The SLENZ Update – No 44, February 4, 2009

Strangers: off to the world

rollo-mike-fiona

UK-born Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime),  a senior lecturer in the Degree in Arts and Media programme in the School of Arts and Media at Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, NZ-Aotearoa, has had papers on his Masters project accepted for three national and international conferences in February and June.

The papers will be delivered at intercreateSCANZ Symposium, at New Plymouth, in Taranaki, New Zealand, PSI15 Performance Studies International Conference, in Zagreb, Croatia, and the SDHS Society of Dance History Scholars: Topographies: Sites, Bodies, Technologies, at Stanford University, USA. He has  also been named to an international panel to deliver/discuss the paper of Isabel de Cavadas Valverde: Envisioning virtual cartographies for corporeal interaction: dance and performance convergent applications of Second Life 3D Metaverse social environment, at the SDHS Conference at Stanford.

Baker (pictured above with wife Fiona), who has danced and worked with: BodyCartography Project, (USA/NZ) Wilhemeena Gordon, (NZ) Nancy Stark-Smith, State-of-Flux Dance Co, (Melbourne, Australia) Martin Keogh (USA) jzamal Xanitha (USA) and Catherine Chappell – Touch Compass Dance Trust (NZ), is completing a Masters in Art and Design (majoring in dance and video) with AUT University,  Auckland.

His performance-based Masters project, “Company of Strangers – Negotiating Meetings, Exchanges and Conversations in Urban Spaces”, critically explores both in the real world and Second Life the forces of indeterminacy which he maintains are responsible for the dynamics which create the personna of the ‘stranger’ in encounters between people in urban spaces. He uses interventionist dance strategies to prompt and then interrogate the formation, nature and parameters of encounters in designated public places. The experimental movement frameworks employed are informed by the discipline of Contact Improvisation Dance. The working process is documented using a range of video narrative and internet blogs.

The Second Life portion of Baker’s dance project is based on the NMIT/SLENZ island of Koru. His blog is at: http://hoststranger.blogspot.com

Better SL viewer ahead?

On the face of it the churn rate of “newbies” entering Second Life is probably unacceptable in business terms but 15 percent of those trying out Second Life for the first time, deciding to “settle” in world, to my mind, is nothing to get discouraged about.

Given similar problems to those Second Life has had over the years many five-year-old – old hat? – businesses would be pleased with the on-going, steady retention rate. philip_rosedale

Linden Labs’ executives, Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon appear far from discouraged even though they would like to “triple that number,” according to an exclusive report by Ian Lamont, in The Industry Standard. (Story and transcripts http://www.thestandard.com/news/2009/01/30/exclusive-linden-lab-executives-plot-second-life-growth-interface-concerns-persist?page=0%2C0&source=nlt_daily)

Both Rosedale (pictured right) and Kingdon (pictured left) said in the Lamont interview that on-going, significant work to make the user interface less complex would have a huge impact on the retention rate of the virtual world.kingdon2

Singling out search, the user interface and new user orientation as needing major improvements, to up the on-going user retention rate, Rosedale told Lamont, “We need to collapse the orientation experience on learning the interface down to a 30-minute timeframe. We’re not there yet.”

Going on to describe the current interface as “overwhelming,” Rosedale said, “The basic UI of the software also needs to change. “It has too many pixels,” he said referring to the buttons, numbers, and other data presented to users on the screen. “They’re all kind of demanding your attention — your [Linden] dollar balance, your inventory window, all the buttons on the bottom bar, chat and text that are visible in the window, that’s asking something of you, blue pop-ups that are coming up.”

Rosedale said that Second Life had moved beyond an emerging application for technology-savvy users. “There is a lot more diversity in use, demographics and behavior in Second Life today than there was, say, at the end of 2003,” he said.

Kingdon added. “There is a very compelling set of activities that virtual worlds are incredibly powerful for. They erase geographies, they allow for a type of interaction that you can’t get in the real world and they bring with them really interesting economic and business opportunities for users.”

Kingdon detailed localisation projects for countries in Europe, Asia, and South America, and cited in-world training and remote meetings as compelling activities for companies. Both he and Rosedale portrayed Second Life as a competitor to enterprise video conferencing, which they believe is unable to match Second Life’s ability to make people feel comfortable interacting with other remote users.

VW education/meetings do work

lbj_close_talker

On Mark Kingdon’s case (above) for the benefits of holding real world meetings in virtual worlds Metaverse developer Caleb Booker has provided a compelling argument for the use of virtual worlds like Second Life for real world education environments and meeting spaces.( http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/)

I have to agree with Wagner Au  in New World Notes (http://nwn.blogs.com/) that up until now, “the notion that the professional world should prefer meeting in the metaverse over speakerphones or web cams or other technologies seemed roughly crazy.”

He based this on the assumption that  in-world meetings put on by companies like IBM and Microsoft “were mostly limited to the early adopters already familiar with Second Life.”

However, Au goes on to say, that Booker lays out his reasoning lucidly for why the professional world should change its view through comparing being “close” to  people in an avatar sense to getting the “close-talker” feeling of  being trapped counting the other speaker’s nostril hairs, as in the Lyndon Baines Johnson picture above or a la webcam, and not being able to look away.

