MUVE Research – VLENZ Update, No 173, June 08, 2010

1. ‘Turning’ boys into girls, virtually speaking

Transferring body ownership

to  your virtual avatar …

The real Avatar: body transfer turns men into girls – video 85429678001 – life – 13 May 2010 – New Scientist.

Second Lifers or World of Warcrafters, who have become fully immersed in those environments,  would be unlikely to doubt  that one’s sense of self can be highly malleable and that they can easily believe – for  moments at the very least  if not hours – that their avatar, no matter how different in gender, species or age,  is “really” them.

But people, who have  not experienced MUVE immersibility either in a virtual world like Second Life, or a MMORPG  such as World of Warcraft,  might  be very sceptical about the possibility.

However,  researchers at the University of Barcelona, according to the New Scientist, have now shown that, facilitated by a  “young girl body image” view with virtual-reality headset and some brief arm-stroking, men in their mid-20s can react as if the “avatar” body is their own. They feel that way even when they subsequently move outside the girl’s perspective and watch her being attacked.

Professor Mel Slater, who led the team that carried out the experiment,  told  Wendy Zukerman, of the New Scientist, “This is the first experiment to show that body ownership can be transferred to an entirely virtual body.”

Mel Slater

The finding, Zukerman said,  highlighted how far one’s sense of self and body image could be manipulated, and could lead to therapies for conditions of body-image distortion such as anorexia and might be applied to entertainment – to make video games more immersive, for example –and also to psychology.

On average, the men in the experiment reported medium-strength feelings about the girl’s body being their own, and strong feelings that the woman was touching their body: the researchers recorded physical responses such as increased heart rate when the avatar, they were later viewing as a third person, was slapped.

The experiment demonstrated the strong connection the volunteers felt to their new, virtual bodies,  Slater told Zukerman, suggesting that the familiarity of looking down and seeing one’s own body “is so overwhelming” that even dramatic changes in body won’t override the influence of vision.

Slater’s principal areas of research are  in helping to find out what makes virtual reality work for people – in the sense that they can engage with one another in virtual environments, and also interact with virtual characters. His research, the study of ‘presence’ in virtual environments, is also explored in the context of psychotherapy for social phobia and other related applications.

2. Learning to control your nightmares the vid-gaming way

Nightmares - can you control them?

Video “gaming serves some of the same society functions in today’s world as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures” through meditation-like absorption, according to  Professor Jayne Gackenbach,  of Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton, Canada, and Professor Harry T. Hunt, of  Brock University, St Catherines, Canada, in a paper  on “Video Game Play and Lucid Dreaming as Socially Constructed Meditative Absorption”, presented  at the Science of Consciousness Conference.

Gackenbach,  a  psychologist with the Department of Psychology at Grant MacEwan,  who has focused her research  on the effects of technology, especially video game play, on consciousness, believes video gamers learn through gaming to have more lucid dreams than non-gamers, to control  their dreams and nightmares and dull the stresses of real life.

Her research, which  suggests gamers suffer fewer nightmares and are more likely to turn their nightmares into fun, video-game-like challenges, could aid those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, of which nightmares are a common symptom.

Jayne Gackenbach

Noting in their paper that research has shown that video game players report more lucid dreams than those who rarely game,  Gackenbach and Hunt said, “… gaming serves some of the same societal function in today’s youth as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures … these states experienced in gaming are a spontaneous re-engagement with that level of collectivity from a place of our individual conscious isolation in highly differentiated and pluralistic modern culture.

“… It appears that gaming adds a dimension to the lucid dreams of gamers such that their full potential for focused problem solving is expressed very much like the strategies of video gaming. The enhanced bizarreness of lucid-gamer associated dreams may also serve as a trigger for the emergence of their increased lucidity. The exotic-mythic element of the lucid bizarre dreams of gamers (Gackenbach et al, in press) is similar to previous research on the archetypal content in dreams (Hunt, 1989).”

