Broadband in NZ– VLENZ Update, No 181, March 13, 2011

The  New Zealand Broadband network

Rural Kiwis  probably wont see

‘true’  Broadband  for decades

… will Christchurch quake slow implementation

of 2nd-best  RBI solution

Telecom's Dr Paul Reynolds ... rebuked for honesty.

With the government concentrating on the post earthquake resurrection of Christchurch – and the money needed to rebuild that city – one wonders whether the Rural Broadband Initiative which has been badly fumbled, will quietly fade into the woodwork.

And will  New Zealanders outside the main centres and Telco hubs continue to be left in the 20th Century with less than adequate Broadband?

Of course, it is understandable that the contract, which has been awarded to the old-style,  not-likely- to-deliver the Broadband needed for the nation, Telecom/Vodafone consortium with its outdated backward-looking technology, may  go on the backburner.

But one has to ask is  even  the  out-of-date solution to be thrown out with the demolition rubbish from the Christchurch earthquake.

Not that it really matters I suppose because one has to wonder whether the  Government and its advisers on the RBI  ever really wanted to have a competing future-oriented Broadband network outside the main cities.

‘Marketing carrot’

This was made clear by Telecom chief executive  Paul Reynolds, who earned a rebuke for his honesty from the Government, when he  forecast (before the tender was awarded) that it could take two decades for consumers to upgrade to ultrafast Broadband. Dr Reynolds said, although it is clear the Government intends the network should be completed by 2019, it would take at least as long again for all households to start using it. “Twenty years is the number for the progressive uptake of fibre services,” he said.

His remarks mirrored those of the Telstra-Clear NZ chief executive of a few years ago who  said he saw no need for fast broadband  in New Zealand.

FX Network's Murray Jurgeleit ... RBI future-proof solution rejected.

Despite  remarks like these the  major Telcos are still promoting  and selling Broadband throughout New Zealand  at exorbitant rates which they cannot deliver  at consistent Broadband speeds.

Even Telcom’s latest television promotion for its Broadband service fudges the fact that if you join without contract – a “marketing carrot” – you still have to pay $NZ90 to leave, exactly the same  as you would have had to pay if you had a contract, even if  the organisation cannot deliver consistent Broadband speeds.

The worst part of it is that, as the promotions attract more people to Broadband in provincial NZ,  the more the telcos’ services  degrade, particularly outside the main centres and the less reliable and consistent it gets at times of high bandwidth usage such as school holidays, after school and on wet, miserable winter weekends, the times when the average man, woman and child wants to use it.

The Government did have the option of future-proofing Broadband services for the country but failed to take the chance  apparently accepting the Telecom/Vodafone  solution which basically is slow 3G wireless and fast DSL over copper. This was probably because it was advised by those whose hearts have always been with the big players.

The major alternative was and still is the fibre and 4g wireless solution put forward by FX Networks with Opengate (Kordia & Woosh) which would have delivered much faster Broadband to far more rural users than any alternative.

Simply put  the OpenGate/ FX Networks  solution would have delivered a $NZ285m,  10 Mbps or more Broadband connection to 83 percent of rural New Zealand – a third of the country’s population which generates two-thirds of its export income – for as low as $NZ60 per month, with access from within two years – not six as posed by the Telecom consortium.

‘Choice, innovation, competition’

In a press release last month FX Networks Managing Director Murray Jurgeleit said, “In addition to the low prices, we have proposed to deliver extensive new infrastructure for our rural communities. We are committed to delivering guaranteed performance through the latest technology to put us ahead of our international trading partners.

“We can create an environment of choice, innovation and competition to ensure rural New Zealand is well served in Broadband technology for years to come.”

And Kordia CEO Geoff Hunt  who expressed disappointment at the outcome of the tender process, said that OpenGate would have connected a customer at full speed 40 kms from a wireless site,  a significant advance on what could be achieved with copper.

“The combination of fibre and 4G wireless technology enables us to very quickly deploy high-speed broadband to many more rural Kiwis,” he said.
The OpenGate/FX Networks consortium offer was based on the same advanced technology (4G LTE) that’s being installed in Australia, the US, China and India as an upgrade to aging and congested 3G networks.  Hunt said that this technology meant that any individual tower could be scaled up to deliver more than 1.7 gigabits per second, enabling hundreds of users to have ultra-fast Broadband off a single tower without slowing down service.