Suffice to say, Caleb argues cogently that Virtual space experiences work better than a webcam experience because one can maintain some “personal space”;  whatever learning mode one is in, chances are one will do fine;  and the experience fills one’s field of vision far more readily.

Read Caleb’s article: its one of the best expositions on just why education as opposed to other forms of elearning WILL work in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

Kermit for the third time..

intellagirltully

My final word on the saga of  the believability of Kermit. Intellagirl Tully (real life Sarah Robbins) is recognised as one of the foremost researchers/educators operating in Virtual Worlds. She probably has thought more about academic identity in a non-academic world than most other people. I’m indebted to a SLED list poster for pointing me to her “enjoyable and insightful” piece for the SLCC Education Workshop in 2006 titled, ” ‘Image Slippage’: Navigating the Dichotomies of an Academic Identity in a Non-Academic Virtual World.” You can read it at: http://secondlife.intellagirl.com/SLCC-Robbins.doc

Is the writing on the SL wall?

blumenthal

The on-going debate inside the walls of Linden Lab and among Second Life educators and others on the benefits or not of merging the carefully policed, but poorly-patronised Teen Grid with the well-patronised adult grid, has been brought into sharper focus by MySpace’s decision to remove the profiles of about 90,000 US-registered sex offenders.

The question is not whether Second Life can survive the addition of a teenage group of possible hell-raisers (grin) but whether it can survive the imposition of more stringent controls such as proof of age, identity, location and possible background checks being placed on the general population of Second Life, things which may be required by some US regulators to ensure the safety of the teens.

Personally I’m not a proponent of the Nanny State and think this would be a step too far. I have enjoyed, for better or worse, the “anything goes, frontier” feel of Second Life – even the griefers – for the past four years and hope to continue to be surprised and astounded by the activities/art/works of my fellow residents for years to come, no matter what their real life backgrounds.

Proof of age is currently not mandatory within Second Life and is required only for specific “adult” areas – I’ve only come across one proof-of-age-barred area over many hours of exploration – but given the general in-world penchant for privacy I don’t think the introduction of mandatory proof-of-age on the general grid would be a good thing.

[Interestingly the Linden Lab ban on casinos and sexual age-play among adults has, as predicted, reportedly only served to drive these activities underground.]

The thoughts on this issue were sparked by comments made by Connecticut Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal (pictured above at an unrelated occasion, but appropriate-looking “friend”) who initiated the release of the MySpace figures which were almost double the number that News Corporation-owned MySpace officials originally announced last year. (http://preview.tinyurl.com/c62qqs)

Blumenthal said the “shocking revelation” backed up his campaign to ensure that social networking sites should be barred as “playgrounds for predators”. “

Almost 100,000 convicted sex offenders mixing with children on MySpace is absolutely appalling and totally unacceptable,” he said. “For every one of them, there may be hundreds of others using false names and ages.”

Blumenthal said the new data unmasked what he called MySpace’s “monstrously inadequate counter-measures” and noted he would continue “to fight for reforms and safeguards at MySpace and other social networking sites to protect children, including age and identification verification.

“I urge MySpace and the social networking industry to end their resistance to age and identify verification,” he said.

One wonders how long it will be before he and his fellow travelers look at virtual worlds, now that social networking and virtual worlds are coming together.

The SLENZ Update – No 41, January 23, 2009

Xstreet ‘in from cold’

pressconf_007

The Linden Lab’s acquisition of  Xstreet SL and OnRez – the two leading Web-based marketplaces for buying and selling creations for Second Life –  will not lessen marketplace competition, according to Lab executives.

And it could eventually lead to Xstreet SL retail virtual world products being made available to other grids, such as OpenLife, although this is not under active consideration at present.

This was made clear at a Linden Lab in-world press conference (pictured above)  during which there was a frank discussion of just where the organisation planned to take its most recent acquisitions, bought from Virtuatrade and the Electric Sheep Company for undisclosed amounts.

OnRez will be folded into the more successful Xstreet SL entity following the acquisition which Linden executives say, rather than lessening competition, will increase retail competition through an easier user interface – both from a buyers’ and sellers’ point of view – being made available to SL creators and retailers.

Apotheus Silverman and  key members of the Xstreet SL team have joined Linden Lab to integrate the Xstreet SL platform more deeply into SL with  a single, unified SL marketplace. (Press release: http://lindenlab.com/pressroom/releases/01_20_09)

Suspension of disbelief

The more a virtual immersive experience is based on design strategies that combine actional, symbolic, and sensory factors, the greater the participant’s suspension of disbelief that she or he is “inside” a digitally enhanced setting, according to Christopher Dede (pictured), Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Technology, Innovation, and Education, Harvard University.

chris_dede22Noting that immersion is the subjective impression that one is participating in a comprehensive, realistic experience, he said in an abstract of an article in the January issue of Science that “Studies have shown that immersion in a digital environment can enhance education in at least three ways: by allowing multiple perspectives, situated learning, and transfer.”

But, SLENZers take heart, he added in his article, “Immersive Interfaces for Engagement and Learning”, further studies were needed on the capabilities of immersive media for learning, on the instructional designs best suited to each type of immersive medium, and on the learning strengths and preferences these media develop in users.

Just what SLENZ is doing mate!!

