NZVWG – VLENZ Update, No 172, June 03, 2010

Does the Emperor have any clothes?

New Zealand’s NZVWGrid  ‘newbies’ get

free avatar skins, hair, eyes and clothing

A ‘noobie’ appearance is no longer necessary in the  NZVWGrid …
free avatarskins, eyes and hair have been made available for users  …

New Zealand academics, researchers and  virtual world builders,  using and testing the alpha phase of the New Zealand Virtual Grid (NZVWG), no longer have to look like ‘noobs’ even though given some of the vagaries of the OpenSim environment they might sometimes feel like that.

Open source  avatar skins,  eyes, hair and clothing  have  now been made freely available on the Auckland  portal of  NZVWG at Kapua 6  (NZVWG  Kapua 6/88/116/34), and are  likely to be made  available  near the Auckland entry point to the MUVE on Kapua 3  as well as at other Portal entry points.

The full permissions skins have been created by the likes of Eloh Eliot,  Ziah Li,  Greybeard Thinker and others, with  the clothing obtained  from a variety of sources outside  the Second Life environment, such as free, full permission listings of clothing textures.

All are being made available under   “Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported” Creative Commons licenses.

The  NZVWG Project which grew out of  Otago University’s ONGENS programme is a joint venture of the University of Auckland,  the University of  Otago the University of Canterbury and  the Wellington Institute of Technology, Weltech.  A number of other institutions both in New Zealand and oversea have expressed interest in the project which is supported by New Zealand Telecom.

It is an open access national virtual world grid based on open source software. It operates on NZ-based servers hosted at Otago, Auckland and Canterbury Universities, and leverages other national investments in IT infrastructure through deployment on the high-speed KAREN (Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network).

The grid has been set up with an academic focus and will be used for research and education, as well as for proof-of-concept application deployments and testing.

The project, based on opensource OpenSim  technology, is being led by one of New Zealand’s foremost virtual world education   champions, Dr Scott Diener,  an academic and  Associate Director, AC Tech, Information Technology Services,  at the  University of Auckland. Diener is well-known, both  as himself and as his Second Life personna, Professor Noarlunga, in MUVE  education circles around the world for his development of medical simulations and teaching programmes within Second Life.

Although little educational research is currently being done  in the alpha test phase of  the NZVWGrid there are opportunities once testing is completed. Besides  Diener’s Second Life University of Auckland virtual medical centre project in Second Life, which  may migrate to the NZVWG,  Otago University  has set up  the Otago Virtual Hospital in NZVWG (OtagoMedicalSchool/162/99/2800)  and is also hosting scenarios for medical students to gain experience practicing as doctors.   Some members of the now completed SLENZ Project are also active in the NZVWG although  there are no plans at this stage for a sequel to that successful research project.

… as well as  both men’s and women’s avatar clothing
and a limited range of footwear.
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KAREN, VLENZ Update 171, June 01, 2010

KAREN goes  ‘independent’

NZ high-speed research/education

network in new partnership …

All NZ education to get real Broadband speeds

A year-old YouTube view of the FX Networks network  …
2200 kms of optical fibre and still counting.

Heralding a new era for online education and research  in New Zealand, Research and Education Advanced Network New Zealand Ltd (REANNZ) has announced  that it has  entered into a long-term partnership with the country’s foremost, independent optical fibre network provider,   Wellington-based  FX Networks,   to provide the national connectivity for the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN).

The arrangement secures the continuation of KAREN’s existing 10Gb/s backbone connectivity and footprint around the country for an initial term of  three years through to December 2013, with two two-year renewal options.

The move should mean lower cost, and faster and more reliable  national bandwidth options for New Zealand tertiary and secondary education institutions, and could lead to a proliferation of virtual world and other third generation uses of the internet by  both faculty and students in education across the country. When coupled with other moves, it  should also provide benefits to distance learners.

Donald Clark, REANNZ

The Universities of Auckland, Otago and Canterbury, along with Weltech, in Wellington, are already operating a bandwidth-hungry,  OpenSim-based virtual world system (New Zealand Virtual World Grid) in test phase in conjunction with the KAREN network  which can only benefit from the latest development, which should ease both access and costs, especially  as NZVWG only uses local bandwidth, rather than international connections.

The decision to go with FX Networks  follows  what spokespeople for the two partners described as “a thorough and comprehensive evaluation process.”  The KAREN network has previously worked directly with  Telecom.

The contract also includes options to move KAREN to a dark fibre-based network infrastructure, which will be essential to ensure KAREN can continue to offer leading-edge network services within a constrained cost base.

