SLENZ Update, No 159, January 19, 2010

Now the summer holidays are over…

Back  to Broadband and the

virtual worlds …

‘Reality exists in all worlds’

One world: The reality of vacation land…

Sitting on a golden sand beach near Splitapple Rock, in Tasman Bay, New Zealand, being warmed by  the late afternoon summer sun, I wondered about virtual worlds and what they have to offer me  – or anyone else.

Being without Broadband for three weeks – and Second Life  for that period – made me  wonder whether immersion (should I say addiction) is all its cracked up to be.

First off I must say I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms. I did, however, read nine fairly  big books; swam every morning; hiked for  a couple of hours over the hills and through the bush every day; listened to bird song throughout the daylight hours; drove  an open-car (Jensen-Healey) frequently and enjoyably on winding coastal roads;  went to bed at about 10pm and woke between 4 and 5am; and I had a lot  of conversations with fairly ordinary people about fairly innocuous things, most of which – like the books – I forget the detail of now.

It was a holiday in the same beautiful place I’ve been vacationing for 20 or more years. It’s a place I love.

I was totally immersed in  the reality of my environment – I have the brown skin and more tightly cinched belt to prove it – but the memories are little different from those I have got from the virtual world of Second Life. The memories now I am back at my desk  are like my memories of being 30 years continuously on the road as a working  journalist all over the world  – little different from scenes viewed in a television travelogue or out a tourist bus window.

Of course, being there I could feel the sun and wind, the sand under my feet, and smell the sea and the ‘honey’ smell in the native bush. I also could feel the strain in my lungs and my legs climbing a steep hill, or over rocks, and feel the initial coldness of the water on that first early morning swim. But that was the only real difference.

One world: The reality of virtuality

Sitting on that beach though I came to the conclusion that for most purposes virtual worlds provide a similar experience with fewer hassles than those of the real world. I know all – yes all my friends – will disagree with that statement,  or consider me demented, but I think it is true. There is no real  difference in the quality of the experience despite  what the naysayers, who claim virtual worlds are not real life,  might argue.

I wouldn’t change my holiday venue for all the world – and I don’t think I would ever want Broadband there – but  for times when I want to travel without spending five hours in a car, or  a similar number of hours on  an aircraft; at times when I want to talk to people about real things from around the world or even just banter, without the mind-numbing, lubricity of alcohol which many need to free their tongues in a real life environment; at times when long winter evenings, weather or other circumstances keep me indoors;  or at times when I choose to play in another real place I believe  interactive virtuality offers a real alternative to what people call “real life” unlike non-interactive television, or other non-interactive entertainment mediums.

But what  most people in the so-called real world – and especially in education and business – have missed is that  like the “real” world virtual worlds are all about people. They are not about scenery – even though I spend hours exploring the scenery of new and old simulations in virtual worlds –  or scripting, or buildings,  they are about people, real people, who really exist in virtual worlds, just as they really do in the so-called “real” world, despite their appearance as avatars and/or roleplayers.

Strangely that was the only thing  I missed on my real life holiday: being able to talk to the real friends I’ve made in virtual worlds over the last five years. Some I only talk  with infrequently,  others on a daily or weekly basis.  But even though most are from thousands of miles away and I will never feel the touch of their fingers in a handshake they are as real to me as anyone I have met in the real world.

And unlike my local real life tavern – in a small, provincial town in rural  New Zealand, where conversations range from the weather, Rugby, cricket, racing, beer, girls and Rugby and did I say Rugby, but “don’t get to heavy” – my conversations in Second Life with  both men and women  from all ethnic backgrounds cover  a world of ideas and dreams, from art to the universe, from medieval shipping to  teleportation, from history to present day politics, and from lifestyles to  other world cultures.

For me, and millions like me, virtual worlds provide a doorway out of the world we choose to inhabit, perhaps not permanently, but for a certain number of hours each week: I can step through my screen into a place where I can find people – perhaps in a reality  10,000 miles away – who think on the same wave length as me or who I can learn from, or who I can laugh with, and even  those who I can cry with.

For me reality exists in all worlds:  it’s just one world, whether virtual or not.

Perhaps for some reading this, that is sad.

However, for me with virtuality and Broadband I find I can live in one of the best places on earth, a million miles from anywhere, and still be anywhere in the world  when I want to be with the people I choose to mix with. That’s what Second Life has given me. The world.

It has opened another door for me.

Both worlds: it’s all about people.

