Archive for November, 2007
I’ve expressed frustration before with the fragmentation of scheduling and event information for real life education events in Second Life. The calendar below is a compilation of public Google Calendars focused on RL Education events in Second Life; the calendars are published and maintained by others. Since they are made publicly available via Google Search, I’m re-syndicating them here as a matter of convenience for myself and anyone who chooses to bookmark the this entry of MUVE Forward.
I delivered a presentation at the League for Innovation in the Community College Conference on Information Technology titled, MUVE Forward with Second Life: Introduction & Implementation Strategy. The goal of the presentation was to answer three questions for faculty and administrators first exploring Second Life and how their institution may begin to engage virtual worlds:
- What is Second Life, and what can it do for educational environments?
- Should education institutions engage Second Life?
- How can education institutions begin engaging Second Life?
To focus on the second question, several key factors strongly suggest that educational institutions should engage Second Life earlier rather than later. If for no other reason, multi-user virtual environments are NOT going away. At the very least, our children are now growing up with them. The picture above is from WebKinz World promoted by real life counterpart stuffed animals. My daughter got the pink poodle – who she named Cotton Candy – as a gift earlier this summer; she’s been playing the virtual version of Cotton Candy since then, and Cotton Candy has several WebKinz friends owned by my daughters RL friends. Charlie the monkey? He’s new; he was adopted from the store and made live two days ago. By my wife. We’re playing in our daughter’s world with her, and it’s a virtual world. And, yes, when my wife started learning the WebKinz environment, my 7 year old daughter stood closely by teaching her (read as: barking instructions) how to buy things, how to play games etc. (grin).
In addition, more people are going to try out virtual worlds and decide they want to stay. That’s not only because more game- and social networking-savvy Generation Yers are registering, but also because virtual world graphics will get really, really good, thanks to exponential advances in hardware and software technologies. 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 3-D gaming environments currently offered by the PS3 and the XBox 360. The virtual worlds of 2017 will be photorealistic, and the simulations will be fantastic. Eventually, new tools, business models and enabling technologies will emerge within these worlds that are more efficient than processes in real life or the text-based Internet.
For me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s more than a few other significant reasons MUVE’s and perhaps Second Life in particular will not go away; they will continue to develop rapidly. Educational institutions should engage them now to begin adapting to the learning curve – even if only through limited environments. If you’re trying to make the case to an administrator who questions the viability or importance of this new and untested technology…
Investment is heavy. The list of venture capitalists investing in virtual worlds includes a who’s who of financiers: Bill Gurley with Benchmark Capital compares Second Life to Microsoft and eBay in their early stages; Mitch Kapor, creator of Lotus 1-2-3; Pierre Omidyar, eBay founder; Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO; and Ray Ozzie, Microsoft chief technology architect (CNN Money, January 23, 2007)
Interoperability is being pursued. What does that mean? Powerful technology companies like IBM, Cisco Systems, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola and Sony along with virtual world developers Linden Lab (Second Life), Multiverse Network, Mindark and others have begun the discussion of connecting various multiuser virtual environments. At the very least, that potentially means being able to connect in some limited form your Second Life avatar with your World of Warcraft character with your There avatar/identity with your Sony PS3 Home game etc. True interoperability extends the capabilities and promise and potential of virtual worlds. (ZDNet, October 12, 2007)
Second Life “inevitably” will be open source. Having free and open access to run islands/sims/regions on individual servers will cause the virtual in-world area to balloon in size and population. Linden Labs has referred to Second Life open source efforts as embracing the inevitable; the Second Life client is already available in open source format. Account creation scripts can be created by other organizations to bring new residents into Second Life via custom orientation islands (e.g. New Media Consortium for educators; CSI:NY for their mixed media episode). Open source virtual space projects are already underway.
A sampling of educators believe it’s going to stick. New Media Consortium conducted a survey in Summer 2007. Of 202 responses to the question “What is your prediction for the future of Second Life?” 69% said one of the following:
- It will achieve some great applications but will not go mainstream
- It is the future of the web.