By comparing the lucid versus non-lucid dreams of gamers, Gackenbach and Hunt concluded that lucidity in gamer’s dreams emphasised the already generally positive dream experience of being lucid in sleep, including the enhanced aggression which facilitated the sense of empowerment also typical in video-game playing. Not only is there more lucidity in gamer’s dreams, but that lucidity seems to be further enhanced by the gaming experience.

“To be absorbed in consciousness, be it in lucid dreams, intense fantasy or meditation is also to be absorbed in the social field more deeply than is available in ordinary consciousness,” they argued. “Since consciousness itself is collective already, and the high absorber is entering the level provided in traditional times by externalised ritual and myth, gaming offers those in contemporary western individualistic society much the same function.

“Specifically it is an externalised absorptive consciousness with provided patterns that are accordingly socially structured, simultaneously shared, and so offering some of the support of tribal societies, which individual high absorbers in the west have lost in their only ostensibly “private” lucid dreams and meditations,” they said.

Gackenbach’s research and views on dreaming,  which  she presented recently at two gaming conferences, Games for Health and Canadian Game Studies, have gone viral on the net with good reason. They are an important adjunct to explaining the ways MUVES – whether in video-gaming or virtual on-line environments – can work in changing both perceptions and  people’s lives and how they can be used.

Harry T. Hunt

Dreams and video games both represent alternate realities,she told LiveScience Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu, noting, however, that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, while video games are technologically driven by computers and gaming consoles.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” she said. “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”

On the question of mastering nightmares,  Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, which found that gamers experienced less or even reversed threat simulation (in which the dreamer became the threatening presence), with fewer aggression dreams overall.

“What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens,” Gackenbach explained. “They don’t run away, they turn and fight back. They’re more aggressive than the norms.”

Life Games, VLENZ Update, No 169, April 17, 2010

Harnessing the power of play

Can   games-based learning

‘players’ save  the  world?

Jane McGonigal  thinks they can …

Jane McGonigal, who  directs game R&D at the Institute for the Future, a US nonprofit forecasting firm where she developed Superstruct, a massively multiplayer on-line roleplaying game (MORPG) in which players organise society to solve the issues that will confront the world in 2019,  asks why the real world doesn’t work more like an online game.

In a recent  TED presentation,  above, the games designer and futurist says her goal for the next decade is to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in on-line games.

Based on her research over a decade, she says she plans, over the next decade, to  convince more people to play bigger and better on-line games.

Noting that currently people spend an estimated  three billion hours a week on on-line games, she says, her research has  shown,  counter-intuitively, that this is not nearly enough  to  save the world from its real life problems.

In fact she believes if the human race wants to survive into the next century on this planet  “we need to increase the total time spent on-line gaming  to 21 billion hours game playing every week “by the within 10 years.

It’s worthwhile spending the 20 minutes it takes to watch to TED video to find out why she believes this, and why  her argument is eminently reasonable and probably something we disregard at our peril.

In the best-designed games, she says, “our human experience is optimised” and, when  “reality is broken, games designers can fix it.”

Jane McGonigal

“We have important work to do, we’re surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment,” McGonigal says, believing that the world’s gamers are an important resource for changing the world we live in for the better.

In her work as a game designer, she creates games that use mobile and digital technologies to turn everyday spaces into playing fields, and everyday people into teammates. She believes her game-world insights can explain — and improve — the way human beings learn, work, solve problems, and lead their real lives.

McGonigal masterminded World Without Oil, which simulated the beginning of a global oil crisis and inspired players to change their daily energy habits.

She says, “Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality.”

The link to her  presentation was provide to me by Owen McCall, of the New Zealand Life Games Project.  Another supporter of that project, John Eyles, research and alliances leader at Telecom New Zealand, director at Eyles and Associates Ltd and chair at EON Foundation, provided another worthwhile link from a game-based learning conference he attended recently in the UK

The link, which should prove a valuable resource for all those involved in games-based learning,   Engage Learning, is an EU-sponsored initiative  which among other things,  provides information about general rating of games and quality criteria for evaluation of games as learning resources.