SLENZ Update, No 157, December 22, 2009

ascilite 2009 – AUCKLAND, NZ

Virtual worlds might not be quite  there

but ASCILITE shows  the way forward

Second Life – ‘This will change everything…’ Scott Diener

The Auckland University-Boise State collaborative post-partum haemorrhage
nurse training scenario, presented by Scott Diener (Pix: Merle Lemon)


When Scott Diener (pictured right),  associate director, IT services, Academic Services, at The University of Auckland, first saw  the NTSC  internet browser Mosaic, he had an ephiphany. “This will change everything,” he thought. And it did. Without it there probably would be no WorldWideWeb as we know it today.

He had the same epiphany when he  first saw  and used  the virtual world of Second Life, he told educators and researchers from around the world who attended the  ascilite 2009 conference held in Auckland early in December: “This will change everything,” he thought, especially in higher education.

Arguing that  higher education had not changed since the 14th century and before – it still takes place in a protected environment with protected knowledge based on  the notion of scarcity with students, although the chosen few, often not engaged – he asked, rhetorically, “What if we had Global access to all knowledge?” And then after praising the Google goal of releasing  all books in all languages on the net but noting the futility of tertiary institutions repeating  the same basic courses with the same knowledge ad infinitum in the age of the Internet, he said,   “… we don’t need to redevelop education. We need to share.”

Sharing, he said was the only way  to solve the tertiary education needs of the world’s burgeoning population. The  provision of tertiary education even now  could not keep pace with the population trends. Today the world with 7 billion people needed to create 2500 universities the size of Auckland University (40,000 students)  every year, year on year to keep up with demand. Within 20 years, he said,  it would need another 200,000 universities, another 400 million university teachers and 40 million lecture theaters of the same size as the giant Owen G. Glenn Building auditorium at The University of Auckland, would be needed.

“It’s impossible,” he said, adding that the challenge was how  to provide education to the world differently.

The only practical solution, he suggested, was virtual education in virtual worlds such as Second Life and the 200 plus other virtual worlds or some derivative of them.

Describing the benefits of virtual worlds such as Second Life for tertiary education, Diener said,  their major difference  to other on-line learning methods, was that they provided a real sense of self and the suspension of disbelief, a sense of place and sense of emotion.

Virtual worlds which immersed students enabled educators to adopt problem-based learning approaches which worked, he said, adding the challenge was realise the benefits through the emergence of these constructivist pedagogies into main stream teaching.

He urged the  conference participants to focus on the emerging new spaces in virtual worlds, but not  to replicate  the architectural spaces they had in the real world into new virtual spaces.

“Don’t fall into the trap of shoveling the same old stuff into the new spaces,” he said.

Urging innovation in virtual worlds, he said, their uptake by mainstream tertiary institutions  could change everything in education as it was known today and provide  possibly the only answer to the world’s future tertiary education needs for all.

But, Diener warned, the educational benefits of virtual worlds could be  locked away from the rest of the world and in fact were being closed-up by some  large tertiary institutions which had already  “locked their builds down”  returning virtual worlds to the world of 14th Century education, when learning was only for the  privileged.

“Please don’t lock the systems down,” he said, noting  his UofA project and the New Zealand SLENZ Project builds were released under Creative Commons license.” Share them with others,” he said. ” Open them up to collaboration with others.”

Later in another presentation  Diener, along with in-world and real world collaborators from Boise State University, Idaho, and Wyoming, demonstrated the  University of Auckland’s  innovative Second Life presence and medical centre teaching system on the Second Life island of  Long White Cloud.

The post partum haemorrhage  simulation real-world presentation team.

SLENZ Update, No 155, December 11, 2009

ascilite 2009

VW leaders establish  New Zealand

virtual worlds’ education group

The University of Auckland’s Dr Scott Diener presents at
ascilite 2009 ….  he is one of Australasia’s leaders in
virtual world tertiary education.

The New Zealand Virtual Worlds Group (NZVWG), an independent, not-for profit association for people interested in virtual worlds and their use for education in New Zealand  has grown out of the recent ascilite (Australian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education) 2009 conference held in Auckland, New Zealand.

The four-day conference, the leading Australasian forum on computers in education,  saw a number of presentations on the successful use of virtual worlds – particularly in Second Life – for learning,   including an impressive  keynote address by one of the Australasian leaders in virtual education, Dr Scott Diener (pictured above), of  The University of Auckland.

The conference in the Owen Glass Building at  The University of Auckland was attended by delegates from across the world and the leaders of virtual world education in New Zealand, Diener, Dr Clare Atkins, of NMIT (Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology) and Terry Neal, of Blended Solutions.

The formation of the group followed a  symposium initiated by  the SLENZ Project team  about the future of Virtual World  education in New Zealand and what  could be done to promote and encourage it, which was  led SLENZ Project co- leader, Dr Clare Atkins (pictured right), and grew out of subsequent conversations between Atkins, Diener and and SLENZ Project co-leader Terry Neal (pictured left).

