October 03, 2011

Virtual World Watch taking submissions for new Snapshot Report

John Kirriemuir has put out a new call for contributions to a tenth Virtual World Watch "snapshot report" on the use of virtual worlds in education in the UK and, this time, in Ireland too. His deadline for submissions is November 14 2011.

The activity is no longer funded under the Eduserv Research Programme, but John has obtained "a small amount of independent funding to carry out another snapshot over the remainder of the year", and Andy and I continue to be members of an informal "advisory board" for the activity (which means, err, we get the occasional email from John which prods us into writing blog posts like this one!)

Part of John's plan is to try to draw attention to the resulting report (and to contributors' work covered in it) by "pushing" it to various agencies, including:

  • UK funding bodies who fund virtual world in education activities
  • Journalists who specialise in technology in education news
  • Relevant government and civil service departments
  • The owners/developers of key virtual worlds
  • Major research groups (worldwide) involved in virtual world in education research

Previous reports are available here

February 09, 2010

Virtual World Watch survey call for information

John Kirriemuir has issued a request for updated information for his his eighth Virtual World Watch "snapshot" survey of the use of virtual worlds in UK Higher and Further Education.

Previous survey reports can be found on the VWW site.

For further information about the sort of information John is after, see his post. He would like responses by the end of February 2010.

Our period of funding for this work is approaching its end, so this will be the last survey funded under the Eduserv Research Programme. John is planning to continue some Virtual World Watch activity, at least through 2010, as he indicates in this presentation which he gave to the recent "Where next for Virtual Worlds?" (wn4vw) meeting in London:

The slides from the other presentations from the wn4vw meeting (including a video of the opening presentation by Ralph Schroeder) are also available here, and you can find an archive of tagged Twitter posts from the day here.

I enjoyed the meeting (even if I'm not sure we really arrived at many concrete answers to the question of "where next?"), but it also felt quite sad. It marked the end of the projects Eduserv funded in 2007 on the use of virtual worlds in education. That grants call was the first one I was involved with after joining Eduserv in 2006, and although it was an area that was completely new to me, the response we got, both in terms of the number of proposals and their quality, seemed very exciting. And I still look back on the 2007 Symposium as one of the most successful (if rather nerve-wracking at the time!) events I've been involved in. As things worked out, I wasn't able to follow the progress of the projects as closely as I'd have liked, but the recent meeting reminded me again of the strong sense of community that seems to have built up amongst researchers, learning technologists and educators working in this area, which seems to have outlived particular projects and programmes. Of course we only funded a handful of projects, and other funding agencies helped develop that community too (I'm thinking particularly of JISC with its Open Habitat project, and the EU MUVEnation project), but it's something I'm pleased we were able to contribute to in a small way.

February 02, 2010

Second Life, scalability and data centres

Interesting article about the scalability issues around Second Life, What Second Life can teach your datacenter about scaling Web apps. (Note: this is not about the 3-D virtual world aspects of Second Life but about how the infrastructure to support it is delivered.)

Plenty of pixels have been spilled on the subject of where you should be headed: to single out one resource at random, Microsoft presented a good paper ("On Designing and Deploying Internet-Scale Services" [PDF]) with no less than 71 distinct recommendations. Most of them are good ("Use production data to find problems"); few are cheap ("Document all conceivable component failure modes and combinations thereof"). Some of the paper's key overarching principles: make sure all your code assumes that any component can be in any failure state at any time, version all interfaces such that they can safely communicate with newer and older modules, practice a high degree of automated fault recovery, auto-provision all resources. This is wonderful advice for very large projects, but herein lies a trap for smaller ones: the belief that you can "do it right the first time." (Or, in the young-but-growing scenario, "do it right the second time.") This unlikely to be true in the real world, so successful scaling depends on adapting your technology as the system grows.

December 22, 2009

Online learning in virtual environments with SLOODLE - final report

The final report from the Online Learning In Virtual Environments with SLOODLE project, led by Dan Livingston of the University of the West of Scotland, is now available.  SLOODLE was one of the Second Life projects that we funded back in 2007, following a call for proposals in November 2006.  Seems like a long time ago now!

Reading the report, it is clear that the project became as much about building a community of SLOODLE users as it was about developing some open source software - which, of course, that is how all good open source projects should be, but it doesn't always work out like that.  In this case however, I think the project has been very successful and the numbers on page 4 of the report give some evidence of that.

I must admit that I have always had a nagging doubt about the sense of bringing together the kind of semi-formalised learning environment that is typical of VLEs such as Moodle with the, shall we say anarchic(?), less structured learning opportunities presented by virtual worlds in general and Second Life in particular.  To a certain extent I think the project mitigated this by developing a wide-ranging set of tools, some of which are tightly integrated with Moodle and some of which are stand-alone.  Whatever... one of the things that I really like about the report is the use of User Stories towards the end.  It's clear is that this stuff works for people.

And so to the future.  As Dan says in the Forward to the report:

Although the Eduserv project has now come to an end, SLOODLE continues to keep me busy – with regular conference and workshop presentations in both physical and virtual form. Community support and development remains as important today as it was, and can now be even more challenging – with SLOODLE tools now available on multiple virtual world platforms, and with the approach of large scale installations on university faculty and central Virtual Learning Environments.

Dan, along with representatives of all the other Second Life/Virtual World projects we funded 2 years ago, will be speaking at our Where next for virtual worlds in UK higher and further education? event at the London Knowledge Lab next year (now sold out I'm afraid).

October 27, 2009

Virtual World Watch Request for Information

Over at Virtual World Watch, John Kirriemuir is embarking on collecting data for his seventh "snapshot" survey of the use of virtual worlds in UK Higher and Further Education, and has issued a request for updated information:

The question

How are you using virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life, OpenSim, Metaplace, OLIVE, Active Worlds, Playstation Home, Blue Mars, Twinity, Wonderland) in teaching, learning or research?

Things you may want to include:

  • Why you are using a virtual world.
  • If teaching using a virtual world, how it fits into your curriculum.
  • Any evaluation of the experience of using the virtual world.
  • Will you do it again next year? Why (or why not)?

Please send any response to John, by Tuesday 10 November 2009. For further information, see the post on the Virtual World Watch weblog.

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.

October 09, 2009

Theatron 3 - final report

Theatron3 The final report from the Theatron 3 project is now available.

Theatron 3 was one of the projects that we funded under our 'virtual world' grants call in 2007 - seems like a long time ago now!

The project's objectives were twofold: firstly, to construct replicas of 20 historic theatres in the virtual world of Second Life (led by the Kings Visualisation Lab, King’s College London) and, secondly, to use those theatres as the basis for various sub-projects investigating the pedagogical value of 3D virtual worlds (led by the HEA English Subject Centre and HEA Subject Centre for Dance, Drama and Music).

The project has, I think, been very successful in the first aim, somewhat less-so with the second - but one of the things I really like about the final report is the honesty with which this is reported. We always said to the project that we wanted them to share what went wrong as well as what went right because it is only by doing so that we can move forward. On that basis, I repeat the summary of the final report here and I would urge those with an interest in virtual worlds to read the report fully:

  1. Second Life is a suitable environment for creating accurate and complex structures and embedding related pedagogical content. Build times can be greatly reduced through effective workflow plans.
  2. During the lifetime of the project, Second Life was too unreliable and presented too many barriers to institutions for full testing pedagogically. It is an appropriate medium for educational innovators, but early adopters will find that there are still too many issues for incorporating it into their practice.
  3. Immersive virtual worlds as a medium present many challenges to students, particularly due to cultural attitudes and the absence of embodiment experienced by some students. The time required to invest in learning to use the environments also is a barrier to adoption. For these reasons, it may always be problematic to make the use of immersive virtual worlds mandatory for students.
  4. As a medium for studying and communicating, Second Life presents many opportunities. As a performance medium it is limited when attempting to place existing, real life performance in a different medium, but has much potential when used to explore new forms of expression.
  5. The introduction of Second Life at institution often reveals many weaknesses in those institutions’ technical and service infrastructure. These inadequacies need to be resolved before widespread adoption of these technologies can occur.
  6. Immersive virtual worlds are a relatively new technology in education, and there was little understanding of the barriers to implementation within an institution and their most appropriate application to learning when the project started. Second Life itself needed much development in terms of reliability. In the intervening two years, there have been many steps forward in understanding its application to education. The technological goals of the project were well timed in this development cycle, but in retrospect the pedagogical aims were set too early, before the capabilities and limitations of the medium were sufficiently understood. However, the lessons learned pedagogically from Theatron will be invaluable in informing future practice.