- It has great potential, a current taste or part of the 3D future.
Further, a leader in the field of educational technology, Chris Dede from the Harvard School of Education has framed, in one of his keynote addresses, three directions in which educational computing is going: the world at our desktop via the internet and desktop conferencing applications; augmented reality by bringing computers into the physical world with us; and virtual reality that exists as we enter worlds within computers.
Second Life is engaging the education community and vice versa. Campus Second Life and educational discounts for land purchases have existed for quite some time. The number of educational builds and projects in Second Life are increasing constantly and are being well documented via research and conference presentations. Nancy Jennings & Chris Collins from the University of Cincinnati recently published a research report documenting the extent to which and how education institutions are engaging Second Life.
The capabilities of Second Life provide educators with tools we’ve not had in the past to do things we’ve not previously been able to accomplish. To a significant extent, Second Life bridges the “programming gap” for simulation and game creation. Certainly, Second Life has a learning curve, and not every educator will be inclined to learn the finer points of building in-world or programming with the Linden Scripting Language (LSL). BUT, the base infrastructure of a robust virtual environment has been provided; it’s no longer a matter of creating such a tool from the ground up. It becomes much more possible to build fantastic 3D models with unique object coding than it ever has been before. Second Life provides a theme-free environment in which users retain copyright and ownership of any content they create. SL has the capability to communicate with web-based applications via llHttpRequest; that means it has the potential to integrate with existing web-based platforms like learning management systems (Sloodle/Moodle, Angel already have early integration with Blackboard encouraging Second Life projects via it’s Greenhouse grants program). Second Life Research blog addressed, in the same post mentioned previously, the capabilities in more general terms as well.
Nancy Jennings and Chris Collins (SL: Fleep Tuque), of the University of Cincinnati, have a research study that’s been published in the International Journal of Social Science. From the abstract of the report, Virtual or Virtually U: Educational Institutions in Second Life
Educational institutions are increasingly exploring the affordances of 3D virtual worlds for instruction and research, but few studies have been done to document current practices and uses of this emerging technology. This observational survey examines the virtual presences of 170 accredited educational institutions found in one such 3D virtual world called Second Life®, created by San Francisco based Linden Lab®. The study focuses on what educational institutions look like in this virtual environment, the types of spaces educational institutions are creating or simulating, and what types of activities are being conducted.
Most notably, to me, of the 170 institutions examined by the study, only 71, about 41.8%, occupied land. Of those, only 1 operates more than one island, less than half (32) occupied a full island, and the remaining land-owning institutions averaged 2046 square meters in virtual space. I believe that suggests an interesting benchmark for institutions currently planning to enter Second Life. 2046 square meters is only 1/32 of a region/sim/island, and the monthly maintenance fees are only $15/month; certainly, that is limited space, but with so many institutions possessing that parcel size, the cost to enter and experiment with Second Life may be much less than what many institutions imagine.
The research report also describes a number of possible benchmarks and best practices for institutions choosing to purchase land in Second Life: signage, branding, footpaths, welcome information, maps/diagrams of locations, teleport centers, etc. Further, the report describes the visible uses of land space and concludes with two case studies of notable institutions/organizations with a Second Life presence. Definitely worth a read.
As a professional side note, Chris/Fleep continues to facilitate the development of educational work in Second Life. This research report, possibly the first of its kind, follows up the work she’s already done with ISTE and the outstanding Second Life Best Practices in Education conference held in May of which she was a key player.
I attended the League for Innovation in the Community College Conference on Information Technology this past week in Nashville. There were roughly nine presentations focused on educational activities in Second Life. One of those was by John Miller (JS Vavoom) from Tacoma Community College; Professor Miller/Vavoom focused on Using Second Life’s 3D Online World to Train Online Students in Nursing Education. His blog has two posts with images of the Nursing Education SIM; the NESIM is impressive work and certainly offers a prime example regarding the unique capabilities of virtual environments. Scott Merrick over at Oh Second Life posted a snapshot video of that presentation.
