Archive for year 2007
Related to yesterday’s post on population growth in Second Life, Tateru Nino blogged at Massively regarding a forecast by a UK virtual world forecasting & consulting company that Second Life will grow to 20 million users in 2008, second only, according to the forecast, to Club Penguin at 30 million.
Tracking back through the various blogs for the forecast, the numbers may be drawn from the Virtual Worlds Management Industry Forecast 2008 “report” noted by Virtual World News, or they may come directly from research and a presentation done by Nic Mitham at Kzero; I’m not entirely certain, so the links should allow you to track through for yourself. Regardless of the process, the end result is the graphic copied here; it’s available originally from KZero (but copied here so as not to leech bandwidth ;-).
As an educator, I find the dotted lines to be of primary interest: the outermost arc and the three dotted line radii. If I were to begin exploration of virtual worlds as an educator with a blank slate – with zero knowledge of any virtual worlds – and were presented this graphic, which virtual world should I select to serve an educational interest? to introduce to learners in a formal learning environment? From behind that same veil of ignorance, given only this graphic, what would be the first strategic choice you’d make in regards to virtual worlds in learning environments: which would you choose?
I’ll hold my thoughts for a week or so. Until then, I’m interested in your comments.
Second Life now has an active user base of 538,400, in-world an average time of 45 hours a month. Impressive usage rates . . . Less impressive, however, when you consider that SL’s active users were just under that 538K number in August, but slightly over that, in July . . . Second Life is now in a plateau phase . . . This despite explosive media attention in October, when the world was featured in two top rated television shows . . . The main reasons for this stagnation, of course, are obvious: constant system failures, a confusing user interface, and disorienting first-time visitor experience.
As an educator, I have a different view of it. I’m not as concerned about over the top growth rates; my financial bottom line doesn’t depend on it, and I’m selfish, so I see this as the population of SL stabilizing rather than plateauing or stagnating.
Perhaps — and this may be wishful thinking — the stabilization of 550,000 active residents coming in at an average daily peak of concurrent use at 55,000 will offer Linden Lab an opportunity to catch up on a few things. If the population and concurrent use stabilizes for a while, perhaps Linden Lab can spend time growing strategic resources to solidify core services: improve customer service and further reduce grid downtime. Not running behind chasing issues created by continued growth, Linden Lab could also then focus more coherently on long term strategic issues: scalability, interoperability, open source etc.
As New World Notes concludes,
. . . would that [plateauing growth] be that such a bad thing? The world remains rich in user-created content, grows increasingly picturesque, continues to prove itself as a prototyping platform for real world applications, and as such, will continue being a thought leader and influencer of the Net’s next generation as a 3D, avatar-driven medium . . . Or to put it another way: is there anything wrong with just being [similar in size to] Portland, Oregon?
A bi-weekly check of my RL snail/paper mail revealed the December 3 issue of Computerworld with a prominent cover story titled, “Second Life: Is there any there there? After a weeks’ sojourn, our virtual traveler isn’t so sure.” A quick search online shows that this piece was originally published via the Computerworld site on November 14; you can read it there, if you like. The article’s a little different from other, typical pieces critical of SL, and Computerworld’s coverage of SL is better than most other publications, in my opinion. Rather than simply blasting away at SL with retread arguments, Gary Anthes essentially publishes a blog of his experience as a newbie in SL and draws, in my opinion, reasonable, qualified conclusions. On top of that, the Computerworld print issue followed Anthes’ piece with an “answer” by Ian Lamont that “What’s there is potential.”
What follows are my thoughts and impressions regarding the piece, and since the article presents a newbie’s experience with SL, I also discuss the implications and lessons-to-be-learned for education.
My editor made me do it. I never would have given Second Life (SL) a second look had she not asked me to write a story about it . . . But Bill Gates and others have appeared [emphasis added] at respectable IT conferences via Second Life . . . so there must be something there, my editor said. Just do it . . .
