SLENZ Update, No 134, September 02, 2009

Lest we forget unsung heroes …

Design and building  in Second

Life really is hard ‘yakka*’

… an ‘Oscar’ for Isa/Aaron?

koru100809_001Isa Goodman (aka Aaron Griffiths), Second Life builder

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

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

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

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

Birth1_002In the beginning…

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

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

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

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

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

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


The finished Birth Centre … interior.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLENZ Update, No 130, August 20, 2009


First classes of Foundation Learners –

excited , motivated, enthusiastic …

“Even the most unenthusiastic and unmotivated students were “sucked into” the excitement of the virtual environment!”

Merle Lemon, SLENZ lead  educator, Manukau Institute of  Technology, Aotearoa-New Zealand.

foundation pilotpicSmiling Foundation Learning student Aziz Qasimi (SL: a280q Engineer) at
the first class on the Foundation Learning site on Kowhai in Second Life.

By their very nature Foundation Learning classes can be difficult  for students and lecturers alike.

The students are often there because  they have been spat out by the education system somewhere along the way. And the lecturers, although dedicated, are often disheartened by the attitudes of students who have been turned away or who have turned away from getting even a modicum of  necessary normal, modern-day life skills to enable one to survive successfully in an ordinary, mainstream world.

Therefore it was with some trepidation that SLENZ Project lead educator Merle Lemon (pictured) (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) launched her Manukau Institute of Technology Foundation Learning  classes on the island of Kowhai in Second Life this week.

It’s early days yet but  but with two classes successfully undertaken she  is no longer holding her breath.Lemon, merle2

Speaking of  her second day’s teaching classes designed for students to learn  interview techniques, she said, “The first class today was new to Second Life. The start of the class was slow-moving as four students had no avatars, despite repeated reminders that this had to be done for homework. One student created an avatar in the lab and three students ended up using avatars that were provided for them

“This class was not easy! A couple of students were reluctant to sit down at the computers, but once into Second Life, they became engaged and seemed to really enjoy their activities. Even the most unenthusiastic and unmotivated students were ‘sucked into’ the excitement of the virtual environment!”

Commenting on another class, entering Second Life for only the second time , she said, ” This lesson went like clockwork, and students were fully engaged … the students are all ready and anxious to begin interviewing practise in Second Life … “

Her first session three days earlier had had “good and bad moments”, some of the problems caused by campus logistics, lagging, visitors to the new class, observers and absenteeism.

But even so  student motivation appeared ” extremely high”.

“… it was so high it was hard to hold them back in any way,” Merle said. “They wanted to try the next thing, learn the next skill, just continually moving forward at a break-neck pace.”

Describing her personal feelings now that her pilot program has been launched, Merle said, “I believe (the first week of classes) a success.  Second Life proved to be motivating and fun.  It was very rewarding seeing students making such huge progress in a single session of learning in Second Life.  I can’t wait for the interviewing to begin.”

kowhaifoundationThe Foundation Learning area on Kowhai

SLENZ Update, No 126, August 12, 2009


Foundation students to learn how to

get jobs – in virtual ‘classroom’

interview room_001_002

Students at Manukau Institute of Technology (MIT) are set to become the first in New Zealand to learn how to succeed in getting a job in real life through training in a virtual world.

The initial 31 students in the Foundation Learning Future Focus career planning classes will enter the virtual world of Second Life with their lecturers on Monday (August 17). They will later be joined by other Foundation Learning students from MIT as well as NorthTec and Otago Polytechnic.

The pilot programme, which is part of the Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) Project, will eventually see more than 160 students ranging in age from 18 to 45 doing some of their classes as avatars in Second Life, a virtual world which has been in existence since 2003.

The research project is being funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand under its Encouraging and Supporting Innovation funding programme. The SLENZ Project is also running a distance education pilot programme in midwifery with Otago Polytechnic.Photo Terry-1

Expressing excitement at having two pilot programmes under way, Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel) (pictured top right), joint leader of the SLENZ Project, said, the Foundation Learning pilot was quite different from the midwifery pilot where the project team had been learning how to motivate and encourage distance learners to engage with Second Life.