Geoff Hunt, Kordia ... an opportunity lost

“They (the Government) say they’re going to a proven technology with copper – it’s so proven that it’s being replaced by fibre everywhere,” said Kordia ceo Geoff Hunt.

“The opportunity to deploy much better broadband has been lost. It is really disappointing,” he said.

He claimed the Government decision, and I agree,  has effectively condemned rural communities to suffering from same old duopoly services that continue to under-deliver and hold rural New Zealand hostage.

“The government had an opportunity through the RBI to provide a technology step-change in services for rural New Zealand that would have laid a future-proof and highly competitive foundation for the next 15 years.

Not an “up-to” speed offer

He pointed out that the OpenGate/FX broadband network would have delivered 100 Mbps to rural schools, 10 – 20 Mbps to 83 percent of rural New Zealanders and an impressive 20+ Mbps to 67 percent of rural Kiwis.
“We can support a lot of people on the internet at these impressive speeds at the same time … we are offering 10 Mbps at better prices than in the cities today – not an “up to” offer,” he said earlier. “New Zealanders are sick and tired of high contention ratios and actual performance that bears no relation to advertised “up to” speeds.

I can concur with that having argued with both Telecom and  Telstra that the speeds they were and are delivering Broadband –  even in provincial centres let alone rural areas – is often more like dial-up than Broadband despite them charging  outlandishly for the service.
The OpenGate/ FX Networks’ infrastructure would have been separate and distinct from the existing copper and 3G networks, and it would have fostered much needed head-to-head competition with the moribund Telcos.

Now sadly it looks as though many of today’s rural New Zealanders probably will not get “real” Broadband at their homes in their lifetimes, even with the latest advances in copper wire technology.

This will only serve to place  rural  residents – adults and students – at an even greater disadvantage to their city cousins in a world where consistent, reliable fast Broadband is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury, especially in the area of distance education.

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KAREN, VLENZ Update 171, June 01, 2010

KAREN goes  ‘independent’

NZ high-speed research/education

network in new partnership …

All NZ education to get real Broadband speeds

A year-old YouTube view of the FX Networks network  …
2200 kms of optical fibre and still counting.

Heralding a new era for online education and research  in New Zealand, Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd (REANNZ) has announced  that it has  entered into a long-term partnership with the country’s foremost, independent optical fibre network provider,   Wellington-based  FX Networks,   to provide the national connectivity for the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN).

The arrangement secures the continuation of KAREN’s existing 10Gb/s backbone connectivity and footprint around the country for an initial term of  three years through to December 2013, with two two-year renewal options.

The move should mean lower cost, and faster and more reliable  national bandwidth options for New Zealand tertiary and secondary education institutions, and could lead to a proliferation of virtual world and other third generation uses of the internet by  both faculty and students in education across the country. When coupled with other moves, it  should also provide benefits to distance learners.

Donald Clark, REANNZ

The Universities of Auckland, Otago and Canterbury, along with Weltech, in Wellington, are already operating a bandwidth-hungry,  OpenSim-based virtual world system (New Zealand Virtual World Grid) in test phase in conjunction with the KAREN network  which can only benefit from the latest development, which should ease both access and costs, especially  as NZVWG only uses local bandwidth, rather than international connections.

The decision to go with FX Networks  follows  what spokespeople for the two partners described as “a thorough and comprehensive evaluation process.”  The KAREN network has previously worked directly with  Telecom.

The contract also includes options to move KAREN to a dark fibre-based network infrastructure, which will be essential to ensure KAREN can continue to offer leading-edge network services within a constrained cost base.

The CEO of REANNZ, Donald Clark,  said, “This is the most exciting development for KAREN since the network was launched in 2006. We are confident that we have selected a progressive, long-term partner in FX Networks and have secured the best national connectivity options for our community and provided certainty to our members on cost and presence.”

