NZ Virtual World Grid hosts
NZVWG Auckland portal now accepting
‘resident’ avatar applications …
The University of Auckland portal of the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG) has successfully hosted its first international seminar, attracting a number of leading MUVE educators and researchers from around the world.
The meeting coincided with the announcement by Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), the virtual meeting host, that the University of Auckland portal of the grid, although still in a trial phase, was now open for virtual-world users to apply for ‘free’ registration from the Auckland portal.
It also coincided with a ‘demonstration’ of just how easy it is to teleport an avatar from the University of Auckland portal MUVE on the NZVWG ‘Hypergrid’ to the MUVE of the University of Otago and return with inventory intact and retention of all abilities.
The NZVW Grid based on OpenSim software has grown out of the original ONGENS grid, developed by the University of Otago in concert with the University of Canterbury, and the University of Auckland. Weltec has also developed a portal for the grid and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology has associate status.
Welcoming the 20 plus guests from Educause’s Virtual World Roundtable to the meeting in the Great Hall of “Kapua Castle” on the island of Kapua 3 in the New Zealand Virtual World Dr Diener said, “This is a really exciting development for us.
“We are stand-alone…we run our own asset server (database) with the University of Otago and Canterbury University having similar setups, which have been linked together.”
Members of the Virtual Worlds Roundtable, who have previously visited a number of other Virtual Worlds as a group for their meetings to assess and monitor MUVE development around the world praised the apparent stability of the University of Auckland portal MUVE, the ease of entry, the fact that it was open source and free, and the use of the Hypergrid, which opens up possibilities for easy, transparent connections to tertiary institution MUVEs around the real world.
“We have found the Hypergrid does work, albeit with problems, “Dr Diener said, explaining that the goal of NZVWG was first to experiment and eventually to link to other grids.
Detailing the setup of the MUVE, he said, the Auckland University portal is running on two virtual servers (VMware), and has a total capital investment of some $NZ10,000 ($US7000). This compared to an investment of say $US55,000 for signing up for SL Enterprise (previously Nebraska), the Linden Labs’ “behind the firewall” solution for standalone virtual worlds.
The Auckland MUVE is running on two dedicated, virtual machines with one server running a database and six sims. CPU usage has never got above five percent. Freeswitch voice is available on the MUVE but not yet completely activated.
“We can duplicate them (the virtual machines) in about 30 minutes – to scale if necessary,” he said in answer to a question, adding that OAR content was backed up automatically.
A University of Auckland staff member is assigned one day a week to the MUVE , he said, with most of the work involved with things like getting voice working, and getting the Hypergrid fully functional.
He said the portal had been created out of his own budget as associate director of IT Services at the University of Auckland.
The portal, Dr Diener said, “is focused mostly on proving the concept of Hypergrid.”
“This is how our Writing Center began,” Iggy Strangeland, of the University of Richmond, observed. “I bought a server out of budget, and then eventually got it supported by our data center. Now they maintain it and I just design content.
“We proved the concept. If it works for 2D Web, it can work for Virtual Worlds,” Strangeland said.
The major current problem with using the NZVWG MUVE for education purposes was the fact that there were as yet few resources “in world” … “all scripts have to be brought in,” Dr Diener said.
Given success for the NZVWG, however, Dr Diener said, he would be excited to work on connecting the that portal with any other university grid in the world.
Commenting on this, Lindy McKeown, of the University of Southern Queensland, said education.au in Australia was trying to set up a Hypergrid for all Australian universities to join.
Dr Diener, who is also a Lecturer at the University of Auckland, is well-known in Second Life and virtual world education circles around the globe for his and his associates’ creation of successful medicine/nursing/architecture simulations on the three University of Auckland Second Life islands in Second Life, the first of which was “Long White Cloud”.
Dr Diener mentioned that the “very active” New Zealand virtual world group VLENZ was represented at the meeting by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology and Second Life Education New Zealand Project founder and joint leader, Dr Clare Atkins (SL and NZVWG: Arwenna Stardust). Dr Atkins, on behalf of SLENZ and NMIT, operates two islands in Second Life, Koru and Kowhai.
“I think it WILL be a viable alternative (to Second Life) soon,” Dr Atkins said.
Other speakers agreed with Dr Atkins’ view that NZVWG and OpenSim were a good replacement for Second Life: “for me (as an educator) one of the huge benefits to OpenSim is that we can use it with under 18s,” she said.
Visitor Margaret Czart, of the University of Illinois, said that all of the virtual worlds the Virtual Worlds Roundtable group had visited over time had provided good alternatives to Second Life but, “it is not so much the place but how you run it.”
Dr Atkins’ and Czart’s comments about possible replacements for Second Life followed a remark that the Linden Labs’ position of Second Life education guru Pathfinder Linden had been disestablished and that the Lindens appeared to be showing less interest in education.
Lindy McKeown foresaw the development of a “Hypergridded federation universe of locally-hosted worlds with some access by others but some private spaces” as appearing to be “a great education alternative for many reasons.”
But, she added, that for these alternative worlds to be successful “we need an SLexchange type (virtual worlds sales) system for other grids since Linden Labs had bought out virtual world goods sales competitors.
Iggy Strangeland replied that http://imnotgoingsideways.blogspot.com/2009/11/alternatives-to-xstreetsl.html was a good source for other sales portals. Lindy McKeown added that one also could buy OAR files full of content one the net and there were lots of free ones too.
James Abraham (SL: Calisto Encinal and http://calistoencinal.spaces.live.com/) said he was writing a grant to “roll out a 10 college zero-cost OpenSim virtual world program for the Maricopa Community College District [James Abraham’s Mi Casa Es Su Casa won a prize for full sim builds at the recent SLPro! Conference sponsored by Linden Labs for Second Life content creators.]
On this point AJ Kelton, director of Emerging Instructional Technology at Montclair State University, founder and current leader of the EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds Constituent Group and Roundtable moderator, agreed with Mirt Tenk who suggested that it would be good for tertiary education providers to share the “stuff WE have built in Second Life as open source for OpenSim users. Others agreed with this view, including Dr Atkins who noted that all SLENZ Project builds were free and open source.
Asked how close he thought tertiary educators were to replacing Second Life with other virtual worlds, Dr Diener said, “ I don’t think we ARE close … and in fact, I don’t think that is even the question…I think we need to ask how we can augment our Second Life resources with Virtual World like this.”
There was also a question, raised by Liz Dorland, of Washington University, in St Louis, and others, of the importance of virtual world students and educators being able to connect with the rest of the world community as they could in Second Life.
Dr Atkins said that she thought the “richness of Second Life and its diversity” would be hard to grow in an OpenSim environment although other speakers noted interoperability between all MUVEs, including Second Life, to get the best of all virtual worlds, was a possibility.
Filed under: Distance education, Education, Education in Second Life, Education in virtual worlds, NZVWG, Second Life, Virtual Worlds | Tagged: AJ Kelton, Clare Atkins, Education in virtual worlds, Educause, hypergrid, Iggy Strangeland, James Abraham, Koru, Kowhai, Lindy McKeown, Liz Dorland, Margaret Czart, Maricopa Community College District, Mirt Tenk, Montclair State University, NMIT, NZVWG, OpenSim, Pathfinder Linden, Scott Diener, Second Life, slenz, SLPro!, Univeristy of Richmond, University of Auckland, University of Canterbury, University of Otago, University of Southern Queensland, Universiyt if Illinois, Virtual Worlds Roundtable, VLENZ, Washington University, Weltec, www.education.au | 2 Comments »