“The Foundation learners will be in a computer lab with their teacher so we do not have the same challenges getting them there,” she said.

“The team has designed a highly interactive experience which we hope will   be lots of fun as well as effective.

“One of the key benefits is that the whole class can be involved in learning at the same time rather than sitting watching their peers stumble through role plays,” she said. “ I know from my own experience walking  through what we have designed  that I can laugh and learn at the same time, and seeing ‘myself’ on  screen brings it alive much more than standing in a classroom trying to  imagine a situation.”

In the MIT programme, led by SLENZ lead educator and MIT lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), the students will learn interview techniques through role-playing for possible positions in travel and tourism, business, engineering, social work, teaching and nursing training.

Second Life had been chosen for them to learn interviewing skills, something they all need but which is not easy to practice in a classroom environment for a variety of reasons, she added.

‘Motivating and exciting as possible’

“Second Life gave us an opportunity to deal with more students at the same time as well as making the learning engaging,” Merle said. “We are trying to make the learning process as motivating and exciting as possible to overcome any previous negative experiences in school.

“Second Life engages the students actively in the process of learning and offers them everything they need to succeed,” she said.

Tina Fitchett (pictured bottom right), Dean of MIT’s Faculty of Education and Social Science, believes that virtual learning may hold the key to learning success for foundation students.fitchettT

“Research indicates that both academic and social engagement are important factors in foundation learners’ success,” Tina said. “The utilisation of technology like Second Life to support student learning brings together both of these elements. It offers an engaging, dynamic and stimulating environment for students to operate in and provides another useful tool for them to hone their practical interview skills.”

“This is also a great example of tertiary providers working collaboratively together to enhance their students’ learning,” she added.
Merle has collaborated closely with the  head of the MIT Learning Technology Centre,  Oriel Kelly (SL: Noumea Sands)  and  SLENZ Lead Developer and contract SL builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman)  in the creation and development of the virtual world learning programme, stage 1 and Stage 2 on the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Other lecturers for the foundation programme  include Maryanne Wright (SL: Nugget Mixedup), Tania Hogan (SL: Tania Wonder), NorthTec’s Martin Bryers (SL: Motini Manimbo), Vicki Pemberton (SL: Sky Zeitman) and Clinton  Ashill SL: Clat Adder) and  Otago Polytech’s Jane Fields (SL: Morgana Hexicola).

The SLENZ Update – No 109, July 07, 2009


Otago’s birthing centre pilot

goes live with real students


Open for class…  SLENZ Project lead developer Isa goodman (RL: Aaron Griffiths)
“polishes”  the  Te Wāhi Whānau (The Birth Centre) build before students “arrive”.

Otago Polytechnic and  Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology midwifery students have begun taking part of their midwifery course on the SLENZ Project island  of Kowhai in Second Life.

The 27 Otago Polytechnic and CPIT Year 1 extramural students from Central Otago, Southland, and Nelson/Marlborough, began for the first time on Monday to use  the specially-constructed  Birth Centre (Te Wāhi Whānau) with the help of  qualified midwife facilitators from their home areas to do the “virtual world” portion of their coursea via Broadband from their homes.

The joint co-leader of the SLENZ Project, which has sponsored the pilot programme, Terry Neal, said she was excited that “the real learning” had to begun.

The movement of real life students onto “real learning tasks” within Second Life, she said,  meant an important milestone had been achieved on schedlule by the SLENZ Project which is one year old.

“We will now find out whether the students value the opportunity of being able to learn in a virtual world,” she said. “Later, as part of the evaluation process, we will find out how great the benefits are they receive from this type of learning.”

Lead educator for the pilot Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky), talking about the first day, noted that  students had had a variety of reactions to their first day, with some having the usual minor difficulties and thus needing help  and others wanting to be left alone to find their own way around.