I'll end with a quote from Professor Richard Beacham of the Kings Visualisation Lab, one of the project directors:

We think virtual worlds are here to stay and are getting ready to set up residence within them. We have a number of projects in progress and in prospect, primarily in Roman buildings and housing. We are adding Noh theatre and have Noh performers in collaboration with Japanese colleagues. We are excited and also grateful that the project gave us the chance to hit the ground running and to very quickly take a lot of materials which had the potential to be incorporated into a project like this and it's given us a real head start. It's put us somewhere towards the front of the pack and that’s a very good place to be.

This is very gratifying. We always took the view that Second Life was not necessarily an end in itself. Rather that its use in highly innovative and experimental ways could provide a stepping stone to greater understanding and, potentially, to other things.

[Image: Theatre at Epidaurus, Greece - borrowed (without permission) from the Kings Visualisation Lab gallery.]

October 06, 2009


FOTE (the Future of Technology in Education conference organised by ULCC), which I attended on Friday, is a funny beast.  For two years running it has been a rather mixed conference overall but one that has been rescued by one or two outstanding talks that have made turning up well worthwhile and left delegates going into the post-conference drinks reception with something of a buzz.

Last year it was Miles Metcalfe of Ravensbourne College who provided the highlight.  This year it was down to Will McInnes (of Nixon/McInnes) to do the same, kicking off the afternoon with a great talk, making up for a rather ordinary morning, followed closely by James Clay (of Gloucestershire College).  If this seems a little harsh... don't get me wrong.  I thought that much of the afternoon session was worth listening to and, overall, I think that any conference that can get even one outstanding talk from a speaker is doing pretty well - this year we had at least two.  So I remain a happy punter and would definitely consider going back to FOTE in future years.

My live-blogged notes are now available in a mildly tidied up form.  This year's FOTE was heavily tweeted (the wifi network provided by the conference venue was very good) and about half-way thru the day I began to wonder if my live-blogging was adding anything to the overall stream?  On balance, and looking back at it now, I think the consistency added by by single-person viewpoint is helpful.  As I've noted before, I live-blog primarily as a way of taking notes.  The fact that I choose to take my notes in public is an added bonus (hopefully!) for anyone that wants to watch my inadequate fumblings.

The conference was split into two halves - the morning session looking at Cloud Computing and the afternoon looking at Social Media.  The day was kicked off by Paul Miller (of Cloud of Data) who gave a pretty reasonable summary of the generic issues but who fell foul, not just of trying to engage in a bit of audience participation very early in the day, but of trying to characterise issues that everyone already understood to be fuzzy and grey into shows of hands that required black and white, yes/no answers.  Nobody fell for it I'm afraid.

And that set the scene for much of the morning session.  Not enough focus on what cloud computing means for education specifically (though to his credit Ray Flamming (of Microsoft) did at least try to think some of that through and the report by Robert Moores (of Leeds Met) about their experiences with Google Apps was pretty interesting) and not enough acknowledgment of the middle ground.  Even the final panel session (for which there was nowhere near enough time by the way) tried to position panelists as either for or against but it rapidly became clear there was no such divide.  The biggest point of contention seemed to be between those who wanted to "just do it" and those who wanted to do it with greater reference to legal and/or infrastructural considerations - a question largely of pace rather than substance.

If the day had ended at lunchtime I would have gone home feeling rather let down.  But the afternoon recovered well.  My personal highlights were Will McInnes, James Clay and Dougald Hine (of School of Everything), all of whom challenged us to think about where education is going.  Having said that, I think that all of the afternoon speakers were pretty good and would likely have appealed to different sections of the audience, but those are the three that I'd probably go back and re-watch first. All the video streams are available from the conference website but here is Will's talk:

One point of criticism was that the conference time-keeping wasn't very good, leaving the final two speakers, Shirley Williams (of the University of Reading, talking about the This is Me project that we funded) and Lindsay Jordan (of the University of Bath/University of the Arts) with what felt like less than their alloted time.

For similar reasons, the final panel session on virtual worlds also felt very rushed.  I'd previously been rather negative about this panel (what, me?), suggesting that it might descend into pantomime.  Well, actually I was wrong.  I don't think it did (though I still feel a little bemused as to why it was on the agenda at all).  Its major problem was that there was only time to talk about one topic - simulation in virtual worlds - which left a whole range of other issues largely untouched.  Shame.

Overall then, a pretty good day I think.  Well done to the organisers... I know from my own experience with our symposium that getting this kind of day right isn't an easy thing to do.  I'll leave you with a quote (well, as best as I can remember it) from Lindsay Jordan who closed her talk with a slightly sideways take on Darwinism:

in the social media world the ones who survive - the fittest - are the ones who give the most

June 23, 2009

Virtual World Watch publishes new Snapshot report

Yesterday, John Kirriemuir announced the publication by the Virtual World Watch project of a new issue of the "snapshot" survey reports he has been collating covering the use of virtual worlds in UK higher and further educational institutions.

In his introductory section, John highlights a couple of points:

  • In terms of subject areas, the health and medical science sector appears to be developing a high profile in terms of its use of virtual worlds. I've noticed this from my own fairly cursory tracking of activity via mailing lists and weblogs. I was slightly surprised that some of this functionality (simulations etc) isn't covered by existing software applications, but there seems to be a gap which - in some cases at least - is being addressed through the use of virtual worlds.
  • Although some technical challenges remain, in comparison with previous surveys, reports of technical obstacles to the use of virtual worlds software are diminishing. John attributes this to the dual influence of growing institutional support in some cases and unsupported individuals abandoning their efforts in others. My own occasional experience of using Second Life (which John notes remains "the virtual world of choice" in UK universities and colleges) has been that the platform seems vastly more stable than it was a couple of years ago when John embarked on these surveys - though ironically last weekend saw one of the most widespread and prolonged disruptions that I can recall in a long time.

As a footnote, I'd highlight John's point that for the next survey he is placing more emphasis on gathering information in-world, both in Second Life and in other virtual worlds. It'll be interesting to see how well this works out, as I have to admit I find the in-world discovery and communication tools somewhat limited, and I find myself relying heavily on Web-based sources (weblogs, microblogging services, Flickr, YouTube etc) to find resources of interest (and get rather frustrated when I come across interesting in-world resources that aren't promoted well on the Web!).

Anyway, as with previous installments, the report provides a large amount of detail and insights into what UK educators are doing in virtual worlds and what they are saying about their experiences.

January 30, 2009

Maximising the effectiveness of virtual worlds in teaching and learning

A quick note to say that the materials, audio and presentation slides, from our virtual worlds meeting that took place at the University of Strathclyde exactly 2 weeks ago, organised jointly with CETIS, are available from the meeting Wiki.

I have to confess to having missed much of the content on the day being rather unsuccessfully tied up with technology, trying to stream audio and slides from the event to a virtual audience in Second Life. I can sum my part in the day up by saying that I learned three things:

  • Firstly, having access thru a firewall to run Second Life is not the same thing as having access thru a firewall to run Second Life voice-chat.
  • Secondly, having a 3G dongle is very handy in an emergency (thanks to Sheila MacNeill of CETIS for use of hers on the day).
  • Thirdly, taking two laptops to a meeting sometimes isn't enough (but I couldn't carry any more anyway).

From my point of view the day was very frustrating, with the combination of a broken laptop and network restrictions at Strathclyde meaning that the afternoon session couldn't be streamed. But, from what I heard on the day and have seen since, we had a great selection of talks and there's material on the Wiki that is well worth viewing if you haven't done so yet.

Final thought... I note a tweet from Ren Reynolds (one of the speakers on the day) saying that delegate badges needed to list Twitter accounts and Second Life names alongside people's real names. Yes, absolutely... this is something we, and others, need to get into the habit of doing.

December 17, 2008

Virtual World Watch requests information

Over at the Foundation-funded Virtual World Watch project, John Kirriemuir has issued a request for updated information on UK university and college activity in virtual worlds, to provide the basis of a fifth "snapshot" report, which he anticipates making available in late January 2009.

