SLENZ, VLENZ Update, No 170, April 22, 2010

Latest  SLENZ  Project/NZ VW news

SLENZ Project  may be over but

lecturers still use the builds

Foundation Learning  in use, free builds popular, viewing  by Indian Minister

The Wellington-based  Natraj School of Dance welcomes
the Hon. Minster Sibal and Indian delegates to WelTec.

The Second Life Education New Zealand Project may have been concluded but things are still happening on the  Second Life island of  Kowhai where  the Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Birth Centre builds are  sited.

SLENZ lead educator Merle Lemon, (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), of the Manukau Institute of Technology, and other lecturers are continuing to use the Foundation Learning build for normal real life classes in interview preparation, practise and assessment as part of that school’s Foundation Learning programme.

And the lead educator for the Midwifery Studies  pilot programme run by Otago Polytechnic, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) has fielded a number of enquiries from British and US academic institutions  interested in making use of the  Birth Unit build as well as the knowledge gained from teaching in it.

At the same time more than 50  free-to-the-public, full permission  Foundation Learning builds and more  than 15 Midwifery Studies’  Birth Unit builds, created by SLENZ Project Lead Developer Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman), have been picked up from the Kowhai Island welcome area. Goodman has also begun a series of tutorials and advice on the builds  here and  the first of series of articles looking at scripting of the builds here.

India’s HR Minister views SL

Toddles Lightworker (left), of WelTec, greets guests from New Zealand
and India who attended the  Indian Minister’s WelTec SL “viewing”.

Meanwhile on the neighbouring island of Koru, also run by  Nelson Marlborough Institute of  Technology,  SLENZ developer  and Wellington Institute of Technology (WelTec) lecturer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) hosted a  Second Life  ‘viewing’ by  India’s  Hon. Shri Kapil Sibal, Minister of Human Resources Development (India’s equivalent of the NZ Minister of Education) during a visit to the Wellington Institution.

The Minister’s viewing – he asked a question about accessing Second Life from India  as there were  India-based researchers present in Second Life  –  came as part of discussions on collaboration with New Zealand in the area of vocational training and technology. Cochrane has a  special interest in  the use of virtual worlds for vocational training and technology. The meeting was also attended by Arwenna Stardust (RL: SLENZ Project joint leader, Dr Clare Atkins).

During his visit to WelTec the minister spoke about India’s immense demand for education and training with a population of more than 546 million under the age of 25.

WelTec CEO Dr Linda Sissons  said, “India and New Zealand share a special relationship in the fields of vocational education, applied research and innovation … both face unprecedented social and economic challenges and also have tremendous opportunities in co-operation, especially in the technical and vocational education and training sector.

The New Zealand government has also recently reaffirmed its commitment to an international relationship with India. and both nations confirmed their commitment to deepening education cooperation with the resigning of an Education Cooperation Arrangement, which was first signed in 2005.

An SL visitor from Mumbai, Zeus Zetkin, as Ghandi, with the University of Auckland's JudyArx Scribe  at  the WelTech  Sl viewing.

In SL for the “viewing”, Mumbai’s Zeus Zetkin,  (RL: Siddharth Banerjee, of Indusgeeks.com), as Ghandi and
JudyArx Scribe (RL: Judy Cockeram, of the University of Auckland’s School of Architecture).
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NZVWG Update, VLENZ No 166, March 14, 2010

NZ Virtual World Grid hosts

international  guests

NZVWG Auckland portal now accepting

‘resident’ avatar applications …

Educause Roundtable meeting on New Zealand Virtual World Grid

The  University of Auckland portal of the New Zealand Virtual World Grid (NZVWG)  has successfully hosted its  first international seminar, attracting  a number of leading MUVE educators and researchers from  around the world.

The meeting coincided with the announcement by Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), the virtual meeting host,  that the University of Auckland portal of the grid, although  still in a trial phase,  was now open for  virtual-world users to apply for ‘free’ registration from the Auckland portal.

Dr Scott Diener.

It also coincided with a ‘demonstration’ of just how easy it is to teleport an avatar from the University of Auckland portal MUVE on the NZVWG ‘Hypergrid’ to the MUVE of   the University of Otago and return with inventory intact and retention of all abilities.