“The group has been set up  to further education in multi user virtual environments and virtual worlds in New Zealand,” Dr Atkins said. “We will be looking not only at teaching in MUVEs but also how other aspects of education including administration, libraries, marketing etc., can  benefit from virtual worlds.”

Initially  the group will operate from a Google Group which has been set up “to get the initial ideas flowing,”Atkins said, noting that,  as yet few, if any concrete decisions have been taken on anything except the pressing need for such an association.

Although the group has been formed by members of the SLENZ Project, which was funded by Tertiary Education New Zealand, it is independent from that project and also virtual world platform independent.

Issuing an invitation to New Zealand educators and others interested in virtual world technology and education, Atkins said, “”We would like to encourage  you to be part of these early discussions! We need everyone’s ideas, thoughts, comments etc.  We hope you feel like joining us.”

The two aspects of the creation of the group that the founding team was most set on, she said, were:

  • It should be independent and not for profit. Although institutions/organisations may choose to support the association in some way it would not be affiliated with any particular one.
  • It should encompass the broad spectrum of virtual worlds or MUVEs and interpret education in the broadest of terms – all sectors, all aspects.

To join one should go  here.

SLENZ Update, No 150, November 17, 2009

The potential: “Daddy, Miss America wont share her toys.”

Obama vision could be crippled

by rich, greedy US institutions

… and commercial interests who want an arm  and two legs.

Birthunitdemo131109_0021. Sharing knowledge – The Gronstedt Group begins tour  of the SLENZ birthing unit.

The more time I spend in Second Life and  other virtual worlds the more I become convinced  that  SLENZ  joint leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) is right: Collaboration and sharing is the key to success in  world education in virtual worlds.

But its not just collaboration within the United States, or New Zealand. It’s collaboration around the world.

The rich, big universities of North America and Europe might be able to afford to go  it alone, but for the smaller and the often poorer tertiary institutions of  the United States,  countries like  New Zealand, and Third World countries – if they even have reliable, affordable Broadband services – don’t have the luxury of NOT collaborating and sharing,  both at an institutional level and at an academic level.

The creation of complex builds, huds, animations and all the other paraphernalia of teaching successfully in a virtual  world, as well as aquiring the skills/knowhow to use them  can cost megabucks: to not share them under OpenSource and Creative Commons license with institutions and academics around the world would seem to be me to be both profligate and selfish. It also could regarded by some , particularly when sold at a high price or with an exorbitant  license fee attached, as both  neo-colonialist and  greedy capitalism of the kind that brought about the most recent crash of world markets.

Second Life behind the firewall

The collaboration thoughts, although first ennunciated  for me by  Dr  Atkins, were brought to mind more recently by  five things: the move by the Lindens, admitted an avowedly commercial organisation,  to  promote Second Life behind the firewall, previously Nebraska, to  commercial, Government and educational institutions at US$55,000 a pop, a princely sum for many cash-strapped institutions around the world;  President Obama’s Cairo vision, proclaimed in June;  a visit by the KiwiEd group to the University of Western Australia, Second  Life site; a Train for Success Gronstedt Group  35-avatar tour of the SLENZ Project’s virtual birthing unit on the Second Life island of Kowhai; and  finally, but not least,  the one-hour keynote address on copyright  by  Harvard University  Professor of Law Lawrence Lessig to  EDUCAUSE09 in Denver earlier this month.

Lessig-certificate-of-entitlement-700x524

2. Sharing the knowledge: Lessig’s certificate of entitlement.

Obama told  the world,  “We will match promising Muslim students with internships in America and create a new online network … ” something  which  Second Life arguably has been  doing for sometime with  the collaboration already  occurring between individual academics and many smaller institutions creating an “online network, facilitating collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.”

The problem with his vision is that  US commercial – and often Government –  interests  have almost always  worked against  facilitating collaboration and sharing across geographic  and cultural boundaries. Look at Microsoft software. Look at Apple and ITunes licensing. Look at software regionalisation. Look at the record industry. Look at the book industry, where rich English language publishers in the UK and the US split the world into at least two markets.  Look at the way copyright law has moved into  education – and science.

But its not a new phenomenon. Look at banana republics, created out of Boston,  as a rather ironical and destructive facilitation of collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.

Triumphs of reason

On the other hand there are triumphs of reason over idiocy. Look at the rise of the ubiquitous PC, compared to the Apple computer, even though using a proprietary Operating System  the rise from the “underground” of  Moodle, compared to say Blackboard; the slow advance of bilateral free trade agreements, even if not the much desired mutilateral  free trade agreements, instead of the trade siege mentality,  which  affected most of the world in the 1930s (and still threatens); the growing popularity of Linux compared to proprietary Operating Systems; and finally the astounding growth of  Wikipedia compared to Encarta or Britannia.

