Archive for February, 2007
Not long after I re/entered SL to stay, I immediately felt a need for saving and sharing educationally related landmarks; the in-world landmarks weren’t enough – I wanted them available via the web, and I wanted a way to find SL locations recommended by other educators. Absent publicly available and used tools, I created Slurlicious, an in-world heads up display (HUD) that dynamically generates a slurl from your current coordinates and tags it via del.icio.us.
Now enter SecondLifeTree.com,
The purpose of the Second Life Tree is to function as a resource for everyone who wants to explore the ever-growing content of Second Life – regardless if you are just sightseeing or looking for something specific. This site will enable you to see what’s available in-world and to access it via SLurls (which you can use as soon as you have downloaded Second Life). This allows you to browse our web directory or to run a search and to teleport directly to the place you choose.
In short, SecondLifeTree provides web-based, directory/topic-centered searching of Second Life locations with slurls available. Certainly, this may provide a means by which real life educators may further network and share relevant SL educational locations, see specifically the real life education category. However, I believe it may be of limited usefulness as well, and if motivated, I believe the educational community in SL could create a more dynamic collection of slurls that integrates into “the grid.”
SecondLifeTree will be of limited usefulness (IMHO) for two critical reasons. First, it is a stand-alone website and tool; as of right now, it is not integrated into the SL environment. in other words, if I want to mark a slurl for others to use, I have to transfer the location from SL to create a slurl and then go to SecondLifeTree and submit it. Second, it is category-based rather than using Web2.0-style tagging; that makes it infinitely more inflexible since I can only categorize a slurl as Real Life Education rather than Real Life Education + Science + Aerospace etc.
IF IF IF the SL educational community would engage it, a tool such as Slurlicious (or the coming, more flexible version AddThis! Slurl) would enable much more effective Slurl sharing among Second Lifer’s. Slurlicious integrates directly into SL as a tool your avatar can use, and with 1-2 clicks, it ports information directly to any of the bookmarking/tagging tools or services accessible via the web-based AddThis button. When using Slurlicious to tag locations via a web-based service (delicioius, furl, digg etc), educators would only need to use TWO common tags – perhaps: slurl, rled (real life education). Then, at del.icio.us for example, anyone visiting or searching http://del.icio.us/slurl+rled would find EVERY location tagged as relevant to real life education by the community at large.
I’ll come back to this post with more details, but I wanted to note this as soon as possible. Reuters reported this morning (7:02am CST, about and hour and a half ago) that Linden Labs announced integrated voice capabilities will be launched on the grid within “the next several months.”
More on this (2:20pm CST) . . .
The Reuters article offers a few hints regarding what functionality will be available initially and how it will be provided; these insights may have implications for educators and educational institutions engaging SL as a learning environment.
First, at least it doesn’t seem as though the addition of integrated voice communication will create lag or system load issues.
. . . calculations to provide voice services take place on a separate server which should not contribute to lag or additional system load.
I believe this is critically important news. One of the fears many do or should have regarding the addition of new grid features is the impact they and their solutions have on system load and functionality. Certainly, Linden Labs considers those issues and plans accordingly, but their plans – as the contingency plan to ensure service during peak times illustrates – do not always keep educationally-centric users in mind. The integration of voice does not appear as though it will interfere with current real world educational uses of SL.
Second, there will be a voluntary adjustment period for educators since, apparently, implementing voice communications is a decision left to respective land owners.
Voice will be available on islands and parcels of land where the owners choose to make it available, along with group conference calls and one-to-one personal communication similar to Skype.
Not every aspect of a technology is beneficial. The addition of voice communication within a virtual environment will create additional administrative and implementation issues for educational institutions; making the voice communication an option which may be turned off or on by a landowner affords the educational community time to address increased threats to safety and privacy among other issues.
Finally, the technology, made possible by applications from Vivox and Diamondware, will allow coherent spatial communication.
. . . sound will come from the right or left stereo channel depending on where the speaker is located, and voices beyond a certain distance will not be audible. Indicators and animations will also reflect when someone is talking, and how loudly.