The NZVW Grid based on OpenSim software has grown out of the original ONGENS  grid, developed by the University of Otago in concert with the University of Canterbury, and the University of Auckland.   Weltec has also developed a portal for the grid and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology has associate status.

Welcoming the 20 plus guests from Educause’s Virtual World Roundtable  to the meeting in the Great Hall of “Kapua Castle” on the island of Kapua 3 in the New Zealand Virtual World Dr Diener said, “This is a really exciting development for us.

“We are stand-alone…we run our own asset server (database) with  the University of  Otago and Canterbury University having  similar setups, which have been linked together.”

Members of the Virtual Worlds Roundtable, who have previously visited a number of other Virtual Worlds  as a group for their meetings to assess and monitor MUVE development around the world praised the  apparent stability of the University of Auckland portal MUVE, the ease of entry, the fact  that it was open source and free, and  the  use of the Hypergrid, which opens up possibilities for easy, transparent connections to tertiary institution   MUVEs around the real world.

“We have found the Hypergrid does work, albeit with problems, “Dr Diener said, explaining that the goal of NZVWG was first to experiment and eventually to link to other grids.

Detailing the  setup of the MUVE, he said, the Auckland University portal is running on two virtual servers (VMware), and has a total capital investment of some $NZ10,000 ($US7000). This compared to an investment of say $US55,000 for signing up for SL Enterprise (previously Nebraska), the Linden Labs’ “behind the firewall” solution for standalone virtual worlds.

The Auckland MUVE is running on two dedicated, virtual machines with one server running a database and six sims. CPU usage has never got above five percent. Freeswitch voice is available on the MUVE but not yet completely activated.

“We can duplicate them (the virtual machines) in about 30 minutes – to scale if necessary,” he said in answer to a question, adding that OAR content was backed up automatically.

A  University of Auckland staff member is assigned one day a week to the MUVE , he said, with most of the work involved with things like getting voice working, and getting the Hypergrid fully functional.

He said the portal had been created out of his own budget as associate director of IT Services at the University of Auckland.

Dr Diener's Kapua Castle where the Roundtable meeting was held in the Geat Hall.

The portal, Dr Diener said, “is focused mostly on proving the concept of Hypergrid.”

“This is how our Writing Center began,” Iggy  Strangeland, of the University of Richmond, observed. “I bought a server out of budget, and then eventually got it supported by our data center. Now they maintain it and I just design content.

“We proved the concept. If it works for 2D Web, it can work for Virtual Worlds,” Strangeland said.

The major current problem with using the NZVWG MUVE for education purposes was the fact that there were as yet few resources “in world” … “all scripts have to be brought in,” Dr Diener said.

Given success for the NZVWG, however,  Dr Diener said, he would be excited to work on connecting  the that portal  with any other university  grid in the world.

Commenting on this, Lindy McKeown, of the University of Southern Queensland, said education.au in Australia was trying to set up a Hypergrid for all Australian universities to join.

Dr Diener, who is also a Lecturer at the University of Auckland, is well-known in Second Life and virtual world education circles around the globe for his and his associates’ creation of successful medicine/nursing/architecture simulations on the three University of Auckland Second Life islands in Second Life, the first of which was “Long White Cloud”.

Dr Diener mentioned that the “very active” New Zealand virtual world  group  VLENZ was represented at the meeting by Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  and Second Life Education New Zealand Project founder and joint leader,  Dr Clare Atkins (SL and NZVWG: Arwenna Stardust). Dr Atkins, on behalf of SLENZ and NMIT, operates two islands in Second Life, Koru and Kowhai.

“I think it WILL be a viable alternative (to Second Life) soon,” Dr Atkins said.

Other speakers agreed with Dr Atkins’ view that NZVWG and OpenSim were a good replacement for Second Life: “for me (as an educator) one of the huge benefits to OpenSim is that we can use it with under 18s,” she said.

Visitor Margaret Czart, of the University of Illinois,  said that all of the virtual worlds the Virtual Worlds Roundtable group had visited over time had provided good alternatives to Second Life but, “it is not so much the place but how you run it.”


A sitting room in Kapua Castle.