Despite my misgivings I have been heartened over the years by the surprising degree of co-operation and collaboration that has been happening in virtual worlds. That is despite the actions of  those  few Scrooge McDuck-like educational institutions which have purely commercial interests at heart and appear to run closed shop operations, sharing with none.

I was even more cheered recently by a visit to the University of Western Australia when I found that  university, which is in the forefront  of Australian virtual world education, was entering into bi-lateral  virtual “free trade” and/or “free exchange”  agreements with  the likes of Stanford University and others. This mirrors the agreements put in place  by  Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) at the University of Auckland with the University of Boise; and Judy Cockeram (SL: Judy-Arx Scribe) and  her work with architects around the world;  and those “handshake”   agreements  or informal sharing arrangements put in place by a myriad of other relatively smaller institutions who have already recognised the benefits of world-wide collaboration.

3.Sharing the knowledge – KiwiEd group tours University of Wester Australia site.

And then there is the SLENZ Project, which 18 months ago adopted as its ruling credo,  complete transparency, with OpenSource under Creative Commons license for all its virtual educational products, developments and knowledge in the hope that others would be able to build on the team’s work. Even though the adoption of this credo was probably due more to the persistence and bloody-mindedness of a then non-Second Life “immersed” and relatively sceptical SLENZ Learning Designer Leigh Blackall than anything else, it has worked and is working.

One has to  agree now that Blackall was right, even though  there is obviously a place for fair payment to commercial (virtual world creators, builders, developers etc) interests, something Linden Labs has recognised  with its protection of its own virtual world product lines (and  unfortunately those created and developed by its residents, even if Creative Commons, full permissions and OpenSource) behind  the walls of Second Life.

Linden Labs is not alone, however, in usurping user/creator rights.  The way  they have covered the issue in their rather draconian and very American Terms of Service is little different from other major US on-line social networking services: if you put it up on their service, they own it.

Virtual World Free Trade/Exchange Pact?

This is despite, or perhaps in spite of “renegades” like the  onetime Arcadia Asylum, making all her magnificent “builds” available to “anyone to use anywhere,  how they like, even blowing it up.”

Like  the tyrants behind the old Iron Curtain the Lindens realise that keeping  control of their residents’ creations inside  their world (and keeping them there), guarantees that they will have to stay there unless they want to pour their creativity, time and work down the drain and start a new virtual life elsewhere.

This leads  me to the thought that President Obama, although paying lip service to “collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries,” needs to put his Government’s money  where his mouth is and promote a world-wide free trade/exchange agreement for  virtual world education if not for virtual worlds themselves, guaranteeing rights of both personal ownership of  individual products when created or bought in a real world sense,  but also opening up US educational institution virtual knowledge and creativity for the rest of the world to freely add to, and build on.

The President  has the vision  for a better on-line world – which could lead to greater understanding between peoples through education.

If he does nothing except talk. Nothing will happen.

And, I believe, we will find the major educational institutions moving more behind their Ivy Walls – if they are not already there – and American educational institutions (and others in UK, Germany, Brazil etc) adopting  a siege mentality   even though  virtual worlds (all virtual worlds, whether emanating out of the US or China or anywhere else) will only fulfill their true potential of levelling the playing field for all educationally if they are free and open to all.

That is something America can do for the world – all worlds.

SLENZ Update, No 148, November 4, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT – final F2F

SLENZERs celebrate ‘completion’

of virtual world  work …

now  team awaits official evaluation

IMG_1116The SLENZ Project team … final face-to-face meeting and debriefing.

The SLENZ Project team celebrated its successes last week at a real life face-to-face meeting in Wellington, New Zealand.

The meeting, which  included a warts-and-all debriefing of all team members, was marked by an unanimity of views on project outcomes in a team which  has occasionally been rift by  differences of nuance and interpretation over the  16 months of its scheduled 18-month life span.

The NZ$500,000 Second Life/Real Life project, which was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand, has been designed  to determine  whether and how multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) can benefit New Zealand education and, and if they are of benefit,  how the benefits can best be harvested.

Despite the fact the  formal evaluation  has not been completed  team members appeared in no doubt that most, if not all, of the  objectives of the three pilot programmes – Midwifery, Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Orientation – had been met.IMG_1127

The lead evaluator, Michael Winter (pictured right), of CORE Education,  who attended the meeting – although not pre-empting his formal evaluation, due before year end  –  seemed upbeat about  the project and said he  had been impressed with communication skills displayed by the team.  .

“I was really impressed with the level of communication and  the way people were working together,” he said. “It was a pretty tight ship in terms  of communication.