“Over the last four years, the demands of our members has driven innovation in network supply and services across the telecommunications industry,” he said. “In earlier times our investments have helped other network suppliers extend their networks, now we’re helping FX Networks.”

Through moving to the new network, REANNZ will put into effect a new Network Access Policy which  will provide greater flexibility to REANNZ and KAREN members around access, and use of the network. The network is currently recruiting a number of secondary  schools to add to its current tertiary institution base.

A virtual region on the Weltech portal of the 'alpha' test NZVWG Grid .... online and MUVE education can only benefit from the latest KAREN move.

Work has already begun on comprehensive transition plan to ensure a smooth cross-over from current national connectivity arrangements to the new arrangements in December.

REANNZ is currently in the  late stage contract discussions with the preferred supplier for KAREN’s international network. An announcement on the selected provider will be made later this month.

FX Networks already has completed most of an optical spine the length of the country and is completing   a network right around the country to join with the spine – a number of  local bodies like those  controlling Hawkes Bay, Pahiatua, Dannevirke and Eketahuna among others   have already signed up with FX Networks –  which should make access to  KAREN  and true high-speed broadband internet an affordable reality for most  institutions as well as distance education students.

Jamie Baddeley, FX Networks

Previously, despite claims to the contrary, the major Telcos in New Zealand  have supplied  provincial New Zealanders  with Broadband, which they pay Broadband prices for, but which  generally  have not delivered consistent Broadband speeds. In fact,  in areas like the Manawatu, consumers, although paying Broadband prices, have often been left with a service, during  times of high contention, which   has run at dial-up speeds.

FX Networks’ fibre optic ‘backbone’ network  covering both islands of New Zealand, however,  is the fastest independent intercity pipeline in the country, capable of transferring data and voice at speeds up to 10Gbps.

The organisation describes its   network as a  ” a ‘green fields’ operation, our 21st Century technology and lean business practices mean we can deliver a Ferrari-type network for Corolla-type pricing.”

The company is privately owned and funded, with 30 percent equity held by New Zealanders. It is independent from the Telcos  operating in New Zealand.

FX Network’s partnership with REANNZ  follows the announcement  in April that FX Networks  had signed an agreement with Telecom Wholesale for the exchange of local internet traffic (local peering) at 19 of  Telecom’s points of interconnection – 39 currently available) around the country,  laying the groundwork for the “most efficient routing” of New Zealand’s growing volumes of Internet traffic through New Zealand’s two main internet backbones.

One of the regions on the University of Auckland portal of NZVWG grid which should benefit from both the KAREN decision and local "peering."

Peering allows traffic to be exchanged on a local or regional basis rather than transported back and forth throughout the country to be exchanged in Auckland.

Announcing this agreement the two companies said, “With the Government’s $1.5bn ‘Ultra Fast Broadband’ and $300m ‘Rural Broadband initiatives both on the horizon, the agreement paves the way for a whole new range of competitive broadband packages to be developed by ISPs and other service providers.”

FX Networks Jamie Baddeley said at the time of the agreement  that it meant  that the Governments investment of $1.8bn in urban and rural broadband “will now be able to run local content in a fast and efficient manner.

“This is a big step in New Zealand’s digital transformation that will revolutionise many aspects of society including health, education, commerce and entertainment,” he said. “…  I think many ISPs are going to have to rethink how they charge for traffic and there will now be competitive pressure to separate international traffic from local usage and charge accordingly.”

Ernie Newman, TUANZ

Senior industry consultant Dr Murray Milner said: “This is a very positive outcome with the industry tackling a major issue that is fundamental to the success of the current fibre roll-outs. Local peering means that internet backbones will not be clogged up with local traffic and we will see smart uses of the capability in areas like healthcare where digital X-rays can be shared simultaneously in full definition.”

Ernie Newman, CEO of TUANZ said: “Peering has been on the table for a number of years as one of those too hard issues, after some carriers depeered from the earlier system a few years ago. It was the users who bore the brunt of that with traffic romboning to Auckland when it didn’t need to, or worse to the USA. I’m delighted to see industry players resolving this issue without the need for regulation or government intervention and users will benefit from better performance and lower charges. What’s emerging is the national digital architecture that TUANZ has been calling for.”