This time the questionnaire is explicitly extended to look beyond the use of the Second Life virtual world and to cover other virtual worlds too. It has also been "slimmed down" to a relatively small number of "open-ended" questions. John is running to quite a tight deadline and would like responses by Tuesday 6 January 2009.

The previous snapshot reports have been well received as a current source of information, so if you have activity to report on which you'd like to see included, please take a break from the "Only Fools & Horses" repeats on Boxing Day, and have a look at John's questionnaire.

Further details available from Virtual World Watch.

October 15, 2008

Virtual World Watch - 'official' launch

Vwwmoo The Virtual World Watch project was officially launched today - I'm not quite sure what that means but anyway...  the project will continue the series of snapshots that we have funded over the last year or so but will broaden in scope to include usage of virtual environments other than Second Life.

The work will continue to be undertaken by John Kirriemuir (SL: Silversprite Helsinki).

August 15, 2008

Student part-time work offered: controlling the VC's avatar

A nice quote in yesterday's Times Higher by John Coyne, VC at the University of Derby, in an article about transliteracy:

"While I was on the walkabout in Second Life, I bumped into another avatar (online persona) and it was one of my lecturers. He was surprised to discover his vice-chancellor there," Coyne explains.

"We engaged in a conversation, but I think he realised my avatar was being directed by a student colleague when he asked me a question. Apparently I responded by saying, 'Cool.'?


Preserving virtual worlds

The BBC have a short article about digital preservation entitled, Writing the history of virtual worlds.  Virtual worlds and other gaming environments, being highly dynamic in nature, bring with them special considerations in terms of long term preservation and the article describes an approach being used at the University of Texas involving interviews and story telling with both makers and users.

Belatedly, I also note that last week's Wallenburg Summer Institute at Standford University in the US included a workshop entitled Preserving Knowledge in Virtual Worlds.  Stanford are (or were?) partners in another virtual world preservation project, Preserving Virtual Worlds, led by Jerome McDonnough at the University of Illinois (someone who is probably better known by many readers as the technical architect of METS), which was funded by the Library of Congress a year or so ago.

At the risk of making a gross generalisation, it looks like the Texas work is attempting to preserve the 'experience' of virtual worlds, whereas the Illinois work has been focusing more on the content.  It strikes me that virtual worlds such as Second Life that are surrounded by a very significant level of blogging, image taking, video making and podcasting activity are being preserved indirectly (in some sense at least) through the preservation of that secondary material (I'm making the assumption here, possibly wrongly, that much of that associated material is making its way into the Internet Archive in one form or another)?

June 13, 2008

Learning From Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life

A live blog from the Learning From Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life final project meeting, held at the London Knowledge Lab on 13 June 2008.

Note that the text below has been edited to correct typos and so on but no substantial changes have been made to the original.

This was a really interesting event, organised at the end of a one year project that we funded in last year's round of grants.  As you can tell from the live blog, parts of the meeting stretched my limited knowledge of learning and game theory to breaking point.  Despite that, I hope that my notes are interesting and useful.  On reflection, I think the live blogging would have worked better if I'd pre-arranged for several others in the room to contribute to the blog via the commenting mechanism - that would have provided a more rounded and balanced summary of the day to remote readers.

Learning From Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life - final event (06/13/2008)
Powered by: CoveritLive
Andy Powell -  people are still having coffee but we should be starting shortly i think
Andy Powell -  there are about 30 people in the room
Andy Powell -  first up, we have Diane Carr, Martin Oliver and Andrew Burn talking about the project that they'd been working on for the last year
Andy Powell -  note that i'm fully expecting some of this to be over my head... bear with me
Andy Powell -  ok, we are starting
Andy Powell -  Diane Carr is starting with a project overview - note that the project ended about a month ago
Andy Powell -  project - what can our experiences in Second Life (SL) and World of Warcraft (WoW) teach us about good teaching practices in virtual worlds
Andy Powell -  how do the cultural aspects impact on this
Andy Powell -  team had been 'playing' WoW for about 18 months prior to project start but were all new to SL
Andy Powell -  started by learning SL - kept game diaries of their experiences
Andy Powell -  from this experience a set of themes were identified
Andy Powell -  expertise, conventions, SL pain barrier, gatekeeping and territorialism, creative practices, drama and performance, voice issues,
Andy Powell -  Diane and Martin describing early experiences in SL - -ve experiences of orientaation island, etc.
Andy Powell -  early part of project spent playing... err... learning i mean
Andy Powell -  exploring issues around self-representation - hey, it wouldn't be an SL project with that!
Andy Powell -  integration of voice in SL coincided with early part of the project
Andy Powell -  project also looked at WoW - which martin will be talking about later
Andy Powell -  describing WoW is a place that can be explored - SL more like a bunch of addresses - i.e. more like the Internet
Andy Powell -  project team have maintained a blog thoughout the project - noting that has been useful and interesting in context of research practice - surfacing stuff that wouldn't get surfaced normally thru formal research publication
Andy Powell -  OK... the project staff also undertook teaching sessions in SL
Andy Powell -  4 teaching sessions over 2 semesters
Andy Powell -  trial sessions to make sure that poeople could get in world and find things, etc.
Andy Powell -  machinima, role-playing, research ethics, discussion session
Andy Powell -  assessment of those sessions based on student's own assessments
Andy Powell -  this has been written up on their blog - learning to teach in second life - http://learningfromsocialworlds.wordpress.com/
Andy Powell -  meetings in SL are odd - anarchic, chaotic but motivating - keeping track of stuff is difficult
Andy Powell -  distance learners rated the SL sessions highly - and noted complementary aspects of virtual worlds with existing learning management systems
Andy Powell -  SL sessions more time consuming for the lecturer in terms of preparation - require lots of structuring - hopefully hidden from students (e.g. there tended to be lots of background IMing between tutors
Andy Powell -  in-world learning activities tended to be potentially ambiguous, potentially disoriented - but these aspects were positive - e.g. student confused by role-playing exercise in-world learned a lot about his relationship to the group
Andy Powell -  Q: what were the range of ages of students?
Andy Powell -  A: working with MA students - adults but they were distance learners so details non-obvious even to the tutors on the course - mid-20s - late 20s (guess)
Andy Powell -  the project team also undertook research in parallel to the teaching experiments
Andy Powell -  gate-keeping - SL 'pain barrier' - drama and performance - learning and methodology - martin and andrew will be addressing these later
[Comment From Sirexkat]
Where are Martin and Diane based?
Andy Powell -  both at the London Knowledge Lab - part of the University of London
Andy Powell -  describing how project has had internal impact within LKL - SL is now used on other courses
Andy Powell -  Future research... what would the project team like to do next
Andy Powell -  investigate the relationship between pedogogic experience and learner experience...
Andy Powell -  how can negotiation between student and teachers in virtual worlds lead to new pedagogies?
Andy Powell -  thanks Nick
Andy Powell -  investigate using virtual worlds for informal support of distance learners - a virtual student 'bar' for example
Andy Powell -  more investigation into discourse, rhetoric and social practice in virtual worlds
Andy Powell -  how do social factors impact on learner experience?
Andy Powell -  finally - methodologies - sorry i fell behind there and missed stuff :-(
Andy Powell -  Diane now handing over to Andrew
Andy Powell -  looking at the teaching of machinima in SL
[Comment From Guest]
sounds like a really interesting and useful event - glad you are there to tell us all about it Andy :-)
Andy Powell -  we have a slight pause here - tech glitch
Nick Noakes -  Andy, do you know if the session is being recorded?
Andy Powell -  no, not as far as i know - sorry - it's not my event and i'm right at the back so won't record it myself
Andy Powell -  oh... looks like we are switching round to cope with the hitch
Andy Powell -  Martin Oliver now speaking
Andy Powell -  "exclusion and communities" first
Andy Powell -  then "couples playing warcraft"
Andy Powell -  explaining why the team chose to look at exclusion and communities
Andy Powell -  theory = an example of the narrative construction of second life
Andy Powell -  pedagogically = if we are sending our students in, then we need to understand what they will find
Andy Powell -  research = much interest in what happens within VW like SL
Andy Powell -  introducing Wenger's Communities of Practice
Andy Powell -  oh dear - this is where i get out of my depth :-)
Andy Powell -  i knew this would happen
Andy Powell -  CoPs defined using concepts such as regimes of mutual accountability, sustained interaction, etc.