He added, however, that the project might have been somewhat hindered by a number of technical issues, including  bandwidth (Ed note: Possibly perculiar to New Zealand); institutional technology and firewall issues. He  added that there had been some resistance to what was perceived as “gaming” by some students;  and that there was a necessity for designing the e-learning experiences properly to  increase engagement. He also cautioned about an underlying concern about the “sleezier side of Second Life” which  the press has focused on.

Summing up her feelings about the project, joint project leader Dr Clare Atkins said, she was “incredibly proud of what we have done.

IMG_1121“I’ve learned some amazing lessons how not to do many things,” she said to laughter.

Despite the barriers to adoption of MUVEs for education in New Zealand,  Atkins said, she now  “absolutely believed”  that “the use of these types of environments and kinds of education are  going to change  the way everyone teaches, how they teach  and the way we think about teaching within 20 years.

“I believe its really important  not only to look for the next project,” she added, ” but also to offer everything (that we have learned) we can to others in education.”

In the debriefing team members  agreed the staged approach to the SLENZ Project had been one of the major keys to the success of the project.

“In fact,” Atkins said, ” I would recommend next time that we should go for even shorter stages – each with its own discrete documentation. For example we could perhaps have broken Midwifery Stage 1 down further into a) the build of the Birth Unit b) the ‘fitting out’ of the birth unit with information.”

Other things that  had worked well had included  the regular team meetings with voice in  Second Life and the face-to-face meetings for getting acquainted and determining agendas for further Project Stages.

Barriers or obstacles to development of the pilot programmes chosen for implementation, included, according to a list compiled from the discussions by  joint project leader, Terry Neal (pictured lower left):

  • Communication: Not having a one-stop shop for all documents from the start of the project. This was implemented when problems arose  after the project  had been launched.
  • Immersion: A lack of pre-project immersion by some tutors, team members. It was felt by some team members that for education to succeed in virtual worlds it is essential that promoters/champions/teachers and tutors be “immersed” in virtual worlds rather than just being “active” before launching into  educating students. This was coupled with a the lack of educator release time for immersion in world.
  • Learning Designer: The need for a Learning Designer or Educator  to be fully  “immersed” so that he/she could specify exactly what was needed based on their own knowledge.
  • Roleplaying Experience:  At launch a lack of MUVE roleplaying experience on the part of tutors, preventing them from having a complete understanding of what could and could not be done in a virtual environment.
  • Clarity: More clarity was needed around the setting of pilot  objectives/initial learning design specifications and the expected/required outcomes.

Things that were seen as an aid to project development included:

  • The use of “immersed” mentors/helpers for new tutors and students.
  • The employment of a professional MUVE builder/scripter rather than attempting to get teachers/tutors up to speed in this area. It was observed that teaching  should be left to teachers/facilitators, and building and facility development to MUVE building/scripting professionals.

Summing up the consensus feeling and her feelings at the debriefing, Neal said, she  thought the team could have done a lot worse, but it could have done a better job too.
Team members were all given a Taonga ( treasure) at the end of the session.

SLENZ Update, No 140, September 28, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

Virtual world makes mastering

interview skills  much easier

… when virtual ‘really feels real’

“Fabulous”,  “amazing” and “fantastic” were only three of the superlatives used by the  more than 20  educators and researchers who toured the SLENZ Project’s two builds on Kowhai  in Second Life and listened to commentary from educators, developers and builders during the  virtual worlds’  prestigious, annual Jokaydia Unconference  on  Sunday.

The superlatives were used  by virtual visitors from around the world to describe  the concepts, designs, the builds and the practises being  used in the the SLENZ Project’s two pilot education programmes,  Foundation Learning (Bridging Education), under lead educator, Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), of Manukau Institute of Technology, Auckland,  and Midwifery under lead educator, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky), of Otago Polytechnic.

The Jokaydia attendees probably  would have been even more blown away had they   been able to watch the Pooky Media [producer Pooky Amsterdam,  director Russell (Rosco) Boyd]  machinima production  on  Foundation Learning, “Foundation Interviewing in Second Life,”  which was placed on general  release on YouTube later that the day.

Jo Kay, herself, one of Australia’s leading virtual world educators, said of  the video, “Impressive! Congratulations too all involved in the project and the video,” and   SL’s PimPeccable commented,  “Brilliant and professional.”

BirthUnit jokay unconference_019Arwenna Stardust (RL: Dr Clare Atkins) talks to the Unconference visitors.
BirthUnit jokay unconference_015Inside the  Skill Mastery Hyperdome …  demonstrating a “catwalk” rezzed.

The Skill Mastery Hyperdome, the centre of  the foundation learning  “class space”,  is described by PookyMedia in the preamble to the YouTube video, as “a step into the future, an environment in which students can learn, develop and practise skills that will help them progress on their career pathways and achieve their life goals.”