With sounds coming from spatially relevant directions, the learning curve for new users engaging SL as a learner communicating with faculty and peers will be reduced. This type of feature and capability is one that we’ve known would be included for some time, but its value should not be overlooked.
Of course, the benefits of adding voice communication to the SL learning environment may be innumerable; I’ve certainly addressed several here (1, 2, 3) that will be enabled or better facilitated by integrated voice communications. And, the Reuters article even describes the potential benefit regarding inter-language communication.
Linden Labs’ official Contingency Measures to Ensure Service as Second Life Grows was published on the LL blog a little more than a week ago. In summary, when use peaks to the point of causing grid slow downs (typically on the weekends), the Grid Status will be changed to Restricted which means that only premium account holders, land owners or those that have purchased currency on the LindeX will be able to log-in. Users not meeting those criteria when the status of the grid changes will not be affected unless they log out; they won’t be able to re-enter the grid until the status changes back to normal.
Bret, I believe, accurately indicated in his blog that this Contingency Plan could have a disproportionate impact on education-centered users. If you’re using SL as a means of communicating with your students, you should consider and/or ask your students several questions… Do you qualify as a SL resident able to log on when the grid is Restricted? To what extent are you using SL for academic activities during weekend hours? Can your schedule be modified to engage class activities during SL’s non-peak hours? Is the $10/month for a premium account beyond your financial resources?
As Bret also suggested, you might consider posting a comment to the Official LL blog requesting they review their contingency plan and consider the impact it may have on educational endeavors; copying and pasting his comment may be an effective choice.
The ability to dynamically and interactively connect real world devices to virtual representations in SL and back again is a capability I discovered through other blogs in late January, but I wanted to take the time to highlight this possibility here as well as and discuss possible educational applications.
The educational implications are extremely interesting. Imagine the possibility for extending simulations. Certainly, I imagine there are already interactive computer based simulations in a variety of fields using physical control devices. By linking those devices to SL in a similar fashion, perhaps simulations with broader implications could be created. For example, I assume we have pipeline control simulations currently used in learning environments; learners interact with process control technology and receive immediate, interactive feedback regarding the impact of their decisions. I believe SL could be used to connect that micro-simulation of the process to the macro-implications the simulation for the larger system. For example, instead of just receiving feedback regarding correct/incorrect status of their control decisions; SL provides a means of simulating and visualizing the “Real World” impact.
Certainly, I do not have enough experience or expertise in a specific field utilizing such technology, but I can certainly imagine there being such an application of SL possible that would enhance the learning space by connecting real world controllers to virtual controllers that are interconnected with a larger, macro-type simulation of the surrounding environment.
Besides, at the very least, now I want a USB-enabled blender in my house that I can connect to my SL Blender. When one turns on, they both turn on. Then, the only question becomes how to connect a Tequila dispenser via USB so that I can make margarita’s at my house while sitting at my work computer and making margarita’s in my SL kitchen. Have that “frozen concoction that helps me hold on” waiting for me when I get home ;-)
In her blog on February 13, Sarah “Intellagirl” Robbins described a SecondLife-based Rhetoric “Board” Game she created to use in the rhetoric class(es) she teaches; reading her summary of the game is a valuable use of time. This is an incredibly creative use of several aspects of the Second Life interface and environment that can be informative to others teaching in other disciplines.
First, the game takes advantage of immersing learners in a learning space within the SL environment that creates a spatial relationship between abstract concepts. It may be an artificial spatial relationship; however, the visualization of the star creates more “memory hooks” for learners to remember audience, voice, medium, goal and context. Granted, graduate or upper level undergraduate students may be engaging these concepts at a much deeper level than simple recall or comprehension, but the visualization and exercise is relevant to learners of any level engaging the same or similar concepts. Second Life clearly makes it more possible for faculty to create interactive, computer-based visualizations; what are the chances that Professor Robbins would have developed a similar visualization in Flash, Photoshop etc? What are the chances that the visualization would have been multiplayer and interactive? Faculty in other disciplines may likely be able to apply the same concept to concepts they teach in their courses.