Dr Atkins’ and Czart’s comments about possible replacements for Second Life followed a remark that the Linden Labs’ position of Second Life education guru Pathfinder Linden had been disestablished and that the Lindens appeared to be showing  less interest in education.

Lindy McKeown foresaw the development of a “Hypergridded federation universe of locally-hosted worlds with some access by others but some private spaces” as appearing to be “a great education alternative for many reasons.”

But, she added, that for these alternative worlds to be successful “we need an SLexchange type (virtual worlds sales) system for other grids since Linden Labs had bought out virtual world goods sales competitors.

Iggy Strangeland replied that http://imnotgoingsideways.blogspot.com/2009/11/alternatives-to-xstreetsl.html was a good source for other sales portals. Lindy McKeown added that one also could buy OAR files full of content one  the net and there were lots of free ones too.

James Abraham (SL: Calisto Encinal  and http://calistoencinal.spaces.live.com/) said he was writing a grant to  “roll out a 10 college zero-cost OpenSim virtual world program for the Maricopa Community College District [James Abraham’s Mi Casa Es Su Casa won a prize for full sim builds at the recent SLPro! Conference sponsored by Linden Labs for Second Life content creators.]

On this point AJ Kelton, director of Emerging Instructional Technology at Montclair State University, founder and current leader of the EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds Constituent Group and Roundtable moderator, agreed with Mirt Tenk who suggested that it would be good for tertiary education providers to share the “stuff  WE have built in Second Life as  open source for OpenSim users. Others agreed with this view, including Dr Atkins who noted that all SLENZ Project builds were free and open source.

Asked how close he thought tertiary educators were to replacing Second Life with other virtual worlds, Dr Diener said, “ I don’t think we ARE close … and in fact, I don’t think that is even the question…I think we need to ask how we can augment our Second Life resources with Virtual World like this.”

There was also a question, raised by Liz Dorland, of Washington University, in St Louis,  and others, of the importance of virtual world students and educators being able to connect with the rest of the world community as they could in Second Life.

Dr Atkins said that she thought the “richness of Second Life and its diversity” would be hard to grow in an OpenSim environment although other speakers noted interoperability between all MUVEs, including Second Life, to get the best of all virtual worlds, was a possibility.

Another "resident's' Castle on the NZVWG portal grid.

VLENZ Update, No 160, January 20, 2010

A NEW START FOR 2010

NZ virtual world group off

the ground and running …

At the  NZVWG inaugural meeting: Arwenna Stardust, Rollo Kohimi
and Briarmelle Quintessa.

Fourteen  leaders in virtual world education in New Zealand attended the inaugural meeting earlier this week of  the New Zealand Virtual World Group (working name) on the NMIT island of Koru in Second Life.

The meeting, chaired by Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), one of the joint leaders of the recently-completed SLENZ Project,  was attended by university, polytechnic and others with interested in New Zealand virtual world education.

Professor Noarlunga

Besides SLENZ Project  joint leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel)   the University of Auckland’s Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga), and multi-media improv dance exponent, Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime) the attendance also included educators from the United Kingdom and Tasmania.

The inaugural meeting, which was mainly an introductory session, set four items for discussion at the first working meeting which will be held at the KiwiEds’ meeting place on Koru at 10am New Zealand time next Monday.

Toddles Lightworker

The agenda items include:

  • Confirmation of the initial agreement that the  group should be  non-institutional  i.e.  a consortium of individuals committed to formal and informal educational initiatives in Virtual Worlds.
  • Group Structure: Determination of how the group should be structured and whether it should be informal or formal,not-for-profit, charitable  or commercial of something else and the roles which individuals could play in the group (positions) as well as tasks.
  • Steering Group:   Discussion of the possibility/necessity of establishing a  “Steering Group” and who should be on it.
  • Group Name:  Discussion and determination of a Group name.

    VonFaraway Meridoc

Besides those already listed among the  SL names   at the first meeting were: Toddles Lightworker (Weltec), CiderJack Applemore, Kattan Hurnung, Petal Stransky (Otago Polytec), Briarmelle Quintessa, (Manukau Institute of Technology) Work Quandry, VonFaraway Meridoc, Rusty Kemble, Anjil Kyoteri and Johnnie Wendt.

At the conclusion of the meeting Atkins confirmed that the formal evaluation of the New Zealand Government-funded SLENZ Project would be made available  shortly.