His article is in the subscription only:  http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/323/5910/66 but he can be reached at: chris_dede@harvard.edu

75% SL tasks completed

One should watch out for Dr Steven Hornik’s (SL: Robins Hermano) “Really Engaging Accounting: Second LifeTM as a Learning Platform” when he finalises the research paper.

It will be a unique and important document for virtual world education researchers and providers.

Hornik of the University of Central Florida’s  Kenneth Dixon School of Accounting,  uses SL to teach a financial accounting course titled Really Engaging Accounting   (http://mydebitcredit.com). The aim of the project is to engage students in what is normally a very non-engaging course and ensure they develop basic accounting literacy.

In the course, SL is used asynchronously to help students learn basic concepts related to the accounting equation: Assets = Liabilities + Stockholders Equity; to learn how to manipulate the equation using debits and credits; and to become debits and credits themselves as part of the T-Account Game. They also participate in weekly web-based lectures and other web-based learning.

Taught since the fall of 2007 class size has grown from an average 250 to close to 900 in 2008, with 75-80 percent of the students completing assignments in SL.

hornikstevendr1In a preliminary draft of his study of the course, albeit released inadvertently,  Hornik (pictured left) said the courses have demonstrated that through the use of SL’s building and scripting tools, “environments can be created that in some cases lead to student engagement, and for those cases positively affect student performance”.

This, “in the context of accounting which traditionally might be viewed as the opposite of engaging, provides an extreme example of the power of Second LifeTM to create socially relevant, immersive, engaging learning environments,” he said.

“This study has also shown that time-on-task can far exceed expectations if tools are designed to actively involve the students and allow them to become immersed in the activity.”

Besides, Hornik said, the study also showed that one antecedent to successfully engaging the student is spatial presence.

“Thus, when building and designing environments it is necessary to create places where students are able to perceive a sense of place and a sense of ‘being there’,” he said.

“These virtual places are no less real than a physical world classroom space, the geography is no less real, the experiences are no less real because they take place in a 3-D environment,” he said.  “The results indicate that the more genuine we can make the experience, the more engaged our students are likely to become.”

But Hornik has one  important caution.  It would be wrong to view these new learning platforms completely through rose-colored glasses, he said,  as there can be adverse psychological reactions to these environments, such as dizziness and nausea, and the results of this study show that if student experience these adverse conditions their performance suffers.

“As we routinely test students for learning styles and direct them towards learning material best suited for their styles, we may need to direct certain students away from 3-D immersive environments if it is determined they are having adverse reactions,” he said.

Coming events

January 31, 2009 – 10am SLT – 2pm SLT,  Info Island(http://slurl.com/secondlife/Info%20Island/112/105/33): Alliance Virtual Library Tech Fair 2009. Designed for educators, librarians, museum owners, and others who teach and/or create and provide information and exhibits  to view the tools that are available to  meet and hear  their creators. Speakers: 10am:  Eloise Pasteur, “Developing teaching tools in Second Life”; 11am:  JJ Drinkwater,  “Lowering the Barrier – The Library-Onna-Stick”; 12noon:  Fim Fischer,  Quiz System (Multiple Choice Board); 1pm:  Buddy Sprocket, SLOODLE. A comprehensive trade exhibition will be held along with the presentations.


The SLENZ Update – No 39, January 15, 2009

SL ‘valuable’ for HS science

globalkids

The value of virtual world education for high school students has been demonstrated  in a  recent independent evaluation of a Science through Second Life project run in New York last year.

The project integrated Second Life and a wide range of web tools into a standards-based high school science class in New York City, according to Rafi Santo (pictured), Senior Program Associate Online Leadership Program, Global Kids.(Access pdf of evaluation at http://groups.google.com/group/GKVirtualWorldUpdate/browse_thread/thread/860139ff56a01e29)santorafi

Global Kids is a New York-based organisation that provides a range of international education and leadership development programs in 21 public high schools and myriad online venues. Its MacArthur-funded work is leveraging after school programs, online dialogues, contests, machinima, and virtual worlds to bring attention to voices of youth on the role of digital media in their lives.

The independent evaluation’s key findings on the Science through Second Life project  included:

  • Students’ attitudes towards science-related careers changed positively with the StSL curriculum.
  • Students’ self-efficacy and self-confidence in their abilities to do science-related work increased.
  • Compared to the traditional science curriculum, the number of students reporting being overwhelmed by science class fell by 50%.
  • Low achieving students’ grades improved significantly compared to the previous semester.
  • Students’ collective intelligence skills improved throughout the semester. More students reported that they felt more comfortable working with others to get something done using digital media in the post survey.

For further information on  the Globalkids organisation: www.globalkids.org

OpenLife getting ‘V’ money

openlifesiltop

The OpenLife grid, which  has been proclaimed as a major albeit still small  competitor (45,000 residents) to Second Life,  is going to adopt a virtual currency system, so users can buy and sell items freely, according to VirtualWorld News( http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2009/01/openlife-grid-to-adopt-virtual-currency.html)

The new virtual currency system is currently scheduled to go live at the end of February, obviating one of the major concerns that the current user base has voiced. OpenLife is currently the largest grid running on the OpenSimulator 3D application server program.

