The SLENZ Update – No 45, February 10, 2009

SLENZ pilot progress

An outsider’s view …

The creation and melding together of the design and development phases of the SLENZ pilot programmes has proven a slightly more difficult process for the SLENZ team than initially envisaged.

“We are making progress, albeit slower than I anticipated or would have liked,” joint project leader Terry Neal (pictured right)  said recently. “The focus over the last couple of weeks has been agreeing the processes, terminology and templates that will enable us to work together effectively for the design and development phase of our project.

“Once we have finalised these, we then need to use them,” she said.

photo-terry-1From the outside – and part of my brief is to view the project from the outside – one of the difficulties facing the team producing the three pilots – in  midwifery, foundation learning and Second Life Orientation – has been  the confusing number of platforms (Second Life, IMs, blogs, emails, googledocs, wikis)  being used by team members to disseminate their ideas to each other.

Although the pilots are still at an early stage it appears, at times, that team members are not talking “in the same virtual room”  although this is probably through no fault of their own, and is possibly a feature of every virtual  world “team” effort as opposed to VW individual efforts.  The problem is, however, that the oft-quoted proposition that in virtual worlds the learner is more important than the teacher/researcher/creator might be forgotten, with ever-widening, more ambitious ideas being put forward  and the possibility  that the goals of the pilots might be buried by words.

This is not to say that the ideas are not excellent,  but at times, in my view, grandstanding, reinventing wheels (a New Zealand habit), and widening the scope of a pilot, rather than containing it, can reduce the effectiveness of  a project and lead to the initial aims and goals being, if not  forgotten, glossed over.

The problem appears to be compounded by the fact that SLENZ is a temporary team with the members physically removed from each other who, once the project is over, will go on to do their own things: the academic life blood after all might be said to be publishing papers and individual recognition.

Significant milestones

Basically, I believe, as team members, we need to recognise that each of us will get something more valuable out of the collaborative team effort, rather than from our individual contributions, if we get onto the same page  and work in the same virtual room with the same language, even if on different campuses and with different world views. We will also lessen the workload.

As Neal said in her most recent project update, and this probably applies to all virtual world collaborative education projects, “We need to effectively refine and merge … and agree our terminology because (we) are using quite different terms for the same things.”

Despite the difficulties the team has already  achieved some significant milestones with its initial reports and discussion documents – the SL Literature Review,  written by Dr Ben Salt (research and evaluation), Dr Clare Atkins (joint project leader, pictured lower right), ) and Leigh Blackall (learning designer),  is being picked up by  a noted peer-reviewed virtual world journal – and obviously will achieve other major milestones in the future.

Despite my criticism of the proliferation of communication channels the documents I am alluding to are worth reading, and contain good ideas for anyone working in education or doing research on the creation of learning opportunities in  MUVEs.  With the team currently concentrating  on the midwifery project Blackall has posted his thoughts on the overall process at http://learnonline.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/producing-educational-resources-through-second-life/ and at (http://learnonline.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/slenz-midwifery-ideas-for-stage-1-virtual-birthing-unit/ );  Atkins has used googledocs – although some are not publicly available at the  time of going to press –  to share  “SLENZ User story Stage 1” ( http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcr62szf_4gnvmm3mg&invite=c7c87wm), drafted guidelines (http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dj2k8bp_19dk3m4vfx&invite and a template) and a technical specifications document (http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dj2k8bp_20cnsg5hc2&hl=en); and Sarah Stewart (lead educator) has put the midwifery pilot into context by detailing what she and her colleagues know of their students, such as learning preferences, motivation and access to technology, and clarifying what the learning objectives will be for each stage (http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/02/thinking-about-stage-1-of-second-life.html) and (http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/02/context-of-midwifery-education-and.html)

Unenviable task

There  already has been agreement between Atkins and Todd Cochrane (developer) on such things as a template, naming conventions and version control, both within and outside Second Life.slenz-workshop-0051

Despite the “foundation learning” pilot appearing to be on hold while the midwifery pilot has taken precedence, Merle Lemon (lead educator) has been busy talking to the other academic collaborators to enable her to feed their needs into the pilot as well as determining how to make intra-team communication more effective.