SLENZ Project, VLENZ Update No 168, March 26, 2010

SLENZ  PROJECT DOES IT AGAIN

Midwifery Studies Build 1.0

available free to public

Much of the SLENZ birth unit featured in this PookyMedia
machinima has been made available free of charge.

The SLENZ Project  announced today that its Midwifery Studies Build Version 1.0, is now available for free pickup from the  Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT)  Second Life  island of Kowhai.

The build is being made available by NMIT, which ran the the New Zealand Government-funded SLENZ Project, under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike License 3.0.

The Midwifery Studies Build is the second to  be made available to  the public. The project has previously made its Foundation (Bridging) Learning Build available under the same criteria.

The full details of  both packages  are available on Lead Developer Aaron Griffiths’  The SLENZ Builds Technical Blog

The  packaging of the builds marks the culmination of the 18-month, $NZ500,000 SLENZ Project, the team members of which have now launched Virtual Life Education New Zealand to continue   their research as well as  to provide advice to virtual world users.

Call for “sharing, collaboration”

“Making the midwifery build available to the public means that the final deliverable for the SLENZ Project is now done,” SLENZ Project joint leader Terry Neal said.

In another sense, however, she said,  it is just the beginning.”

The team was thrilled that scores of  people had picked up the Foundation Build and hoped that the interest in the Midwifery Build would be similar. “Our dream is that learners all around the world can benefit from what we have done,” she said. “We also hope that others will imitate us in making what they develop freely available.

“Development in virtual worlds is not cheap and the more we can share rather than duplicating our efforts, the more we will have  available for all of us.”

Neal said she would love to see educators  all over the world focusing on “how we can design, develop and use virtual environments to significantly improve how all people learn, rather than creating builds for ourselves and locking them away.

“The cost is in creating not sharing,” she said. “However, I know people have to make a living and organisations vary in their commitment to a more sharing approach.”

Neal paid tribute to the Tertiary Education Commission and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology for their commitment “to sharing so generously”.

The Midwifery Studies Build (791 prims) contains all the items required for the Normal Birth Scenario developed by the SLENZ team for the SLENZ Project midwifery pilot, including the birthing room, midwives’ office, treatment room and outdoor courtyard.  Ceilings on the rooms have been removed to facilitate camera access.   The SLENZ Midwifery Studies Resource Pack includes the SLENZ Mother Controller (HUDs created by SLENZ Developer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker).
All package items are full permissions.

The Birthing Unit build, now available free.

The items are provided inside a 24 x 40 metre megaprim base (SLENZ Midwifery Studies Rez Base) and can be rezzed from this base once it is positioned.

Griffiths plans to hold technical discussions which will focus on a users’ first interaction with the Foundation Studies and Midwifery Builds.  It will look at the scripts used to welcome users and offer them introductory information.

He is available for help with the builds  and would appreciate feedback [debnaar@clear.net.nz]. Griffiths is currently investigating the production of OAR files for both builds so they can be used in alternative OpenSim environments.

The Midwifery pilot was conducted in conjunction with Otago Polytechnic and Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT).  Midwife Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) was the Lead educator on the project.

Pickup your Birth Unit Build from the pyramid right foreground.

SLENZ Build FREE, VLENZ No 167, March 16, 2010

SLENZ Project  Foundation Learning

Build now available FREE

Creative Commons license

The Foundation Learning build, now available FREE, under CC license.

The SLENZ Project’s much-praised Second Life Foundation (Bridging) Learning  Build (Version 1.0) is now available FREE, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, from the Second Life island of Kowhai.

The key section of the  SLENZ Project’s Second Life Midwifery Education Birth Unit build is also to be made available shortly.

The announcement of the availability of the Foundation Learning Build was made today  by the SLENZ Project’s Lead Developer Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) on a newly setup blog, The SLENZ Project Technical Blog, where Griffiths plans to  discuss the ongoing development of the two builds following completion of the SLENZ Project.