This is the first indication that this piece may be different from others criticizing SL. Anthes actually admits what others gloss over – a very indifferent to negative attitude toward SL at the outset. He closes the opening section of the article highlighting one of the more useful features and capabilities of SL – networking and communication; I thought the use of the word “appeared” is indicative of the uniqueness of SL. Like no other technology I’ve encountered, it becomes possible to create a more salient, social presence via the avatar and virtual representation of self. The implications for education lie in SL’s potential to connect learners and mentors for distance learning and/or professional development.
Monday: Square 1. Newbies are required to start out doing four simple tutorial exercises . . . three were simple and one was impossible . . . I spent a lot of time stuck on this beginning step, and it was quite frustrating.
The implications for education are two-fold, in my opinion. First, many educators understand the learning curve most students will endure to begin using SL in a classroom environment, but I’m not sure the depth of frustration some users experience is truly understood. Being “stuck on [a] beginning” step is not encouraging, and as I’ve described before (yesterday as a matter of fact) , can very easily detract from the course relevant tasks. Second, educators need to make sure learners are entering SL via a friendly orientation portal – not the standard Linden-created orientation island. I highly recommend the New Media Consortium’s account creation site and orientation island (blog – slurl).
. . . even at this beginning stage, I had my first emotional experience . . . avatar of a woman . . . stopped to say hello. We exchanged a few pleasantries until my (real) telephone rang. When I came back to my PC five minutes later . . . I had inadvertently dissed this nice woman . . . and I felt bad about it. But it was a good reminder of something that I guess I knew but had not really thought about: Behind the two-dimensional avatars on my screen were real human beings [emphasis added]
I think this represents an additional element of orientation educators need to provide to learners – beyond the standard technical orientation. SL does seem like a game at first; it looks like a game, it has controls like a game and appears to have characters like a game. I think it’s important to let learners know that there are very real people behind the avatars, and for many real life typists, the avatar is an extension of their real life. This is particularly true of most educators.
Tuesday: Square 1.01. I decided to quit trying so hard to learn how to do everything and just chat with the people I met. Maybe they could teach me things . . . I logged off and immediately ordered “A Beginner’s Guide to Second Life” from Amazon.com . . . Wednesday: Dawn. Advice to readers: Buy a book on SL or get some tutoring from an experienced user. With the help of the book and sheer persistence, I painfully — but, it must be said, with some fun – guided my avatar down the learning curve.
This goes back to the type of orientation we provide to learners. Requiring learners to purchase or putting them in a position of purchasing a text for a technology that’s only incidental to the course is questionable at best. IF newbies, like Mr. Anthes, may potentially feel the need to purchase a book on how to use Second Life, the education industry may need to, at the very least, keep close metrics on the effectiveness of currently available orientations and, as needed, ramp up the level of orientation being provided through additional online resources. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve encountered a traditional, text with graphics type, orientation available via the web.
I walked into a huge, round auditorium called IBM Theatre I. The seats were all empty, and the stage was bare save for a big white board with some semi-interesting techno-items written on it . . . . I made my way to a Sears store, where I found crude images of Sears appliances . . . I saw no other visitors at the IBM or Sears sites . . . Friday: Looking for Commerce. I returned to IBM’s main island determined to find an IBMer who could answer some questions. I didn’t find such a person . . . I traveled next to the Cisco Virtual Campus and walked into the Cisco Training Center . . . I found neither partners nor employees in any of the training rooms, and no books, computers or training materials of any kind.
As I was reading this, the folks at ISTE Island immediately came to mind; volunteers/docents with the organization take turns staffing the island to provide assistance to SL residents and educators. Given Anthes’ experience, I believe educational institutions and faculty choosing to involve learners in SL activities need to establish and provide regular, posted office hours on the virtual campus to ensure the learning space isn’t empty when learners visit. And, finishing the article, Anthes suggests, “Each major company location in SL should be staffed with a real person, at least during business hours.”
Advice to vendors: If you are going to play this game, make sure it works . . . the corporate presence in SL is so tentative and rudimentary, in most ways inferior to the companies’ own Web sites.
Experimenting is good and necessary, but to be taken seriously by learners and the general public, educational institutions should consider developing more polished “fronts” to the virtual presence. Jennings & Collins‘ (2007) work along with a recent presentation by Dawley (2007) provide initial baselines and best practices for the type of features learners and residents need when arriving at or using a virtual campus.