SLENZ Update, No 157, December 22, 2009

ascilite 2009 – AUCKLAND, NZ

Virtual worlds might not be quite  there

but ASCILITE shows  the way forward

Second Life – ‘This will change everything…’ Scott Diener

The Auckland University-Boise State collaborative post-partum haemorrhage
nurse training scenario, presented by Scott Diener (Pix: Merle Lemon)


When Scott Diener (pictured right),  associate director, IT services, Academic Services, at The University of Auckland, first saw  the NTSC  internet browser Mosaic, he had an ephiphany. “This will change everything,” he thought. And it did. Without it there probably would be no WorldWideWeb as we know it today.

He had the same epiphany when he  first saw  and used  the virtual world of Second Life, he told educators and researchers from around the world who attended the  ascilite 2009 conference held in Auckland early in December: “This will change everything,” he thought, especially in higher education.

Arguing that  higher education had not changed since the 14th century and before – it still takes place in a protected environment with protected knowledge based on  the notion of scarcity with students, although the chosen few, often not engaged – he asked, rhetorically, “What if we had Global access to all knowledge?” And then after praising the Google goal of releasing  all books in all languages on the net but noting the futility of tertiary institutions repeating  the same basic courses with the same knowledge ad infinitum in the age of the Internet, he said,   “… we don’t need to redevelop education. We need to share.”

Sharing, he said was the only way  to solve the tertiary education needs of the world’s burgeoning population. The  provision of tertiary education even now  could not keep pace with the population trends. Today the world with 7 billion people needed to create 2500 universities the size of Auckland University (40,000 students)  every year, year on year to keep up with demand. Within 20 years, he said,  it would need another 200,000 universities, another 400 million university teachers and 40 million lecture theaters of the same size as the giant Owen G. Glenn Building auditorium at The University of Auckland, would be needed.

“It’s impossible,” he said, adding that the challenge was how  to provide education to the world differently.

The only practical solution, he suggested, was virtual education in virtual worlds such as Second Life and the 200 plus other virtual worlds or some derivative of them.

Describing the benefits of virtual worlds such as Second Life for tertiary education, Diener said,  their major difference  to other on-line learning methods, was that they provided a real sense of self and the suspension of disbelief, a sense of place and sense of emotion.

Virtual worlds which immersed students enabled educators to adopt problem-based learning approaches which worked, he said, adding the challenge was realise the benefits through the emergence of these constructivist pedagogies into main stream teaching.

He urged the  conference participants to focus on the emerging new spaces in virtual worlds, but not  to replicate  the architectural spaces they had in the real world into new virtual spaces.

“Don’t fall into the trap of shoveling the same old stuff into the new spaces,” he said.

Urging innovation in virtual worlds, he said, their uptake by mainstream tertiary institutions  could change everything in education as it was known today and provide  possibly the only answer to the world’s future tertiary education needs for all.

But, Diener warned, the educational benefits of virtual worlds could be  locked away from the rest of the world and in fact were being closed-up by some  large tertiary institutions which had already  “locked their builds down”  returning virtual worlds to the world of 14th Century education, when learning was only for the  privileged.

“Please don’t lock the systems down,” he said, noting  his UofA project and the New Zealand SLENZ Project builds were released under Creative Commons license.” Share them with others,” he said. ” Open them up to collaboration with others.”

Later in another presentation  Diener, along with in-world and real world collaborators from Boise State University, Idaho, and Wyoming, demonstrated the  University of Auckland’s  innovative Second Life presence and medical centre teaching system on the Second Life island of  Long White Cloud.

The post partum haemorrhage  simulation real-world presentation team.

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.

SLENZ Update, No 154, December 06, 2009

Where is education going in Virtual Worlds?

An earlier (2008) view of a Duke University  foray into virtual worlds
– just one of  the university’s many virtual projects

With the  Obama Administration  turning to the virtual world to extoll the virtues of a science education through expansion of the STEM Education Initiative and NASA also using virtual worlds to promote engineering education to the next generation of potential NASA employees it seems certain  that educators around the world will not be able to avoid the  MUVE issue although it is  apparent many would wish to.