SLENZ Update, No 146, October 27, 2009

Australasia’s first “complete” virtual school

South Island  schools  to take  trade

training to  the world – virtually

schoolscreengrabs_01A New Zealand Virtual School classroom developed by SmallWorlds.

A group of  South Island, New Zealand, secondary schools, with training partnerships and associations nationally,  is to establish Australasia’s first  virtual,  online school,  New Zealand Virtual School.

To open in 2011 it will  cater for Year 9 to 13 children and adults from across the country and around the world.

The group,  which is already running a “pilot” virtual aviation programme with students from across the country and as far away as Africa,  has been named by the Minister of Education, Ann Tolley, as one of five  successful applicants from a field of 113 to become  New Zealand’s first trade academies. The other successful trade academy applicants were: Northland College; the Wellington Institute of Technology; the Taratahi Agricultural Centre; and a partnership between the Waikato Institute of Technology and Cambridge High School.

The Catlins Area School’s bid in  conjunction with  South Otago High School, Tokomairo High School, Blue Mountain College and Telford Rural Polytechnic,  was the only application accepted from the South Island but it  will provide the only fully virtual, computer-based “trade academy” service throughout the country, using Skype, specifically-developed 3D graphics from New Zealand -based SmallWorlds – a  virtual world that runs inside a web browser; combining media, web content, and casual games, created by  Auckland’s  Outsmart – podcasts, video conferencing, specialised MMORPGs and other online features.

Others associated with the New Zealand Virtual School include 10  Industry Training Organisations (ITOs), among them AgITO, ESITO, ATTTO, JITO, MITO, Creative trades iTO, GlobalMet, InfraTrain NZ, and EXITO, as well as Enterprise Clutha and Air Fiordland.

New Zealand Virtual School  project  manager Allan Asbjorn Jon,  the Deputy Principal, eLearning and International Student Director at the Catlins Area School told the Southland Times “We now have the opportunity, here in Southland and Otago, to be at the forefront of the virtual movement in New Zealand. It could become a very big educational project in Australasia.

“We are trying to put together a platform to assist young people more towards trade training and trade careers with greater ease.”

Funding on per student basis

Noting that the project, which he has spent many months on, was still evolving Jon said that the governance, structure and  final funding  decisions would be made during discussions with the New Zealand Education Ministry  scheduled to take place on November 4. It is presumed funding would be on a per student basis.

Under the NZVS programme students will get three days virtual study and work placements  for up to two days a week so they can also learn “hands-on”. They will also be able to participate in “block camps” likely to be run at RNZAF bases in both the north and south islands. The RNZAF, according to Jon, has been very supportive of the project.

Jon said programmes were being developed across a wide range of subjects including aviation, tourism, travel and museum studies, joinery and glasswork, stonemasonry, painting and decorating, automotive, mining and drilling and civil engineering. Courses will also cover entire NCEA qualifications including  English and maths.

The virtual school (Facebook link here), he said, had the benefit of being able to cater for the needs of an individual – programmes could  be designed specifically for them.

Classes begin 2011

Although a pilot programme has been running with  about  70 students, enrolments for the new school will be opened  towards the end of next year with the first classes to  begin in early 2011.

Announcing the virtual school choice as a trade academy, Mrs Tolley said every student should have an education system which worked for them and met their needs: the New Zealand Virtual School based in the Catlins would help deliver that.

“Trades academies are part of the Government’s Youth Guarantee programme,” she said in a statement. “They’ll provide more career choices for 16- and 17-year-olds and give them greater opportunities to develop their knowledge, skills and talents through trades and technology programmes.”

Six other proposals from around the country are still to be developed with a view to them also becoming trades academies.

nzvs

The NZVS team: Front: Gavin Kidd, Principal, The Catlins Area School, Allan Asbjorn Jon,
Deputy Principal and Project Manager,  NZVS; Wayne Edgar, Principal,  Tokomairiro High
School; Nick Simpson, Principal,  South Otago High School; Back: Dave Evans, Aviation
Industry Training Advisor, ATTTO; and Kevin McSweeney, Principal, Blue Mountain College.

.