The CEO of REANNZ, Donald Clark,  said, “This is the most exciting development for KAREN since the network was launched in 2006. We are confident that we have selected a progressive, long-term partner in FX Networks and have secured the best national connectivity options for our community and provided certainty to our members on cost and presence.”

“Over the last four years, the demands of our members has driven innovation in network supply and services across the telecommunications industry,” he said. “In earlier times our investments have helped other network suppliers extend their networks, now we’re helping FX Networks.”

Through moving to the new network, REANNZ will put into effect a new Network Access Policy which  will provide greater flexibility to REANNZ and KAREN members around access, and use of the network. The network is currently recruiting a number of secondary  schools to add to its current tertiary institution base.

A virtual region on the Weltech portal of the 'alpha' test NZVWG Grid .... online and MUVE education can only benefit from the latest KAREN move.

Work has already begun on comprehensive transition plan to ensure a smooth cross-over from current national connectivity arrangements to the new arrangements in December.

REANNZ is currently in the  late stage contract discussions with the preferred supplier for KAREN’s international network. An announcement on the selected provider will be made later this month.

FX Networks already has completed most of an optical spine the length of the country and is completing   a network right around the country to join with the spine – a number of  local bodies like those  controlling Hawkes Bay, Pahiatua, Dannevirke and Eketahuna among others   have already signed up with FX Networks –  which should make access to  KAREN  and true high-speed broadband internet an affordable reality for most  institutions as well as distance education students.

Jamie Baddeley, FX Networks

Previously, despite claims to the contrary, the major Telcos in New Zealand  have supplied  provincial New Zealanders  with Broadband, which they pay Broadband prices for, but which  generally  have not delivered consistent Broadband speeds. In fact,  in areas like the Manawatu, consumers, although paying Broadband prices, have often been left with a service, during  times of high contention, which   has run at dial-up speeds.

FX Networks’ fibre optic ‘backbone’ network  covering both islands of New Zealand, however,  is the fastest independent intercity pipeline in the country, capable of transferring data and voice at speeds up to 10Gbps.

The organisation describes its   network as a  ” a ‘green fields’ operation, our 21st Century technology and lean business practices mean we can deliver a Ferrari-type network for Corolla-type pricing.”

The company is privately owned and funded, with 30 percent equity held by New Zealanders. It is independent from the Telcos  operating in New Zealand.

FX Network’s partnership with REANNZ  follows the announcement  in April that FX Networks  had signed an agreement with Telecom Wholesale for the exchange of local internet traffic (local peering) at 19 of  Telecom’s points of interconnection – 39 currently available) around the country,  laying the groundwork for the “most efficient routing” of New Zealand’s growing volumes of Internet traffic through New Zealand’s two main internet backbones.

One of the regions on the University of Auckland portal of NZVWG grid which should benefit from both the KAREN decision and local "peering."

Peering allows traffic to be exchanged on a local or regional basis rather than transported back and forth throughout the country to be exchanged in Auckland.

Announcing this agreement the two companies said, “With the Government’s $1.5bn ‘Ultra Fast Broadband’ and $300m ‘Rural Broadband initiatives both on the horizon, the agreement paves the way for a whole new range of competitive broadband packages to be developed by ISPs and other service providers.”

FX Networks Jamie Baddeley said at the time of the agreement  that it meant  that the Governments investment of $1.8bn in urban and rural broadband “will now be able to run local content in a fast and efficient manner.

“This is a big step in New Zealand’s digital transformation that will revolutionise many aspects of society including health, education, commerce and entertainment,” he said. “…  I think many ISPs are going to have to rethink how they charge for traffic and there will now be competitive pressure to separate international traffic from local usage and charge accordingly.”

Ernie Newman, TUANZ

Senior industry consultant Dr Murray Milner said: “This is a very positive outcome with the industry tackling a major issue that is fundamental to the success of the current fibre roll-outs. Local peering means that internet backbones will not be clogged up with local traffic and we will see smart uses of the capability in areas like healthcare where digital X-rays can be shared simultaneously in full definition.”

Ernie Newman, CEO of TUANZ said: “Peering has been on the table for a number of years as one of those too hard issues, after some carriers depeered from the earlier system a few years ago. It was the users who bore the brunt of that with traffic romboning to Auckland when it didn’t need to, or worse to the USA. I’m delighted to see industry players resolving this issue without the need for regulation or government intervention and users will benefit from better performance and lower charges. What’s emerging is the national digital architecture that TUANZ has been calling for.”

