The SLENZ Update – No 80 , May 11, 2009

Need a virtual loan?

Creating a ‘real buck’ – virtually-speaking

dollarbills

Picture: Freefoto.com

The Linden dollar  has  had its ups and downs and Linden Lab’s is probably making a fortune out  of  of its forex dealings, but there is still no dedicated “real world” banking/forex facility in  Second Life, or any other virtual world.

That, however,  is now changing  with the creator of  the Swedish-based virtual world, Entropia Universe, MindArk, being  granted a license from the Swedish government to open Mind Bank, which will exchange Swedish kronor for Project Entropia Dollars (PEDs).

The currency will be used by Entropia’s 1 million users to buy and sell goods on the planet Calypso, according to a report in Businesweek by Olga Kharif.

The PED is among a growing number of alternative currencies changing hands in virtual worlds, social networks, and other web sites which are clamoring to make it easier for users to spend money and carry out other transactions while online as the on-line virtual market becomes a multi-billion dollar opportunity for virtual currency creators, she said.

China’s virtual goods economy, the largest in the world, is worth US$800 million and growing 30 percent a year, according to Shaun Rein, managing director at China Market Research Group.

SL ‘Economy on a tear’

In Second Life, one of the biggest US-based virtual economies, transaction volume is expected to rise 39 percent, to $500 million this year, according to the world’s creator, Linden Research. “

Our virtual economy has been on a tear,” Tom Hale, Linden’s chief product officer, told Businessweek.  “It’s grown much better than the real economy. It’s a wonderful, wonderful business.”

“We’ll try to make the link between real and virtual world as close as possible,” Andersson,  of Entropia’s MindArk, said. Users currently buy and sell land, minerals, and tools by depositing US dollars or Swedish kronor directly into the game. Once Mind Bank opens, users will be able to link real-world checking and savings accounts to the virtual world. Eventually they’ll be able to take out PED loans.

Services such as eBay’s (EBAY) PayPal and credit and debit cards currently provide a way for people to pay for virtual goods or site-specific virtual currencies but  many  users balk at the high fees levied by financial services on the sub-$1 transactions commonplace in the virtual-goods world. “

As users of Second Life  have found to their cost, however, the mere setting up of virtual banks is not without tears. The onetime unregulated, unofficial banking system in Second Life is believed to have cost users hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions. Their real money  turned  virtual  and disappeared almost overnight when the banks which had been offering outlandish interest rates, collapsed.

As Businessweek notes,  as virtual trading’s use spreads, so could accompanying problems, such as fraud.

Sites have to ensure that users can’t “manufacture” virtual currency without paying for it with real money or earning it in game play.

The sites themselves may need to be regulated by the government to prevent fraud, according to Mark Methentis, a lawyer and author of gaming-law blog, Law of the Game. “We need transparency, as with other investments, [including restrictions on insider trading],”  he said.

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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 37, January 2, 2009

The year that was …

I feel sure that during the year a lot of New Zealanders lost their embarrassment over being residents/participants  in virtual world’s like Second Life and began to see MUVEs as part of their “real” world.

Although the Lindens do not disclose  the number of Kiwis accessing Second Life on a regular basis reliable sources in the telecommunications industry  claim that new  Kiwi registrations on Second Life have been similar to the adoption of Broadband by the general populace – not earth-shattering but showing considerable progress compared to some years.

The major problems still facing New Zealand users of  high bandwidth applications, however,   are still the exhorbitant, one could say rip-off costs, associated with Broadband as the major telcos  attempt to milk the last drops out of their near-monopoly cash cows and the fact that their claims of delivering consistent, reliable broadband speeds in many centres outside  the major cities,  are at least questionable if not immoral. In many case, during the evenings, when most high bandwidth users  need their Broadband for “playing/working”, the speeds are little more than dial-up and sometimes even worse.  Despite this the major telcos have  continued to  promote and sell  Broadband in these areas and have charged an arm and a leg to those who believed what they were told about “real” Broadband and what it could do for them.

To use the great Aussie word the claims were generally bulldust, and if there is a hell somewhere organisations like Telecom/TelstraClear should be made to eat  copper wire.

Although Actrix, New Zealand’s oldest internet service provider, and Orcon, are now installing their own equipment in exchanges, Inspire.net is planning to do the same in the provincial areas of the lower North Island, and others are putting their toes in the water, the telecommunications industry, outside FXnetworks does not have the ability to give a worthwhile, consistent Broadband experience for about 80 percent of Kiwi punters.