It  also appears certain that Governments, if they wish to keep abreast of world education trends, can no longer allow their telcos to limit bandwidth or  to  obfuscate the issue of the need for consistent, high speed Broadband  – which New Zealand telcos dont deliver outside  the major centres –  if  all are to benefit from the growing acceptance of virtuality, in all its guises. In future education poverty might be determined by one’s access to Broadband, particularly in the sense of distance education,  as we move away from on-campus learning to virtual campus learning which is available to everyone.

Following President Obama’s announcement early in his term of  initiatives to encourage American students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the White House now  appears to be moving into the Metaverse in an attempt to expand its  flagging science education initiative, according to  Max Burns (pictured left) of the Washington-based Pixels and Policy  blogs .

Quoting a  press release issued by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina,  in which  the Duke Center announced a partnership with the White House to promote the development of virtual learning worlds related to science and engineering  especially in middle and high school by linking into virtual worlds and the digital generation’s undoubted video-gaming experience, Burns said:

  • The third-annual Digital Media and Learning Competition will award $2 million in support to 21st Century learning lab designers  for learning environments and digital media-based experiences that allow young people to grapple with social challenges through STEM-based activities.
  • Digital media of any type (social networks, games, virtual worlds, mobile devices or others) may be used. Proposals are also encouraged for curricula or other experiences that link or connect to any game, especially but not limited to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet™ on PlayStation®3.

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama at the event in late November at which he announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.”

KZERO’s current virtual world universe – an ever-increasing population.

Moves cannot be seen in isolation

But the  White House moves cannot be seen in isolation.  The University of Texas has already  announced plans to put all its 16 campuses across the State online in the virtual world of Second Life; The prestigious Australian Film Radio and Television School, based in Sydney, has announced  a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds starting next year;  the University of California at Irvine has received a US$100,000 National Science Foundation grant to study World of Warcraft;  the creation of  an US Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds by the Information Resource Management (IRM) College of the National Defense University, to ‘ prepare leaders to direct the information component of national power by leveraging information and information technology for strategic advantage’; Glasgow’s Caledonian University has become  the first university  in the UK to offer a complete, integrated module on 3D Internet Virtual Worlds, teaching students all components involved in this relatively new branch of internet design and multi media; the Immersive Education Initiative, a 1000-plus  member, non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices,platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems, is growing apace; and closer to home  the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s  NZ$500 000 SLENZ Project to determine the benefits of virtual education  is nearing completion with the formal evaluation process currently taking place;  The University of  Auckland, under the aegis of lecturer Scott Diener has set up a medical centre for training purposes in Second Life; and that university has also seen lecturer Judy Cockeram, gain international recognition for  her virtual architecture study programme which is schedule to accept more than 100 students in the New Year.

But these are not alone.  They  are among  the more than 500  universities and tertiary institutions now in Second Life and other virtual worlds. The launching of both learning and research programmes into  virtual worlds is continuing apace throughout the world, despite  some skepticism  from those who have never been immersed,  who are not  members of the digital generation or not digital migrants. Unfortunately for them virtual worlds, with 690 million participants worldwide, according to the UK-based research organisation KZero, will probably leave them behind as the flotsam and jetsam of  the virtual age.

Probably one of the best recent summations of just where  virtual education in the world is and where it is going   has been given  by Robin Teigland (pictured right), Work Associate Professor in the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness, at  the Stockholm School of Economics,  Stockholm, Sweden.

Her Powerpoint presentation to the Online Education Conference in Berlin on December 2 is well worth taking the time to look at.

And the US National Defense University initiative.

SLENZ Update, No 151, November 20, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT: Useful lessons

Team debriefed on  unit tour,

presentation techniques …

Learning lesson: part of the Gronstedt ‘Train for Success Group’s tour.

It’s very easy to be wise with hindsight.

That is  not to take anything away from the  outstanding performance of  Otago Polytech tutor and SLENZ Project’s lead educator (Midwifery) Sarah Stewart’s (SL: Petal Stransky) before what she admits now was an unexpectedly large crowd of “experts” for  her early morning (NZ time) presentation and tour of the project’s birthing unit on the SLENZ Project island of Kowhai last week.