And it obviously is – and eventually, like the Birthing Centre,  will become the SLENZ Project’s “gift” to virtual world education, having been created under Creative Commons attribution license in OpenSource. It is scheduled to be made freely available  with all bells, whistles, scripts and animations in Second Life on completion of the project.

Foundation students who are use the Hyperdrome build are preparing to enter academic and/or training courses as diverse as nursing, teaching, business, police, travel and tourism, IT, engineering, and social work. Foundation Studies provides the basic building blocks and the scaffolding to enable students to enter and succeed in their selected career pathway.

Acitivites provided in this build are designed to enhance communication skills, specifically the skills needed in an interview situation. These students can  select appropriate interview apparel from Rapungakore (“…you have come to the right place”), the clothing store,  which is part of the Hyperdome.

Noting that irrespective of their ultimate career goal all students will need to develop interview skills and strategies,  Merle Lemon,  has pointed out that the hyperdrome environment allows students to experience virtual interviews, to take on the roles of both interviewer and interviewee, and to develop confidence in answering and asking questions in a professional manner.

“The opportunity to rehearse variations of the interview scenario will lead to further enlightenment through reflective evaluation and deliberation on their own behaviour in action,” she said.

The Manukau Institute of Technology  students, whose reactions are canvassed in the video, find that  the Second interviews “really feel real” with one student even worrying that he was being interviewed for a “real job” which he couldn’t accept accept because of his student commitments.

The SLENZ Project is funded by the New Zealand Government”s Tertiary Education Commission.

BirthUnit jokay unconference_011The Unconference participants tour the birth centre.

SLENZ Update, No 132, August 25, 2009

Virtual world experiences …

Do SL memories  have same

quality as RL memories?

A “personal” view
sailwith wendy_001A question of memory … sailing on the Dreaming Sea, Daedelus, in SL

There  is no question one can use  a virtual world to learn or train  but there is a question still hanging over what educational benefits MUVES can provide when compared with other educational electronic learning techniques and face-to-face Real Life teaching.

There also is the question whether virtual worlds can be separated from Real Life as a stand-alone teaching aid, particularly in distance education, or whether they are just another useful tool in the education toolkit;  just another classroom/space on the  Real Life campus?

These thoughts were brought to mind  by the recent  blog by SLENZ co-leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel)  on “The barriers to using Second Life” and the PookyMedia  machinima promoting midwifery student use of the SLENZ Project’s pilot Second Life midwifery education programme at Te Wāhi Whānau, The Birth Place, on Kowhai, being run in conjunction with Otago Polytechnic.

The conjunction of the two sparked a discussion with my three-year, virtual-world, travelling companion, Wendy Steeplechase (pictured right), who believes that the  “memories”  created in Second Life, because of the nature of virtual world “immersion”,   have the same “feel, qualities and weight of real life memories” when compared with the memories created by more passive  entertainment/information delivery such as reading a book or watching television or a  movie.

This is important when one considers the role of memory in learning.

“For me,” Wendy said, “those more passive forms of information input don’t create the strength of the memories created by Second Life. I would never  confuse a memory I have of reading something in a book  with me doing it in Real Life. But it does happen  to me in Real Life that I sometimes don’t know whether the conversation took place, I saw the place, or the event happened in Second Life  or Real Life.

“Everybody talks about Real Life versus Second Life as though the two can never meet but in actual fact Second Life is a part of Real Life. The interaction between Real People in the virtual world means the  memory you create, the programming that goes into your head is more permanent:  you perform the action or interaction  and it becomes part of you, part of your Real Life memory.”

But that’s because of the 3 Dimensional,  graphical quality isn’t it?wendyA_006

She bridled. “Actually the 3D graphics and animations are a bit of a red herring because the great value of virtual worlds like Second Life lies in the realtime interaction between people/individuals  remotely.”

“In business I have found people very leery about the use of web cams,” Wendy who is “immersed “in Second Life  but also controls large Telecons in Real Life on an almost a daily basis,  said. “People do not like to do live video in a science/business environment. But the level of anonymity and  the artificial, perceived  (safety) barrier one gets with an avatar within a virtual world makes people more comfortable with a virtual world than with video conferencing, where everyone sits rigid and doesn’t really dare to relax or move naturally.

“This comfort level is evidenced by  the relationship situation in virtual worlds where people get so close to each other so quickly. It is also evidenced by the fact that virtual world residents  are comfortable  exploring alternative lifestyles and places  they would never even consider doing or visiting in a million years in Real Life.

“It’s less scary to interact with other people in here (SL),” she said. “They (we) think, “People can’t really see the real me so how scary can it be?’