Andy Powell -  this may include hostility
Andy Powell -  what the team did was to study a sub-group of second life users and how they created a sense of community thru attempts to include and exclude people in an external discussion forum
Andy Powell -  membership could be claimed - using language such as "i am ..." , "one of us", etc.
Nick Noakes -  in a forum??
Andy Powell -  membership could be denied
Nick Noakes -  does he mean SL group?
Andy Powell -  @Nick, not sure but yes, i think so
Andy Powell -  @Nick sorry - not SL group - a more traditional forum i think
Andy Powell -  discussion in a forum outside SL but about SL
Andy Powell -  describing the kinds of language people use to include and exclude people from a social group
Andy Powell -  negative things happen in VWs
Andy Powell -  need to be aware of them when sending students into SL
Nick Noakes -  strange to be researching an indicator of SL community that is outside of SL - does he say which community/forum? Seems this might be very different from language used in live text/voice interactions within SL
Andy Powell -  I'll (try and) ask about this ...
Andy Powell -  ok, i asked... picture obtained from forum discussions is a kind of charactature of what may be going on in-world but isn't necessarily an exact picture of it - best the team could do given research ethics questions and timescales of the project - so, limitations are recognised by the team
Andy Powell -  sorry, i haven't captured that exactly - suggest looking at stuff on the blog
Andy Powell -  now looking at "couples who play WoW"
[Comment From @silversprite]
11:39 Good that VW other than SL are recognised.
[Comment From @silversprite]
Communities of Practice (inc. Wenger) has good Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_of_practice
[Comment From John Kirriemuir]
Draft report linked from 11:29 a good read. Some great quotes/VLE interest in it. Cheers.
Andy Powell -  sorry john... missed those comments so they appear out of sequence...
Andy Powell -  looked for clear examples of stable social patterns - couples used as the simplest unit of analysis
Andy Powell -  10 people - 4 hetrosexual couples - one mother-son pairing
Andy Powell -  1 couple who share an account
Andy Powell -  1 couple where one partner has stopped playing
Andy Powell -  found that greater experience leads to greater risk taking
Andy Powell -  couples tend to learn about their identity in terms of the partnership
Andy Powell -  but also being jealous, getting frustrated, and feeling resentment, ...
Andy Powell -  tension between sharing resources vs. argument aver availability of resources - whose turn next
Andy Powell -  i apologies - this is beyond my capabilities to both listen to and understand/blog
Andy Powell -  implications - boundaries exist in the use of VWs - but they are hard to pin down (they are both permeable and negotiated)
John Kirriemuir -  @Andy Powell - you're doing fine; appreciate the blogging.
Andy Powell -  to understand education in VWs we need to understand their use in relation to other social commitments
Andy Powell -  this has implications for how we organise courses
Andy Powell -  learning takes place in relation to several topics - social patterns, resource management, structures perceived in the game
Andy Powell -  noting that much of this work is "toe in the water" stuff - not enough time in project to get into any of this in much detail
Andy Powell -  Comment from audience: expertise in WoW more easy to recognise than in SL
Andy Powell -  we're in question and answer mode at the moment
Andy Powell -  next up is Andrew Burn and Britta Pollmuller talking about "Teaching Machinima in SL"
Andy Powell -  there is an interview with Britta in on the project blog
Andy Powell -  Britta is an artist who works with schools in Norfolk but who has now set up independently, initially working in SL as part of Schome Park
Andy Powell -  we're going to see two pieces of machinima - one created by teenagers and one by Britta herself
Andy Powell -  talking about CoPs again
John Kirriemuir -  12:03 Intuitively agree. Constance Steinkuehler's research in WoW area well work exploring.
Andy Powell -  teacher as artist - teacher as avatar-artist - teacher as learner in SL
Andy Powell -  in rl - art teachers are always artists - but this is not always true in other subject areas
[Comment From Janet Ward]
Hi Andy, I used reflective practice with my students to gather what they saw as the learning from SL, anyone here mentioned/used this?
Andy Powell -  talking about discourse of distinction - how machinima is similar to animation but different from it - similar to film but different from it, etc.
Andy Powell -  technical discourse - discussion tools and techniques
Andy Powell -  Andrew is sceptical about CoP in general - but was impressed by cohesion of the group in the case of the work that Britta was doing with teenagers
Andy Powell -  talking about "epochal change" - haven't quite grasped the significance of this
Andy Powell -  "ephocal change" predicted the widespread distribution of technologies of production
Andy Powell -  sorry this is from an old article but i missed who it is by
Andy Powell -  machinima may be easier than older animation technologies - but still difficult - production not as fully democratised as some rhetoric might suggest
Andy Powell -  constrained by need to learn semi-professional practice
Andy Powell -  Britta now talking
Andy Powell -  pain barrier - couldn't stand SL initially
Andy Powell -  could only understand it when using it as means of production
Andy Powell -  working with 12-17 year olds in teen grid - on Schome Park
Andy Powell -  in space also used to teach science, maths, english
Andy Powell -  can't teach painting in SL - so chose machinima instead
Andy Powell -  set up machinima group
Andy Powell -  met once a week in evening
Andy Powell -  some communication using IM...
Andy Powell -  but most via in-world chat - little use of in-world voice
Andy Powell -  Britta didn't realise how fast teenagers can type - totally overwhelmed
Andy Powell -  lol
Andy Powell -  got used to it and managed to get a word in edgeways by the second week
Andy Powell -  google 'schome park' for details - others are welcome to join
Andy Powell -  Murder of a Gentleman - title of the current project
Andy Powell -  now being shown
Nick Noakeshttp://www.schome.ac.uk/
Andy Powell -  it's a film about the first murder on a steam train
Andy Powell -  scary music
Andy Powell -  the deed has been done (in case you were interested)
Andy Powell -  set in hackney i think
[Comment From Gia]
are any of the clips shown online anywhere?
Andy Powell -  @gia - not sure, i'll ask
Ladyjane -  @gia yes i think so - via schome wiki
Andy Powell -  discussing SL pedagogies...
Gia -  @ladyjane - thx... looking now
Andy Powell -  student led (whereas most SL work with teenagers in US tends to be adult led)
Andy Powell -  playful learning - Britta did not know who her students were
Andy Powell -  cultural resources are found, synthesised, made, performed
Andy Powell -  noting UK government agenda around creativity in learning in schools
Andy Powell -  noting that transforming artifacts can be as creative as building your own
Andy Powell -  Britta tried to introduce voice - but students did not like it and naturally stopped - too personal
Andy Powell -  voice made them inhibited
Andy Powell -  voice disrupted avatar coherence
Andy Powell -  in terms of teaching it took eveyone back to the noise of the classroom - chat is different
Andy Powell -  but... the students did use the voice channel to play music to each other (poor quality music!)
Andy Powell -  group production - and with traditional roles - including actors - which you don't get in animations - also noting synergy with drama production and teaching - but also like using puppets
Andy Powell -  citing Matt Kelland - "Short Fuse" - book
Andy Powell -  machinima as breaking new ground and as being very traditional
Andy Powell -  Q and A
John Kirriemuir -  Anecdotes and research have personally come across so far show voice at best to be mixed response, more usual negative, in teaching attempts.
Andy Powell -  Q: how is theory of machinima imparted to students?   A: via the forum before going in world - part of schome park forum
Andy Powell -  noting that this isn't much different from any other after school club - also difficulty in determining the differences between what happens in-world and what happens in external forum
Andy Powell -  Q: pedagogy and negotiation between teacher and learner - does the virtual environment help with this?
Andy Powell -  student experience of other gaming environments has direct impact on their experience of SL and how they present themsleves within the environment
Janet Ward -  Hi Andy, Only 3/46 undergraduates had any experience of other MMOGs at Newcastle this year
Andy Powell -  SL didn't offer much to students on campus - but did appear to be attractive to distance learners
Andy Powell -  sorry - i'm picking bits and pieces out of discussion here
Andy Powell -  its a bit random
Andy Powell -  Q: how does copyright work in hugely collaborative machinima environment like SL
Andy Powell -  A: huge area of debate currently in machinima circles
Andy Powell -  but in case of Britta's work everything is public on the schome park web site
Andy Powell -  teachers spend a lot of time on Schome Park negotiating between students about who builds what and when
Andy Powell -  Q: say more about ethical issues?
Andy Powell -  followed general guidance about ethical issues in internet research - OAIR ??
Andy Powell -  no big issues
Andy Powell -  teaching ethics - e.g. issues around use of SL client - had to ensure that all students had an alternative way of engaging - if they couldn't connect to SL
John Kirriemuir -  Hmmm, copyright good point. If an academic creates a learning resource in SL, in a combination of work and home time/resource (which many do) but then uses it for their university lectures, does he/she or the uni have claim on it? Wonder if this issue will arise in UK.
Janet Ward -  Hi John,
Andy Powell -  Q: there has been little reference so far to the relationship between people and their own avatars and the way that their investment in their avatar impacts on their sense of identity
Gia -  @JohnK I would guess that depends to a degree on their contract
Nick Noakes -  Linden's ToS also gives them rights to it which is an issue
Andy Powell -  students not in-world for any major length of time - so investment low
Andy Powell -  not enough time in project to investigate these kinds of issues fully
Janet Ward -  At Newcastle anything we produce on our work pc's is considered university property. However I have just produced materials as part of a grant so this then becomes more complicated
Andy Powell -  students tended to distance themselves from their avatars - disposable
Andy Powell -  where lecturer has invested a lot in their avatar - e.g. hair, shoes, emotes, animations - this can be quite intimidating for new student avatars
Andy Powell -  in Britta's work in schome park - most teacher avatars are quite basic
Andy Powell -  we are about to see Britta's award winning machinima - will give you the title in a mo - then it is lunch
Janet Ward -  Thanks Andy it has been really interesting
Andy Powell -  will be back after lunch at 2pm with talks by Tanya Krzywinska and Aleks Krotoski
Gia -  thx Andy
Andy Powell -  think machinima is called "Bad Things" - set on 'grim babies' sim in SL i think??
Andy Powell -  this was a winner at the 48 hour machinima comp recently
1:04 [Be Right Back Countdown] 60 minutes
Ladyjane -  Link to the murder clip: http://schomepark.blip.tv/file/971966/  Thanks to Shri for that.
[Comment From Shri Footring]
Hi, just had a skype message from Jane telling me about this and asking for the url for the Schome machinima. I've sent it to her:
Andy Powell -  ok, i'm back and we are starting
Andy Powell -  a few images are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/eduservfoundation/sets/72157605592770875/ just to give you a feel for the place
Andy Powell -  Tanya Kryzwinska up first
Andy Powell -  talking about WoW
Andy Powell -  learning the "language" of WoW
Andy Powell -  how can we understand the game in terms of learning?
Andy Powell -  about 50% of the room have played WoW - maybe a bit less
Andy Powell -  what is WoW?
Andy Powell -  MMoG - started 2004 - using aspects of game mechanics that were originally developed for table-top role-playing games
Andy Powell -  fantasy based - e.g. as per lord of the rings
Andy Powell -  but somewhat tongue-in-cheek
Andy Powell -  cartoony influence
Andy Powell -  comes out of a set of games called "Warcraft" - which originated circa 1994
Andy Powell -  players located in a troubled world in which there are factions
Andy Powell -  slow evolution (thru patches) additional material - usually making the world larger
Andy Powell -  players progress thru layers
Andy Powell -  players can play solo or in groups
Andy Powell -  but long term players tend to treat it as a team game
Andy Powell -  groups form thru guilds
Andy Powell -  guild membership helps you to progress
Andy Powell -  WoW demands a lot of time and energy to play
Andy Powell -  what questions might we ask? - commerce, socio-cultural, formal/textual/design
Andy Powell -  commerce... how are players retained? who is it aimed at? how do commercial factors shape the game, etc.
Andy Powell -  socio-cultural - what is being learned, why is it important, what are the implications of interacting via avatars, how does the formal game element shape people's interactions, are there significant playing patterns, addition, how are rules and policies policed?
Andy Powell -  formal/textual design - how do aesthetics relate to mechanics, how is player positioned within game space, what factors encourage engagement, etc. ??
Andy Powell -  key questions are around meaning, learning and pleasure
Andy Powell -  games and virtual worlds are exciting because they bring together people from multiple disciplines
Andy Powell -  going to talk about game literacy
Andy Powell -  how are players conceptualised?
Andy Powell -  implied player vs. real player
Andy Powell -  relationship between players and game text
Andy Powell -  games industry is risk averse
Andy Powell -  in WoW you only see the game from the perspective of one virtual player typically
Andy Powell -  to learn the game we have to learn to decode what is on offer
Andy Powell -  'decode' cf Stuart Hall (not the one from It's a Knockout)
Andy Powell -  players bring things to the game, the game gives things to players
Andy Powell -  ok, now onto learning thru playing WoW...
Andy Powell -  range of reasons for playing WoW...
Andy Powell -  social, escape, fun...
Andy Powell -  but learning is foundational to playing WoW
Andy Powell -  individual learning is key to progress thru the game
Andy Powell -  this is linked to the game design
Andy Powell -  it keeps you learning - even after 4 years of playing
Andy Powell -  how can we understand that learning - in terms of understanding games as 'texts'
Andy Powell -  pattern recognition is core to this
Andy Powell -  game demands high level of information and communication management
Andy Powell -  players must 'read' the game's cues
Andy Powell -  proxemics - not heard this before - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proxemics
Andy Powell -  judging the semiotics of spatial relationships
Andy Powell -  kinesics - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinesics
Andy Powell -  reading the actions and movements of monsters, etc
Andy Powell -  representing yourself - being able to 'read' other player's gear
Andy Powell -  self-representation options more limited than second life
Andy Powell -  avatar representations tell you about the player's history
Andy Powell -  gear stats - relatively complex mathematical processing required to compare and balance the kinds of gear that are on offer
Andy Powell -  quest patterns - quests are a core part of the game - but some players weigh up which quests are worth doing
Andy Powell -  guild/raid management - running a guild and/or a raid is a complex task - some guilds are 350 (one even 2000) people - so running it is a full time task
Andy Powell -  management experience is real - timekeeping, time managenment, structuring loyalty to the guild, rewarding members
Andy Powell -  reward structure set by the guild - not by the game itself
Andy Powell -  guilds are very broad and diverse - e.g. 40 person raid will include people from all over europe and inter-player communication is not just about the game but about people's real life issues
Andy Powell -  recent in-world meeting/conference 'University of Azeroth' looking at use of WoW for learning
John Kirriemuir -  Read somewhere recently that running a WoW guild is increasingly good thing to have on CV (so long as interviewers are of course clued up).
Andy Powell -  summing up - skills learned in WoW are transferable to real-life
[Comment From Janet ward]
I wonder if they have compared other shards of WoW than just Europe
Andy Powell -  we're in Q&A at the moment
Andy Powell -  Aleks Krotoski coming up next - but prob after a quick tea-break
Andy Powell -  Q: is WoW a database that people are invited to play with?   A: No, that's what SL is(!) - WoW is a narrative experience - WoW shares characteristics of a movie
Andy Powell -  SL more frightening because of lack of structure
Andy Powell -  WoW is primarily a social space
Andy Powell -  Comment from audience: "protest in SL is an attempt by players to bring a ludic element" because they are so desperate to bring some kind of structure to it
John Kirriemuir -  2:50 Hmmm. Frightening to people who need crutch of structure? WoW arguably more frightening as real time, against you, onslaught of onscreen information in many forms. Find am less in control of things social, pace of events, in WoW than in SL. Just personal view.
John Kirriemuir -  Question for speaker: Have there been any demographics of people found (apart from people with a lot of time! and researchers) who are significant users of both WoW and SL?
Gia -  @John K - WoW more frightening BECAUSE of structure maybe? For a n00b existing complex social hierarchy may be intimidating
Andy Powell -  WoW has more learning built into the game - but less flexible in terms of allowing educators to structure their own approaches to teaching
Andy Powell -  sorry, john questions cut off before i could ask - had one of my own as well - will try later
Andy Powell -  5 minute break now for tea - back in a mo with Aleks
Janet Ward -  Hi
Janet Ward -  I think there is a cultural perspective to which is more frightening. Asian postgraduate students found Sl very confusing in contrast to WoW or The Sims whcih they had expereince of.
Gia -  @ Janet - interesting! I wonder how much culture does play a part and how much is individual personality
John Kirriemuir -  Janet: interesting.
Gia -  I think it is also a question of age: SL seems to appeal much more to 25 and overs
Janet Ward -  I think it will be interesting to see HiPiHi the MMOG the Chinese are developing
Andy Powell -  hi, back again...
Gia -  *waves @Andy*
John Kirriemuir -  Picture of next speaker: http://www.flickr.com/photos/toastkid/1813567627/
Andy Powell -  focus back again on second life