Your’s truely, also admits he was a little unprepared as a “helper” being  “invited” to demonstrate his “incompetence” (grin) in the early New Zealand morning after a self-inflicted heavy night of Second Life roleplaying.

Stewart also must be forgiven for her late notice of the Gronstedt ‘Train for Success Group’s tour, because it  had been moved up a week on short notice, following the postponement of another planned presentation. It did not help that  Stewart understandably did not realise the group’s  importance – in an education sense in the world of Second Life – until a few  hours before the meeting, and that she had previously only presented “virtually” to very small groups.

Stewart herself  has commented  usefully on the experience on her blog under the heading,  Learning a few painful lesson about presenting in Second Life

The debriefing at the normal Monday  SLENZ team meeting, however, raised some other important points – albeit many probably not new – which may be useful to others presenting their projects to  tour groups, particularly those composed of  virtual world  aficionados.

The highlights of the debriefing, including additional thoughts I have had since:

  • One must qualify “tour parties” before presentations so that one has an understanding of who they are and what their needs and desires are.
  • At least two people are normally needed for a  successful presentation of this nature  – on voice and monitoring chat, and in an IM link between presenter and helper.  The helper/facilitator should have enough knowledge of the project and the site to be able to answer questions, in text chat if necessary, rather than interrupting the flow of the presenter. It would help if  the helper is given a copy of the briefing paper before the event.
  • The TP area or meetup/holding area where the major voice briefing is being held should be far enough away from the  unit to be toured to prevent contention between  voice  – the tour leader presenting and the helper answering questions –  when the  audience is split into  smaller groups to tour a facility.  If there is a potential for conflict the helper should only answer questions in text chat. If there are two or more parties being shown the facility at the same time, all tour leader briefing should be done in text chat. If there is contention this can cause problems for video/audio recording  and is distracting for the presenter.
  • In facilities  where  the tour has to be conducted in  “tight spaces”  the roof should be able to be lifted off the facility so all the tour members can cam in, especially if they cannot fit inside the space without difficulty.  The  SLENZ birthing unit has this facility  but neither the presenter nor the  helper knew how to activate it.  On tight sites, with   the audience split into a number of tour groups it is also  potentially  worthwhile having the ability to rez a duplicate facility (if the prims are available) so that simultaneous tours out of  voice range of each other can take place.
  • There is a need for an agreed presentation format which both the presenter and the helper/faciliator are able to refer to during the presentation as well as  succinct presentation briefing notecards the audience can pick up  from a notecard-giver on the site and which the presenter alerts them to.
  • If the presentation is to be in voice rather than text the presenter or helper must ask everyone to use headsets or to turn off their talk button because of  feedback echo problems from  both that and from the use of  computer speakers.  The presenter should also use a headset for voice.
  • The presenter and  the helper  involved in the presentation should check voice levels immediately before the event and also make sure they are linked in a private IM window … so they can text to each other privately during the presentation if necessary. (Practice with this  in  presentation mode might be necessary so that the presenter is not distracted by the text). The helper should IM anyone generating echo  and ask them politely to turn off their talk button.
  • The helper must have both sim knowledge and sim land  rights to ensure he  or she can  deal with griefers – this tour attracted one –  and other sim problems which might arise, without disturbing the presenter.

SLENZ Update, No 147, November 2, 2009

Kiwi ‘speaks on ‘  Obama world vision panel

Machinima role recognises

Cockeram’s  SL/RL  standing …

The University of Auckland’s Judy Cockeram (SL: Judy-Arx Scribe) (picture, right)  has been recognised  as a leader in  virtual world architecture  by being selected  as one of  four real world architects – from the US, New Zealand and Egypt –  to “star” in a US State Department  machinima discussing  the Obama vision enunciated in Cairo and how it is already being implemented in  Second Life.