OpenSimulator essentially allows individual users to create their own virtual world “grids” on their own servers that look and function much like Linden Labs’ Second Life. In fact, the technologies involved are so similar that it is possible to use a Second Life client to connect to any OpenSim grid [An experimental Grid, the ONGENS OpenSim Virtual World Grid, has been set up in the ONGENS Test Bed Facility between Otago University and Canterbury University to explore the possibilities of the technology (http://www.gni.otago.ac.nz/index.php/ongens-virtual-world-grid)].

“Exchangeable credits are a popular request from residents,” according to Steve Sima, founder of the OpenLife grid, in a statement to CyberTech News.

“However with interchangeable credits comes a range of new issues that must be addressed,” he said ” After a good six months of consultaton with Openlife users, we’re pleased to say we’re on track to deliver an in world payments solution in the forum of Openlife Credits before the end of February. This will follow shortly after new fixes and implementations in objects and inventory permissions are rolled out.”

The announcement  while it will be welcomed by OpenLife users could put paid to Linden Lab plans to attempt to spread a generic virtual currency through virtual worlds.

… but SL gets act together?

Are the US timezone Sunday “log-in disabled”  periods which have bedeviled Second Life users around the world recently – especially on Mondays in New Zealand and Australia – about to become a thing of the past?

It would appear from FJ Linden’s (Frank Ambrose) most recent update on improving the infrastructure that underpins Second Life (and the resulting forum dialogue) that Linden Lab is still confident it can overcome the problems which occur for all residents within and outside Second Life when user numbers reach 80,000, now a normal US Sunday afternoon and evening ocurrence, which has led to scheduled meetings in other timezones being disrupted when participants haven’t been able to log in. As the outages occur on Sundays they are not a “working” priority/problem in the US.

The easy answer, of course, is for  those in other timezones  to schedule meetings at other times but as more people join the  SL “over-population problem”,  if it is that,  has to be solved.

And that is what the Lindens appear to be doing. (http://blog.secondlife.com/2009/01/12/second-life-grid-update-from-fj-linden/)
While admitting its been a bumpy few weeks, with Level 3 outages, and central database issues, Frank says  “the good news is that LLnet (data center fiber network) continues ahead of schedule and we should be starting traffic migration in the next week. We’ve also made some headway in the area of asset storage. Right now, central database issues are our core focus and have been at the center of most of the recent grid problems.

“The benefits of LLnet are to not only get us off of our dependency on VPN’s for inter data center traffic, but also lay the foundation for diverse internet providers that will allow us to handle an outage on a single provider (currently Level 3) and potentially improve latency,” he says. “Most of our widespread and highest impacting outages have been network related, and that is why LLnet has been my top priority since joining Linden Lab this past summer.

“I expect final testing to be complete by the end of January, and production traffic cutover immediately after.”

Attaboy Frank!  We await the results with bated breath.

Useful link

A selection of books about Second Life (or virtual worlds) primarily  focused  on general descriptions, history, and sociological perspectives, but  also including several how-to guides is at:

http://www.worldcat.org/profiles/srharris19/lists/273349

The SLENZ Update – No 38, January 12, 2009

Full SL instruction ‘pays’

Post-secondary school instructors who conduct classes fully in Second Life are significantly more satisfied than those who use Second Life as only a small supplement to a real-world classes, according to an international research project  from the  University of Florida, reported in the Winter 2009 edition of the International Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences.

westbowersWith respondents from 15 countries and 25 academic disciplines, the research paper, “Assessing the Value of Virtual Worlds for Post-Secondary Instructors: A Survey of Innovators, Early Adopters and the Early Majority in Second Life, was done by PhD student West Bowers (K. Westmoreland Bowers, pictured)  Matthew W. Ragas and Jeffrey C. Neely, of the University of Florida’s  College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

The purpose of this study was to assess the value of Second Life among post-secondary instructors with experience using Second Life as an educational tool. Using Everett Rogers’s diffusion of innovations theory, survey respondents (N = 162), were divided into three adopter categories: innovators, early adopters and the early majority.

The number of respondents from different countries and disciplines, the authors said, indicated the considerable potential  virtual worlds,  such as Second Life, had to be adopted across many different borders and in many areas of academe.

The authors said no significant differences had been  found in the instructors’ levels of satisfaction with Second Life as an educational tool or their perceived effect on student learning across adopter categories even though instructors who conducted classes fully in Second Life were significantly more satisfied than those who used Second Life as only a small supplement to a real-world class.

“Overall, personal interest factors, rather than interpersonal communication factors, most influenced respondents’ decision to adopt Second Life as an educational tool,”  the authors said.

It appeared from the research that the instructors, despite their adopter category, found using Second Life in their curricula to be both satisfying and as having a positive impact on student learning.

“This bodes well for further diffusion and adoption of Second Life or a similar kind of virtual world program as an educational tool,”the authors said. “This is consistent with the fact that a commanding 93.8% of respondents reported they intend to use Second Life as an educational tool again.”

Respondents also had indicated that the more Second Life was integrated into the class structure, the more satisfied they were with it. they said.  Specifically, instructors who conducted classes fully in Second Life were significantly more satisfied than those who used Second Life as only a small supplement to real-world classes. For administrators and instructors considering using Second Life as an educational tool, these results indicated that a fully immersive Second Life experience, rather than isolated experimentation, could be the most rewarding.