Commenting on the announcement, the creator and joint leader of the SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins, of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, said, “We in the SLENZ Project  are delighted that we have been able to  fulfill our original plan of making the  builds available to the public. This is the culmination of our dream.  We hope it will set a benchmark for others involved in education in  Virtual Worlds, not only Second Life.  We also hope that others will extend and enhance our builds and we look forward to seeing the exciting and innovative ways in which they will be put to use.”

Aaron Griffiths, SL builder.

The build, which has been made available for pickup, includes textures, animations and scripts for the Skill Mastery Hyperdome with all rezzable scenes  (including the Stairway of Learning) and the private interview room teleporters. All build items are full permissions except for a few clothing items, some hair provided for the Hyperdome shop, and a few seating animations.

“The build items are provided inside a 60 x 80 metre megaprim base (SLENZ Foundation Studies Rez Base) and can be rezzed from this base once it is positioned.” Griffiths said.

The SLENZ Hyperdome, a holodeck, contains a number of rezzable scenes designed  to help students learn and practise interview techniques as well as prepare for real life job or tertiary study interviews.

The Stairway of Learning is a dual staircase surrounding the Hyperdome and is designed to deliver learning information about interview preparation. The “private interview room” teleporters, placed near the front of the Hyperdome, allow individual, supervisor-configurable, interview rooms to be rezzed on demand for students to practice in.
The SLENZ Project which ran for 18 months was financed by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand. It was designed to determine  whether there were  any benefits from  using Virtual Worlds for education and to  establish how those benefits could be harnessed.

Pickup the Foundation Learning Build free from under the pyramid in the left of the picture. http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kowhai/146/115/32

NZVWG Update, VLENZ No 166, March 14, 2010

NZ Virtual World Grid hosts

international  guests

NZVWG Auckland portal now accepting

‘resident’ avatar applications …

Educause Roundtable meeting on New Zealand Virtual World Grid

The  University of Auckland portal of the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG)  has successfully hosted its  first international seminar, attracting  a number of leading MUVE educators and researchers from  around the world.

The meeting coincided with the announcement by Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), the virtual meeting host,  that the University of Auckland portal of the grid, although  still in a trial phase,  was now open for  virtual-world users to apply for ‘free’ registration from the Auckland portal.

Dr Scott Diener.

It also coincided with a ‘demonstration’ of just how easy it is to teleport an avatar from the University of Auckland portal MUVE on the NZVWG ‘Hypergrid’ to the MUVE of   the University of Otago and return with inventory intact and retention of all abilities.

The NZVW Grid based on OpenSim software has grown out of the original ONGENS  grid, developed by the University of Otago in concert with the University of Canterbury, and the University of Auckland.   Weltec has also developed a portal for the grid and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology has associate status.

Welcoming the 20 plus guests from Educause’s Virtual World Roundtable  to the meeting in the Great Hall of “Kapua Castle” on the island of Kapua 3 in the New Zealand Virtual World Dr Diener said, “This is a really exciting development for us.

“We are stand-alone…we run our own asset server (database) with  the University of  Otago and Canterbury University having  similar setups, which have been linked together.”

Members of the Virtual Worlds Roundtable, who have previously visited a number of other Virtual Worlds  as a group for their meetings to assess and monitor MUVE development around the world praised the  apparent stability of the University of Auckland portal MUVE, the ease of entry, the fact  that it was open source and free, and  the  use of the Hypergrid, which opens up possibilities for easy, transparent connections to tertiary institution   MUVEs around the real world.

“We have found the Hypergrid does work, albeit with problems, “Dr Diener said, explaining that the goal of NZVWG was first to experiment and eventually to link to other grids.

Detailing the  setup of the MUVE, he said, the Auckland University portal is running on two virtual servers (VMware), and has a total capital investment of some $NZ10,000 ($US7000). This compared to an investment of say $US55,000 for signing up for SL Enterprise (previously Nebraska), the Linden Labs’ “behind the firewall” solution for standalone virtual worlds.

The Auckland MUVE is running on two dedicated, virtual machines with one server running a database and six sims. CPU usage has never got above five percent. Freeswitch voice is available on the MUVE but not yet completely activated.

“We can duplicate them (the virtual machines) in about 30 minutes – to scale if necessary,” he said in answer to a question, adding that OAR content was backed up automatically.