,

SLENZ Update, No 141, October 6, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

SLENZ teams finds new ‘acceptance,

enthusiasm’  at    education  gabfest

… Need seen to retain team skills, post-SLENZ Project

IMG_0846Almost full house … Aaron Griffiths details a Developer’s work.
as the SLENZ Lead Developer/builder.

Growing “acceptance” of Second Life as an education medium  and a new  “enthusiasm” for  virtual world education  was demonstrated in Palmerston North, New Zealand, last week by the  number of mainstream tertiary educators  who attended five  SLENZ team workshops at  the  annual, national Teaching  and Learning/eFest 2009 conference .

The growing interest in virtual worlds also was demonstrated in an unscheduled,  eFest unconference workshop before the conference proper and the fact that the  eight members of the SLENZ team who attended the conference were constantly pulled aside by attendees, wanting to learn more about virtual world education  or wanting to know how to become actively involved.

It was the third annual mainstream conference at which  the SLENZ Project  has been promoted but  its acceptance was very different from previous outings.

IMG_0843As Lead developer Aaron Griffiths (pictured) (SL: Isa Goodman), of F/Xual Education Services, said, “It was  like a coming of age. At the first two conferences we could only tell them what it  could be like. With this conference we really had something to show them. We could show that education in virtual worlds can work and be both economic and effective.”

The success was such  that a number of educators  attending the workshops and  in private conversations later suggested that the SLENZ Team,  due to complete  the SLENZ Programme  by year end,  should be retained  so that  the  skills learned and honed on the project would not be lost to  the New Zealand education community. The suggestion was even made that the project should be set up on a permanent, collaborative  basis with funding from New Zealand  tertiary institutions who wished to employ the team’s skills in setting up their own virtual education units.

Commenting on this, SLENZ Project  joint co-leader,  Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), of NMIT,  said it made sense for  New Zealand’s tertiary institutions, and particularly its Polytechnics to  co-operate and work collaboratively in virtual worlds, rather than individually. In that way they could make effective, economic  use of the available advice, skills  and lessons already learned as  well as ensuring  that each was not going through the costly exercise of trying to reinvent the wheel, independently.

After the conference, co-leader, Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel), of Blended Solutions, said  that the Project would consider setting up a virtual world roadshow  for those Polytechnic educators and administrators who had expressed  interest in learning more about education in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

The Polytechnic educators at  the four-day conference at UCOL who appeared most interested  in virtual world education for their students included  those involved in  nursing and paramedic training, anatomy and physiology lecturing, foundation (bridging) learning,  trade and industry training and  agriculture, including viticulture,  all areas which the SLENZ team has worked in  or has looked  at working in.IMG_0813

Dr Clare Atkins and Terry Neal .. working effectively in a virtual team.

The SLENZ Project team members who presented at the conference  included, Dr Atkins and Terry Neal; Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), lead educator  for the foundation learning pilot at  Manukau Institute of Technology, and  Oriel Kelly, manager of MIT’s  Learning  Environment Support Technology Centre;  Aaron Griffiths;  and   Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker),  a SLENZ developer  and lecturer at WelTec.

The SLENZ workshops, which will be the subject of a separate posting, looked at, “Working effectively in a virtual team,” “3D as an everyday medium for teaching, ” “MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching in a Multiuser Virtual Environment”, “In-world, meets the real world – the trials and tribulations of bringing Second Life to an ITP, “From  Real World to Virtual: Actualising Virtual World Education.

SLENZ Update, No 139, September 24, 2009

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

SLENZ members  on  international

virtual world conference  circuit

1. Cochrane at SLaction 2009

valverdeset1_002The Valverde conceptual design … as envisioned in Second Life.

There are two Second Life conferences over  the next few days which will feature  the work of members of the SLENZ Project team, underlining just   what can be achieved both by individuals and team members in a virtual world, even if one’s country is isolated in the real world.Slactions

The presentations also  demonstrate the unique  around-the-world, immersive, day-to-day collaborative nature of  working in virtual  worlds – something that  is seldom achieved in real life without the benefits of  virtual technology.