Sarah quoted one of the students, who had joined the class Facebook group, as saying of her initial experiences, “”I have popped in a couple of times to the birthing unit (after Petal Stransky got me out of the underwater bubble – which I am very grateful for!) and had a look around. Then my hair fell off. “Another student from ChristChurch took me to a shop where I got new hair and I got some proper clothes from the same place rather than my warrior outfit. So far I seem to have spent a lot of time ‘fixing myself up’. Apparently I had elf ears … I am still walking into walls and getting stuck to the ceiling and getting lost. So it’s taking me quite a bit of time to get orientated.”

In another aside, Sarah (Twitter: SarahStewart) said interest in the midwifery pilot had been growing on Twitter, with the pilot YouTube video being passed around.

The innovative pilot programme has been funded by the New Zealand Government’s Tertiary Education Commission as part of a project to determine how multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) might benefit New Zealand education and how this can best be done.

The project, which has selected midwifery and foundation learning for its two pilot programmes, aims to delineate and demonstrate to New Zealand educators and students the educational strengths or otherwise of learning in a virtual world.

To celebrate the milestone and the first birthday of the project  the SLENZ Project team held a well-attended celebration “party” on the adjacent Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology  island of Koru on Sunday night.

korupartI_014Line dancing in celebration …
korupartI_001Toddles Lightworker, with the dragon wings, appears to be directing the dancers.


Kiwi Educators Group

to be revitalised

Meanwhile SLENZ Project lead developer Isa Goodman RL: Arron Griffiths) and joint leader Arwenna Stardust (RL: Dr Clare Atkins) are keen to re-vitalise the Kiwi Educators group and in response to popular demand plan to hold regular meetings again.

The duo have issued an invitation to all past and potential members – in fact, anyone with an interest in education in New Zealand – to a meeting on Sunday July 12 from 6pm – 8pm (NZ Time) (Saturday, July 11 11pm-1am SLT) beginning at Kauri Grove, Koru.

The plan is for attendees to gather at 6pm and then visit  the Particle Lab to see the wonderful fireworks display which starts at 6.30pm and runs for an hour before returning to Koru to chat and catch up, and plan for the futureof the organisation.

Birthingcentre070709_002A useful addition to the SLENZ Project build
… “all” the information you need to get started.
Birthingcentre070709_003and the Skill Mastery Hyperdome


The SLENZ Update – No 103, June 24, 2009


‘Machinimas’ show the benefits,

comfort in learning  virtually

It’s often difficult for an outsider – especially one with little experience in virtual technology –  to get a real impression of what happens in an education environment in Second Life and just what the benefits can be.

As part of the on-going SLENZ Project, Midwifery Pilot lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) and Foundation Learning Pilot lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) have attempted to show  those benefits  with the recent release of  two machinimas, which are worth looking at.

The first, Te Wahi Whanau 2 ( the second video from the Midwifery Pilot team) demonstrates  the benefits both in Second Life and Real Life of building  and using an architect-designed “ideal”  Birthing Centre like that  on the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Uploaded to YouTube by “Debdavis5” (Dr Deborah Davis, principal lecturer in Midwifery at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand)  the machinima displays the build  of “Te Wahi Whanau: The Birth Place” by Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) .   “The Birth Place” is used in the Bachelor of Midwifery programme at Otago  and also aims to inform Second Life residents about the importance of space/place in facilitating physiological birth. The machinima is also on the SLENZ Project website here.

The second video,  Bridging Education: Interview skills @ SLENZ,   by Merle Lemon, of the Manukau Institute of Technology, is somewhat different in that it is designed specifically to show Foundation Learning  tutors why  their students will benefit from the use of Second Life to improve their interview skills.

The video, which is also available at the SLENZ Project website,  illustrates the difference between a real life practise interview situation and a Second Life interview situation.