The paper goes on to discuss the theoretical implications  of the findings and provides practical advice/suggestions.(For full paper:  http://www.waset.org/ijhss/v3/v3-1-5.pdf)

‘Real’ in WoW is really real

golubalex11Resto Shaman (Alex Golub) in WoW
(Picture WoWInsider.com)

Through studying the MMORPG, World of Warcraft, and other virtual worlds  social scientists have come to realise that “real” and “in the same room” are just not the same thing, according to Alex Golub, a Professor within the Faculty of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii.

Golub, who has previously done “immersive” anthropological research with  the people of Papua New Guinea, similar to that done early last century by Bronislaw Malinowski, has been using the same techniques to study the  culture of raiding in WoW.

“My unique angle is that I am doing anthropological fieldwork in WoW, living and playing with a raiding guild and putting in 20+ hours a week keeping them healed and decursed,”  he told WoWInsider’s Lisa Poisso in a recent interview.
With his main research themes “American cultures of self-control, efficiency, masculinity and success amongst players of WoW,” he said, he is studying how guys behave badly in Vent, and how/why people become emo and/or talk about why other people are emo.

“I’m interested in how you get a group of 25 people to keep calm and collected as they try to do something really emotionally important to them, which requires relying on other people when its difficult to see them face-to-face,” he said.

“… everyone in my (WoW) guild knows each other in “real life,” because real doesn’t mean “physical world” – it means “things that people care about,” or as an anthropologist, I’d say, “things that people in a culture care about,”  he said.  “There is a guy in my guild who works in a cheese factory, turning over 90-pound blocks of cheese all day. I bet I know him better than he knows the guys in the control room measuring cheese temperatures or whatever, even if he sees them every day.”

He expects to publish  a book 0n the culture of raiding in WoW in  2010. ( Full interview: http://www.wowinsider.com/2009/01/06/15-minutes-of-fame-anthropologist-digs-into-wow/

In SL the blind may ‘see’

slblind

It may come as a suprise but IBM is developing a prototype Virtual Worlds User Interface for the Blind.   The prototype “accessible rich Internet application” (ARIA)  gives blind users the ability to participate in many virtual world activities.

According to IBM the interface provides basic navigation, communication, and perception functions using GUI (graphical user interface) elements that are familiar to blind computer users.

As a way of enriching the virtual environment with descriptive semantic information, sighted users contribute annotations of virtual objects and places using a scripted gadget equipped by their avatar. These annotations are then made available to the blind users through the special user interface.

Although this interface for the blind is a GUI and can be used by sighted people, the virtual world space is not rendered pictorially. Instead, all information flowing to the user is text-based in order to allow compliance with ordinary screen-reading technology. Recorded verbal descriptions are also played for the user.

Currently, the application interfaces only with the Second Life platform; however, IBM says, as a long-term goal, it might be possible to make this user interface portable to more than one virtual world implementation. If successful, that portability would enable blind users to learn only one client application that is specifically tailored for their needs rather than learning a separate new application for each virtual world.

Read more at:  http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/virtualworlds/

Event

January 25-30: Linden Lab’s Inaugural Education Support Faire, in Second Life, at Supporte /151/152/36, designed  to bring together educators, academics, and students to explore the support mechanisms available to residents who use Second Life to enhance real world educational efforts. The venue is designed around a natural atmosphere with trees, rivers, and beaten paths, highlighting the theme of ‘Ecosystems of Support.’ A final list of scheduled events and participating/presenting Resident Support Organizations will be emailed to the SLED mailing list on January 21.

The SLENZ Update – No 31, December 04, 2008

Count down to SLENZ

‘open’ workshop

December 15, from 9am to 5pm (New Zealand Time) (SL Time 2pm – 10 pm December 14) : New Zealand’s leading virtual world learning research group, Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ), has invited interested educators to attend a free, one-day workshop in real life on Wellington Institute of Technology’s Wellington campus and in Second Life on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27). Registration essential on first-come, first-served basis as numbers limited. For registration email: Susan.Jenkins@weltec.ac.nz

One global player in virtual education

‘Immersive Education’

egypt_girl_closeup_small

The range  of educational opportunities and organisations promoting or researching  virtual worlds is increasing day by day. One of the more interesting is Immersive Education, developed by the Immersive Education Initiative, a non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies  working together to define and develop open standards, best practices, platforms, and communities of support for virtual worlds, simulators and game-based learning and training systems.(http://ImmersiveEducation.org)

Immersive Education combines interactive 3D graphics, video game and simulation technology, virtual reality, voice chat, Web cameras and rich digital media with collaborative online course environments and classrooms. Immersive Education gives participants a sense of “being there” even when attending a class or training session in person isn’t possible, practical, or desirable, which in turn provides educators and students with the ability to connect and communicate in a way that greatly enhances the learning experience.(http://immersiveeducation.org/TalkingPoints.pdf)

