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 Update, No 143, October 8, 2009

THE SLENZ WORKSHOPS AT

Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009 -2

MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching in a Multi-user Virtual Environment,” and “In-world, meets the real world – the trials and tribulations of bringing Second Life to an ITP,” presented by Merle Lemon, lead educator in foundation learning, and lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology and Oriel Kelly, manager of MIT’s Learning Environment Support Technology Centre.

SL foundation learning students

“do better” than f2f learners

Real Life assessment finding
IMG_0836Merle Lemon is her SL alter ego on screen at Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009

Foundation Learning students who used the SLENZ pilot foundation learning programme in Second Life to hone their interview skills  did  better in real life assessment interviews than  those students  who had not been through Second Life, according to SLENZ lead educator and senior Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briamelle Quintessa).

The  result came from  all foundation learning classes in interview techniques – both from those students who  used Second Life and those in face-to-face classes – being assessed in real life interviews by an assessor who did not know who had attended which classes.

Although Lemon is the first to admit the test was “not scientific” and that the results “might have  been confounded by individual class teacher ability” the results point to the benefits of  a properly- designed  virtual world  learning programme used by itself or as a valuable  adjunct to face-to-face learning.

The result, even if anecdotal in nature, was across the board with students four  the  four SL classes  doing better in the real life interview assessment  than those from six face-to-face-only classes.

Lemon reported the result as an aside to virtual world teaching workshops she conducted  at last week’s annual, national Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009  tertiary education conference  at UCOL in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

IMG_0838Introducing “MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching team in a Multiuser Virtual Environment”,  Lemon  paid tribute to the SLENZ team and  to the support she received from her foundation learning pilot members and fellow educators –  MIT’s Tania Hogan (SL: Tania Hogan) and  Maryanne Wright (SL:Nugget Mixemup); NorthTec’s  Martin Bryers (SL: Motini Manimbo), Vicki Pemberton (SL: Sky Zeitman) and  Clinton Ashill (SL: Clat Adder), as well as Oriel Kelly (pictured right),  manager of MIT’s Learning Environment Support Technology Centre and MIT’s IT support staff  “although they were somewhat reluctant at first.”
“We tried  to get the  educators into Second Life as quickly as possible after the project started,” Lemon said. ” We tried to keep everyone on the same page all the time and largely succeeded.

“But  we had to keep the lecturers motivated. They had to realise they were not going to be alone when they were going into SL.  For this we used mentors and we linked up for meetings together in SL and with other educators in SL. Volunteers from ISTE ( International Society for Technology in Education) and the University of Arizona helped out a lot in SL.”

Highest praise for ISTE, Jo Kay

On an international collaborative basis she paid tribute for outstanding help – I publish her list in the belief it may be a help to other educators –  to  Second Life’s MNC  (New Media Consortium), CCSL (Community Colleges of Second Life), Google Teacher Academy,Second Life Mentors, Second Life Education, and Second Ability Mentors (for the disabled).

She also found the  VWBPE (Virtual World Best Practices in Education  conference) run virtually in  February  this year as being invaluable both from a  learning and networking point of view and received help from  the Education Coffee House, Virtual Pioneers and Media Learning – Danish Visions, the Kiwi Educators group, and COM Educators in Second Life.

She reserved some of her highest praise for   The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) which she described as “the trusted source for professional development, knowledge generation, advocacy, and leadership for innovation” in in-world education and Australian Second Life educator and researcher Jo Kay, of Jokaydia, the Jokaydia annual Unconference , Jokaydia News and Info and   Jokaydia Educators-in Rez.

“Inadequacy,” “panic”

Lemon said among the difficulties experienced by her  team  were: wavering support and/or a lack of commitment;  exacerbated by feelings of  “inadequacy” and sometimes “panic”;  communication problems and the loss of some team members as the pilot progressed. There  also was a problem initially with student non-attendance and  a lack of computer literacy but this had been overcome with the establishment of a “buddy” system. This had sometimes turned into a problem of keeping track of students: “Make sure they are in your group and are on your friends list,” she said.

However, in the five classes taken into SL, there had only been one student who had “resisted” the idea, not for computer or virtual world issues, but because of “privacy” in connection with the other students.

In deciding to move learning into Second Life, Lemon said, educators, rather than  initially spending lots on their developments etc, without proper research,  should consider the existing resources within Second Life and  whether they could use these  resources, and what needed to be added to them to make them useful for a particular purpose.

She recommended, based on her experience, that the lead educator or “champion” of any on-going  education project in Second Life should  Motivate, Motivate, Motivate team members.  She noted that in the Second Life context “knowledge is power”.

She added that any  education team should  hold regular meetings in world and members should lock  themselves into the relevant Second Life groups. But, she added, team members must take time to have fun in SecondLife.