Today (September 24)   Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) (pictured left), a lecturer in Cybertechnology and Human Computer Interaction at WelTec and a SLENZ Project developer,  will “work” with Dr Isabel Valverde (pictured right),  a performer, interdisciplinary choreographer and researcher originally from Portugal,  to  present “Weathering In / Com Tempo: An Intervention towards Participatory Multi-modal Self-organizing Inter-corporeal” at the SLACTIONS 2009 research conference at the NMC Conference Center, Babbage Amphiteatre, in Second Life ( SL time: 11.30am, Sept 24; NZ time: 6.30 am, Sept 25;  GMT:  6:30pm. Sept 24, 2009 ).Valverde,Isabel

IMG_0503In Weathering In/Com Tempo (WI), a joint paper by Valverde  and Cochrane,  they will detail  their initial concept and interface design work on the dance-technology project that questions reductions of our corporeal intelligence in a hybrid embodied environment, where participants are invited to playfully interact physically and virtually with one another as hybrid-embodied entities.

The  intelligent physical-virtual networked  environment is being designed to act like another player, interacting with the participants through related flow of sensed aspects with the ultimate goal of becoming a  more inclusive, integrated and connected interface for human-environment hybrid living systems.

In  their concept they envisage that the project,  to be staged in an enclosed space, will incorporate a form of  augmented reality (3D motion, haptic and weather data) achieved through  a variety of  hardware  and software means – the five participants will wear clothes that facilitate the capture of motion data and provide haptic feedback –  with the bridging to the physical environment from the virtual environment being through audio and video projection of the virtual space into the physical space and via data transmitted to micro-controller actuated servos embedded in clothing or micro-controller mediated switches that control a smoke machine, fans and sprinklers.

Bridging to the virtual environment will be through live data transmitted from: micro-controller monitored sensors embedded in clothing, weather data and 3D motion capture data, and stereo audio and video streams taken from the physical environment onto SL screens.

In her paper Dr Valverde  expects Weathering In will lead to a) the development of a grammar of personal and relational behavior (through performative and choreographic research in particular site specific space/time frames); b) the development of an electronic Corporeal Network (that senses corporeal data and actuates haptic feedback through the internet into and out of a MUVE/SL); c) the development of performance technologies (through hybrid modes of practice, based on contemporary dance, Movement Therapy forms, Contact  Improvisation, Yoga, and Tai Chi,).

Ultimately, she believes,  the development of the  WI interface prototype “will be the embodiment of a theory of corporeality for the post-human era”.

2. SLENZ at Jokaydia Unconference

Jokayunconf

SLENZ Project lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), lead developer Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman) and joint co leaders Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) and  Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel) will all  feature at the Jokaydia Unconference over the weekend when the two educators lead a virtual tour of their virtual “lecture halls” on  the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Facilitated in world by Briarmelle Quintessa the   Sunday, September  27 (Aust time 4pm; NZ time: 7pm; SL time: 11pm, Saturday, September 26 ) session on the SLENZ Project will allow  educators and visitors to  see what the Kiwis are doing on the island of Kowhai where two projects for students (midwifery and foundation or bridging education) are currently being run. Participants will be able to meet and speak with members of the  SLENZ team involved in both pilots.

Jokaydia Support will be provided by by one of Second Life’s best known educators, Jokay Wollongong herself.

But that’s not all there will be at the Jokaydia  annual Unconference which starts tomorrow, September 25, and has been designed to  to celebrate the year’s discoveries and achievements and welcome Second Life residents both old and new to share their work in workshops, presentations, panels or discussions.

It  is worthwhile looking through the schedule and planning on at least taking in one or two  sessions on Jokaydia or at other venues both in Real Life and Second Life. There will be valuable lessons in all of them.

The unconference is designed for educators, academics, researchers, policy makers, curriculum designers,  IT industry,  digital media developers, students and anyone interested in diverse views and approaches to learning and teaching to build and strengthen their personal learning networks through shared interests.

Meanwhile midwifery pilot lead educator  Sarah Stewart and Otago Polytechnic’s principle midwifery lecturer  Dr Deborah Davis are to present a paper entitled “Using a Virtual Birthing Unit to teach students about normal birth” at the  Australian College of Midwives 16th national conference in Adelaide tomorrow.