Thursday: Deja Vu. Rendering 3-D images realistically in real time is incredibly compute- and bandwidth-intensive, more than we have a right to expect from SL. Still, scenes download painfully slowly, often taking more than a minute on my PC, a high-end, dual-core model that has 3GB of memory and is attached to the Internet at 15Mbit/sec . . . The user interface is slow, clunky and primitive, at least compared with what’s available in the best computer games today.
This is a tough one for education. Bandwidth and desktop-specifications are a very real concern, and for education, it’s not just the learners-at-home facilities – many educational institutions may face challenges in providing the level of bandwidth and desktop computing power necessary to support regular SL use. I don’t know that I’ve ever laid hands on a dual-core machine with 3GB of memory and a 15Mbit/second connection – much less having access to that sort of facilities on a regular basis at home and in the lab.
Sunday: Reflections. To say I tried everything in SL would be almost as ludicrous as saying I have tried everything in my first life. Readers who are experienced SLers will argue that if I had only done this or tried that, or joined such and such a group, I would have seen the magic in this virtual world . . . Perhaps. But I can only report the disappointments as I encountered them . . .
In short, providing learners with immediate instructional tasks and objectives to be achieved in SL may offset much of the disappointment experienced by other newbies who find the world relatively empty and without any real meaning or purpose.
And, Ian Lamont’s answer to Anthes speculates an exciting future for virtual worlds:
Forget the blocky shapes and blurry textures that now dominate Second Life; the virtual worlds of 2012 will look even better than the high-definition 3D gaming environments currently offered by Playstation 3 and XBox 360. The virtual worlds of 2017 will be photorealistic, and the simulations will be fantastic.
I typically try to pace myself at about one post per day, and I usually don’t focus on news and current events related to Second Life. However, the news of Cory Ondrejka’s – Chief Technology Officer and lead engineer – departure from Second Life potentially holds a great deal of importance for the entire SL community, including the education community.
My thread of discovery followed this path . . .
- CNET: Upheaval at Linden Lab
- Massively blog: Was Cory Linden fired, or did he quit?
- Massively blog: Phillip Rosedale responds to Cory Ondrejka’s departure
- Massively blog: Cory Ondrejka’s departure in his own words
In short, Rosedale and Ondrejka do not share a common vision for the future of Linden Lab and Second Life, so Rosedale decided it was time they part ways. The first Massively post references Rosedale’s recent publication of a new mission statement for SL and subtly suggests it may be a source of conflict between the two executives.
This has specific, direct implications regarding the viability of Second Life over the long term. I’ve seen the Linden Lab leadership questioned in the past (wish I could find the specific article) as a reason why the long term viability of SL may be suspect. This sort of change in leadership presents an opportunity and significant risk.
In a July post, I wrote about Assessing Learner Performance in Second Life. Jumping there and coming back may be useful. In short however, I suggested that Second Life (or any multi-user virtual environment) makes it more critical that we evaluate the “artifacts and performance produced” by learner experience in Second Life rather than relying on traditional forms of assessment which are designed to approximate actual performance. I did not, however, begin to explain a manner by which that may be accomplished, so the question is, “How do I begin to develop more authentic assessment of learner performance in Second Life?”
The first question to ask is, “What particular task can learners perform or what products can they produce within Second Life to demonstrate they have acquired particular skills or knowledge to be learned within the course?” An example . . . I teach an “Introduction to Computers” course in a community college; IF I were to use Second Life in that environment, I could ask learners – as a class or as a small group – to collaboratively build or explore a large, room sized , walk-in model of a PC computer. That assignment would focus on learner understanding of basic hardware.
