The SLENZ Update – No 82, May 15, 2009

The reality of unreality

When an avatar changes his/her appearance

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Tere Tinkel aka RL, Terry Neal

Immersed in Second Life one thing you notice, as in the real world, is when another resident changes his or her appearance – especially if they  are close to you, as in a work or social relationship.

I don’t mean just a little tweak mind you – but a real change.  These changes, often made once one gets comfortable with the technology, often mirror the reality and dreams of the personality  behind the avatar and sometimes the real appearance, if one is really confident.

But one, I would say particularly a student,  can determine the level of confidence – and competence –  behind an avatar just from one’s appearance no matter how fantasy the figure is.

This is why I believe it is important for educators to have an avatar that  builds respect, in an educational environment in virtual worlds such as Second Life, or at least an avatar which gives the appearance of being intelligent and friendly, not matter what the advocates of “stick men” and box figures argue.

Sometimes that avatar might mirror your real life physical appearance, at other times the reality  that you perceive inside yourself.  An avatar  based on Freddie Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street or Chuckie  might  be fun and create some fear but  loses out on credibility, unless of course one is a man or woman who carries a hatchet and wants the virtual world – and one’s students to know that, even if only subliminally.

This was brought to mind recently at a SLENZ working meeting on Koru  when SLENZ project co-leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel), returned from a real life trip to India into  world as a n ordinary girl next door, rather that the blue-haired houri she has been for all the time I’ve know her in-world.

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Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) when he is in working garb
rather than being a dragon.

It also was brought to mind when I first saw the human-like lecture room presence of SLENZ developer and Weltec lecturer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker ) rather than  his more normal presence as Puff the magic dragon, or some dragon  of that ilk, who has been pictured in this blog a number of times.

This normalisation of appearance must be catching because Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer and Foundation pilot lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa – right middle) arrived  at the in-world meeting in conservative garb rather than her normal more flamboyant, and one might say more limited attire,  while Otago Polytech Midwifery pilot lead educator, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) also has changed her appearance, somewhat in the run up to the launch of that pilot.

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Merle Lemon in the form of the “conservative” SL educator Briarmelle Quintessa.
Arwenna Stardust (Clare Atkins) is in the background.

There are some who never change, however, and strangely to me in real life I have begun to recognise their avatars as being really who they are. They include joint project leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) who, for me, has almost become the  light-bathed, elfin princess with golden tresses in real life, and  lead developer, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) ,  who I see in my mind’s eye as being Isa the “good man” rather than Aaron when I speak with him in real life.

Petal Stransky

Sarah Stewart as  SL’s Petal Stransky.

And,  of course, there is SLENZ learning developer Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Goalpost) who sometimes term’s himself the group contrarian, and is little changed  from his early days with SLENZ and I don’t think ever will.

For me it’s all a matter of perception  – and  immersion –  and I suppose my own superficiality when it comes to appearance both in  Second Life and real life. I am a great fan of  WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

The problem is we do all make subjective judgements  – no matter who we are – based on appearance, especially in learning environments in all worlds.  Our judgment depends   on who we are., and where we’ve come from. After all in both worlds beauty  (and one might say the appearance of brains) are solely in the eye of the beholder.

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The never-changing persona of Leroy Goalpost – in real life, Leigh Blackall.

Progress on Kowhai

Meanwhile, according to joint project leader, Terry Neal, on the SLENZ sim, Kowhai,  good progress has been made on on the SLENZ pilot, Foundation Stage 1,  with Griffith completing   an easily rezzable/de-rezzable  interview room, a catwalk, and the “outfit shop”. Lemon  is  currently making an introductory video and wells as planning the specific scenarios needed for Foundation Stage 2.

Midwifery Stage 1  is almost complete while the context and learning design has been completed for Midwifery Stage 2, with working beginning on animation poses.

With Orientation Stage 1 completed Cochrane and Atkins  were able to successfully use  a subset of the lesson plan developed by Cochrane and Blackall  to orient the initial batch of educators connected with  Midwifery Stage 1.

Neal said that work on Orientation Stage 2 was  focused on creating a resource package that distance students and others  could use on their own rather than in f2f environments.

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The Foundation pilot’s catwalk, like its outfitter and various interview rooms,
can be rezzed on demand.