The next major step, according to Neal,  and one might say unenviable task,  is for Atkins to translate the thinking of various members of the team on the birthing unit  into the technical specifications/production plan for further development of the guidelines for the birthing unit and templates.

Salt has done an initial draft of the evaluation process and is currently  completing it in more detail.

Finally, according to Neal, the team needs be ready to seek ethics approval in March.

Neal concluded,  “While our process and template decision-making is taking longer than I had anticipated or hoped, it is worth taking the time to get this right and will set us on a stronger course for the next 11 months.”

-written by Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh

ESSENTIAL READING!

Are avatars really useful?

adzel-dragon_009

This is essential reading and I really mean essential. Even if you don’t read another thing on your computer  this week there are two articles/blogs that as an educator you must read.

I referred to one  in my previous blog (SLENZ Update, No 44)  by Caleb Booker ( ROI in Virtual Worlds 1 – Why Webcams Fail (http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/)

The second is his followup, ROI in Virtual Worlds – Anatomy of an Avatar (http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/02/03/roi-in-virtual-worlds-anatomy-of-an-avatar/)

His thoughts, which he is the first to admit are “off the cuff”, make sense to me on a variety of levels. They are easy to understand and they mirror my own virtual world reality.  That said, they also provoke considerable thought, and I would think will provoke lots of valuable discussion if not changes in attitude.

ROI in Virtual Worlds – Anatomy of an Avatar, is  the second of a series dedicated to answering why virtual worlds are a good alternative to existing technologies;  and how one can  best get a Return On Investment (ROI) from virtual world ventures.

Booker  argues initially that avatars yield returns on several levels: 1. They allow people to “see themselves” taking part in the experience; 2. Your perception of who is participating is greatly enhanced; 3. Open and honest communication between employees is greatly facilitated; 4. You always have an ice-breaker; and 5. You’re always ready for work.

Later in a reply to a comment from  Nic Mitham, of Kzero, he simplifies this in a business environment  to: 1) Real user engagement; 2) Increased customer contact;3) Improved employee relations; 4) Easier initiation of sales contacts; 5) Happier, more productive employees.

And I’m also indebted to Booker for the following  link from Collegehumor.com  which compares avatar creation on the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 consoles.

He comments, “their observations are brief and superficial but what I like about it is that this is very much the knee-jerk reaction from outside the industry echo-chamber -you know, the place where customers come from!”

Ten facets in 70 VWs

intellagirltully1Sarah Robbins (SL: Intellagirl Tully) (pictured at right), as part of her dissertation research, has noted 10 specific facets  that occur in the  70 virtual worlds that  she has studied over the past 18 months. She has published  her useful  chart of them here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pgKqGR6eOiPOKjMG9f856Sw For more info about the facets: http://ubernoggin.com/archives/383

Robbins (www.ubernoggin.com and http://www.intellagirl.com) is a PhD candidate, Ball State University and director of Emerging Technologies, Kelley Executive Partners, at Indiana University.

The top 11 according to…

Promoting his new ebook , Virtual Worlds for Business Nick Wilson ( pictured) of CleverZebra.com has released an interesting teaser identifying what he considers the top 11 virtual worlds technologies for meetings, training and wilsonnick2collaborative work which he believes will change the way we work. http://cleverzebra.com/virtual-worlds

There are some “old” standbys on the list and some interesting and unusual new choices: his reasons for his choices are thought provoking.

His list includes:   ActiveWorlds, OLIVE, Protosphere, Quaq Forums, Second Life, web.alive, Multiverse, OpenSim, Project Wonderland, 3DXplorer, Vastpark.

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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.