Andy Powell -  Aleks Krotoski, University of Surrey and the Guardian
Andy Powell -  title of presentation is "Putting the social into social world research"
Andy Powell -  general overview - looking at social networks within second life
Andy Powell -  has been working at Linden Lab continuing her PhD work
Andy Powell -  SL as platform rather than game - (a "capitalist nightmare")
Andy Powell -  no aim
Andy Powell -  different affordances than games like WoW
Andy Powell -  being social in SL takes multiple forms
Andy Powell -  group chat in public
Andy Powell -  more intimate - talking in private in public environment or talking in a private environment (both in-world)
Andy Powell -  what is "ludic"?
Andy Powell -  Community vs. code
Andy Powell -  CoP = a consensual hallucination (Gibson)
Andy Powell -  mutual experience - collaborative
[Comment From Candy Schwartz]
Andy Powell -  ah, thanks
Andy Powell -  SL is a communal space but coders inside LL don't think about community at all
Andy Powell -  need to create that community
John Kirriemuir -  Andy: On-off debate about Ludology in games research area e.g. http://www.ludology.org/articles/ludology.htm
Andy Powell -  Community vs. ToS
Andy Powell -  in the beginning SL was a big group hug
Andy Powell -  as it grew things started to devolve
Andy Powell -  e.g. demise of town hall meeting
Andy Powell -  LL is now seen as a service provider - cf. an ISP - which means that they do not control all aspects of the service
Andy Powell -  talking about the Tax Revolt
Andy Powell -  first organised protest within the world of SL
Andy Powell -  talking about Copybot - tied up with the attempts to make the grid open source - allowed code out that let people copy everything in-world - lead to concerns about IPR, value of in-world property, sales, etc.
Andy Powell -  second life branding issues - LL trying to grab back their ownership of the SL brand
Andy Powell -  Community vs. currency
Andy Powell -  what is valuable?   individualism vs. collectivism, capitalism vs. communism
Andy Powell -  who has influence? - social capital, what does it mean to trust?
Andy Powell -  who is friends with who?
Andy Powell -  what makes and breaks reputations?
Andy Powell -  important to remember who is behind the avatar
Andy Powell -  researchers tend to psuedonymise (sp?) the person behind the avatar - but probably need to psuedonymise the avatar as well
Andy Powell -  because avatars are long term constructs
Andy Powell -  concern that presense of researchers in-world would take from but not give to the in-world community
Janet Ward -  Concern from who?
Andy Powell -  concern from other avatars when Aleks first started doing research inside SL (I think)
Andy Powell -  sorry, i'm struggling to follow the thread here - probably my fault
Andy Powell -  suggesting that LL know very little about how much educational use is being made of SL
Andy Powell -  other than in limited case - e.g. island sales that are explicitly for educational purchases
Andy Powell -  noting that singapore government is sponsoring educational institutions to go into SL
John Kirriemuir -  Yes. Have encountered "research fatigue" (as a researcher) from people/avatars who are fed up being asked survey or research questions.
Andy Powell -  LL recognise that educational community will become increasingly important to help to sustain SL over time
Gia -  that is surprising as they recently released a 20min podcast ("Inside the lab") that dealt specifically with Education
Andy Powell -  but LL don't quite know how to foster that community
Janet Ward -  SLED
Andy Powell -  LL considering implementing tagging, so that you can flag land and other objects as educational
Janet Ward -  Sorry, just meant to say that SLED database was very active
Candy Schwartz -  "Educational" doesn't necessarily mean connected with teaching and learning activities - sometimes more marketing
Andy Powell -  noting that LL suffer a little bit from having their material seen purely as 'promotional' in nature - even when it is intended to be made available in research context
Andy Powell -  into questions...
Andy Powell -  and answers...
Andy Powell -  sorry, asking a couple of questions myself so not blogging - Q: are LL aware of our current SL snapshots and are they of vaklue to them... also whether Aleks' work investigating social networks extends outside of SL to take account of how people use their avatars to blog, tweet and so on.  A: yes, snapshot reports are known about and valuable - no research to date not really considered social networks outside SL
Andy Powell -  Q: how much anonymity does education in SL need - and how much does LL need to know about what is going on in that space?
Andy Powell -  80% of people that hit the registration web page are lost within 1 hour - LL suspect that large proportion of that doesn't like psuedonymity
Andy Powell -  LL looking at getting rid of psuedonymity for first avatar (i.e. will offer the ability to use your real name)
Janet Ward -  Perhaps its more to do with the problems inherent in the registration process
Andy Powell -  yes... i wondered that also
Candy Schwartz -  Or with what happens once you're in, in terms of slowness and crashing
Andy Powell -  note: two meanings of anomymity - anonymity from other avatars (even people on the same course as you possibly) and anonymity from LL
Janet Ward -  They could really improve the orientation process as well
Andy Powell -  Note that NMC have tried to build an improved registration and orientation experience targetted at educators
Janet Ward -  Yes, but I was getting my students to assess SL so they needed to do through SL process
Andy Powell -  ah, ok
Andy Powell -  Q: can only understand elearning by following individual learners over time to understand how and why they participate in these kinds of virtual spaces - most work we have heard about today is too general
Andy Powell -  Q: suggesting that Aleks is too close to LL and that will change the kinds of questions that she asks/researches!   blunt or what!?
Janet Ward -  Back to use of reflective practice of individual learning
John Kirriemuir -  3:59Q slightly unfair; lack of funding, lack of time since some VWs emerged means major longitudinal studies difficult?
Andy Powell -  OK, day finished - apart from drinking session and the like
Janet Ward -  Thanks again Andy
Andy Powell -  hope this was useful - and apologies for obvious lack of knowledge on my part thru most of it
Candy Schwartz -  It was great - thanks so much
Andy Powell -  over and out
John Kirriemuir -  Andy: great stuff. Very useful; I have a few potential research ideas out of it; cheers.
Ladyjane -  thanks Andy
Gia -  Thanks (sadly missed the end due to office interference)