 

 

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The SLENZ Update – No 81, May 12, 2009

MIDWIFERY TUTORS ‘ENTHUSIASTIC’

Exciting introduction to SL with bonding  and play

Petal- group with Sarah

Trainers, Dr Clare Atkins and Todd Cochrane with Kate Spencely, Dr Deborah Davis
and Sarah Stuart. (Pictures from Sarah  Stewart)

The importance of a time for “play” when people are initiated into Second Life was reinforced for  the SLENZ Project’s joint leader, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), when  she led an orientation workshop for a group of mainly SL “newbie”  midwifery educators from Otago Polytech’s  School of Midwifery.

“I learnt again just how important it is to allow people the time and opportunity for play when they first get into Second Life,” she told a SLENZ Project meeting on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Second Life  island of Koru. “They want to play around with how they look and how they can change themselves and what they can do. I’ll never forget them all doing the chicken dance and laughing (in real life). It was very much about bonding and the creation of confidence.

“… nobody, but nobody, is  not concerned with how they  look,” she said, adding that although there had to be time for “play” the learning process had to be focused and based on a clear structure of what had to be achieved in the time frame.

Atkins, of NMIT, and SLENZ developer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker), of Weltec, conducted the training session  for the eight educators from Otago and Canterbury midwifery schools, in person, on the Otago campus and on the SLENZ island of Kowhai, in what was both a real life and Second Life “bonding and learning” workshop.

Human nature

Cochrane said, “Working with the midwifery instructors was absolutely fantastic.

“I also I learned a lot about, well, human nature.

“They were completely interested in the way their avatars looked and moved,” he said. “Getting the right clothing and the shape of their avatar’s figures right turned out to be the major activity. I had expected this to take some time but not to the extent that it did.

“I was completely stunned when one pulled out an animation that made her avatar walk , in a more than catwalk manner, and that everyone wanted their avatars to walk that way too.”

The lead educator for the midwifery pilot programme, one of three SLENZ Project pilots, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky), said she had been “very encouraged by the enthusiasm” of the educators who attended the two-day workshop.

Noting that some had been apprehensive about the move into virtual worlds, she said, “They were extremely enthusiastic, very reassured and very excited at the end.

“It was good to have it face-to-face. There were some ups and downs during the two days but everyone is now a lot clearer where we are and where we have to go in the next few months.”

Stewart, however, noted that while the majority of participants had found the “play” – trying on new clothes, doing the chicken dance etc – “valuable”, there has been some who had wanted to focus only on what needed to be done and felt they didn’t have time for those sort of things.

SLENZ learning designer Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Post), who had a major hand in setting up the training session, said proof of the success or otherwise would be in seeing  if and how the midwives came back to Second Life … “we need to observe these midwives,” he said.

From his point of view, though, the workshop  had been “very successful” and he had enjoyed “watching it from a distance … The fact that the midwives were physically together  might have lifted the spirit. It will be interesting to see if it really does translate into persistent use.”

The pilot is scheduled to put its first  real students into Second Life May 25.

Petal Midwives do the chicken dance

The chicken dance – need for a moment for play in orientation.

The SLENZ Update – No 55, March 11, 2009

SLENZ Project progress

Gearing up for RL

face-to-face …

Gearing up for a face-to-face meeting in Wellington, New Zealand,  in two weeks time ( March 23-24) the SLENZ Project team is  now moving  steadily forward with its three pilot programmes – Foundation learning, Midwifery and Orientation – according to joint project leader, Terry Neal (SL: Terre Tinkel) in her latest project update.

With co-leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust)  she expects to be able to post the agenda for  the face-to-face meeting early next week.slenz-workshop-003

Speaking about the individual pilot programmes Neal reported that Foundation learning  lead educator Merle Lemon (Pictured at right, SL: Briarmelle Quinetessa) , of  Manakau Institute of Technology, had written a context and learning design for Foundation Stage 1 (blog, best  in Firefox, describes the foundations students and the issues simply and extremely well: http://briarmelle.edublogs.org/2009/02/26/foundation-education-context/ )with work to begin on the build (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Kowhai/138/177/26 ) shortly. The Foundation pilot group plans  to hold an in-world meeting at 9am on March 17 with the aim of  understanding potential access issues for  fellow educators in the programme and  to give them an opportunity to provide feedback on the learning design and as much of the build as is completed.briarmelle-todd

Briarmelle Quintessa & Toddles Lightworker

Neal said  that work on the in-world build for Midwifery Stage 1 had been delayed by challenges in deciding which items to include in the birthing unit for Stages 1 and 2 and by finding suitable images. As a result team members Deborah Davis  and Leigh Blackall, project learning designer (SL: Leroy Post) had even visited a local hospital to take pictures.