A  University of Auckland staff member is assigned one day a week to the MUVE , he said, with most of the work involved with things like getting voice working, and getting the Hypergrid fully functional.

He said the portal had been created out of his own budget as associate director of IT Services at the University of Auckland.

Dr Diener's Kapua Castle where the Roundtable meeting was held in the Geat Hall.

The portal, Dr Diener said, “is focused mostly on proving the concept of Hypergrid.”

“This is how our Writing Center began,” Iggy  Strangeland, of the University of Richmond, observed. “I bought a server out of budget, and then eventually got it supported by our data center. Now they maintain it and I just design content.

“We proved the concept. If it works for 2D Web, it can work for Virtual Worlds,” Strangeland said.

The major current problem with using the NZVWG MUVE for education purposes was the fact that there were as yet few resources “in world” … “all scripts have to be brought in,” Dr Diener said.

Given success for the NZVWG, however,  Dr Diener said, he would be excited to work on connecting  the that portal  with any other university  grid in the world.

Commenting on this, Lindy McKeown, of the University of Southern Queensland, said education.au in Australia was trying to set up a Hypergrid for all Australian universities to join.

Dr Diener, who is also a Lecturer at the University of Auckland, is well-known in Second Life and virtual world education circles around the globe for his and his associates’ creation of successful medicine/nursing/architecture simulations on the three University of Auckland Second Life islands in Second Life, the first of which was “Long White Cloud”.

Dr Diener mentioned that the “very active” New Zealand virtual world  group  VLENZ was represented at the meeting by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  and Second Life Education New Zealand Project founder and joint leader,  Dr Clare Atkins (SL and NZVWG: Arwenna Stardust). Dr Atkins, on behalf of SLENZ and NMIT, operates two islands in Second Life, Koru and Kowhai.

“I think it WILL be a viable alternative (to Second Life) soon,” Dr Atkins said.

Other speakers agreed with Dr Atkins’ view that NZVWG and OpenSim were a good replacement for Second Life: “for me (as an educator) one of the huge benefits to OpenSim is that we can use it with under 18s,” she said.

Visitor Margaret Czart, of the University of Illinois,  said that all of the virtual worlds the Virtual Worlds Roundtable group had visited over time had provided good alternatives to Second Life but, “it is not so much the place but how you run it.”


A sitting room in Kapua Castle.

Dr Atkins’ and Czart’s comments about possible replacements for Second Life followed a remark that the Linden Labs’ position of Second Life education guru Pathfinder Linden had been disestablished and that the Lindens appeared to be showing  less interest in education.

Lindy McKeown foresaw the development of a “Hypergridded federation universe of locally-hosted worlds with some access by others but some private spaces” as appearing to be “a great education alternative for many reasons.”

But, she added, that for these alternative worlds to be successful “we need an SLexchange type (virtual worlds sales) system for other grids since Linden Labs had bought out virtual world goods sales competitors.

Iggy Strangeland replied that http://imnotgoingsideways.blogspot.com/2009/11/alternatives-to-xstreetsl.html was a good source for other sales portals. Lindy McKeown added that one also could buy OAR files full of content one  the net and there were lots of free ones too.

James Abraham (SL: Calisto Encinal  and http://calistoencinal.spaces.live.com/) said he was writing a grant to  “roll out a 10 college zero-cost OpenSim virtual world program for the Maricopa Community College District [James Abraham’s Mi Casa Es Su Casa won a prize for full sim builds at the recent SLPro! Conference sponsored by Linden Labs for Second Life content creators.]

On this point AJ Kelton, director of Emerging Instructional Technology at Montclair State University, founder and current leader of the EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds Constituent Group and Roundtable moderator, agreed with Mirt Tenk who suggested that it would be good for tertiary education providers to share the “stuff  WE have built in Second Life as  open source for OpenSim users. Others agreed with this view, including Dr Atkins who noted that all SLENZ Project builds were free and open source.

Asked how close he thought tertiary educators were to replacing Second Life with other virtual worlds, Dr Diener said, “ I don’t think we ARE close … and in fact, I don’t think that is even the question…I think we need to ask how we can augment our Second Life resources with Virtual World like this.”