President Obama recently promised in his Cairo speech  an online network, facilitating collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries, something that Draxtor Despres (RL: Bernard Drax), a real life winner of the international ” Every Human Has Rights” media award in France in 2008 and director/producer of the machinima, “Cross Cultural Collaboration In Second Life”,  argues SL has been  doing for some time.Cockeram,Judy1

The quotes by the four architects, along with  excerpts of their Second Life work,  were taken from a recent panel discussion in Second Life on Architectural Design and International Collaboration in a Virtual World (CNN Report).  The event was hosted by the US Department of State on Public Diplomacy Island.  Besides Cockeram, the panelists were:   Amr Attia (SL: Archi Vita) (picture left), architect, Urban Planner and professor of architecture and urban planning at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt; Jon Brouchoud (SL: Keystone Bouchard) (picture, lower right), owner, The ARCH Network and Founder of Studio Wikitecture, based in Madison, Wisconsin; and David Denton (SL: DB Bailey), Architect and Urban Planner located in Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, California.

Cockeram, a senior tutor in architecture, with the School of Architecture and Planning, at the University of Auckland, was speaking  from experience when she told the  Second Life audience drawn from more than  12 countries, that working and learning together in a virtual world “generates empathy” across cultures.Amr Attia

Cockeram first entered Second Life after hearing a presentation by The University of Auckland’s Dr Scott Diener in November last year, which “rang true” for her because  of her experience of having students entering university with good modeling  and drawing skills but little hands-on digital experience, even though members of the so-called “digital native” generation.

The first project Cockeram and her students engaged with  involved support from the US-based  virtual community of practice for nonprofits to explore the opportunities and benefits of Second Life, the  NPC  ( Non- Profit Commons) organisation.

“Right from the start the experience of Second life has been about reaching out and getting away from the introspective, ego-driven architect, ”  Cockeram explained. “The work done in that first project looked at virtual office space and proposed things that were understandable but were not four walls and a flat ceiling.

“When you are building a wall together, rubbing shoulders with another’s  avatar it changes your decision-making. We tend to realise our similarities but we can observe differences and it generates an empathy for each other.”

“Working with such things as sculpties,” she added, “gives them a  different way of thinking about the surface of architecture.”

Second Life also led to  a big change to Cockeram’s  teaching methods.

“Previously I had always insisted on working with computers in the rich environment of  the studio,” she said. “With Second Life the much richer environment for students to respond to means that anywhere is a studio. Second life has led to them understand design decision-making from contextual information.

Today Cockeram has  more than 120 plus students from her classes participating in Second Life on The University of Auckland Second Life islands of Putahi and Kaiako.

And, although her Second Life student body is already cross-cultural with 45 percent Asian, 40 percent Pakeha (New Zealand-born Europeans) and Europeans,  and five percent Maori and Polynesian, Cockeram intends to continue extending the exchanges her students have to include more students and clients from Pakistan to America.

“I believe we are seeing an improvement in the quality of a students ability to lead with design rather than react because of what is easy in a computer package,” she said. ” The virtual world has not interfered with their design decision-making in the way some of the more complex design packages do for early learners in the field.

BrouchardJon

“Cutting edge … design”

Problems she has  overcome include  inappropriate student behaviour in-world  – a number “went absolutely nuts, with no idea how their behaviour was impacting on the rest of the class” at an initial  class with a guest lecturer;   identifying that a student’s work is his or hers, and that the student  in Second Life is the authentic student; and the problem of students leaving “unlabeled objects” littering the landscape. The first problem had been solved, she said,  by establishing  a similar ettiquette in-world to that prevailing on a real life campus, the second had been solved through  use of oral testing, and the third, through policing the issue and stressing the need for labeling in all worlds.

The “unlabeled object” problem has also led her to plan the creation of  an “unlabelled object” finder, which she hopes to include in a Toolbox she will be creating over the southern summer vacation.

Cockeram says that she does not think  that virtual worlds such as Second Life  should be seen only as developing early learner skills.

“Part of my summer  will be spent developing a collection of scripts so we can spend time developing some of the cutting edge of architectural design as well, ” she said.

Next year Cockeram plans  to take 10 to 12 fourth year students, 115  first years, and 115  second years  into Second Life.