“Then,” Neal said, “we have had challenges in where to put the images and how Aaron [Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman),  project lead developer], can access them – all part of our process development. Hopefully, these are resolved now and Aaron, Clare and Todd ( Cochrane, SL: Toddles Lightworker and project developer), can make good progress on the build in the next week.”

The midwifery team, Neal said, had organised an interview session for the video that  was being made “to engage” tutors and learners before they entered Second Life, while Sarah Stewart (Pictured lower right, SL:  Petal Stransky and midwifery pilot lead educator) and Blackall had begun developing lesson plans. At the same time Davis and Stewart had devised labels  for the various objects which would be in the birthing unit. A feedback session for the pilot’s educators  has been organised for March 2o.

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Birthing unit … decisions on wall colours/covering and furniture

Commenting on the Orientation pilot, Neal, noting that Blackall had put up a wiki with a list of agreed skills for orientation,  asked SLENZ team members again  for links to other good orientation packages. The
place to do this is the Googledoc for  orientation linked from the one stop shop SLENZ blog  as the Context Summary Document-Orientation ( https://slenz.wordpress.com/slenz-project/project-processes).sarah-op-2007

Neal said the protocols for the evaluation of the project were still being determined.

Concluding, Neal hoped the introduction of  the “one-stop shop page (for “understanding our process and accessing the various documents we are creating to communicate with one another”) in the SLENZ blog would help  team members all feel they could navigate “through our many files more easily and help us differentiate between ‘thinking out loud’ and ‘decisions’.

“I want to echo Clare’s ‘thank you for your patience’ message,” Neal said. ” We have  some minor tweaking still to do, such as linking to images effectively, but we have made a lot of progress beyond where we were
two months ago. Clare and I both believe our discussions to date have  helped us create something that will work well for the rest of our project, and beyond.

The SLENZ Update – No 47, February 23, 2009

A pattern of  NZ  islands?

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Long White Cloud

The original initiators of the  SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), joint project leader,  and Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman), lead developer,  have always dreamed of creating  an Aotearoa -New Zealand education archipelago within Second Life.

It now seems that their dream is about to come true with the movement of the University of Auckland’s land of the Long White Cloud ( http://slurl.com/secondlife/Long%20White%20Cloud/128/128/2 ) to just north of the SLENZ project sim of Kowhai, which is adjacent to the original Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/150/124/27) .

“In the early days Isa and I used to talk about how good it would be to have a New Zealand education archipelago, and now it’s beginning to happen,” Atkins said in a joint announcement with Land of the Long White Cloud’s creator Scott Diener (pictured) (SL: Professor Noarlunga) (http://scottdiener.edublogs.org/)  at a SLENZ meeting on Koru. Diener is currently the Associate Director, IT Services at the of University of Auckland, and is responsible for the Academic and Collaborative Technologies Group at the University. He also teaches in a large stage III research methods course in the Psychology department.

The scenically attractive University of Auckland (http://www.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/)  island, houses a dedicated medical centre simulation that includes a project run in conjunction with Boise University, USA.  This island is soon to be joined by another Auckland U island sim, named Kapua, which will be initially dedicated to architecture studies under the direction  of Judy Cockeram (SL: JudyArx Scribe) a senior lecturer in the university’s Faculty of Architecture and Planning. She also hopes to establish an architectural community of scholars in Second Life that stimulates Real Life architecture.

Atkins and Diener said that  it was planned to join the Koru-Kowhai sims to  the Long White Cloud sim by a “void” ocean sim.

Diener, who will be presenting at the EDUCAUSE Australasia Conference 2009 – Innovate, Collaborate & Sustain, in Perth, Western Australia,   May 3 – 6, also disclosed that his  Auckland group  is in the process of entering into a virtual world consortium with  Australia’s  Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Wollongong University and other educational institions  to  establish a high performance virtual world environment group.

He also noted that the Boise end of the  nursing student pilot study being done in conjunction with Auckland had been  receiving considerable good press in the United States over the last few months.

Meanwhile the SLENZ Project’s specialist midwifery pilot  has made further progress with the virtual completion of the Learning Design stage.  Lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) has said in her blog, Sarah’s Musings, of February 21 (http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/02/linking-objects-to-information-in.html)  that she is feeling “at last I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for the first stage of the Second Life Birth Unit project.

“My feelings of frustration are changing to optimistic excitement,” she said. “Yesterday, Leigh Blackall (SL Leroy Post), Deborah Davis and I had a meeting which has led to an agreement to the learning activities and time lines for Stage 1 of the Project.”

