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 20, October 30, 2008

From the top of my head!


It might be simplistic but it appears to me that Virtual Worlds, although attracting a claimed 160 million users around the world, need someone to recreate something like the virtual world equivalent of Tim Berners-Lee (Pictured -From Wikipedia) and Robert Cailliau’s 1990 WorldWideWeb browser for multi-user virtual environments to really take off.

I have an eerie sense of déjà vu when I look at Virtual Worlds today  and I think of the time when full text-database retrieval systems were taking off in the early 1980s and the dead-end pre-Web application, Videotex, was being promoted in competition with them.

There is no doubt that Videotex, developed to download data within the blanking interval on a television screen, but later used for online share trading and news services among other things, was easy to use with a box and a TV set but no one really had any idea how to make comprehensive text pages attractive and easy-to-use by everyman and woman, until the WorldWideWeb came along.

This was despite the fact that scads were spent around the world on travel, conferences, promotions and fact-finding for both online text retrieval and Videotex and other  retrieval systems.

The WorldWideWeb gave the world the information revolution it needed. It had a graphical user interface (GUI) but it could not display web pages with embedded graphics until the creation of NCSA Mosaic 2.0  by Marc Andreessen and Jamie Zawinski. NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows, the Macintosh, and the Unix X Window System, enabled the average person to use the web.

I believe that MUVEs are currently in the same space that the Web was before Berners-Lee created his prototype. Today there is a need for an “universal VW browser and teleportation pad” to make sense of all the worlds and to link them all – or the majority of them – transparently, as Berners-Lee linked the pages on the web.

In education MUVEs could provide an enlightening learning environment for distance students but in countries like New Zealand this is problematic  because of  the lack of a generic  VW “browser”, bandwidth problems, inconsistent broadband line speeds that are often  little more than dial-up speeds  and spurious line speed claims and promotions by the two major ISPs -TelstraClear and Telecom – who have failed to keep up with the rest of the developed world although charging like wounded bulls for bandwidth usage (I believe because of their tardiness similar problems will face those who want to endulge in “cloud” computing in the New Zealand environment).

New Zealand’s ability to move into the 21st Century of Virtual Worlds  will probably be compromised until either the Kiwi telecommunications providers lift their game – or the Government takes over their game from them – and/or  a major part of any Virtual World content is able to  be held on the user’s desktop as it currently is on some of the more popular MMORPGs, which already provide  a better experience than most online virtual worlds.

Another solution could be provided by  the advent of Kiwi or other OpenSims and  the development of the ability to teleport with assets between virtual worlds,  the possibility of which has been demonstrated by Zha Ewry of IBM and Second Life

If trans world teleportation can be mastered one could  enter virtual world’s like Second Life or Twinity or Entropia to socialise with the world and  then via an inworld teleport point move backwards and forwards between your own inexpensive OpenSim “home” and the VW: it would be a “home” where you could do the same things one does in commercial virtual worlds and it would be home where you could invite guests at little cost.

SL not only English

Peak concurrent users of SL

Residents from non-English speaking nations make up almost 40 percent  of Second Life’s users, according to the latest metrics made available  by Linden Labs (http://secondlife.com/whatis/economy_stats.php).

The United States with almost 14 million residents or 40.13 percent, however, still makes up the bulk of residents, with Germany in second place a long way behind with 3.5 million users or 9.99 percent.

The United Kingdom has 2.3 million holds thrid place with 6.82 percent ahead of Japan, 6.1 percent, and France, 4.9 percent. Brazil, Canada, Netherlands and Italy each have well over a million users.

Australia is still in 11th place with 694,580 users or 2.01 percent.

Interestingly males have moved to the forefront of user hours, accounting for almost 60 percent of the time spent in SL.
On the age front the over 35s account for 48 percent of the usage hours and the 24-35 age group for almost 35 percent.

Total hours in SL

SL in our backyard?

Although it might not help Kiwi’s frame rates, access speeds or lag problems given  the paucity of our overseas internet pipes to Asia it appears we are about to get two Virtual World server farms almost in our backyard.

Second Life’s  Linden Lab has announced plans to locate servers in Singapore within the next six months in what might be seen as a ploy to upstage that other virtual world, the new Berlin-based  Twinity Beta,  which has also announced plans for a server farm in Singapore (http://www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/Story/STIStory_294972.html

Meanwhile Metaversum‘s Twinity Beta, which entered public beta a little more than one month ago appears to be moving ahead  and now already is claiming 50,000 real users.(http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/10/quick-stat-over-50000-users-in-twinity-beta.html)

With a virtual Berlin, Twinity already plans to launch a virtual London and Singapore later this year. Metaversum is also working with the government of Singapore on a mirror world project, Co-Space.

NASA selects three

The US space agency NASA has selected three teams to present proposals for its learning virtual world.

The teams being considered are MindArk, presenting Entropia Universe; Saber Astronautics, Nocturnal Entertainment, and Big World; and Project Whitecard and Virtual Heroes, according to Virtual World News (http://www.virtualworldsnews.com/2008/10/nasa-selects-3-proposal-for-learning-virtual-world.html).

The teams are scheduled to give live presentations at the Goddard Space Flight Center on November 7.

The groups were selected from more than 100 which attended a workshop held in April to discuss needs and opportunities for the virtual world.

The project aims to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in colleges and high schools. Citing the longevity and adaptability  in addition to the ability to form communities as advantages for an MMO over a simpler educational game, NASA has said the selected team will fund the project internally, working on a licensing model from NASA, which will supply personnel and expertise.

VWN quoted MindArk director of special projects, Christian Björkman,  as saying “This opportunity to build the NASA MMO is very much in line with our strategy to enhance the learning aspects of the Entropia Universe Platform. It is a perfect way for us to work in collaboration with top academics and scholars to create a stimulating, challenging and educational experience.