A couple of caveats to consider when initially identifying a project, and these relate back to definitions I’ve offered previously of quality instructional uses of Second Life. The “build or explore . . . the walk-in model” is a critical choice. First, if they simply explore a model which I’ve constructed, I need to be sure to include interactive elements that make engaging the content within Second Life uniquely valuable. Otherwise, learners may be able to get the same level of understanding from less intricate technologies – web or print, text or graphics – and that’s not consistent with the suggestion I’ve made that learners should engage content “in a manner not possible through a physical or standard web-based learning environment.” Second, if I require learners to build their own model, I may be introducing skill and knowledge requirements beyond the scope of the course or objective. Learners could very easily spend more time fighting with the Second Life interface than they do on-point with the content for the course; this does not “maintain proper focus on the desired learning outcomes.”
The second question to ask is, “Based upon learner performance of a task or production of content, how do I know they’ve acquired the necessary skills or knowledge required by the course?” One choice is to ask learners to complete a written assessment, perhaps an objective exam of some sort. However, if I have the opportunity to measure actual, “real world” performance, should I not do that rather than approximating learner capabilities using less direct methods?
Back to my walk-in model of a PC . . . I can actually observe learners interacting with the model – either directly by synchronous presence or indirectly via tools I’ve developed to record their interactions with the devices/parts. Setting aside the task of creating the necessary tools in SL, the pedagogical task for me becomes identifying the different levels of performance learners may exhibit. Exactly what sort of interaction with the model constitutes “expert” level knowledge of PC parts and functions? What’s the difference between that and “average/sufficient” level of knowledge? And, finally, what sort of behavior with the device demonstrates that the learner has insufficient or poor understanding of PC hardware?
In short, I develop a list of criteria or objectives which my learners must meet, and then for each, I work to identify three different levels of performance to which point values may be assigned for grading performances. The end result is a performance rubric or matrix.
I think this type of assessment in Second Life is imperative. Transitioning different types of objective assessment tools to Second Life – quiz tools etc – is not a valuable exercise. It’s imposing a philosophically inconsistent method of assessment on the Second Life learning environment in a manner which turns the concepts of reliability and validity backwards. The ability for learners to engage authentic learning through virtual “performance” in Second Life should exclude traditional forms of assessment. Using those forms of assessment in Second Life is a sign of laziness or lack of awareness regarding more appropriate assessment tools and methods.
It’s been about 2.5 to 3 years since I first rezzed an avatar in Second Life; however, I didn’t “get it” at first. It didn’t help that SL was mostly empty and the build tools just didn’t click with me. Plus, since I imagine I was looking for something specifically to do, that first experience ended with “Now what?!?!” and then vanished into the deep, dark corners of my mind once the one month trial ended (before free accounts were available).
About 14 months ago – soon after I heard about the free accounts – I re-entered SL thinking there was some sort of potential in regards to education even though I still did not understand what SL was or could be. Then, around December 1 last year, the proverbial light came on, and I began to understand what Second Life could and would mean to the education sector. So, after two avatars whose names I no longer remember, Topher Zwiers first rezzed on 12/10/2006.
Second Life also prompted my entry into the blogosphere. MUVE Forward will reach the end of its first year on January 4.
The sidebar should not be overlooked on this site.
A quick blogger-related post . . . I noticed in feedburner statistics for the last 30 days that less than 3% of visitors to the site are at a resolution lower than 1024 x 768. Given that information, I decided to tweak the template a bit and explore the blogger layout interface a bit more. Why blogger doesn’t make it possible to select a resolution higher than 800 x 600 and then from templates that fit that higher resolution, I don’t know.
However, with some knowledge of CSS and HTML, I dug into the code for the template, which to this point had been developed entirely by blogger’s drag and drop interface. It wasn’t terribly difficult to insert additional sidebar boxes and move widgets around some. Tinkering for an about an hour or so enabled the current, wider template; along the way, I figured out how to create a three-column layout using the higher resolution. I was able to accomplish getting some features in the sidebar nearer the top of the site with a three column layout: previous posts, label cloud, and blog roll specifically. However, the three column layout placed too much emphasis on the sidebars, so I reverted back to two columns using the wider format.
The sidebar does contain resyndicated news stories relevant to Second Life in General and Second Life & Education that I’ve tagged while reading the ridiculous number of RSS feeds to which I’m subscribed via Google Reader. Honestly, there’s as much information in those feeds as there’s likely to be in the posts themselves ;-)
If anyone’s interested in the necessary modifications to create a three column layout in blogger, get in touch. I don’t mind helping out as much as I can.