11 - 12.30
Session 1: Learning from Online Words, Teaching in Second Life
Diane Carr, Martin Oliver, Andrew Burn.

1.30 – 2.00 Lunch provided

2 – 4 pm: Tag team events
Each session will begin with a 20 min presentation from an invited speaker. 

2 pm – 3 pm
Session 2: Virtual Worlds, Subjectivity and Methodology
How do we conceptualise the participating/learning/playing subject, and how does this relate to the questions that we ask as researchers, and the methodologies that we employ? How will we know learning (or meaning or pleasure) when we see it?
Invited speaker: Tanya Krzywinska

3 pm - 4 pm
Session 3: Putting the Social into Social World Research
How should we define or study the social in Second Life? What of the intersections between agency, community, code, terms of service, and various in-world currencies (such as reputation, stats or credibility for instance)? How might these things relate to learning and teaching practices? What do newbie educators and students need to know about SL culture and etiquette?
Invited speaker: Aleks Krotoski

May 22, 2008

May 2008 "snapshot" of UK HE and FE development in SL

The second in our series of three snapshots of UK higher and further education activities in Second Life is now available.  This is significantly longer than the previous snapshot(s), reflecting a growth in the level of use and development around Second Life.

The snapshots have been funded by the Eduserv Foundation and undertaken by John Kirriemuir (Silversprite Helsinki).  As John notes in the introduction:

The number of UK academics who are developing or operating teaching and learning resources in Second Life (SL) has grown rapidly in the last year. While an accurate figure is difficult to determine (partially due to the non-public nature of some developments), as a rough estimate some three-quarters of UK universities are actively developing or using SL, at the institutional, departmental and/or individual academic level. Of these, many institutions support several ongoing SL developments, often involving groups of people rather than individuals. However, the proportion of UK FE institutions actively using SL was much smaller.

