SLENZ Update, No 154, December 06, 2009

Where is education going in Virtual Worlds?

An earlier (2008) view of a Duke University  foray into virtual worlds
– just one of  the university’s many virtual projects

With the  Obama Administration  turning to the virtual world to extoll the virtues of a science education through expansion of the STEM Education Initiative and NASA also using virtual worlds to promote engineering education to the next generation of potential NASA employees it seems certain  that educators around the world will not be able to avoid the  MUVE issue although it is  apparent many would wish to.

It  also appears certain that Governments, if they wish to keep abreast of world education trends, can no longer allow their telcos to limit bandwidth or  to  obfuscate the issue of the need for consistent, high speed Broadband  – which New Zealand telcos dont deliver outside  the major centres –  if  all are to benefit from the growing acceptance of virtuality, in all its guises. In future education poverty might be determined by one’s access to Broadband, particularly in the sense of distance education,  as we move away from on-campus learning to virtual campus learning which is available to everyone.

Following President Obama’s announcement early in his term of  initiatives to encourage American students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), the White House now  appears to be moving into the Metaverse in an attempt to expand its  flagging science education initiative, according to  Max Burns (pictured left) of the Washington-based Pixels and Policy  blogs .

Quoting a  press release issued by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina,  in which  the Duke Center announced a partnership with the White House to promote the development of virtual learning worlds related to science and engineering  especially in middle and high school by linking into virtual worlds and the digital generation’s undoubted video-gaming experience, Burns said:

  • The third-annual Digital Media and Learning Competition will award $2 million in support to 21st Century learning lab designers  for learning environments and digital media-based experiences that allow young people to grapple with social challenges through STEM-based activities.
  • Digital media of any type (social networks, games, virtual worlds, mobile devices or others) may be used. Proposals are also encouraged for curricula or other experiences that link or connect to any game, especially but not limited to Sony’s LittleBigPlanet™ on PlayStation®3.

“Lifting American students from the middle to the top of the pack in STEM achievement over the next decade will not be attained by government alone,” said President Obama at the event in late November at which he announced the “Educate to Innovate” campaign. “I applaud the substantial commitments made today by the leaders of companies, universities, foundations, nonprofits and organizations representing millions of scientists, engineers and teachers from across the country.”

KZERO’s current virtual world universe – an ever-increasing population.

Moves cannot be seen in isolation

But the  White House moves cannot be seen in isolation.  The University of Texas has already  announced plans to put all its 16 campuses across the State online in the virtual world of Second Life; The prestigious Australian Film Radio and Television School, based in Sydney, has announced  a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds starting next year;  the University of California at Irvine has received a US$100,000 National Science Foundation grant to study World of Warcraft;  the creation of  an US Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds by the Information Resource Management (IRM) College of the National Defense University, to ‘ prepare leaders to direct the information component of national power by leveraging information and information technology for strategic advantage’; Glasgow’s Caledonian University has become  the first university  in the UK to offer a complete, integrated module on 3D Internet Virtual Worlds, teaching students all components involved in this relatively new branch of internet design and multi media; the Immersive Education Initiative, a 1000-plus  member, non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices,platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems, is growing apace; and closer to home  the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission’s  NZ$500 000 SLENZ Project to determine the benefits of virtual education  is nearing completion with the formal evaluation process currently taking place;  The University of  Auckland, under the aegis of lecturer Scott Diener has set up a medical centre for training purposes in Second Life; and that university has also seen lecturer Judy Cockeram, gain international recognition for  her virtual architecture study programme which is schedule to accept more than 100 students in the New Year.

But these are not alone.  They  are among  the more than 500  universities and tertiary institutions now in Second Life and other virtual worlds. The launching of both learning and research programmes into  virtual worlds is continuing apace throughout the world, despite  some skepticism  from those who have never been immersed,  who are not  members of the digital generation or not digital migrants. Unfortunately for them virtual worlds, with 690 million participants worldwide, according to the UK-based research organisation KZero, will probably leave them behind as the flotsam and jetsam of  the virtual age.