“The ability to interact with this ‘safety barrier’ in place makes virtual worlds far more compelling and palatable than doing the same thing in Real Life or watching videos or movies,” she said.

The big negative of virtual worlds for Wendy is the fact that avatars, except for walking,  can only move in prescribed animations. For instance they can’t point at things with their hand or fingers; and their arms, except in prescribed animations, cannot  be moved. This, she believes, works against true roleplay learning in Second Life for many applications. For instance, she said, as a pregnant woman having a baby she would want to be able to point to where the pain is and the Real Life midwife would need to understand this.

For her – and she is at pains to point out she is not an educator – one of the most compelling training uses of Second Life is the international border crossing simulation created by Loyalist College, of  Ontario, Canada.

It works, she believes, because the  two partipants in the roleplay are fixed in space and time and do not move very much. She views the interview room of the SLENZ Project’s Foundation Learning pilot, with  its fixed avatar and fixed interviewer, in the same light, although neither Loyalist College nor the SLENZ pilot takes great advantage of the 3D environment for their roleplay.

Critical  of my view that academics need to be “immersed” before they can “champion” Second Life as an educational tool or teach in Second Life, Wendy believes that not everyone is capable of becoming “immersed” in a virtual world.

“Just as there are different learning styles,” she said, ” there are different styles of being. Not everyone will ‘get’ virtual worlds, no matter how hard they try. I’ve come across many, many residents who have spouses or partners who think it is absolutely stupid and a waste of time, even after they try it, and even if they really want to share the experience.

“It’s unfortunate in those cases but that is the way it is:  for educators/businesses virtual worlds can only ever be one tool in a toolkit which might suit some and not suit others.

“Virtual Worlds are just another room  of Real Life and  a useful adjunct to it, if needed,” she said. “I think considering them separate from Real Life limits their usefulness.” – Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh

rolloZagreb_008

Memories of departure  …  a Rollo Kohime performance
at Wellington Station in SL

The SLENZ Update – No 101, June 18, 2009

Is there really virtual world

promise in peer-to-peer

… at this stage?

As if,  worrying whether the soon-to-be-released Second Life Viewer 2009 will  require educators to completely revamp their techniques and training of students, was not enough, we still have to wonder whether we might not have backed the wrong  horse and that the possible peer-to-peer virtual world competition for Second Life –  both public and behind the firewall – waiting in the wings, might not provide better applications.

We already have Entropia, Forterra(Olive),  Twinity, Wonderland,  Croquet, Prototerra, Kaneva, Hipihi,  and others  in the virtual world arena but just when one might have thought that Second Life and the Second Life-based OpenSim worlds – OpenSim, OpenLife, OsGrid, and smaller players like ONGENS, etc – were holding their own for education purposes,  at least one and perhaps two of  the Open Source alternatives to Second Life appear to be  breaking through, although they don’t have numbers yet.

The latest food for thought on this issue came from Feldspar  Epstein, of  The Metaverse Journal, who  explains the difference between the OpenSim concept, and that of Open Source such as  “Open Cobalt” and “Solipsis”,  as being that essentially while  OpenSim grids are designed to be served from a common point,  Open Cobalt and Solipsis implementations are designed to be served from many points – they are both peer-to-peer technologies.

“Open Cobalt (based on Croquet technology) consists of two parts: a browser and a toolkit,” Epstein says. ” The browser is used to view the 3D virtual workspaces created with the toolkit. Each workspace can live on a separate personal computer. Workspaces are real time and computationally dynamic, and each can host multiple participants. Additionally, individual workspaces can be interlinked into a private and secure network of work spaces.”

Attractive features

Epstein lists a number of  attractive Open Cobalt features, particularly for researchers and  educators, as: Open source licensing (MIT);  deeply malleable, collaborative space; runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux; internet access is not required; it can run over LANs and Intranets;  private and public environments can be created; in-world text, voice and video chat, web browsing (VNC allows access to browsers like Firefox) and annotations; Access to remote applications via VNC; Navigation between virtual workspaces is possible using 3D hyperlinks; Mesh, texture, media, and whole avatar imports.

An alpha phase Open  Cobalt download is available here and further information is available here. The beta release is due this year, and a full implementation is expected to be released in 2010.

Meanwhile the efficacy or on-going  viability of the French Telecom-developed Solipsis is more murky, although according to Epstein it is about to go into beta testing but I would question this.

A search of the net would suggest otherwise.