The SLENZ Update – No 99, June 15, 2009


Foundation Pilot  gets  new

‘stairway to knowledge’

foundation interview_003

Stairway to knowledge … the  SLENZ Project’s Foundation Learning
Pilot’s “rez-on-each step” guide to interviewing

SLENZ Project lead developer Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman) and  the Foundation Learning Pilot’s lead educator, Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmell Quintessa)  have come up with some interesting ideas to make learning easier for Merle’s students.

Their stairway to interviewing knowledge, on the Government-funded SLENZ Project’s Second Life virtual island of Kowhai,  is the latest – a concept which allows a student to “rez” each knowledge notice by stepping in front of it and allowing it to vanish once absorbed as she or he proceeds up the stairway.

At the same time  Lemon is  nearing the completion of  a video for publication on YouTube, “Bridging education interview skills @ SLENZ”, which  has be designed mainly to explain to lecturers the benefits of using Second Life and the facilities created by  her and Griffiths to hone student’s interview skills compared to those of a real life classroom (You will alerted here  when this goes live).

At the same time Griffiths has constructed among other things,  an  interview room which  will be able to be used by a variety of  students and lecturers to overcome hurdles  which  stand in the way of many of them  achieving success in interview situations and thus securing jobs.

The interview rooms,  which are in reality holodeck skyboxes, will be “private” for students and/or their lecturers.

interview room_001_001

Waiting for a job interview … learning how to handle the  stressful moment of truth.
Meanwhile  Griffiths has invited casual educator visitors to Kowhai  to test out the midwifery  animations and other facets of the Midwifery Project’s Birthing Centre on Kowhai as well as the animations and other facilities created for Foundation Learning.
He believes testing by casual users will enable him to eliminate any bugs before the system goes into full operation.

The SLENZ Update – No 66, April 8, 2009


Foundation Learning Kowhai build begins


The contrast between the build for The Birth Place (Te Waihi Whanau) and
The Foundation Learning project’s new build is quite striking.

There is a futuristic, almost organic building  growing out of the ground on the Kowhai Island, where the three-pilot   SLENZ Project – Midwifery, Foundation Learning and Orientation – is being created in Second Life.

Being designed/built by SLENZ lead developer Aaron Griffith’s (SL: Isa Goodman) , the “Clothing Centre”  has been designed to be  rezzable-on-demand, like all the Foundation buildings are likely to be.

The “centre” will be used by Foundation Learning students in the pilot programme to choose and put on the appropriate clothing for  job interviews and other interactions  set up by Foundation Learning lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa)  and her colleagues, before being assessed as to appropriateness for purpose by themselves, fellow students and educators.

When the build is finished it will be joined by rezz-at-will “classroom”  “conference” and interview spaces  for use by the students taking part in pilot programme.

The initial building  has been designed by Griffiths in close consultation with Lemon, to ensure relatively low lag – it will contain comparatively prim-heavy clothing, hair and other avatar accoutrements – and for ease of newbie camera use and movement.


In the beginning …

The ground or first floor has been designated the display area with pose stand changing areas on the balconies on the second floor, closed changing rooms on the third floor and a fourth floor, at the top ,with the ability for a room ( holodeck) to  be moved  or fired 100 metres  into the air for complete privacy, something Lemon considers necessary and which may be in demand because of the cultural and religious diversity of her student body.

“It’s more to cater for those students, mainly female, who are culturally sensitive and do not wish to change their clothes within sight of anyone having the remote possibility of seeing them changing, even as an avatar,” Griffiths commented.

The floors will be connected by easy-to-use TP points.

Lemon, Griffiths said,   had specified a circular building with glass and metal. Working with her  – she had supplied pictures and sketches of her ideas – he had begun with mega cylinders before moving eventually to sculptie prims because they proved both easier to get the desired shapes and also were more attractive.

The build although having a light airy feel because of the arches and  iconic  Aotearoa-New Zealand panels of blue-green, see-through  paua (abalone) shell textures, still has form and substance. It is only 30 metres in diameter.


Those “paua shell” panels
Progress … the builder, Isa Goodman, and the “client”, Briarmelle Quintessa,
are working together.

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