While exploring the resources JS Vavoom made available, I tracked back to a blog by his students in which they document their exploration of nursing and medically related builds and sims in Second Life. The Nursing 211: Second Life Medical Field Trips blog presents a number of resources each with a write up from the students regarding the usefulness. Among those explored by the students included: Heart Murmur Island, Anne Myers Medical Center, Make a Wish Maternity Clinic, Wheelies, National Institute of Health, CDC, the Center for Positive Mental Health, and UC Davis’ Hallucination Sim. In several cases, there’s more than one write up per location. Worth a look.
It’s been more than a full month since the last post; I’ll feel like such a slacker. The past four weeks have been busy including a trip this past week to Nashville for the League of Innovation in the Community College Conference on Information Technology; I presented an introduction to Second Life for a packed room during the last concurrent session of the conference. I’ll be writing more about the conference and several of the Second Life related goings on.
Before that however… Have you seen the Windlight Viewer? I’d noticed mention of it before and knew that it added a great deal of graphic detail to Second Life, but I finally downloaded it to try it out first hand. All I have to say is wow. In my presentation at the League, I commented that Second Life may not yet offer the graphically rich environments of some of the currently available commercial MMORPG’s. That’s true, but the Windlight Viewer makes a tremendous difference. I could try to explain, but it wouldn’t do any good. Two pictures are worth at least two thousand words, even at a smaller resolution. Click on each for the full effect. And, VTOReality has a more in depth post on the Windlight Viewer.
(Back again, at least for now – November was an incredibly busy month!)
Interesting question and answer over at 2¢ Worth! by David Warlick
After attending David’s presentation, Bethany Smith commented on her blog (Transparent Learning):
In your presentation you discussed how teachers (and others I’m sure) cobble together tools such as aggregators, twitter, del.icio.us, etc. to be our social network – while our students use MySpace and Facebook. So where do the two meet? Is asking our teachers to use facebook a way to reach the existing pool of students? Or do we try to create a separate (and relatively safer) social network? I’m investigating the use of ELGG, but wonder if our students would want to have 2 social networks or not?
David answered . . .
That said, I’m not sure that the best use of social networking is a single networking tool, but a use of what ever tools or combination of tools are available to facilitate learning as a social and conversational endeavor, one that respects the perspective of the learner community and its ability to accomplish its own learning with guidance from participating teachers (master learners).
While I agree in principle with David, I think Bethany hits on a critical issue that I’ve experienced in my own classes (Intro to Computers at a Community College). There certainly are better tools than MySpace and Facebook for facilitating a classroom social network, and ideally, I’d prefer to use those (Ning.com comes to mind). However, I do believe user habits and “surfing-load” (like cognitive load but referencing the number of sites/online tools they’re expected to use) impact this discussion tremendously.
I’ve tried cobbling together what I believe are the most effective tools for each task: del.icio.us for social bookmarking, Google Reader for RSS aggregation, Blogger for blogging and Google Docs for collaborative writing etc. But, just trying to use those four tools for collaborative activities, which WebCT (err… Blackboard Vista) doesn’t currently support very well if at all, creates two additional user accounts and four new sites/tools for students. And, that’s on top of getting them to use WebCT on a regular basis. It just doesn’t happen. They don’t want to do it, and making the adjustment to use two new tools – even with classroom support – doesn’t function very well.
It may be ideal to use the other tools and other social networks based upon how well they facilitate the learning experience, but that’s just an ideal. With discussion of the need for education to “go native” and use the tools our students are using, I think it’s necessary and desirable to leverage the capabilities of, at least, Facebook. With the number of applications available for Facebook, I believe more successs will be found by engaging learners there rather than trying to string together other tools or trying to bring learners to a new tool, for them at least, like ELGG or Ning. And, I believe that’s even more true when it’s already difficult to get learners into the habit of checking WebCT for new discussion board posts.