Technology issues

On Technical and Learning Technology Support Issues, Oriel Kelly, who presented  this paper with Lemon, said at MIT, they had  found,  that Second Life barely ran on a computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo; Motherboard: Intel DG35EC (G35 Express); CPU: Intel E8400 (2Ghz); Memory: 2GB (800mhz) RAM; GPU: NVIDIA GeForce 9500 GT. On the question of network and bandwidth,  latency was an issue  with computer lab  sessions needing 416kb/machine. Firewalls had also been problematic because Second Life’s  SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) is non-standard  and needed to be passed without being shredded by SIP aware firewalls or declared an  “illegal operation”.
On the question of access MIT  had had problems with  single IP NATs (network address translation) registering more than two avatars.
“We had a lot of technical problems, ” Lemon said,  adding that the major complaints from students had involved  technical issues.

Many of the problems, Lemon said, could be overcome by involving the technical staff in-world in the Second Life experience.

“Once in there and involved in the experiences they are sucked in,” she  half joked,  adding that previously the technical staff hadn’t been able to see why anyone would want to teach in-world.

The SLENZ Update – No 47, February 23, 2009

A pattern of  NZ  islands?

longwhitecloud_002

Long White Cloud

The original initiators of the  SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), joint project leader,  and Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman), lead developer,  have always dreamed of creating  an Aotearoa -New Zealand education archipelago within Second Life.

It now seems that their dream is about to come true with the movement of the University of Auckland’s land of the Long White Cloud ( http://slurl.com/secondlife/Long%20White%20Cloud/128/128/2 ) to just north of the SLENZ project sim of Kowhai, which is adjacent to the original Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/150/124/27) .

“In the early days Isa and I used to talk about how good it would be to have a New Zealand education archipelago, and now it’s beginning to happen,” Atkins said in a joint announcement with Land of the Long White Cloud’s creator Scott Diener (pictured) (SL: Professor Noarlunga) (http://scottdiener.edublogs.org/)  at a SLENZ meeting on Koru. Diener is currently the Associate Director, IT Services at the of University of Auckland, and is responsible for the Academic and Collaborative Technologies Group at the University. He also teaches in a large stage III research methods course in the Psychology department.

The scenically attractive University of Auckland (http://www.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/)  island, houses a dedicated medical centre simulation that includes a project run in conjunction with Boise University, USA.  This island is soon to be joined by another Auckland U island sim, named Kapua, which will be initially dedicated to architecture studies under the direction  of Judy Cockeram (SL: JudyArx Scribe) a senior lecturer in the university’s Faculty of Architecture and Planning. She also hopes to establish an architectural community of scholars in Second Life that stimulates Real Life architecture.

Atkins and Diener said that  it was planned to join the Koru-Kowhai sims to  the Long White Cloud sim by a “void” ocean sim.

Diener, who will be presenting at the EDUCAUSE Australasia Conference 2009 – Innovate, Collaborate & Sustain, in Perth, Western Australia,   May 3 – 6, also disclosed that his  Auckland group  is in the process of entering into a virtual world consortium with  Australia’s  Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Wollongong University and other educational institions  to  establish a high performance virtual world environment group.

He also noted that the Boise end of the  nursing student pilot study being done in conjunction with Auckland had been  receiving considerable good press in the United States over the last few months.

Meanwhile the SLENZ Project’s specialist midwifery pilot  has made further progress with the virtual completion of the Learning Design stage.  Lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) has said in her blog, Sarah’s Musings, of February 21 (http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/02/linking-objects-to-information-in.html)  that she is feeling “at last I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the first stage of the Second Life Birth Unit project.

“My feelings of frustration are changing to optimistic excitement,” she said. “Yesterday, Leigh Blackall (SL Leroy Post), Deborah Davis and I had a meeting which has led to an agreement to the learning activities and time lines for Stage 1 of the Project.”

birthunit

Picture: Courtesy Sarah Stewart

The SLENZ Update – No 26, November 18, 2008

A personal view

Can we unlock Ivory-tower gate?

cheguevara

I sometimes get the feeling  that some educators move into places like the web and virtual worlds in order to keep the lock on the gate or keep “control” of the world of learning – in other  words keep the learning  behind the ivory-tower  gate  – in a universe which is expanding learning opportunities exponentially outside the normal education system.

Google Search and the wikipedia system, as unreliable as the data  they dredge up or record sometimes is, has made information available to (initially) anyone who writes/reads English, and has access to a phoneline and a computer; almost any old computer. For  many the advent of the web as we know it today has made the ivory tower virtually irrelevant for true learning.

Communities of interest/barriers which tertiary institutions thrive on – and which I once thought were the reason for universities: where else could one easily meet girls with the same interests who were away from home and available? – have given way in many cases to web-based social networks, which today are more pervasive and often more tribal than fraternities or sororities. The ivory-tower communities of interest also encompass the professional groups which have grown out of tertiary institutions to ensure the closed-shop enclave nature  of some intellectual/professional pursuits and thus increase the workplace value of a tertiary education.(eg law and medicine).

But the barriers, which started to break down in the 1960s with the call for the establishment of “free” universities without examinations or structured courses, or in some cases attendance – even though re-erected by academics wanting to protect their patches – are threatened with complete demolition by the web with its virtually-free, anytime, anywhere  knowledge and/or propaganda.