Probably one of the best recent summations of just where  virtual education in the world is and where it is going   has been given  by Robin Teigland (pictured right), Work Associate Professor in the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness, at  the Stockholm School of Economics,  Stockholm, Sweden.

Her Powerpoint presentation to the Online Education Conference in Berlin on December 2 is well worth taking the time to look at.

And the US National Defense University initiative.
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SLENZ Update, No 144, October 14, 2009

The Virtual World campus

250+ US universities now  offer

degrees linked to ‘virtuality’

Video game/Virtual World design courses boom …

staftrs… and at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School too. (logo AFTRS)

The fact that more than 250 of the United States colleges and universities in 37 states are offering degree courses this school year, involving video-gaming and virtual world technology, demonstrates just how mainstream computer-based “virtuality” is becoming, at least in the developed Western World, if not quite yet in New Zealand

The figures are up 27 percent over the previous year, according to a recent report by Mara Rose Williams in The Kansas City Star, quoting the Entertainment Software Association, which monitors the US video gaming  industry

According to the  association’s Rich Taylor, video-game design is the fastest-growing industry in the United States. “A generation that has grown up playing video games is entering college. Schools are responding to that.”

At a time when students are graduating into a shrinking job market,  the video gaming industry is flourishing, Taylor told Williams.  Last year, games and game consoles reached US$22 billion in sales, he said, with 68 percent of people of all ages playing video games, with video game consoles in almost 50 percent of US households  and 95 percent of young people playing them. He added that more than 80,000 people today are employed by the video-game industry.

“Schools realizing that video-game design is a viable industry,” he told Williams, a statement which resonated with me when I visited a leading New Zealand University earlier this week, to find it didn’t have wireless on campus, and a session on Second Life on one computer on  the university’s Broadband system had to be booked three months in  advance.

The realisation of the necessity of moving into the virtual age in the US,  if not in New Zealand, was underscored last month with the report in Scientific Computing that   Northern Kentucky University, with a gift of US$6 million, had joined South Dakota State University and St. Paul College in Minnesota – miles from the virtual world hot seats of California and New York –  to create an US$7 million virtual world informatics center complete with a computer assisted virtual environment (CAVE). The facility, scheduled to open in fall 2011, will be named Griffin Hall.

Griffin Hall, designed to be a key real-world virtual-world research unit, will house NKU’s College of Informatics, which consists of three academic departments as well as an outreach unit, the Infrastructure Management Institute.

The US, however, is not the only place where there is considerable movement on the virtual world education front.

In Australia,  the Sydney-based Australia’s Film Radio and Television school has announced it will offer a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds next year. The course will concentrate on the development of original concepts for virtual stories, games, social worlds and innovative gameplay.studyataftrs

And with more than  80% of Higher Education institutes in the UK already  users of Virtual Worlds for educational purposes, Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland, announced some months ago it was  creating a 3D Web project with a “complete, integrated module” that would teach students everything they needed to know to get a 3D virtual world up and running. The skills will include hosting, managing and creating real estate, and user interactivity. The course will be taught in the realworld but also will be supplemented by elements in Second Life and will also use OpenSim.

The university is already active in Second Life with a number of its schools using the MUVE for such things as visualisation, clinical training, support, and training on a virtual x-ray machine in the Schools of Engineering and Computing, Nursery, Midwifery and Community Health, and Health and Social Care.

“In 10 years it will be as normal to navigate in and between virtual worlds as it is to open a Web site today,”  according to Ferdinand Francino, course designer, on the university Web site. “The new module will ensure our students are at the forefront of technology and are fully equipped with the skills they will need in future.”

Will we in New Zealand be ready for the day when:

Virtuality will permeate all corners of our life …

For instance “retail therapy” …

Well, this is one way  CISCO thinks virtual reality will develop.