75% of UK universities is a pretty significant proportion - though, of course, the range of activities and level of investment that represents is very variable:

Academics described a very wide range of SL activities spanning teaching, learning, research, performance, construction and demonstration. The key advantage of SL in teaching and learning is that there are many activities in which the student must be more than a passive learner in order to progress. The student has to develop “stuff”, collaborate and participate. Before these can occur, he or she has to master a new and transferable skill set, meaning that, in SL, learning is done more by participating and doing than by listening and absorbing.

Though use of SL in UK HE/FE is growing, many academics are not “welded” to it, being aware of its deficiencies and open to moving to alternative virtual environments, especially open source and more localised versions, in the future.

Overall, and perhaps not surprisingly, the three most mentioned requirements of UK academic
SL developers are:

  • more funding opportunities
  • more time to develop
  • better technical facilities within SL, or a viable alternative environment.
[Note that this blog entry was previously posted on ArtsPLace SL]

March 03, 2008

Second Life snapshot news

As we've mentioned before, the Foundation is currently funding John Kirriemuir to provide a series of rolling reports to update his initial survey of the take-up of Second Life within the UK Higher and Further Education sector, and to try to examine the impact that use of Second Life is having on teaching and learning. The third of John's reports will be available later this month, and to supplement the report itself, John is providing images of some of the SL spaces and resources developed by UK universities and colleges as a set on Flickr, and also a series of posts on his weblog providing up-to-date news of his current investigations in this area.

As John notes, participating in his study offers "an opportunity to promote what you’ve done, and also for like-minded academics to find you".

November 28, 2007

Reflections on a DIY streaming experience

As mentioned here and here, I spent Monday in Birmingham at UKOLN's Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs And Social Networks workshop in order to video-stream the event live onto the Web and into Second Life.

I want to use this blog entry to summarise what we did, why we did it, what worked and what didn't.  It wasn't a total success but I think there were some useful lessons, which I'll try and come back to at the end.

So, what were we trying to do and why?  Well, in discussion with Brian Kelly, who was organising the event, I agreed that it would be useful to investigate how easy it is to video-stream live meetings onto the Web and into Second Life at little or no cost.  Investigate in the sense of actually trying it for real, as opposed to simply theorising about what technology is now available.  The reason this is of interest, for me at least, is the whole agenda around virtual meetings - both for environmental and widening participation reasons.

So, we started with 3 basic requirements:

  • low cost technology
  • streaming both onto the Web (for viewing in a Web browser) and into Second Life
  • using chat facilities to encourage active participation between real and virtual delegates.

Ukolneventkit The solution we agreed on included the use of a basic Web-cam, a podcasting kit, two laptops (one for the streaming and one for Second Life - note that a very well spec'ed single laptop might have sufficed for both tasks but one wasn't available and using two felt like the safest option), the newly announced Veodia streaming service, the Virtual Congress Centre venue on Eduserv Island in Second Life, a Moodle chat room (hosted at sloodle.org) and Sloodle chat-logger Second Life object to link in-world chat to the Moodle chat room, and Slideshare to host a copy of the slides being shown in the venue (for those delegates viewing the video-stream on the Web).

I am very grateful to Tom Blossom at Veodia for upgrading our free account for the day and to Dan Livingstone and Peter Bloomfield at the University of Paisley for help with the Moodle and Sloodle tools.

I arrived early at the venue to get set up.  We had separate wired Internet connections for the two laptops and the venue support staff allowed me to take an audio feed direct from their PA system into my podcast kit audio mixer.  A Second Life connection was quickly established.  Phew.  So far, so good.

Next, I tried a quick streaming test.  Veodia is very easy to use... navigate to the Veodia home page, sign in, start a new broadcast, name and describe it, select your camera and microphone, then go.  Bang.  Done.  Couldn't be easier.  (Note that there are also facilities to pre-schedule broadcasts in your own 'channel', though I have to confess that I found the interface to this somewhat confusing so didn't bother using it.)

Once the stream is up and running it is possible to cut-and-paste the Quicktime-compatible stream URL from the Veodia Web page into the media tab on a land parcel in Second Life.  I pasted the URL into the Virtual Congress Centre land parcel and viewed the feed.  Everything seemed OK.  I began to relax.

Time for a quick coffee.

Ukolneventsl Next I checked that the slides that I'd previously loaded into the screen (see the left-hand screen in the picture) in the Virtual Congress Centre worked OK.  Yup.  Note that this needs doing in advance for any sizable presentation.  In this case, about 130 textures had to be upload into Second Life.  At L$10 per texture, that's about £2.00 in real money!  I also checked that the Sloodle/Moodle chat room link up was working OK.

By this time, the real venue, the virtual venue, and the Moodle chat room were starting to fill up.

Note that we had three audiences for this event... those in the room (some of whom were beginning to make use of the venue's wireless network), those in the Virtual Congress Centre in Second Life, and those watching on the Web.  As far as I could tell, we had about 100 delegates in the venue, 15 or so in Second Life (at least at the start of the day) and 5 or 6 wtahcing on the Web.  I think it is worth noting that we hadn't promoted the virtual side of this event too hard, luckily as it turned out, so we weren't expecting too many more virtual delegates than this.  We'd previously announced a Wiki page for the streaming and this was kept updated with information about what members of the three different audiences should do to take part in the streaming experiment.

Ukolneventrl Brian introduced the day with a short presentation.  I started a new video stream, plugged the URL into the Virtual Congress Centre land parcel, announced the URL in the Moodle chat room and kept my fingers crossed.

My avatar (Art Fossett) was also in-world, able to chat with the virtual audiences and keep the in-world slide-show in step with Brian's slides in the venue.

Everything was going smoothly.  Too smoothly as it happened!  After 10 minutes or so the virtual delegates started to complain that the sound was breaking up.  This got so bad during Brian's talk that by the end of it I decided to stop the stream and start it again.  Bad move.  Trying to start it again simply resulted in repeated errors from Veodia saying that there wasn't enough upstream bandwidth to push the stream up to the Veodia servers.  I tried repeatedly to restart it, but even on the few occasions it started, the sound was so poor as to be of little use to the virtual delegates.

I should stress that this was not a fault with Veodia... simply a lack of upstream bandwidth in the venue.  I think what had happened was that as soon as the delegates in the venue took their seats, got out their laptops and started doing whatever delegates do online while they are supposed to be listening to speakers talk, the available bandwidth for streaming got significantly reduced. I tried Ustream.tv, an alternative free video-streaming service, but had similar problems - not enough bandwidth.  Note that unlike Veodia, Ustream.tv does not support Second Life, which is why we hadn't used it in the first place, but I was getting desperate!

OK... realising that I was going to look a complete twit if I didn't do something, I took the decision to switch to audio-streaming on the basis that the bandwidth requirements for audio would be greatly reduced.  Unfortunately, I hadn't planned well enough for this.  I had to spend valuable time installing a copy of Winamp, buying a Shoutcast server plan on Viastreaming and generally faffing about.  It was the final talk of the morning session before I got the audio stream up and running.

However, once it was running things went pretty well.  I stepped thru the slides in Second Life as before (significantly harder than with the Veodia stream I should add, since the Viastreaming server introduced a delay of about 2 or 3 minutes) and got some positive comments from the in-world delegates.

Now, I think it is worth noting that an interesting thing happened while I was messing around trying to set up the audio stream.  I expected the virtual audience in Second Life to drift away, bored with the lack of anything to see or hear.  But they didn't.  They started talking (i.e. chatting) to each other.  They introduced themselves to each other, saying who they were and where they were from.  This wasn't prompted in any sense... just natural chit-chat between a group of people stuck in a venue with nothing to do.  Except they weren't stuck in a venue in any real sense... they were in a virtual venue.  I remember that at one point, probably while I was waiting for Winamp to install or something, I jokingly remarked, "That's right, talk amongst yourselves :-)".

It was an interesting phenomenon, re-enforcing, for me at least, the sense of presence and community you get from a virtual world like Second Life.  This is much more than simply being in a chat-room together.  I'd be very interested in comments from the virtual delegates on this point.

There were two talks after lunch, both of which were audio-streamed without any problems.  Unfortunately, by this stage many of the virtual delegates had gone - I'd half suspected this might happen anyway - and we were left with only 4 or 5 delegates in Second Life.  One of the problems with being a virtual delegate is that you don't get lunch or any of the socialising that goes with it.