Despite progress with the work of SLENZ, adult e-education, particularly in MUVEs,  is going to face bandwidth and speed problems for years to come unless, as is  proposed in the health sector, the New Zealand Government  ensures that  alternate and possibly even private/local government/pirate  networks  are given specific incentives  to compete against the big players in the provision of Broadband outside the major centres.

The year that will be …

crystalball_001

While I am loath to take out my crystal ball – I’ve been more often wrong than right –  there are those who are willing to have a shot. One of these brave souls, Lowell Cremorne,   of  Australian-based The Metaverse Journal, has been quite specific with his forecasts.( http://www.metaversejournal.com/2008/12/31/ten-virtual-worlds-predictions-for-2009/)

While I don’t agree with all his pronostications, especially the one that new users will see OpenSim grids as an equal option to signing up to Second Life, I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion that virtual worlds will begin to appear as normal daily life in television and  movies: I would go even further and say that by the end of this year that MUVEs, given the need for real life cost cutting, will become a formidable part of training, negotiation and just doing business in the real world, and a legitimate means of social intercourse both within and across continents: they will become a normal part of daily life for much of the 15 to 50 age group in the Western world with those not  participating being seen in some way as part of the left-behind generation, in much the same way as Ma and Pa Kettle were seen by the pre and Baby Boomer generations when they moved to the cities.

One can only agree that Governments are likely to step in with legislation, where they can,  on everything in MUVEs they feel they “must control”,  including certain if not all  sexual activity,  gambling and taxation etc,.  However, I think this will probably only lead to the creation and proliferation of “uncontrolled, unmonitored” private or pirate   MUVEs based on the OpenSim model  where  frontier law will be the only law and which will appear and disappear with startling irregularity for those in the know. Already there are “underground  worlds”  as it were in Second Life and the OpenSim movement will only increase the momentum for other more way-out blackmarket worlds.

Cremorne comments  that Australian Universities will fall further behind in incorporating virtual world training tools  but I believe that  if New Zealand  telecommunications companies give New Zealand educators the right  bandwidth tools, the New Zealand education system, given the SLENZ team’s undoubted expertise and enthusiasm as well as the work of people like Auckland University’s Scott Diener will take us to the front of the educational field in MUVE technology. People forget that this is still only the beginning of virtual world technology. No one, anywhere has more than a toe in the water, no matter how many conferences they make presentations at.

And yes, I have to agree, despite all the improvements, Second Life will remain a frustrating experience for many, especially Kiwis outside the main centres. This is despite the improvements in the new user experience  promoted by the Lindens and the announcement of the  provision of standalone servers.  I would add, contrary to Cremorne”s thoughts,  that  with  Second Life moving away from “frontier law”, on the surface at least,  the  Teen grid will survive, but be incorporated into the main grid. This could widen the education appeal of the genre if it can overcome the  real world tabloid view of all “life” inside computers.

With Sony’s Playstation “Home”  and  XBox’s  offering  I have to agree that the user base for virtual world’s can do nothing but grow, but  until the creation of  a generic browser, a la the original Moasic model, users are likely to remain trapped behind the walls of their chosen simulation  or game be it Second Life or World of Warcraft, Habbo Hotel or OpenSim, Entropia or Vastpark  or any of the  numerous other MUVEs  on offer and in development.

In the meantime virtual worlds offer New Zeland and New Zealanders a rare and real opportunity to become a real part of the world out there participating with world citizens in world events rather than being cut off by wide oceans, time zones and the tyranny of distance.

The world as we know it …

bainbridgews“My general perspective is that virtual worlds are at least as real as many parts of the so-called real world,” William Sims Bainbridge, program director in human-centered computing at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), told Pam Baker of LinuxInsider last month.

“Is religion ‘real’?” he asked. “Is music ‘real?’ Is the stock market ‘real?’ These institutions are real only because many people take them seriously. They are socially and culturally constructed, rather than being innately real.”

Baker’s pieces on virtual worlds as we know them and  their benefits make interesting reading and present some insights that may not have been apparent before.