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Picture: Courtesy Sarah Stewart

The SLENZ Update – No 46, February 16, 2009

Making SLENZ work!

Learning by doing

slenz-workshop-057Learning by doing … Aaron Griffiths, building developer, Terry Neal, joint project leader, and Merle Lemon, lead educator (foundation leaning). Background: Sarah Stewart (lead educator midwifery).

The SLENZ project team has continued to test and modify the design and development processes, despite some on-going communication challenges which are similar to those faced by Linden Labs and Second Life (See  “Right tools for job” below)

“The most challenging part of the process is proving to be getting the midwifery educators together to feedback on these ideas before finalising them,” joint leader Terry Neal said of  one of the three pilots in comments which  could provide value for all those grappling with virtual world/on-line/real world education development issues.

Noting the context had already been written for Otago’s students by lead educator Sarah Stewart, while some ideas had been drafted about the specific activities that the students would do within the birthing unit for stage 1 of pilot, Neal noted  that although discussions could have taken place asynchronously in blogs and Googledocs “in practice the individuals wanted to meet together to discuss the issues online.”

Neal sees this as part of the SLENZ project team learning about how to work virtually across distance taking into account individuals’ preferences.

Earlier Neal had explained that she saw several competing priorities in designing the SLENZ pilot process.

“It is not easy to decide the best way to navigate through although that is what we need to do,” she said.

“We need a process that: allows ideas to develop, because we are all working out ideas as we go because we have not done this before; allows input from others because for each phase there are between two and seven people in the wider project team specifically involved, as well as the wider community who can add value too;  clearly specifies an end point of this developing thinking to pass on to the team for the next phase;  allows interaction between the different phase teams to clarify thinking and benefit from knowledge at the intersection of skill sets/phases;  allows us to capture and share our learning as we go; works over distance (and now time zones with the transfer in real life of Sarah Stewart (lead educator in midwifery pilot) to Australia ; fits as much as possible with individual preferences; fits with the team’s needs to achieve the project aims.

She said to answer these objectives the SLENZ team had decided to “think out in the wider sphere, and then bring  the design back inside the core team.

The team had done this, Neal said, to allow input from others  in the wider team  and work in with individual preferences as much as possible.

The risks  to this approach she said were: the thinking is too spread out and good ideas get lost or hidden and people get sick of following along potentially; team members and others can read something as being the final view point when it has been, or will be, superseded.

“We are still working this through but my understanding is that we will have two defining documents – Sarah Stewart’s Googledoc ‘Learning Design Midwifery Stage 1’ and the technical specifications document that joint leader Dr Clare Atkins with learning designer Leigh Blackall’s help have developed from the  learning design document.

Neal said, “I personally am comfortable with wide sharing of half-formed ideas as long as we know when they are ready to pass on.”

But, she said, the ‘definitive thinking perception’ risk had to be managed properly.

Here’s the RoadMap!

Joint SLENZ Project leader Dr Clare Atkins(SL: Arwenna Stardust – pictured) has made the “SLENZ Project Development Roadmap – Final Draft” available on http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dj2k8bp_22gdmdmpcp&arwenna_002invite=gw9jqw
She notes that there are still “things missing from it – usually because I need others expertise to suggest what is required in different stages” and has indicated  these “gaps” with red questions! Noting that she welcomed “any feedback on the document she has posted details on her blog http://arwennastardust.wordpress.com/

She notes there that “the process (of developing the SLENZ project roadmap) has been tough at times but then the task is complex and there is very little previous experience or best practice reports to draw on.”

‘Right tools for job’

Thinking about communications, I believe one of the major problems facing the collaborative creation of virtual worlds (as opposed to creation by an autocratic individual) is controlling the communication channels – and not allowing any one party to usurp control and/or to lose valuable ideas and material in the process.

The problem today is that besides two realities, virtual worlds and real worlds, there are also a myriad of communication options available to team members, some of which some participants might not be comfortable with and others they will be comfortable with. Dictators have solved this problem in the real world, but democracies have a little further to go.

The problem is what should be a collaboration can descend into anarchic time-wasting if not properly controlled and monitored with all worthwhile ideas recorded in an accessible format.

In the real world in a classroom situation small subgroups, learning to work together on research or other projects, learn that each team must have a discussion facilitator, a notetaker or recorder, and a chairperson or someone who reports back to the main group and/or initiates any group action, rather than each individual doing so, or any one member of team becoming locked into a certain mindset.

