad Twal reported on a collaborative initiative to create a virtual simulation exercise focused on key competencies for students in a Master of Healthcare Administration program. The exercise they designed provides a previously unavailable virtual counterpart to the tabletop exercises traditionally used to teach emergency preparedness, allowing online students to gain important hands-on experience and opportunities for interaction.Hewitt,Anne

Hewitt et al reported that creating a virtual learning experience using “Play2Train’s Second Life environment” satisfied a need for an interactive simulation that allowed for discovery, critical thinking, and analytical skills, all goals of a graduate MHA course.

However, she said, preparing the adult graduate students required a team of committed professionals, significant lead time, specially developed support materials and guided practice activities, and a scenario development process that integrated project goals and outcomes.

She added, “our experience could be replicated in many disciplines that use scenario-based learning but cautioned that the decision to develop and use a simulation delivered in a virtual world should be based on several factors.

“First, the instructors must ensure that the course content is aligned with the choice of scenario,” she said. “Instructional design of the scenario should directly facilitate attainment of the desired learning outcomes through appropriate activities. In addition to the learning objectives, both faculty members and students must be allowed adequate time to develop the necessary technical skills to participate successfully in the scenario.

“Finally, it is important that instructors encourage the students’ sense of discovery and engagement throughout the learning activity,” she said. “If these factors are accounted for, a virtual world can provide an engaging, learning-intensive alternative to face-to-face scenario exercises.”

The articles referred to above, along with a number of other interesting education articles, make this August-September issue of  Innovate,  worth reading even though it has been out for some weeks now.

Coupled  with the two other special issues — on Academics in Second Life, in December, and on Virtual Worlds and Simulations, in June—  the online magazine paints a picture of  virtual world education which is compelling.

SLENZ Update, No 134, September 02, 2009

Lest we forget unsung heroes …

Design and building  in Second

Life really is hard ‘yakka*’

… an ‘Oscar’ for Isa/Aaron?

koru100809_001Isa Goodman (aka Aaron Griffiths), Second Life builder

It’s easy to forget that the often unsung heroes of virtual worlds are the builders – the on-the-virtual-ground developers, scripters, animators but  especially the builders.

As educators it should be easy for us to specify what we want  – after all we’ve generally been giving similar lessons in real life – but then it is much more difficult for  the developer-builder  to turn one’s dreams into reality, especially if those dreams  are just pie-in-the-sky impossibilities, conjured up by people with little experience or “immersion” in virtual worlds.

However, the kudos for turning “impossible dreams” into some sort of reality, more often than not, goes to  the publicity-conscious academics leading a programme rather than the builders and developers who toil, mostly anonymously, behind their screens, trying to meet impossible time and financial constraints, and who are then forgotten in  the praise heaped on the successful project promoters.

All educators, before they embark on the design of a learning opportunity in a virtual world, should clearly understand that content creation and development in virtual worlds is hard “yakka*”.   They also should not forget that praise should go to the builder if a design works. The builders know only too well that if a project fails, they, the builders, will be blamed by the academics for its failure.

Birth1_002In the beginning…

Unlike the academics, however,  most top-notch builders I have met have been loath to accept written praise or credit  despite the fact that their livelihood often depends on them getting on-going work in virtual worlds.

In the SLENZ Project we have one top-notch builder, Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman), of F/Xual Education Services (email:  debnaar@clear dot net dot nz),  who is the Lead Developer “genius” who has created the SLENZ Project’s  foundation learning  and midwifery pilot builds, scripts, textures, animations etc from what  initially were little more than fuzzy ideas. Aided by developers/builders NMIT’s Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), who doubles as the SLENZ Project’s co leader,   and WelTech’s Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) Aaron has created from scratch the builds which you can see on Kowhai today,  on time and on budget.

But let him tell you himself what it was like, even though  I believe  he would not want the limelight. Fortunately he has he described how it is in a letter to Metaverse Health, which in its otherwise well-intentioned and fulsome article on the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery Pilot promotional machinima, unfortunately gave no credits to the SLENZ Project builders.

Answering criticism in a comment on the article, that a partner was not present in the midwifery birthing machinima, Aaron noted it had been intended to have a partner present but this  had been finally precluded by having to meet deadlines and budget constraints.

“Unfortunately in the end to meet the deadlines set by the fact the students were coming into the build on a specific date, the scripting, animations and building required to have a partner (of whatever gender) present in the scenarios just did not happen,” he said, before going on  to describe the build and the work involved.

“This  (midwifery build) was a very complex build designed out of very little in terms of actual specifics, reassessed and recreated on an ongoing basis through discussion with the educators,” he said, by way of explanation. “The build was divided into stages so that at least, even if the ideal could not be developed within the budgeted hours,  we would have finished stages at points throughout the process which could be considered complete resources.

birthingfinal_002

The finished Birth Centre … interior.

“Stage one therefore gave us the actual unit, created as an immersive experience of an “ideal birthing unit” complete with notecards and links out to information supporting the theory associated with the design.

“Stage two (which we have reached) … steps the midwife through a normal birthing process in terms of her interactions with the mother from the first phone call into the unit through to the actual birth.

“The scenario goes beyond a simple role play of mother and midwife to include the numerous clinical requirements of the process such as blood pressure and temperature readings, preparation of medical equipment and medications, good practice requirements, e.g. use of sterile gloves in examination, washing of hands etc.

“Stage three was intended to extend the scenarios to include not only a partner (or whanau depending on ethnic considerations) but more difficult births such as postpartum hemorrhage, i.e. birth scenarios typically not experienced by midwifery trainees.

“… deadlines and budget restrictions (read as we used it all up by the end of stage two – 300 hours for the Birth Centre build)  have meant that further developments will not happen under this project’s funding.” he said. “That is not to say they wont happen. As the resources provided are Creative Commons they will be packaged with as much instruction as I have time to develop so that others may carry on taking the scenarios further.”

Finally to put some perspective on the task Aaron has completed with the midwifery pilot (all originals to allow for full permissions under a Creative Commons license) the build now has more than 2600 objects, more than 250 scripts, not including HUDs worn by the mother and midwife, 16 animations and poses, and more than 100 textures.

If there are  Oscars for the creation of virtual world education builds, Aaron should be  in line to get one for his midwifery pilot, if not for both his midwifery and foundation learning builds.

birthingfinal_001The finished Birth Centre … exterior back.
birthingfinal_004
The finished Birth Centre … exterior front.
birthingfinal_005… and Isa Goodman/Aaron Griffiths’ Foundation Learning build.
*Yakka: Australian venacular for very hard work.