You can read them at: (http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-1-A-Place-to-Experiment-65656.html and
http://www.linuxinsider.com/story/Virtual-World-Research-Part-2-Reality-in-a-Can-65673.html )

The US Army lands …

usarmy1

Yes the US Army is about to land in Second Life. Although it  has scores of bases scattered across the world it  will soon be occupying virtual territory in a bid to win recruits.
“Over the next 30 to 45 days you might, if you’re one of them Second Life avatar dudes, that likes to go populate islands within Second Life, you will find an Army island in Second Life,” Gen. William S. Wallace, the commander of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), said during a presentation at the 26th Army Science Conference, according to Nick Turse at http://blog.wired.com/defense/2008/12/the-armys-new-f.html

The US Army Second Life effort will comprise two virtual islands, one a “welcome center” with an information kiosk and the means to contact a recruiter and the other offering “virtual experiences like jumping out of airplanes, and rappelling off of towers and using a weapon, to see if we can get some kind of recruiting benefit out of this social networking.”

It seems to me that the US Army move gives new meaning to the recent demonstrations in Second Life against the “war” between Israel and Gaza. Even so Al Quaeda  has reportedly been using virtual worlds as training grounds for sometime and perhaps the US Army is just catching up with the game although one might have thought World of Warcraft would have been a better place to seek potential recruits.


The SLENZ Update – No 25, November 15, 2008

SLENZ NAMES ‘PILOT PROJECTS’

The SLENZ project steering group has chosen  educational institutions at opposite ends of  New Zealand as the successful applicants for the first two innovative pilot education projects in Second Life.

The two projects, named to participate in the SLENZ project are the Manukau Institute of Technology, with a foundation learning proposal , and Otago Polytechnic with a midwifery proposal. nealterry11

Both proposals include a number of partner institutions who will join in the pilots.

The participants will work with the SLENZ project team  subject to agreeing roles, responsibilities and expectations, according to the SLENZ project joint leader, Terry Neal (pictured).

Neal is currently talking to all the institutions who have signaled their  participation and will give more details as the institutions confirm their roles.

The two insitutions were selected from a shortlist of three from the initial six formal proposals from across New Zealand.

“We initially shortlisted the three because we considered they covered the breadth of student types and desired learning outcomes to help us determine the answers to a broad range of questions,” Neal said. “We were disappointed budgetary constraints prevented us from selecting more because all the proposals were interesting.”

The proposals from which the initial selection was made included: language learning, including Te Reo; medical training; foundation learning; information technology and retail training.
Initially more than 40 individual educators from tertiary institutions across the country expressed interest in becoming part of the SLENZ project.

All five types of New Zealand tertiary institution were represented in the numbers – universities, institutes of technology and polytechnics, wānanga, industry training organisations and private training enterprises.
The project, which has been set up on the Second Life islands of Koru and Kowhai, owned by NMIT, aims to determine how multi-user virtual environments might be used to improve student learning.

‘Playability’ crucial

‘Playability’  was described as a crucial factor in video games at the second European Conference on Games-Based Learning in Barcelona, Spain,in October, according to Nicola Whitton (pictured), a Research Fellow at the Education andwhittonnicola Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, who has presented an interesting two-part blog on the conference. http://playthinklearn.net/

Her take on the conference is particularly valid for educators involved in virtual worlds, given her interest in the potential of using online games for learning, teaching and assessment – particularly in Higher Education but also in the context of adult learning. She recently completed a PhD in the potential of collaborative computer games for learning in Higher Education at Napier University in Edinburgh.
She noted that JL Sánchez described six facets of ‘global playability’:

  • intrinsic playability – the mechanics of design intrinsic to video games (e.g. goals, rules, game mechanics).
  • mechanical playability – the quality of the game as a software system (e.g. sound, graphics, rendering).
  • interactive playability – the methods of player interaction and interface design (e.g. dialogue and game controls).
  • artistic playability – the aesthetics of the artistic elements of the game (e.g. visuals, music, storyline).
  • personal playability – the vision, perceptions and feelings of the person playing the game.
  • social playability – the perceptions of the player group when the player plays with others.

Each of these facets, Sanchez and colleagues argued in their paper, had seven attributes (satisfaction, learning, efficiency, immersion, motivation, emotion and socialisation) and this can be used as a design framework for ensuring playability in educational games.

Another presenter, NP Zea gave guidelines for the development of collaborative games. They  should foster, Whitton reported:

  • positive interdependence – group members must share the same goals, group lifespan, evaluation and score.
  • personal accountability – individual contributions can be identified (but the game should seamlessly support students who may be struggling).
  • face-to-face interaction – game elements (such as reaching consensus) that encourage face-to-face meeting.
  • social skills – activities that support the development of team skills such as leadership, negotiation, and debate.
  • group processing – meta-cognitive group skills and evaluative skills.

In her blog Whitton gives perceptive highlights of a number of other excellent papers from this conference which she termed “one of the best conferences of the year with lots of relevant and high-quality papers.”