The same happens in the real world – even when decisions are taken by consensus. There is a requirement for an agenda to be set to ensure relevancy, someone to chair or facilitate any meeting, a recorder, and someone to either report back or initiate actions.

But the problems of communicating across a large number of channels both in the virtual world and the real world are myriad, with not even the experts able to narrow the field.

This was brought to mind by award-winning, SLED lister Anne Ogborn (SL: Annie Obscure), an independent software engineering consultant working primarily with educational institutions in Second Life (She is currently developing the Pathways to Knowledge educational system within Second Life and ScoolFaces student feedback tool).

Providing a striking although rather tongue-in-cheek confirmation of the ‘right tool for the job’  when it comes to virtual world communications Ogborn noted that Linden Labs itself operates no less than 12 communication systems besides Second Life: 1. A large, active website to distribute ‘knowledge’ about SL; 2. A large, active bulletin board to help communities of interest hold more persistent discussions about topics in SL, and a set of rolling boards for communications like ‘Fifi’s is hiring pole dancers’; 3. A jira for communicating and tracking technical issues; 4. Corporate email for ‘I really want to talk to Jack Linden’ comms;  5. An internal wiki for maintaining uniform responses to AR’s; 6. An external wiki as another method of communicating ‘knowledge’ about SL; 7. A corporate telephone system; 8. People presumably meet face-to-face and talk to each other and hold meetings at LL; 9. Premium and concierge members have access to the chat support application; 10. Linden Labs has a phone system; 11. Linden Labs sends and receives snail mail and packages; 12. People visit the premises.

“All of these have their place,” she said. “The best way to send the $7 million contract from Linden to the data center’s offices is to mail it. The best way to keep up on what’s up on the technical front is to attend Zero’s office hours in world. The best way to meet some really competent SL users and enlist their help is to hang out at NCI Kuula.

“Second Life is not the answer to all things – certainly not to holding an in depth, thread picking discussion on a complex topic,” she concluded. “It is, however, a tool for some things.”

‘Top’ VW research

Asked recently for the top three research articles on education in virtual worlds Second Life education guru Jeremy Kemp (pictured), of  San Jose State University, School of Library and Information Science, told SLED listers he referred often  to:

Jennings, N., & Collins, C. (2007). Virtual or virtually U:Educational institutions in second life. International Journal of Social Sciences, 2(3), 180-187. Retrieved from http://www.waset.org/ijss/v2/v2-3-28.pdfkempjeremy21

Kirriemuir, J. (2008). Snapshot of UK HE and FE developments in SLEduserv Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation/sl/uksnapshot102008

Livingstone, D., & Kemp, J. (2006). Proceedings of the 2006 second life education workshop, part of the second life community convention. Paper presented at the San Francisco, CA. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/recordDetail?accno=ED493670

Luo, L. & Kemp, J. (2008). Second Life: Exploring the immersive instructional venue for Library and Information Science education. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, 49(3), 147-166.

New Media Consortium. (2008). Educators in Second Life Survey. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2008-sl-survey.pdf

EVENT

hulserrichard2March 16,18,  20, LIANZA – CPD – Second Life & Technology Strategy Planning workshops, Technology Strategy Planning  9am-12 noon, Library Services in SL, 1pm-4pm::  Presented by US-based world authority on SL and technology strategy planning for libraries, Richard Hulser (pictured).  $110 (member) and $160 (non member) for each workshop If attending both workshops $200 (member) and $300 (non member). Auckland – March 16, Whare Wananga room, Level 2, Auckland Central Library, 44 Lorne Street, Auckland (http://www.lianza.org.nz/cgi-bin/calendar/viewevent.pl?id=468); Wellington – March 18, Lion Harbourview room, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington (http://www.lianza.org.nz/cgi-bin/calendar/viewevent.pl?id=469); Christchurch – March 20, Sydenham Room, South Learning Centre, 66 Colombo Street, Beckenham, Christchurch (http://www.lianza.org.nz/cgi-bin/calendar/viewevent.pl?id=470) Information: Maree Kibblewhite  maree@lianza.org.nz mailto:maree@lianza.org.nz; booking enquiries Anna O’Keefe  anna@lianza.org.nz <mailto:anna@lianza.org.nz>

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.

The SLENZ Update – No 40, January 20, 2009

Birth Centre takes shape

birth1_001The beginning …

The SLENZ project’s “ideal birthing unit” is taking shape quickly with the  basic walls constructed on the  floor plan and already trialed for ease of  avatar use (movement, camera views etc).