SLENZ Update, No 142, October 6, 2009

THE SLENZ WORKSHOPS AT Teaching and Learning/eFest 2009

Five lessons from the creation of

education pilots  in Second Life

IMG_0803SL’s Arwenna Stardust and RL’s Dr Clare Atkins make a point.

The five SLENZ Project workshops attended by mainstream tertiary educators at  the  annual, national Teaching  and Learning/eFest 2009 conference, at UCOL, Palmerston North, New Zealand, last week,  provided some valuable tips for  the administration and creation of virtual world education.

I thought the lessons  important enough to provide summaries of some of them for educators and administrators who could not attend the conference. The first  summary is below.

The SLENZ Project team members who presented at the conference  included, SLENZ Project co leaders, Dr Clare Atkins and Terry Neal; Merle Lemon, lead educator  for the foundation learning pilot at  Manukau Institute of Technology, and  Oriel Kelly, manager of MIT’s  Learning  Environment Support Technology Centre;  Lead developer, Aaron Griffiths, of F/Xual Education Services;  and   Todd Cochrane,  a SLENZ developer  and lecturer at WelTec.

Funding for the SLENZ Project was provided by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand, a Government body.

1. “Working effectively in a virtual team”

[Presented by  SLENZ Project co-leaders, Dr Clare Atkins, of NMIT, and Terry  Neal, of Blended Solutions.]

The core team was made up of two parts:  students, educators, learning designer, Project Leader Second Life, (Atkins)  and the developers,  in one box, and the evaluator, communications and Project Leader Real Life (Neal) in the other. Although theoretically all the  roles  were to have worked together in practice they overlapped.

The core team was supported by a project administrator, literature reviewer,  web developer, other educators (10), IT support (4), video makers (2),  the steering group (9) and the friends of the project who sometimes attended meetings  on the Second Life island of Koru or provided advice via email or other means.

Forming: The creation  of the project evolved out of Dr Clare Atkin’s network through one-to-one phone conversations, the formulation of a Project Execution Plan and a face-to-face meeting at which modifications were made. Those modifications included the addition of a communications role. In Second Life the “forming* of the SLENZ Project included the creation of avatars, support for  newbie players on the team and the formulation of  agreed meeting protocols.

Storming: The design and development phases of the project  included a process to agree process, the agreement on process,  open versus closed interaction, the learning design – considering access or focus on in-world experience, and discussion of the implications of creative commons licence, which will eventually lead to the team’s Second Life work and builds being made freely available with full permissions.

Norming: Communication and problem solving  was done  through weekly in-world team meetings on the island of Koru, weekly Skype calls by Neal, weekly development team meetings  led by Atkins,  a weekly catchup/review by Atkins and Neal, and  the provision of publicly available documentation through all stages of the project.

Performing: The project proceeded with the ongoing use of established processes,  celebration of milestones and  achievements – something often missing in virtual projects –   and the linking in of educators, through the lead educator in each of the pilots,  and the linking in of the evaluator  by Neal.   Extra  team roles were developed with the appointment of a web developer and video developers.

Adjourning ( or the winding down and completion of the project): A final face-to-face team meeting will be held, with the team sharing what it can over the final three months to the winding up and clear finish.

Keys to success: According to both Atkins and Neal the keys to the success of the Project were/are: the establishment of a clear prupose, clear roles, the use of  multiple communications methods, including a variety of online tools and text and voice communication; dual project leadership, and constant monitoring of the progress and well-being of the team.

Next blog:  MUVEing towards collaboration – the benefits  and pitfalls of working as a collaborative teaching in a Multi-user Virtual Environment,” and “In-world, meets the real world – the trials and tribulations of bringing Second Life to an ITP,” presented by Merle Lemon, lead educator in foundation learning,  and lecturer at Manukau Institute of Technology and Oriel Kelly also of MIT.

eFest unconference workshop demos

IMG_0807 SLENZ co-leader Terry Neal (right) gives an
unscheduled demonstration of SLIMG_0809Griffiths  points out a detail to a polytech lecturer.

IMG_0806

Educators Trevor Forest, of Rotorua, and his wife watch
a demo by SLENZ ‘adviser’, Warren Masterson

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 134, September 02, 2009

Lest we forget unsung heroes …

Design and building  in Second

Life really is hard ‘yakka*’

… an ‘Oscar’ for Isa/Aaron?

koru100809_001Isa Goodman (aka Aaron Griffiths), Second Life builder

It’s easy to forget that the often unsung heroes of virtual worlds are the builders – the on-the-virtual-ground developers, scripters, animators but  especially the builders.