The Hayes diagram

A simple although complex-looking social media marketing campaign diagram which focuses on a few simple phases and steps has been developed by Australian, Gary Hayes(pictured) (SL; Gary Hazlitt) one of the Australasia’s leading virtual world builders, designers and bloggers on marketing and the new media. http://www.personalizemedia.com/the-future-of-social-media-entertainment-slides/
Although his views on the future of social media entertainment are apt to be dismissed by some of the more academic educators operating in and theorising about education in virtual worlds they do provide an easy-to-understand key to “getting under the skin of the new forms” of social connection being developed by the audience/consumers.

As head of MUVE Development at the Project Factory and also the Director of Laboratory for Advanced Media Production run through the Australian Film ,TV and Radio School, he managed and built the Australian Broadcasting Commission and Telstra’s Big Pond presence in SL. He has always had positions at the “bleeding edge” of new service delivery including being in Senior Development and as Producer at BBC New Media for eight years and as an Interactive Producer in Los Angeles in 2004.hayesgary

Although not all the Hayes concepts, developed with Laurel Papworth, are as relevant to virtual world education as they are to 21st Century viral and regular marketers  they do provide a roadmap of what virtual educators should be thinking about in shooting for success in virtual environments (diagram on Hayes’ website – see above).

  • INVOLVE – live the social web, understand it, this cannot be faked.
  • CREATE – make relevant content for communities of interest.
  • DISCUSS – no conversation around it, then the content may as well not exist.
  • PROMOTE – actively, respectfully, promote the content into the networks.
  • MEASURE – monitor, iteratively develop and respond or be damned!

The crash!

user-hours-per-quarter

With the recent release of the latest Second Life metrics and the world global economic meltdown which is currently taking place, questions are being asked about whether high-technology internet pursuits such as Second Life or other virtual worlds can survive the severe downsizing which will occur in all developed economies and the fact that consumers are likely to put their wallets away for the duration.

My feeling is that they will survive – and handsomely. In most developed countries, once the initial costs of equipment and broadband are overcome,  virtual worlds offer  a much less expensive form of entertainment than almost any form of real life entertainment except perhaps lolling in the sun  on the grass in your own backyard. There is no cost for fuel to get away to the beach or the mountains, no necessity for special clothing, no necessity to buy drinks or food, beyond that which one has in the cupboard, and no need to face up to expensive peer pressure with cars, boats, planes, travel, resorts or clothing – keeping up with the Jones’.

That said the metrics for Second Life and other virtual worlds are going to make interesting reading over the next few months.

Despite the world economy turning pearshaped the Linden Lab economic metrics for Second Life’s third quarter show significant growth in land, user hours and the inworld economy. (http://blog.secondlife.com/2008/11/12/q3-closed-on-a-high-note-with-an-unusually-strong-september/)

Users spent 10 percent more per hour than the year-to-date average although inworld transactions in October declined to levels more consistent with the year-to-date averages.

Linden said that the October results indicated that it should expect land growth to slow in Q4 as residents reconfigured their land holdings to accommodate the change in pricing and the addition of the “Homestead” island type.

It remains to be seen, however, just how great the exodus to other virtual worlds will be as a result of the new pricing arrangments.

The SLENZ Update – No 21, November 02, 2008

How ‘real’ are VWs?

A research team, led by North Carolina State University’s Zelnak Professor of Marketing and Innovation, Dr Mitzi M. Montoya, has developed a new way of measuring how “real” online virtual worlds are – an important advance for the emerging technology that can be used to foster development of new training and collaboration applications by companies around the world. ( http://news.ncsu.edu/news/2008/10/wmsmontoyavirtual.php)

The research was focussed on developing the measurement tool specifically for business applications in the virtual world because the productivity and effectiveness of workers interacting via online environments is closely linked to how well the workers are able to feel as if they are actually in the virtual realm.

“This is an important issue,” Montoya said, “because we believe that if users feel they are ‘present’ in the virtual world, they will collaborate better with other members of their team – and the more effective the virtual world will be as a setting for research and development or other collaborative enterprises.”

Additionally, Montoya said “an increased sense of presence in the virtual world leads to better comprehension and retention of information if the technology is being used for training purposes, and trainees are happier with the process.”

The measurement scale, called Perceived Virtual Presence (PVP), factors in how users interact with the virtual environment, with their work in that environment, and with other users.