Today anyone who can read and write can educate themselves, given the will, the discipline, a computer and a web link. But they still can’t get the piece of paper that would  allow them to be recognised as a “practitioner”: Medical associations and other groups, created alongside the English-speaking ivory-tower system, do all they can to keep the foreign-language/university educated, self-educated and non ivory-tower educated hoi polloi out, citing lower education standards in the university/country of origin/culture differences, or  non-recognised credentials.

I had hoped – and this is a personal, non-academic view – that there was a new force/ideas afoot with the Edupunk movement in the US, but alas I think I might have been mistaken and what is happening in SLENZ might be closer to the future, where the whole process of the creation of the SLENZ project has appeared to have been democratised, transparent and allowing input, albeit guided,  from all. It is also in many ways directed at adults who  the ivory-tower system has often conveniently bypassed.

sararobbins1

I feel that even some of those in the edupunk movement [The revolution will be syndicated (http://blip.tv/file/1441388/)], in proclaiming their attempts to break the ivory-tower barriers and break out of what they see as the stifling, red-tape ridden, zombified (LMS) systems are doing little more  than trying to preserve their academic power by taking the nuts and bolts  off campus, while hypocritically still keeping their roles as paid academics within their institutions. Their middle-class methods may work in a society where  computers and broadband gigabytes off-campus are virtually free, but in fact, also serve to alienate those who are the true revolutionaries in education and elsewhere, who are working completely (and often anarchically) outside the  ivory-tower system, like many of the bloggers on the web.  The edupunk movement, also like many of today’s great, well-washed, middle-class don’t seem to understand that Che Guevara was a “real revolutionary” who got down and dirty, not just a model for a tee-shirt logo.
To me the edupunk attack on zombie systems in Ivory-tower education reeks of the faddish criticism  which  often surrounds Bill Gates and the Microsoft Windows operating system. They both “suck” but if it wasn’t for the Ivory Tower system we wouldn’t have academics who could freely attack it by biting the hand that feeds them, and if it wasn’t for the ubiquitous Windows system we might not have the cheap PCs and the Web as we know it today.

Although, like PhD candidate and VW researcher, Sara Robbins-Bell (SL: Intellagirl Tully), I would be loath to have a doctor who had trained and graduated only in SL, or done his study through blogs, perform surgery on me,  I still think there is space for a much wider appreciation of the learning choices and desires of the students outside the ivory-tower system; learning through peers and users, even bloggers,  rather than academics. No longer can we view learning  in this way as second class to piece of paper with “graduate” on it.

The problem, however, for the self/web-educated woman/man is how to ascribe a recognised/accepted, standard measure to one’s capabilities in order to secure one’s first, paid employment. After that, of course, one  should be able to secure employment on the basis of work experience and references.

These thoughts on where education is going and the on-going need to develop critical literacy in the learning population in general, if we are going to benefit as much as we should from the educational possibilities of the web in all its forms, were brought to mind by two blogged articles and videos which I am grateful that academics Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Goalpost) and Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) pointed me too.

Although long (54 minutes and 55 minutes) they will reward you by giving you an inside view on where web-based education in 21st Century US could be going. The first, a streaming and streamed video presentation at the New Media Consortium, suffers from 15 minutes or so of old-hat waffle posing as SL theatre which is fairly old hat, while in the second, Sara Robbins-Bell, starts well  on where education is  going for the millennials but then fudges the issue with her solutions, which I personally felt were more about keeping academics in control than in actual learning for students. Her reference to the on-going need for critical literacy education hit a nerve though.

Leigh, a SLENZ “learning designer”and educational developer with Otago Polytechnic, said, for him, the significance of  “zombies, edtech survival and edupunk ” [“The revolution will be syndicated” [(http://blip.tv/file/1441388/)]  was:

  • Innovative approach to live presentation in the education technology sector.
  • Primary content was developed outside SL and so an example of reusability and accessibility.
  • Use of a Zombie Flaming theme as an ice breaker in a live presentation in SL.
  • Zombies as a kind of homage to some SL pop culture and griefing fun.
  • Streaming Blip.tv videos into SL.
  • Generation of Machinima from the presentation (more accessibility and reusability).
  • Inspired after event edtech blogging interests.

For another report on the presentation go to http://cogdogblog.com/2008/11/07/revolution-is-syndicated/

Meanwhile Diener,  [http://scottdiener.edublogs.org/], who has created the the Long White Cloud island in SL (Long White Cloud/31/38/27) for Auckland University, returned from the Educause 2008 conference, “overwhelmed with the sheer bulk of information I encountered. “

tower&cloud

Describing Sarah Robbins-Bill presentation, “Social Media and Education: The Conflict Between Technology and Institutional Education, and the Future” ( http://hosted.mediasite.com/hosted5/Viewer/?peid=5eb9cd4798a4488288e0b6d117f5c99c) as a highlight he said she presented “a quite challenging picture of the future of higher education in an era of rapidly expanding, free, and leveraged technologies” before “highly” recommending that one should view it. Some of you may have seen it in the Educause 2008  link files posted previously, but you haven’t it is well worth the time spent with it.

In his blog Scott also recommended a new online 2.1MB book, “The Tower and the Cloud – Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing,”  edited by Richard Katz. Click on book cover.