The Immersive Education Initiative is an official activity of the international Media Grid standards group. (http://mediagrid.org/) The Media Grid standards group actively applies open standards to specific problem spaces, such as distance education, digital libraries, and the impact of digital media on culture and society.
Immersive Education is not limited to one platform but considers the whole gamut and for that reason alone is well worth following.  For instance late last month Immersive Education Japan (iED Japan) ran a series of Immersive Education Days at University of Aizu, Japan, as part of Immersive Education: ASIA, programme.  Immersive Education presentations, lectures, workshops and related events included IEI members from Boston College, University of Aizu, National University of Singapore, Keio University, Smithsonian Institution, Montana State University, Southeast Kansas Education Service Center at Greenbush, University of Essex and Sun Microsystems to provide an in-depth overview of Immersive Education, the Education Grid [http://TheEducationGrid.org] and related technologies. To coincide with the event Japan’s first “node” (virtual world and collaboration server) on the Education Grid was announced. Hosted by the University of Aizu and sponsored by Sun Microsystems, Japan’s Education Grid node will enable cultural and technological exchange with educators and students around the world through virtual learning worlds and collaboration environments. Related announcements/initiatives included the launch of three new Project Wonderland (pictured – video is on IE site, along with videos from Second Life and Croquet) Community Groups; progress report by the Open File Formats Technology Group; formation of the Library Technology Working Group; formation of the Psychology of Immersive Environments Technology Working Group; formation of the Assessment, Evaluation and Grading Technology Working Group; preview of Second Life, realXtend, and OpenSim nodes on the Education Grid; and the official launch of the Initiative’s “Own the Node” program.

wonderland_shared_applications

Second Life: Better every day?

Some Second Life residents might not agree with the Linden Lab claim that  Second Life is becoming more usable and more reliable. Perhaps I’m tempting the Gods but I for one , however, believe the claim. Putting aside ISP problems my  Second Life experience has improved considerably over the past three years – and I would average more than two hours a day in world often at peak US usage periods – but its still far from perfect.

I make this observation in light of the  Lindens’ recent claim (http://blog.secondlife.com/2008/12/02/m-linden-second-life-update-and-welcome-to-howard-linden-aka-howard-look/) that their staff has been hard at work over the last  few months making Second Life more relevant, more usable and more reliable.

“Our work is showing up in Second Life’s usage statistics,” M.Linden said on Tuesday. ” On Sunday of this past weekend, we hit another concurrency high of 76,946 and yesterday log-ins for the previous 60 days crossed the 1.4 Million mark.”

Noting that reliability was a top strategic focus for the Lab, he said that the launch of LL Net (the private fiber optic ring connecting the Linden Lab data centers) to provide additional redundancy and eliminate  reliance on VPNs, was ahead of schedule..

On the issue of making Second Life more relevant, he said,  the Big Spaceship project to improve residents’ first hour experience was proceeding well alongside a new website design.

Although the team also was making great progress on the major usability project, redesigning  the viewer so that it was easy to use for new residents without sacrificing functionality for experienced users, he said, it would be well into the second half of next year before the new client was implemented.

At the same time Linden Lab has been out hiring  and as placed Howard Look (SL:Howard Linden) formerly a VP of Software at Pixar, into the role of SVP of Customer Applications ( “The Front”) He will be responsible for leading the engineering team responsible for the customer-facing part of the Second Life experience.

Interestingly for educators Howard also has a passion for education and spent time this past summer as a substitute teacher (4th grade and middle school math).

EVENT


December 12, 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m: (Public seminar) Open Educational Resources and Scholarship in the 21st Century, University of Auckland Conference Centre, 423-342, 22 Symonds Street, Auckland. Speaker: Joseph Hardin, the Director of the Collaborative Technologies Laboratory in the Media Union and Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and currently the Board Chair for the Sakai project. Prior to joining the University of Michigan, he was head of the Software Development Group (SDG) and Associate Director for Software Development at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois. Most notably, his teams were responsible for the development of the NCSA Mosaic browser, arguably the tool that launched the world wide web.



The SLENZ Update – No 30, December 02, 2008

REGISTER NOW FOR SLENZ

OPEN WORKSHOP

December 15, from 9am to 5pm (New Zealand Time) (SL Time 2pm – 10 pm December 14) : New Zealand’s leading virtual world learning research group, Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ), has invited interested educators to attend a free, one-day workshop in real life on Wellington Institute of Technology’s Wellington campus and in Second Life on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27). Registration essential on first-come, first-served basis as numbers limited. For registration email: Susan.Jenkins@weltec.ac.nz

Virtual peace training

Virtual Peace: Turning Swords to Ploughshares (http://virtualpeace.org), a humanitarian/disaster assistance training simulation brings together digital learning technologies and international humanitarian assistance efforts. It has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC. Created by Duke University’s Tim Lenoir (full project team: http://virtualpeace.org/people.php) in collaboration with Virtual Heroes, Duke-UNC Rotary Center, Duke’s Computer Science Department, and Duke Information Science and Information Studies (ISIS) it allows students and educators to enter an immersive, multi-sensory game-based environment that simulates real disaster relief and conflict resolution conditions in order to learn first-hand the necessary tools for sensitive and timely crisis response.

Interestingly the simulation uses the avatars of real people and simulations of real places for what is a realistic training scenario based on reality. Learn more about Virtual Peace.