This is the second post in a three part series that focuses on three questions for which I offered an answer during a presentation at the League of Innovation in the Community College’s CIT Conference in Nashville. The first part focused on the question: Why Educational Institutions Should Engage Second Life. This post is targeted toward educators early in their exploration of Second Life and will focus on “What is Second Life, and what can it do for educational environments?” This Flickr slideshow includes the vast majority of the screenshots I captured within Second Life to include within or to supplement the presentation. This is a long one ;-)
What is Second Life?
For starters, Giff Constable of the Electric Sheep Company offers a short video answer to this question online at Blip.tv
An important distinction for many, particularly educators, first entering Second Life, focuses on what Second Life is not. It is NOT a game. Second Life is a MUVE – a multi-user virtual environment; that is in contrast to a massive multiplayer online game (MMOG). MUVE is used to describe unthemed, non-game virtual worlds. As noted by Wikipedia, rules, general challenge and purpose are key components of games which often have turns and goals for players. Second Life does not possess any of those features. There are games that have been created within Second Life, but SL itself is not a game.
Alex Krotoski at Social Sim offers several specific arguments that Second Life is a social networking site more than it is a game. Tateru Nino at the SecondLife Insider highlighted an audio interview, which others have also recommended, in which Don Heider of the University of Maryland and Kim Gregson of Ithaca College discuss what Second Life is and is not. In my opinion, a strength of Second Life is the manner in which it draws people and professionals closer; it makes finding and interacting with others of like mind and interest much easier than it has been in the past. One of my first experiences in Second Life was stumbling across and having a 25 minutes voice Skype conversation with another educational technologist; withou t Second Life, I likely would have never met that individual living in Vancouver, BC given that I live in Texas.
Create a salient, virtual identity
The ability to establish a unique, salient personal identity contributes to the social nature and social networking capabilities of Second Life. A quick search at Flickr for “SecondLife + Avatar” reveals the extent to which unique, virtual identities can be established by Second Life residents/users. A YouTube video by Torley demonstrates avatar customization features within Second Life that make the uniqueness possible. This level of specificity in creating personal identities adds a dimension of personality that potentially enhances distance learning experiences and environments.
To get started in Second Life, I recommend that educators create their account and enter Second Life via the New Media Consortium’s account creation page which drops new users at the NMC Orientation Island geared specifically to introduce educator newbies to the SL environment. If you’re already in Second Life, the NMC Orientation Island (slurl) may still prove useful, and at the very least, hanging out there creates the opportunity to meet and help educator newbies.
Interact with the World, Create, Build
The ability to build and create in Second Life presents unique opportunities. In my opinion, Second Life bridges the gap between many educators and the ability to create interactive, 3D environments and simulations. SL provides the foundation necessary – the physics of the virtual world, the user interface, communication tools – to get started; educators can now simply join SL and start building specific tools and resources rather than building a virtual environment from the ground up. There is a learning curve, of course, and it’s not so simple that it can be overlooked, but the learning curve to build meaningful resources in SL is MUCH less than what we’ve encountered in the past. An architecture on the double video provides at least one example of the building process in Second Life.
Interact with Others, Communicate
SL absolutely possesses features expected of a social networking tool: friends list, instant messaging, social groups, public text chat, person search, and detailed personal profiles. It also provides, as of early Fall 2007, integrated voice communications. As educators spend more time in Second Life, there’s an increasing number of interactive communication tools designed specifically to facilitate teaching and learning type communications within the SL world.
What can education do with Second Life?
