MUVE education at NMIT– VLENZ Update, No 176, August 11, 2010

New Zealand  MUVE activity

NMIT launches  course covering

3d immersive environments

Class of 2010: The first NMIT class in 3d immersive environments.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  has successfully launched and is into the fourth week of an online course on multi-user three dimensional virtual environments (MUVEs) and their relationships to other multi-user technologies.

The 16 students, enrolled in the course (A&M624, Immersive 3D Environments), based on  the  NMIT Second Life islands  of Koru and Kowhai, are being tutored on-campus by Dr  Clare Atkins  (SL: Arwenna Stardust) and online by former SLENZ developer and New Zealand’s most experienced virtual world builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman).

Dr Clare Atkins

The course has been designed to  develop knowledge and understanding of using current generation commercial software as well as providing in-depth knowledge of specialised processes, techniques and media, according to Dr Atkins.

While the course includes explorations of other virtual environments, most of the classes  focus on the use of Second Life.

The course will take 60 hours class time,  with at least  half the classes in a virtual world, mainly Second Life.

Dr Atkins and Griffiths are known in New Zealand for creating and championing the successful $NZ500,00 Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) Project,  which  over an 18-month period created and established two pilot  education programmes, one with Otago Polytechnic in midwifery, and the  other  in Foundation (Bridging) Learning  with Manakau Institute of Technology.  The  Foundation Learning course, under  the leadership of MIT lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), has now become a permanent course within the MIT structure, with a large number of students participating in it.  Otago Polytechnic, however, decided at the conclusion of the pilot programme not to take the midwifery course any further.

Aaron Griffiths

Commenting on the first couple of NMIT classes Griffiths said that although the students  had appeared reluctant at first they had  quickly realised the potential (of Second Life) “… that it’s more than a game” with the student blogs starting to show their realisation of this.

” I am well pleased with this class…. most seem committed to learning ,” he said.   “Building  is slow, of course(and its) a HUGE step for many of them. I guess I am rather passionate about these environment … hopefully that rubs off on some.”

” The hardest part really is the limited time I have with them …  (there is) one hell of a lot to get across in such short spaces of time.”

Griffiths and Atkins  are detailing  the class’ activities  in a  blog, Immersive 3d environments, which also links into the student blogs:   this blog gives an interesting glimpse into how the lessons are constructed and are proceeding as well as student reactions.

Disability and MUVEs – VLENZ Update, No 175, August 10, 2010

“Forget what you can’t do … virtual worlds are about what you can do.”

Disabled can have a new  ‘ real

life’ in  a virtual world …

The entrance to Virtual Ability Island - a new "reality" for the disabled

The ability of virtual worlds such as Second Life to  provide new experiences as well as  “a real life” to those  with disabilities  has to my knowledge not  really been explored in New Zealand  although well publicised overseas. It  also has not been used to make the lives of  the aged, infirm and shut-ins more meaningful, something  that it has almost miraculous possibilities for doing.

But overseas,  particularly in the United States,  the ability to create a cyber version of oneself has been embraced by people with disabilities stemming from arthritis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, autism, wartime injuries and other debilitating conditions,  and their carers. According to a recent issue of the Philadelpia Enquirer the disabled can log on to virtual worlds  to do things they cannot, or are afraid to, do in real life.

Carolyn Davis, an Inquirer Staff Writer, points out that already the disabled can in some ways emulate the feats of  the lead character Jake Sully, the paralysed military veteran in the New Zealand-created, James Cameron-directed movie, Avatar, who uses a virtual body to “live”  in  and infiltrate another “real” world, Pandora.

“Can’t go places without a wheelchair?, “Davis asks, before noting, “In Second Life, you not only can walk, you can fly.

“Is your speech slurred? In Second Life, text chats can let out your inner Shakespeare. “Forget for a minute what you can’t do. In virtual worlds, it’s all about what you can, ” she says. And she is correct. World Second Life can be a boon for those  with physical and even mental limitations.

“I’m building a house on Second Life right now,” she quotes  James Parcher, 85, of West Philadelphia (SL: Huber Grantly), as saying. “For an old guy like me, I can’t get around very well with the arthritis problems I have. On Second Life, you’re young again.”

“People identify in a very intense way with their avatars,”  according to  Sherry Turkle, professor of social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the Initiative on Technology and Self..

Inglis House computer lab coordinator Dawn Waller sets up equipment to let Stu Sanderson, 55, an Inglis House resident, work and play Second Life. Picture: Clem Murray/Philadelphia Enquirer

Noting that disabled players, however, often need adaptive equipment to use a computer and to interact with virtual worlds such as  Second Life, Davis  visited West Philadelphia’s Inglis House, which offers services and housing to people with severe disabilities, and which has a computer lab stocked with such gadgets and is filled with residents using computers for writing, playing games, and sending e-mails.

Her article is worth reading  just to see the possibilities in this area although  a pilot project to see if residents and day-program participants could benefit from Second Life, especially by taking continuing education classes from schools with a presence in the virtual world, has wound down with the participants finding it too hard for too little return.

Davis also details Virtual Ability, a nonprofit group based in Colorado, which  was founded by Alice Krueger, 60, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago. Her group’s mission is to help the disabled use Second Life, and its Virtual Ability Island is tailored to welcome disabled players, with tutorials and areas to practice manipulating their avatars.

On the island virtual sandwich boards advertise the ALS Association, the Arthritis Foundation, and the Autism Society (Autism Awareness Centre).

Boon for the aged?

For me the Davis article, along with other articles I have read over the years, points to the boon of virtual worlds  for not only the disabled  but for those who are shut-in (and shut-out of society)  through age or other infirmities but still have all their faculties.

Although  Linden Labs may not see the aged as a lucrative  part of their target market  – the aged not being so hip – I feel that is  one direction in which virtual worlds are going to move with extraordinary vigor once the interface becomes more transparent.

I have met numerous avatars whose creators are over 70 in real life   who appear to be repeating and enjoying  the mistakes of their 20s  without a lot of the anguish and angst associated with  that in their real life. There already is a Silver Fox organisation within  Second Life, whose members, despite the real life age of the membership, still appear to have the fun of youth… doing the things they  possibly can no longer do in real life.

Age is not a barrier in virtual world. In fact it is one place that it is often an asset where life experience can be helpful.

Finally, I see a time when, rather than just sitting staring to space those who inhabit our old people’s homes  or live alone and lonely  will be able to move, interact and socialise in virtual worlds just as easily as they once could in the real world.

I, for one, would rather spend my old age, if I live that long, interacting in a virtual world, than slowly devolving into a vegetative state.

Perhaps a MUVE membership and Broadband access might even become part of a pension cheque.

A better option ...spending old age in a virtual world?