There was also a question, raised by Liz Dorland, of Washington University, in St Louis,  and others, of the importance of virtual world students and educators being able to connect with the rest of the world community as they could in Second Life.

Dr Atkins said that she thought the “richness of Second Life and its diversity” would be hard to grow in an OpenSim environment although other speakers noted interoperability between all MUVEs, including Second Life, to get the best of all virtual worlds, was a possibility.

Another "resident's' Castle on the NZVWG portal grid.

SLENZ PROJECT EVALUATION, VLENZ 165, Mar 10, 2010

SLENZ PROJECT EVALUATION RELEASED

SL Research project ‘successful’ but

marred by technical difficulties  …

Full PDF of Evaluation Report available here

Education conference delegates view a Birthing Room

The SLENZ team achieved “a remarkable success in creating and delivering” the core of the SLENZ Project, according to the official evaluation report of the $NZ500,000, Second Life  research programme released today.

This was despite the fact that both the project and student/educator learning  and engagement  had, at times,  been hampered  by  technical  challenges and difficulties during the 18-month long project, said Michael Winter, the independent evaluator of the project. He is  a veteran educator and senior researcher with  CORE Education, of Christchurch, New Zealand.

At the core of the project were two builds – a Foundation Learning Centre and a Birthing Centre – which were used for virtual world teaching as part of the project to determine the benefits or otherwise of virtual world education, and how these benefits, if any, could best be harnessed.

“The creation and effective employment of the two builds is a great success of the team,” Winter said. “In the process, the project team established a valuable corpus of experience in developing and using virtual world resources for tertiary education.”

The pilot programmes, Winter said, had both increased the engagement of learners with a familiar game like environment where learning may intentionally be a product of serious play; had been successful in creating experiential learning situations not available in ‘real life’;  had had only limited success with providing the  opportunity to learn the skills necessary to operate socially, technically, and ethically in an online global virtual world;   but had  provided an opportunity to “experience and practice collaborative, cross-cultural problem solving in social networking environments.

Although the report   appears a little short on hard facts, figures and comparative measurements it contains much  interesting anecdotal evidence from both students and educators and the conclusions reached  by Winter should be helpful to all  contemplating  or launching a new educational programme  within a Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE) such as Second Life.

Michael Winter

Winter said  that  the “success of the project”, which incorporated Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Midwifery Education pilot programmes, had  largely been due to the project management skills of the real life Project Manager (Terry Neal, of BlendedSolutions) who  had been responsible for managing the budget, interpersonal communications, and ensuring that timelines were adhered to and deadlines met.

Winter  also singled out the  Project Developer (Aaron Griffths, of Fxual  Education Services)  for special mention.  “As far as the design and development of the builds are concerned, the Project Developer almost single-handedly achieved a remarkable success with both builds,” Winter said. “He was able to incorporate the differing needs of both the Foundation and Midwifery educators, and in many cases produced aesthetically pleasing and functional designs. The ongoing process of development generally met the required deadlines, although sometimes at some cost in terms of stress.”

Terry Neal

Winter  made a  number of recommendations for future projects exploring the use of virtual worlds in education, which should be useful to MUVE developers and researchers around the world.  These included:

  • The Project Team, and Lead Educators at each institution should become familiar with the IT processes, and strike up an ongoing working relationship with members of the IT team. This could be greatly facilitated by the identification of a senior manager to act as a champion of the project within the institution.
  • Clear identification of the hardware and network needs required effectively to run the virtual world on the multiple computers within a particular institution. This would include addressing network security and fire walling issues.
  • Clear communication with students who will be using the virtual environment off-site regarding hardware and software requirements to access and make use of all the features of the virtual world.
  • An indication to students of the broadband requirements and hardware specifications to run the virtual world effectively on their own home computers, including connection speed, and the likely impact on broadband usage.

    Aaron Griffiths

  • Give more attention and time to ensure that users become fully familiar with using Second Life. This could involve a more thorough orientation process including working with buddies experienced in Second Life.
  • Clear indication to students of expectations in terms of their participation and learning outcomes when using the builds.
  • Ensure that each stage of the build actively involves and engages learners, and avoids them spending time “just looking”.