Networking & Collaboration. Again, I think the networking and social capabilities of Second Life are critical. As example, the Second Life Best Practices in Education conference was held entirely within Second Life in May of 2007; sessions ran from 12:00am Friday to 12:00am Saturday with more than 1,000 unique avatars attending at various times throughout the day. Other physical world conferences have simulcast into Second Life – making it possible for many more to attend and network with one another: TED Conference on TED Island
and the MIT5 Conference was held on the NMC Campus. Also, many educationally relevant groups exist in SL, with number of members listed with t
- 3200 – New Media Consortium
- 2174 – Real Life Educators in Second Life
- 453 – EDTECH Community
- 105 – PhD Research Community
- 23 – Association of SL Academic Research
- 709 – Educational Podcasting
- 1970 – ISTE
- 230 – Literature Alive
- 960 – Science Center
- 105 – AECT
Music. I’ve written about how live music works in Second Life, and it still amazes and impresses me. Suzanne Vega performed in Second Life which can be seen in this YouTube video. The music capabilities of SL make possible authentic learning environments to explore music performance along with the business management, promotion, venue management and new and mixed media aspects of music education. There’s already been research regarding the diversity of music represented in SL.
Political Science. Back in January, I attended the grand opening of the SL Capitol Hill location at which they streamed the audio/video of the CSPAN feed of Nancy Pelosi’s swearing in as Speaker of the House. Watching the event wasn’t the key, it was the opportunity to attend it in a crowd of politicos and press present in Second Life – a unique opportunity I’d never come close to in my physical world. Also, there have been protests and opportunities for political participation at that virtual Capitol Hill (slurl) along with political rallys and campaigns (slurl). In September 2007, Seton Hall University offered, in celebration of Constitution Day, a program focused on interrogation held at the Virtual Guantanomo Bay.
History. History-related resources in Second Life include virtual recreations of historical locations: Rome (slurl), Tudor England (slurl), and the Sistene Chapel by Vassar College (slurl), for example. Also, role play within those environments and others, makes history education more authentic. One example of that is the virtualization of WebQuests; San Diego State (slurl) offers one such environment focused on the experience of American settlers and immigrants. More recently, the Land of Lincoln initiative began planning meetings that are ongoing and supported by a Google discussion group as well.
Health Sciences. The possibilities within the Health Sciences are incredibly exciting. Most recently, the NESIM simulator by John Miller and colleagues provides outstanding opportunity for virtual learning. Similarly, additional clinical simulations in a slightly different format are possible, and simulations already exist to demonstrate and educate regarding heart murmurs (slurl) and respiratory ailments (slurl).
Literature & Language. In addition to historical recreations, like that of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater (slurl), the Literature Alive! project (slurl) by Desideria Stockton (SL name) has sought to engage learners by creating virtual representations of literary works like Dante’s Inferno. Sarah Robbins (SL: Intellagirl Tully) formerly of Ball State University and currently of MediaSauce created a rhetoric board which engages learners in a collaborative writing activity. Finally, with residents worldwide, Second Life provides opportunities for immersive language learning in Spanish, English, French “villages” in which specific languages are spoken and written by native speakers and language learners (more on earlier posts).
Science. The science-related resources already seem nearly endless – even at this still relatively immature stage of development of Second Life. From Spaceport Alpha to Genome Island to Virtual Ecosystem, Second Life is brimming with science resources. Inside Higher Education offered a write up on a project by the University of Denver to develop a virtual nuclear reactor in Second Life to facilitate a master’s degree program. I recently received a note card in Second Life that listed a tremendous number of science-related resources; that note card is available.
Other Disciplines. The earlier building video demonstrates how clearly relevant SL is to architecture and design. SL residents have developed performance venues and performed full length plays and ballets. Behavioral sciences are represented by a well-known hallucination simulation developed by University California Davis. The Teen Grid has hosted a College Fair for recruiting purposes. Broadcast journalism could explore participation via CNN’s i-Reports or the SL News Network. Generally, distance learning can engage SL directly via LMS integration like Sloodle – a mashup of SL with the Moodle LMS.
As this blog comes up on, in the next 2-3 weeks, the end of its first year, I looked back at one of the early posts, and I’m still blown away by the live music in Second Life. The first live music event I attended – by Louis Volare (RL: Louis Landon) – was the first real hook for me into Second Life. Nearly a year later, Louis still performs on a regular basis in Second Life.
Noticed this via Ryan Bretag’s blog; it’s important, so I wanted to add it to this space. Student generated media and message.