“Now that we have developed the PVP scale,” Montoya said, “it can be used to determine which PVP levels are most conducive to training, collaboration or other applications.” Effectively, the PVP scale can be used to design a virtual environment that has the degree of reality that will best cater to a company’s specific needs.

Montoya developed the PVP metric with Dr Anne P. Massey, Dean’s Research Professor of Information Systems at Indiana University.

Distance Education Event

November 10-14, 2008 – The US Distance Learning Association is sponsoring National Distance Learning Week (NDLW)  to promote and celebrate the growth and accomplishments occurring today in distance learning programs offered by schools, businesses, and governmental departments (USDLA). In support of this initiative, and highlighting the global reach of virtual environments, several organisations are collaborating to present and celebrate the tremendous potential of the virtual world of Second Life for distance learning. November 10 (Free in SL -12:30 am SLT and run through 8:00 am SLT): a full-day conference will include presentations from within Second Life and in real life at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne (audio capability and the latest version of Quick Time required) . http://slurl.com/secondlife/Selmo%20Park/67/174/26

The first presentation will be at 12:30 am SLT from students of the L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris presenting “Eden of the Lost Animal.”

Other featured speakers include Bryan Carter, University of Central Missouri; Ed Lamoureaux, Bradley University; Jeremy Kemp, San Jose State University; Claudia Linden from Linden Labs; AJ Kelton from Montclair State University; Tim Linder, Meramec Art Department; and Beth Ritter-Gluth, Literature Alive.

Collaborating organisations include: University of Central Missouri, the Alliance Virtual Library in Second Life,  the Bibliotheque Francophone, and the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs de Paris. Info: Bryan Carter at: bc&@mac.com

Healthcare training

Margaret Hansen (SL: Maggie Waechter), of the San Francisco School of Nursing, has provided a lot of the answers on what virtual training in healthcare in worlds like Second Life can achieve and at the same time pointed to the directions virtual healthcare training should take. (http://www.jmir.org/2008/3/e26)

Entitled “Versatile, Immersive, Creative and Dynamic Virtual 3-D Healthcare Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature.” the Hansen overview comes to the conclusion that Virtual worlds  “may change the way people learn and live in the future”.

“The major strengths associated with virtual worlds are one’s ability to design and construct unique environments and then share them with others in a collaborative fashion,” she said in her report. “Educators may write specific learning goals for students to complete while learners actively build and interact in environments that promote creativity and social networking.”

Other advantages include  “virtual training approaches that yield results and are invaluable for healthcare professionals, and improvement in students’ access to places otherwise difficult to reach and heightened student engagement because the real-time social interaction and gaming aspect spurs chances for “discovery-based and goal-oriented learning”.

She, however, does not shirk from the challenges faced by healthcare education in 3D worlds, detailing what criticism there is.

She concludes in part: “Virtual 3-D learning environments may encourage active learning while students create and explore activities similar to those of a “field trip”, versus the experience of a static classroom setting. This reaching out and meeting new avatars and practicing communication skills in an aesthetic environment may help maintain today’s students’ interest in learning and provide valuable experiences that may enhance student engagement, promote participation, and motivate self-directed learning.”

Picture below: Maggie Waechter (the avatar of the author) visiting the Sexual Health sim in SL.

OpenSpace Land revolt

An avatar/resident revolt over Linden Lab’s signal of  a 67 percent  hike in the purchase price and maintenance fee of “OpenSpace” SL sim land has led to headlines,  avatar self-‘immolation, forum and blog protests and the threatened exodus of  hundreds of avatars for other virtual worlds.

The proposed price rises have also  worried educators who have used “cheap” “OpenSpace” sims to make their regions more attractive as well as ordinary residents who have used the “void” spaces for a multitude of purposes other than just decoration.

The most balanced coverage of the events so far has probably been provided by noted Second Life journalist Wagner James Au (pictured). http://gigaom.com/author/wjamesau/
He notes, however, that there have been protests like this throughout the world’s five-year history, but without a competing virtual world offering all the unique features of Second Life, angry customers have largely stayed put, despite their grumblings.

“Now, however, there is an increasingly viable alternative: OpenSim, an open-source platform for developing virtual worlds, that was, ironically, made possible after Linden Lab released its viewer code,” he said. “Though still in beta mode, OpenSim has attracted developers with IBM, Microsoft, and numerous startups, so it’s bound to rapidly improve.”

Given the fact that registrations for one OpenSim jumped dramatically in the days after the Linden announcement it might be wise this time for the Lindens to take notice before more residents start voting with their tiny avatar feet.

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