On Solipsis netofpeers.net  it  is revealed,  in a link from Professor  Shun-Yun Hu, of  the University of  Taiwan, that although Solipsis is a pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world with no central servers,  only relying on end-users’ machines, the initial Solipsis project  ended some time ago when the core team left the project. The original Solipsis web site is available here. Although the dowloads are available there appears to have been little real activity since 2005, and the developers’ page is here but a number of the links appear dead.twinverse

More recently, however,  Joaquin Keller, has started TwinVerse – a virtual world based on geography, pictured right- and which seems little more than a glorified video and text chat room overlaid on Google satellite pictures/maps of various world spots, and nothing like the 3D virtual worlds, as presented by Second Life or Twinity or Entropia et al, and less than half as interesting.

Speaking of peer-to-peer virtual worlds Epstein doesn’t go into the much-touted Australian startup, Project Outback (from Yoik) which  folded sometime ago after considerable promotion by one of the former Kazaa peer-to-peer network promoters, nor the most viable other offering VastPark. currently in closed beta (downloads here) and based on the OPeN (Univ. of Melbourne) software funded by NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research
Centre of Excellence,  which signed a commercial license agreement with VastPark, in 2008.

Other peer-to-peer possibilities, in various states of array and disarray, include :  Colyseus (CMU); HYDRA (National Univ. of Singapore);  and peers@play (Univ. of Mannheim, Duisburg-Essen, and Hannover).

However, after looking at all the offerings I could find for peer-to-peer worlds ( I may have missed some) I believe that aside from Open Cobalt, which is actually Croquet in another form,  and VastPark, there appears nothing in the peer-to-peer virtual world public domain that is any real threat at this stage to Second Life and open-source Second Life-based products, for credibility, ease-of-use, attractiveness, population, and what I believe is the fundamental key to virtual world success,  immersibility (suspension of disbelief).

So forget peer-to-peer virtual worlds for the moment and concentrate on worrying about  the Second Life 2009 viewer, or perhaps the new adult continent of Zindra.  Just kidding.

The SLENZ Update – No 57, March 12, 2009

EVENT

“Virtual Worlds – Best Practices

in Education” Conference

March 27-29, 2009 in Second Life. Following considerable  SLED list debate on the “future” of  the SL education conference  – especially, apparently, from those MUVE “believers” who who want a  “real life” gabfest experiences that one travels to –  Pathfinder Linden  has posted an interesting interview with Kevin Feenan (pictured, SL: Phelan Corrimal ), the general chair of the conference, which will be held entirely in Second Life, rather than having a real life base. Taking its lead from a number of previous successful conferences  – the Second Life Best Practices in Education Conference in May 2007, the SLCC07 in Chicago, and the SLEDcc in Tampa in 2008 –  the SLEBPE has been  revived under the banner of Virtual Worlds because of the increase in virtual worlds which successfully cater for education, such as OpenSim, IMVU, Club Penguin, WoW, Wonderland, Entropia etc . For all those who complain about the “closed world, commercial” nature of Second Life – and there are a number –  Feenan has a message. corrimal-phelan He sees the future of the conference being “dictated by the way the educational community uses virtual collaborative environments”. “In the short term, definitely a heavy focus on Second Life,” he said. ” However, as avatars are increasingly able to teleport between virtual worlds I see the conference following those changes and perhaps expanding to bridge knowledge gaps that may develop as other virtual communities get established. And to bring back to this environment (SL) solutions that may not be so evident here because we don’t have to overcome the same challenges to get something to work.” For free registration: http://www.vwbpe.org.

Another new kid

ready to debut …

Sirikata Teaser

Stanford University plans to launch Sirikata, a BSD licensed open source platform for virtual worlds, in alpha release soon. The team behind the project which is being done in conjunction with Intel’s Cable Beach Project aims to provide a set of libraries and protocols which can be used to deploy a virtual world, as well as fully featured sample implementations of services for hosting and deploying these worlds. The video-teaser for the project is fascinating, and shows just where OpenSim technology is going. It appears to show a compelling,  easy-to-use virtual world with realistic avatars and movement. For techies the lengthy discussion  about Intel’s efforts in the open virtual world space and getting outside the “walled garden” scenario  between Intel’s John Hurliman, Stanford’s Ewen Cheslack-Postava, Daniel Horn and Henrik Bennetsen provides an interesting background to the project. .  Besides disclosing that Intel is currently working on connectors for all VW worlds, the conversation ranged from the  technical approach to the work and ended with  more general comments. But at 51 minutes it is long and could have done with considerable editing..

Workshop with Intel’s John Hurliman

There is another video in which Cheslack-Postava and Horn give a briefing on Sirikata which, for techies, also is worthwhile.

Meanwhile Nick Wilson (pictured), over at Clever Zebra, has predicted that open source rather than interoperability will drive  the masses to virtual worlds.wilsonnick2 He lists the top three technologies researchers/educators/businesses should be investigating right now as OpenSim, Wonderland and Open Croquet, with Solipsis and Sirikata waiting in the wings.

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.