Species ‘change’?

cardenas

In an era when biotechnology has made it possible to alter the basics of what we eat, how we provide energy and even the makeup of our genetic structure, a graduate student at the University of California is to attempt to “smash” the species boundary, by living as a dragon for 365 hours – virtually

Pushing the limits of what it means to be human she  is exploring the intersections of biotechnology, art and virtual-reality in a fully immersive performance, “Becoming Dragon,” according to Tiffany Fox writing in net magazine, PhysOrg.com (http://www.physorg.com/news146932385.html)

To fulfill the final project requirement for her MFA in visual arts, the student Micha Cardenas (SL:Azdel Slade) (pictured above) (http://secondloop.wordpress.com/), a transgender person, will spend 365 consecutive hours immersed in Second Life, wearing a head-mounted device with a stereoscopic display that blocks all but the virtual world from her view, in a to-scale virtual model of the actual performance space (complete with the black leather couch that will serve as he RL bed). She will spend the entire duration of the performance in a laboratory at UCSD’s Center for Research and Computing in the Arts (CRCA) at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

The performance began with a two-hour session on December 1 and will continue until December 17 (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Seventh%20Eye/186/12/35)

Cardenas’ movements are being mimed by way of a Vicon motion-capture system, which allows her avatar’s movements to correspond with her own in real-time. In essence, Cardenas will “become” the dragon, moving and even speaking as her avatar by way of a Pure Data patch called “Lila” that modulates her voice.

The project is also a means of questioning the one-year requirement for “real-life experience” that transgender people must fulfill in order to receive gender confirmation surgery (also known as sexual reassignment surgery).

“The general theme for my project is to explore the possibilities for transformation, to ask the question, ‘Is change really possible, or do you get what you’re given, and that’s it?'” Cardenas explained to Psyorg. “I’m asking if it’s possible to replace this real-life experience requirement with Second Life experience, but I’m also asking a question that is somewhat rhetorical or fantastical: Could you really become your second-life avatar?

Linden disappoints

There was some rather disappointing news for Kiwis and Okkers (New Zealanders and Australians)  at the Australasian Virtual Worlds Workshop 2008 Conference in Melbourne  last weekend

It came from Linden Lab’s Chris Collins, who, when asked about the delay in the proposed creation of an SL server farm in Australia, admitted that the “real soon now” of 18-months ago had stretched considerably, with no commitment given on when, if ever, this may occur (http://www.metaversejournal.com/2008/11/29/standalone-servers-soo/)

Looks like our lag performance, although in New Zealand mainly attributable to  the lack of foresight or investment by either Telecom or TelstraClear, will not be improving in the near future. Of course the New Zealand Government could use private enterprises such as NetFx ( the fastest commercial internet service in the country) to end the provincial internet problems cause by the two main players. Given the right funding NetFx could easily implement its optical cable system in provincial towns throughout the country as is currently being  done on a local government basis in places like Dannevirke.

But on the plus side he said that the 2009 beta of a standalone Second Life grid which will allow users to run their own grid was progressing.

Further reporting on the AVWW has been scheduled for the next few days by http://www.metaversejournal.com

The SLENZ Update – No 24, November 12, 2008

SL learning “fun”

lecture_in_sl

Second Life provides options for multi-modality in communication that “make learning fun – always a desired outcome,” according to two Finish researchers.
This was only one of the findings from their recently completed in-depth study of distance learning in Second Life, published recently in First Monday, the peer-reviewed journal of the University of Illinois (Chicago). http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2178/2033
Reflecting other research Kim Holmberg and Isto Huvila (both have researcher/lecturer roles in Finland’s Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi) found that, although virtual learning is reshaping what happens in the classroom and will be a valuable add-on learning tool in the future,  Second Life and other virtual worlds can never fully replace in-class learning.
But they said, “To place Second Life, Web-based learning environments and face-to-face education in order according to which one is the best is hardly useful.

“According to the results of this study, the three learning environments compete very well with each other,” they said. “There are benefits in face-to-face education and in real physical presence that are difficult to achieve in other learning environments.
“Education in Second Life is closer to face-to-face education than traditional methods in distance education that are based on asynchronous communication and two-dimensional media. Second Life provides options for multimodality in communication (voice, chat, gestures, space) that make learning fun – always a desired outcome.”
The researchers said they were convinced that the concept of interreality – the integration of physical and virtual worlds – is “an advantage in distance education, if it can bring distance education closer to face-to-face education.”
Interestingly of the 30 students that participated in the study of a course in information studies – 28 female, two male – few had difficulty navigating through SL and most felt that it was superior to other Web-based learning environments.
Second Life was used as a platform to deliver lectures and as a place for organising group assignments and having discussions.
“One reason why the barrier to participation in Second Life was lower may be the fact that SL provides means for multimodal communication, even in-world,” the two researchers said.
“Students could use text-based chat inside SL to ask questions and participate and the teacher could answer and respond at a suitable time without interruption. It is possible to communicate through different channels at the same time, and students can use a channel that best suits them. Another possible explanation might be that the use of avatars gives students some level of anonymity with students ‘hiding’ behind their avatars.
But they added, provided that participating face-to-face education does not require too much travelling and learning outcomes are satisfactory, “Second Life does not necessarily provide any significant benefits, at least not when using it only as a platform for lectures and teamwork.
“When considering distance only as a physical measure of separation, Second Life provides a means to overcome it. The existence of multimodal and non-interfering means of communication and socialisation by using chat, instant messages and voice calls in personal and group interaction provides users a wider range of possibilities to communicate than in face-to-face sessions.”

Browser wars?