Second, creating the game to take advantage of SL’s natural distance-limits on the broadcast of the public chat channel is brilliant and highlights another capability of SL. Learners are working in the same virtual space, yet the distance between their avatars creates a small group working environment in which only those proximal to the respective “point” of the star hear the conversation related to that concept. Certainly, some facsimile of this process could have been previously created through a combination of public and private chat rooms – a public chat room for the entire class and five private chat rooms for each “point of the star” – but the visualization and placement of the groups in the same virtual space via SL achieves a learning space perceived to be much more contiguous and open than a collection of private chat rooms which learners or instructors have to exit and enter to participate in each discussion. Other learning spaces and activities could be created to take advantage of the SL distance-limits on the broadcast of the public chat channel.
Ahhh… Nothing like the rush and hustle of a Spring semester to keep us from new pursuits and interests ;-) I do sincerely hope to keep a better, regular pace with my entries than the one I’ve managed over the past two weeks. On to the idea…
A third idea for facilitating Health Sciences and Science studies via Second Life is one I’m labeling “Gulliver’s Anatomy.” The concept is simple, but the implementation will take a collaborative effort of quality builders and subject matter experts.
Essentially, if we can build buildings to walk through and tour in Second Life, can we not also build a virtual “person” through which we can walk and tour. I created a short video three weeks ago which I was going to use to demonstrate, although VERY crudely, the concept. That may still be of use; however, the NMC Connect Arts Symposium (February 11-13, 2007) provided a much more thorough example of how this could be achieved.
The Penn State Virtual Worlds blog offered an entry regarding the NMC event and, in particular, “a community build” of a “‘giant’ on his back.” The image caught my attention.
Now… Imagine the physical characteristics of the objects (prims) used to create this familiar giant were set to phantom, thus allowing SL residents to walk inside or through the body. Once inside the virtual “skin” of the giant, learners discover virtual anatomy: heart, liver, colon, stomach, muscle tissue, nerves, bones, ligaments, tendons etc. With quality builders and subject matter experts, an expertly crafted model could be created. Such an expert model is not necessarily a new capability enabled by SL.
With SL, each element of the anatomy may easily contain its own reference materials and/or be entirely interactive. Clicking on the heart offers a learner and SL resident a note card with details, facts, links to web-based resources designed to support this virtual tour of the human body. Also, I’ve seen water slides in SL. Would it not be possible for younger learners, on the teen grid, to engage the concept of respiration by riding a blood cell as it travels through the human body and blood vessels, from lung to heart to cell and back again? Exciting “stuff!”
Zon: The New Chengo Chinese is an educational MUVE themed environment designed to teach users about Chinese culture and how to speak Mandarin. I first read about Zon in a TerrNova blog by Lisa Galarneau; she offers a good summary of the application, and it’s an interesting read. I also found information about the MUV at Michigan State’s Confucius Institute – one of the project’s collaborators – and via several news sources as well.
Are there themed regions/sims/islands already existing in Second Life that serve the explicit purpose of teaching particular ethnic cultures and languages? I’ve not yet encountered any such spaces in SL, personally, but it will certainly be exciting to watch those spaces develop. They are sure to come. Imagine, as a first year college student studying Spanish . . .
You’ve struggled a little bit during class to engage classmates effectively in Spanish dialogue; you need more practice thinking, speaking and writing in Spanish. In the evening, for your study time devoted to Spanish, you enter SL and teleport into Spanish Island 1. You find yourself on Main Street along with a number of other avatars; like you, many of them are learning Spanish; the ones that are not learning Spanish are native speakers from Spanish speaking countries around the physical world enjoying the opportunity to help others learn their native language.
You notice a fantastic variety of locations in which avatars may visit and converse in Spanish. Many of the locations are like those typically role-played in Spanish classrooms: bakery, grocery store, meat market, library, school, and bus station. However, there’s also a sports bar, a dance club, a wine garden, a restaurant, a coffee house, a bookstore, and a live music venue featuring Spanish-speaking performers.
It’s a fantastic opportunity to engage native speakers in a relaxed, authentic environment: virtually-based immersion learning.