The trials were done by  Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman), the Lead Developer for the SLENZ Project,  Deborah Davis (Aastra Apfelbaum) of the birthing unit design team and Sarah Stewart (Petal Stransky) (midwifery lead educator).

Griffiths, announcing progress on the build, said, “Consideration has been given to the fact that many of the users will be new to the SL environment. Therefore the overall plans have been scaled up to accommodate this in terms of  ‘room to move around’.

“Doorways have been made wider than they would be normally and the ceiling height extended for the same reason,” he said. “The central corridor, which contacts almost all the rooms has been given semi-transparent walls to allow users to view their surroundings and better orientate themselves, especially on occasions their camera crosses a wall boundary (the “my camera is here but where’s my  avatar” syndrome).

The build is taking place on Kowhai [the sim situated next to Koru(http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27) ] which has been dedicated to the SLENZ project for both the midwifery and the foundation studies units

Believing the basic layout is now satisfactory the team has started  to “flesh out” the the detailed physical aspects of the build; cupboarding, mantels, furnishings, shelving etc., and the relationship of each object to the design in terms of its assistance of the  birthing process.

birthx_001Progress…

It’s not Google but …

What is claimed to be an unique virtual world search engine has  been developed by a team at the University of Teesside, UK. (http://www.tees.ac.uk/sections/news/pressreleases_story.cfm?story_id=2903&this_issue_title=January%202009&this_issue=188)

Although not yet live Meta-Mole.com (http://www.meta-mole.com/Default.aspx), the Meta-Mole, created by the Centre for Design in the Digital Economy (D-LAB) based within the University’s Institute of Digital Innovation, will ultimately be a dedicated searchable online resource for the 350 plus virtual worlds currently existing on the Internet.mole

‘We were analysing virtual world platforms and realised that there doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive service offering to list and compare key data for major 2D and 3D environments,” Philip McClenaghan, deputy director of D-LAB said. “This surprised us considering the current popularity of virtual worlds. We intend to fill the gap with the Meta-Mole.”

The Meta-Mole has been designed to help both new and experienced users looking for virtual world environments as well as platform developers who want to gauge competition through providing a searchable directory of available platforms, “easily definable according to the need of the user”, according to Dan Riley, a Metaverse Architect at D-LAB. All data contained within the Meta-Mole will be  provided by the platform developers themselves along with official images and videos. The Meta-Mole allows for the sharing and comparing of information and provides access to the latest core, technical and specialist features on current virtual worlds, as well as those in development.

The Meta-Mole will initially be released as a Beta version focusing on 3D virtual world platforms. Forterra, Blink 3D and Twinity are among those who have already uploaded their details.

Watch out for

Watch out for  Virtual World developments at the Uni of Auckland’s, Architecture and Planning School.  Judy Cockeram (JudyArx Scribe), a senior design tutor at the school,  is doing the ground work for a proposed  100-student  virtual world course in and about Architectural Media.

Recipe for success?

forterra-whitepaper

To prepare for the coming hard times in the real world  its worth reading a white paper authored by Chris Badger,VP Marketing, Forterra Systems Inc, entitled “Recipe for Success with Enterprise Virtual Worlds.” http://www.forterrainc.com/images/stories/pdf/recipe_for_success_10509.pdf

He notes that with the slashing of budgets for travel and gabfests, virtual world applications are significantly cheaper than video conferencing, telepresence, and travel, yet represent a more engaging and enjoyable learning medium than Web or audio conferencing and most Web-based learning content.

The study is based on a Masie Center Learning Consortium’s (a think-tank focused on enterprise learning and knowledge)  exploration of   learning use cases in a virtual world through the use of  a virtual world sandbox provided by Forterra and using  Forterra’s On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment(OLIVETM) software platform.

The balance of the white paper describes the use cases for Accenture and ACS Learning Services, the results of their efforts, the lessons learned, and the “recipe for success” going forward for new organisations considering how to convert their interest in virtual worlds to tangible field pilot programs that deliver business results.

Useful links

Links to transcripts of the weekly meeting of the SL Education Roundtable as well as transcripts of the annual EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds sessions. All transcripts open in a new tab or window. http://homepage.mac.com/jessid/slroundtable/

Good free skins, shapes, hair, clothes etc for the newbies amongst us –

The Free Dove: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Gallii/113/54/33

The Changing Room for Women-Ladies at Noob Island: http://slurl.com/secondlife/NOOBISLAND/245/13/22

FREEBIES STORE of Free Union: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Thinktank/33/23/24

Free clothes etc – men and women in cubes: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Richmond/42/142/23