SLENZ Update, No 137, September 19, 2009

LIFE IN A NEW ZEALAND VIRTUAL WORLD

ONGENS  gets its first ‘Kiwi Tavern’

as  virtual ‘Aotearoa’  grows …

ONGENS1_004Sign of the ONGENS times … The Kiwi Tavern  at Port Cook.

Even though the New Zealand National Virtual World Grid appears to be going through a difficult and, at times, fragile gestation, there is a small band of enthusiasts who are willing to put up with the frustrations of working in an Alpha test world to ensure that the ONGENS Grid moves through Beta on into a full-blown phase which will allow productive  education research and possibly hypergrid access to  other open-source, OpenSimulator virtual worlds.

One of those  enthusiasts is Auckland University academic Dr Scott Diener who “shouted”  the first “drinks” – a tankard of Kiwi ale – to  virtual world builder Cira Emor, who is re-creating the build of a log cabin(piece by piece!), and your’s truely Johnnie Wendt, who is creating a beachside “slum”, Arcadia Asylum Memorial City, with a little bit of help from the creations of the  late and much lamented Second life “artist” Arcadia Asylum.

Besides its two  regions, soon to be three, in Second Life, the University of Auckland  has something like 12 regions  on the ONGENS Grid, some named Kapua (a small cloud) keeping with the university’s  virtual world Second Life theme of  Long White Cloud or Aotearoa.

As well as constructing  Port Cook – it is still in the ongoing construction phase – Scott (SL :Professor Noaralunga)  has also opened up two storefronts under the buildings  which are giving away “freebies”  such as office and home furnishings. Another  has been allocated for the supply  of  freebie textures, to be stocked in cargo boxes.

ONGENS1_005
Johnnie Wendt,  Scott Diener (pink shirt) and  Cira Emor at the Kiwi Tavern.

Designed primarily for research into  the benefits of virtual world education and Web3D technology the ONGENS Virtual World Grid, within the  ONGENS (Otago Next Generation Networks and Services)  Test Bed Project, championed by Dr Melanie Middlemiss of  Otago University, is a joint project on which the Universities of Canterbury and Otago and part of the GNI (Global Network Interconnectivity) Project, The GNI Project has been designed to  develop research, enterprise training, and knowledge sharing activities to support new ICT technologies, such as JAIN SLEE, on the way to telecommunications, multimedia, and information systems convergence. It is  funded by the New Zealand Tertiary  Education Commission Growth and Innovation Pilot Initiative (The SLENZ Project is also funded by TEC).

ONGENS2_001One of the ONGENS residents, Wendy Steeplechase, at the Port Cook furniture store.

Since the  launch of the grid Canterbury and Otago have been joined by the University of Auckland  and WelTec, each with a node and regions within the ONGENS Grid. Students from  WelTech have already used the  grid for real world learning projects.

The grid is currently running on OpenSimulator software, and utilises the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network) connectivity between New Zealand’s tertiary institutions, and research organisations as well as public Broadband.

ONGENS2_003The attractive stone buildings in Port Cook – the tunnel leads through a forest to a castle.
ONGENS2_002The Port Cook Harbour … from the inside
ONGENS1_007… and the  harbour entrance from the outside with the castle in the background

THE ONGENS team plans to develop the ONGENS Grid into a New Zealand National Virtual World Grid initiative, and is currently seeking funding and expressions of interest for involvement in the project.

Meanwhile in a related project, an Otago Open Source Software Initiative has been set up by Otago University’s Department of Information Science to provide advice and support to schools and small-medium sized businesses (SMEs) in New Zealand on a range of open-source software technologies that have the potential to reduce IT operational costs, leverage productivity and enable companies to “work smarter”.

“The main issue holding back schools and small businesses from moving to open-source solutions on the desktop is the often limited support and documentation that makes much open-source software a difficult proposition to maintain and manage,” a spokesperson said. “This lack of documentation and support often results in the running cost of open-source software, i.e. the costs associated with lost productivity due to downtime and the cost of in-house technical-staff time required to support the software, quickly outstripping the initial purchase price of a commercial alternative.

“It is this situation that has lead the Department of Information Science to establish the Open Source Software Initiative to support the take up of open source software by schools and SMEs by using its expertise to develop standardised, tested software bundles that “work” and to provide a support forum with “expert advisers” to assist in the identification of appropriate open-source solutions,” the spokesperson said.