My belief that the creation of a universal generic browser (carrying assets) will be the key to the widespread adoption of virtual worlds received somewhat of a setback this week with Wagner James Au reporting in Newworldnotes, about a leading open source developer creating a non-SL compatible viewer.
Asking whether there was a fork ahead in the road to the Metaverse (http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2008/11/a-fork-in-the-m.html#more) he wrote about KirstenLee Cinquetti’s, development of the Openlife R16 viewer, (pictured, courtesy nwn) cinquettikirstenleewhich, although based on the original open source code of the SL viewer, only works with Openlife.
Au said the move was significant because the work by Cinquetti, previously renowned for her SL-compatible viewers, especially her dynamic lighting-enabled Shadowdraft viewer, could complicate attempts by Linden Lab, IBM, and other organisations to create full interoperability between Second Life and OpenSim servers as well as possibly lead to browser wars a la the early days of the net.

SL prize details

Every educator believes they are working not only for the good of their students but also for the good of the world and even the universe.
Well, Linden Labs has now allowed them – as well as every other Second Life resident – to compete in a “superlative achievement” award in what would appear to be a made for education prize opportunity (http://lindenlab.com/lindenprize)
Robin Linden and Everett Linden gave further details of the Linden Prize in SL this week. The prize will see one Second Life resident or team receive US$10,000 (paid in $L) for an innovative inworld project “that improves the way people work, learn and communicate in their daily lives outside of the virtual world.”
When originally announced four months ago by Mitch Kapor the prize was described as rewarding “superlative achievement” exemplifying the mission of “elevating the human condition” through using SL.
“We expect and want to create a wide funnel of people thinking, ‘Hey that might be me,'” said Everett Linden (Everett Harper in RL and Linden’s Director of Community Initiatives).
He said entries were expected from people in healthcare, people-creating communities with real impact, scientists with psychological studies, people with diplomacy projects, and architecture among other things.
“The key thing is that can you document tangible evidence of improving and having a good impact on people’s lives, and I say that broadly,” he said. “And it’s got to be compelling and high-quality, from compelling to aesthetics to technical to pure execution. It should really have a sense of being influential to creating future development across virtual worlds into the real world. ” Applications close January 15, 2009, with the winner and finalists announced no later than April 30, 2009.

campuspeople1

SL Community

For those of you who missed it previously Jennifer Ragan-Fore (SL:Kittygloom Cassady), SLEDcc Co-Chair, has again provided the slurl of the streaming pages and blogs of the successful “edu track” of the Second Life Community Convention in Tampa. http://sledcc.wikispaces.com/Audio+Visual+Archives; http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=blog+sledcc08&btnG=Search; Flickr uploads http://www.flickr.com/groups/sledcc08; RezEd discussions http://www.rezed.org/ ; and tweets http://twitter.com/sledcc .

Kemp on SL strength

Building community in Second Life is “really a matter of fostering user ownership and getting users involved,” says Jeremy Kemp, assistant director of San Jose State University’s SL Campus and wellknown virtual world guru. “That’s the strength of Second Life,” he said, “it’s a world created by users.”
And, in Second Life, according to Kemp, where a group of students meets at the same time online, there’s a sense of embodiment, a feeling of being in the classroom and a sense of presence.
“They get the feeling of being there,” says Kemp, and “they can see me in the classroom.”
Kemp expressed this view to Samantha Cleaver in an article in the ecommercetimes on Virtual Learning and the Avatar Generation – diverse issues in higher education, which looks at distance learning up close. http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/web20/65082.html?wlc=1226309206&wlc=1226353422

Events

November 17, 1-5pm (SL time) “Real World Impacts from the Virtual World” including a “sneak preview” of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s new sim “Foundations” should be of interest to educators and researchers. Interactive events covering how groups use virtual spaces like Second Life to build opportunities in preserving native peoples’ cultures, creating accessible spaces for people with disabilities, helping obese people make healthy life choices and teaching underprivileged youth about paleontology and science. Venues: (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Foundations/119/233/36) and the neighboring archipelago that includes the Network Culture Project, Justice Commons (http://slurl.com/secondlife/The%20Justice%20Commons/134/130/29) and Aloft Nonprofit Commons (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Aloft%20Nonprofit%20Commons/88/52/23/).

November 18, 2008, 7-8am (SL time) – Edward Lee Lamoureux (pictured at right), associate professor, Multimedia Program and Department of Communication, Bradley University) (SL:Professor Beliveau) participant in the recent lamoureuxInternational Distance Learning Day event. will share a portion of his IDLD talk with the Healthcare Education group (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Health%20Eduisland/174/144/25) Info on Lamoureux http://slane.bradley.edu/com/faculty/lamoureux/website2/

November 28-29, 2008 – Australasian Virtual Worlds Workshop 2008, EN 101, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia, and selected locations in SL. Keynote speakers include: Larry Johnson (CEO, NMC), Chris Collins (Director of Enterprise Business Systems, Linden Lab) and Bruce Joy (CEO, Vast Park) This workshop builds upon foundations established by the Second Life Discovery Day held in 2007 at Monash University, Australia. Registration for presenters and students is A$20 and for other participants A$50. In-world attendance slurls will be emailed following registration. http://avww.org/files/AVWW%20programme%20Panel%20and%20Presenters.pdf