Summaries

Foundation Learning pilot

In his  summary of his findings on the Manukau Institute of  Technology Foundation Studies pilot programme, led by lead educator,  Merle Lemon,   Winter noted that  the Foundation build had provided a rich environment for learners to develop their job-hunting skills, despite criticism of its external appearance.

“It provided the opportunity for students to review material they had learned in face-to-face sessions, and to practice dressing appropriately for, and taking part in, interviews,” he said, but “for many participants, the experience was marred by technical difficulties, which highlighted the need for careful planning and good collaboration with the IT department before introducing virtual world learning into on-site programmes.”

The  MIT staff, Winter said,  were generally keen to be involved in future work with virtual worlds, but stressed the need to resolve technical issues.

Midwifery Education pilot

In his summary of the Otago Polytechnic Midwifery pilot programme, led by lead educator Sarah Stewart,  Winter said the two completed stages of the Midwifery build had represented “a significant success of the project”.

He, however,  again noted technical problems involving both hardware and connections to the internet  –  as well as navigation difficulties within Second Life by both  students and tutors -as hampering the results in this distance education part of the SLENZ Project.

On the question of user navigation,  he said,  “It is likely that a longer and more careful period of orientation might help participants overcome these difficulties.”

But he said, “Those students that accessed the build, and who were confident with the environment, reported a high degree of engagement and enjoyment of the experience, especially in working through the scenario with a buddy. They found this experience removed some of the stress, compared with face-to-face role-play. “

Visitors look over the Foundation learning build

SLENZ Update, No 155, December 11, 2009

ascilite 2009

VW leaders establish  New Zealand

virtual worlds’ education group

The University of Auckland’s Dr Scott Diener presents at
ascilite 2009 ….  he is one of Australasia’s leaders in
virtual world tertiary education.

The New Zealand Virtual Worlds Group (NZVWG), an independent, not-for profit association for people interested in virtual worlds and their use for education in New Zealand  has grown out of the recent ascilite (Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education) 2009 conference held in Auckland, New Zealand.

The four-day conference, the leading Australasian forum on computers in education,  saw a number of presentations on the successful use of virtual worlds – particularly in Second Life – for learning,   including an impressive  keynote address by one of the Australasian leaders in virtual education, Dr Scott Diener (pictured above), of  The University of Auckland.

The conference in the Owen Glass Building at  The University of Auckland was attended by delegates from across the world and the leaders of virtual world education in New Zealand, Diener, Dr Clare Atkins, of NMIT (Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology) and Terry Neal, of Blended Solutions.

The formation of the group followed a  symposium initiated by  the SLENZ Project team  about the future of Virtual World  education in New Zealand and what  could be done to promote and encourage it, which was  led SLENZ Project co- leader, Dr Clare Atkins (pictured right), and grew out of subsequent conversations between Atkins, Diener and and SLENZ Project co-leader Terry Neal (pictured left).

“The group has been set up  to further education in multi user virtual environments and virtual worlds in New Zealand,” Dr Atkins said. “We will be looking not only at teaching in MUVEs but also how other aspects of education including administration, libraries, marketing etc., can  benefit from virtual worlds.”

Initially  the group will operate from a Google Group which has been set up “to get the initial ideas flowing,”Atkins said, noting that,  as yet few, if any concrete decisions have been taken on anything except the pressing need for such an association.

Although the group has been formed by members of the SLENZ Project, which was funded by Tertiary Education New Zealand, it is independent from that project and also virtual world platform independent.

Issuing an invitation to New Zealand educators and others interested in virtual world technology and education, Atkins said, “”We would like to encourage  you to be part of these early discussions! We need everyone’s ideas, thoughts, comments etc.  We hope you feel like joining us.”

The two aspects of the creation of the group that the founding team was most set on, she said, were:

  • It should be independent and not for profit. Although institutions/organisations may choose to support the association in some way it would not be affiliated with any particular one.
  • It should encompass the broad spectrum of virtual worlds or MUVEs and interpret education in the broadest of terms – all sectors, all aspects.

To join one should go  here.