As educators it should be easy for us to specify what we want  – after all we’ve generally been giving similar lessons in real life – but then it is much more difficult for  the developer-builder  to turn one’s dreams into reality, especially if those dreams  are just pie-in-the-sky impossibilities, conjured up by people with little experience or “immersion” in virtual worlds.

However, the kudos for turning “impossible dreams” into some sort of reality, more often than not, goes to  the publicity-conscious academics leading a programme rather than the builders and developers who toil, mostly anonymously, behind their screens, trying to meet impossible time and financial constraints, and who are then forgotten in  the praise heaped on the successful project promoters.

All educators, before they embark on the design of a learning opportunity in a virtual world, should clearly understand that content creation and development in virtual worlds is hard “yakka*”.   They also should not forget that praise should go to the builder if a design works. The builders know only too well that if a project fails, they, the builders, will be blamed by the academics for its failure.

Birth1_002In the beginning…

Unlike the academics, however,  most top-notch builders I have met have been loath to accept written praise or credit  despite the fact that their livelihood often depends on them getting on-going work in virtual worlds.

In the SLENZ Project we have one top-notch builder, Aaron Griffths (SL: Isa Goodman), of F/Xual Education Services (email:  debnaar@clear dot net dot nz),  who is the Lead Developer “genius” who has created the SLENZ Project’s  foundation learning  and midwifery pilot builds, scripts, textures, animations etc from what  initially were little more than fuzzy ideas. Aided by developers/builders NMIT’s Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust), who doubles as the SLENZ Project’s co leader,   and WelTech’s Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) Aaron has created from scratch the builds which you can see on Kowhai today,  on time and on budget.

But let him tell you himself what it was like, even though  I believe  he would not want the limelight. Fortunately he has he described how it is in a letter to Metaverse Health, which in its otherwise well-intentioned and fulsome article on the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery Pilot promotional machinima, unfortunately gave no credits to the SLENZ Project builders.

Answering criticism in a comment on the article, that a partner was not present in the midwifery birthing machinima, Aaron noted it had been intended to have a partner present but this  had been finally precluded by having to meet deadlines and budget constraints.

“Unfortunately in the end to meet the deadlines set by the fact the students were coming into the build on a specific date, the scripting, animations and building required to have a partner (of whatever gender) present in the scenarios just did not happen,” he said, before going on  to describe the build and the work involved.

“This  (midwifery build) was a very complex build designed out of very little in terms of actual specifics, reassessed and recreated on an ongoing basis through discussion with the educators,” he said, by way of explanation. “The build was divided into stages so that at least, even if the ideal could not be developed within the budgeted hours,  we would have finished stages at points throughout the process which could be considered complete resources.

birthingfinal_002

The finished Birth Centre … interior.

“Stage one therefore gave us the actual unit, created as an immersive experience of an “ideal birthing unit” complete with notecards and links out to information supporting the theory associated with the design.

“Stage two (which we have reached) … steps the midwife through a normal birthing process in terms of her interactions with the mother from the first phone call into the unit through to the actual birth.

“The scenario goes beyond a simple role play of mother and midwife to include the numerous clinical requirements of the process such as blood pressure and temperature readings, preparation of medical equipment and medications, good practice requirements, e.g. use of sterile gloves in examination, washing of hands etc.

“Stage three was intended to extend the scenarios to include not only a partner (or whanau depending on ethnic considerations) but more difficult births such as postpartum hemorrhage, i.e. birth scenarios typically not experienced by midwifery trainees.

“… deadlines and budget restrictions (read as we used it all up by the end of stage two – 300 hours for the Birth Centre build)  have meant that further developments will not happen under this project’s funding.” he said. “That is not to say they wont happen. As the resources provided are Creative Commons they will be packaged with as much instruction as I have time to develop so that others may carry on taking the scenarios further.”

Finally to put some perspective on the task Aaron has completed with the midwifery pilot (all originals to allow for full permissions under a Creative Commons license) the build now has more than 2600 objects, more than 250 scripts, not including HUDs worn by the mother and midwife, 16 animations and poses, and more than 100 textures.

If there are  Oscars for the creation of virtual world education builds, Aaron should be  in line to get one for his midwifery pilot, if not for both his midwifery and foundation learning builds.

birthingfinal_001The finished Birth Centre … exterior back.
birthingfinal_004
The finished Birth Centre … exterior front.
birthingfinal_005… and Isa Goodman/Aaron Griffiths’ Foundation Learning build.
*Yakka: Australian venacular for very hard work.