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October 20, 2009

Virtual worlds in UK HE - the 'which?' and the 'why?'

A new snapshot report is available from the Virtual World Watch project (funded by us), Choosing virtual worlds for use in teaching and learning in UK higher education, this one looking specifically at which virtual world platforms are being chosen by practitioners in UK universities and asking them why they made that choice.

Second Life and OpenSim were mentioned or used by most respondents.

Second Life is attractive due to its constant development over six years, there is no need to acquire a server or significant local technical support, the large community of experienced practitioners, and the variety of already-created objects and structures that can be quickly re-used cheaply or for free.

OpenSim is attractive because, compared to Second Life, ‘land’ does not carry the same expense, there are fewer security issues, there is no dependence on a single commercial vendor, and it is easier to configure how private your environment is; content can also be ported from Second Life.

Apart from Second Life and OpenSim, over a dozen other virtual worlds or environments were mentioned; of these Metaplace and Forterra’s OLIVE appeared to pique more interest and use, from an educational perspective, than the others. Some respondents had examined a range of virtual worlds. Sensibly, organisations such as St Andrews University are examining these from the perspective of the educational or project requirements, rather than the attributes of the particular virtual worlds.

It is clear from the report that carrying out a full evaluation of the available options is not a trivial undertaking, especially given the rate of change of technology in this area, leading to a situation in which some universities are defaulting to the two most obvious choices whilst others are in danger of replicating evaluation work already undertaken by others.

The report calls for more rapid sharing of the findings of evaluation work being undertaken across the sector, both so that the community as a whole is better informed and so that there is less danger of duplicated effort.

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