Similarly, when the delegates in the venue broke into groups for their discussion session, the virtual delegates were left with nothing to do.  We could, perhaps, have had a discussion group of our own but unfortunately, I hadn't prepared properly for that.  Again, this is one of the things that needs thinking about when planning a hybrid RL/SL event.

So, what did we learn?

  • Never attempt video streaming without understanding the network environment within which you are working and in particular without checking the upstream bandwidth in whatever venue you are using.  Speakeasy offer a natty bandwidth tester which can help with this.  As far as I know Veodia requires a guaranteed 200Kbps upstream, but having more than that obviously helps - having it through a dedicated line that other people aren't sending traffic over is a good idea as well!
  • A combination of audio-streaming, Second Life and in-world slides is very effective as an alternative to video streaming.  Now that Second Life supports voice, one could use that as the mechanism for streaming the audio - we didn't do this on the day because we'd decided in advance that we wanted to support delegates on the Web as well as those in Second Life.  With hindsight, I wonder if we shouldn't have bitten the bullet and only supported Second Life.  If we had, then I suspect we would have had audio working much more quickly.
  • I'm convinced that the use of Second Life brings a sense of presence that is missing from many other forms of virtual conferencing.
  • The Sloodle chat-logger worked very reliably for linking Second Life chat to a Moodle chat room and this was definitely used for communication between the virtual delegates on the Web and those in Second Life.  I don't know how much interaction we got with delegates in the real-life venue - not much I suspect - though at least one person came into Second Life using the venue's wireless network.  This possibly could have been improved by better publicising the chat facilities to the real-life delegates on the day.
  • Preempt problems by having alternatives in mind.  I'd thought about using audio-streaming as an alternative but hadn't prepared for it by installing the required software, etc.  This cost valuable time on the day.  When you are streaming a live event, you can't ask the speakers to wait while you sort out problems.

Despite the problems, I'm convinced that this kind of video-streaming technology is now well within reach at little or no cost.  (Note that costs will probably depend in part on the number of people you want to stream to - for example, I think that Veodia only supports up to 5 simultaneous streams on their free package).  Overall it was an interesting experience and I hope this report has been useful.  I learned a lot about what not to do and I plan to do better next time.

November 27, 2007

On the road again

Both Pete and I have been on the road a lot over the last few days, hence the lower than usual number of blog entries... for which, apologies.

My travels started last week with the JISC CETIS conference in Birmingham and my somewhat abortive attempt at a video blog entry (see previous blog entry).  My original plan was to video blog both days, but the blunt realisation that some people would rather not have their photos made available online (even without any association with their name) and the ensuing gap since the conference finished means I won't bother.  I don't think you are missing much to be honest (and even I have to confess that I'm already bored by the photo transitions available on Animoto!).

The conference was very enjoyable and it was particularly good to meet Sarah Robbins and Mark Bell who had come over from the US to speak at the event, both of whom I had only previously met in Second Life.  It was very nice to be able to meet with virtual friends in a real-life pub and warm beer kind of way.  Both gave very interesting presentations in the virtual worlds session at the event (as did Dan Livingstone, who spoke in the same session), my only major comment being that it was a shame that the audience for both was relatively small.  It is also worth noting that, as far as I could tell, the network at the conference venue did not support Second Life connections, so no live demoing was possible.

My other lasting thought (I confess that I only brought away a few scrappy notes, so any kind of detailed blog is out of the question) was the apparent gulf between the somewhat conservative computing services view of the world, as presented by Iain Stinson (University of Liverpool), and what I perceived to be the rather more cutting edge view of the conference more generally.  I don't mean that in a derogatory way to either viewpoint, since we probably need some of both... but the gap between the two struck me as pretty startling and I think that ultimately we have to find ways of bringing them together to take any kind of sensible path forward.

The following day I traveled to London to speak at the UKSG event, Caught up in Web 2.0? I had been asked to speak about Second Life, something I'm always happy to do, though in this particular case I spent some time explaining what I saw as the similarities and differences between SL and Web 2.0.  It is also worth noting that I'd arrived armed only with a very thin presentation, expecting to be able to demo Second Life live to the assembled masses.  Unfortunately, the venue's firewall prevented this from happening, meaning that I had to spend the first two talks re-purposing a previous set of slides :-(.  Despite that distraction, I found the other presentations on the day very interesting.

There's a small theme emerging here... Second Life is technically advanced enough that being able to use it in any given venue is not guaranteed.  It was therefore with some trepidation that I went back to Birmingham yesterday for UKOLN's workshop on blogs and social networks which I had, somewhat madly, agreed to try streaming into Second Life with no real knowledge of what kind of network was going to be available.

I'll blog the event separately on the grounds that there are some useful lessons to be learned, but suffice to say that things went less smoothly than they might have, though not necessarily for the reasons I was concerned about before I went!

November 21, 2007

JISC CETIS conference - day 1

A short 'video' blog of day one of the JISC CETIS conference, using the photos I took during the opening plenaries in the morning and the MUVE session after lunch, peppered with words and phrases that I noted popping up...

2007-11-21: Video link removed temporarily.  A delegate asked me not to make their photo available on the Web and I have no sure way of knowing yet whether their image was in one or more of the audience shots that I used in the video.  I've therefore taken it down again.  Apologies to all concerned.

2007-11-27: OK, I've re-instated the video, having spent some time checking thru the images it contains...

November 14, 2007

Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks

Brian Kelly at UKOLN is running a full-day workshop in Birmingham on the 26th November entitled, Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks.  In a moment of madness a while ago I offered to help stream the presentations from the workshop onto the Web so that they could be seen and/or heard live by people who are not able to attend for one reason or another.  I have no idea why I did this - I have no experience of doing this kind of thing and my last attempt at recording the audio of an event (at our recent OpenID meeting) failed miserably.

Oh well...  I think I can cope with the pressure!

The plan (and this is my big excuse when/if it all goes horribly wrong) is to demonstrate the possibilities for video-streaming live meetings using cheap or free equipment and services.  Video will be captured using an ordinary Web-cam or a fairly basic digital camera (I haven't decided which yet).  Audio will be captured using a low-end podcasting kit.  The resulting stream will be fed to Veodia, where it will be streamed onto the Web and into the Virtual Congress Centre in Second Life.  Second Life delegates will be able to chat to each other in-world and to other virtual delegates and those people using the wireless network in the venue via Twitter or IRC (again, I haven't decided which yet).

Sounds complex?  Probably.  Do-able?  I think/hope so.  It'll be interesting to see how things work out.

If you want to attend as a virtual delegate there is no registration as such, but it would help me think about numbers in Second Life and elsewhere if you could let me know by email ([email protected] - how 20th century!) or in-world IM (to Art Fossett) if you are interested in attending.

November 02, 2007

The Second Life of UK academics

John Kirriemuir has an article in the current Ariadne based on the series of snapshot studies that we are currently funding him to undertake for us - looking at how Second Life is being used in UK education and, hopefully, what impact that usage is having.

October 19, 2007

Second Friends update

I've been trying to do a bit of work on my Second Friends Facebook application over the last few days.

Firstly, I had to do some running repairs because of performance issues.  There's an important lesson here.  When you build a Facebook application, run it on a server that is pretty resilient and code it efficiently.  If your app is successful, then the back-end code is going to get hit fairly hard.  It's worth remembering that Facebook only waits around for about 5 seconds for your back-end application code to respond before giving out the standard "Facebook has hit a problem" kind of error message.  My initial attempts at coding the logic to work out who is friends with who were horribly inefficient - they worked when Second Friends only had 10 or so registered users.  But with well over 300 active users things were starting to creak at the seams and some of my scripts were taking well over 5 seconds to respond :-(

All fixed now I think.

Interestingly, the Facebook stats for Second Friends indicate that it has 814 users (to date), though only 322 of those have gone into Second Life to obtain their secret registration key from the Second Friends kiosk on Eduserv Island.  I don't quite understand why there is such a big difference in those two numbers! :-(  I have a nagging worry that there is some problem that is preventing people from signing up properly, though the fact that over 300 people have managed it successfully gives me some hope.

Sfstatusupdater Secondly, I wanted to improve the functionality.  I have several ideas for additions that I hope to come back to over the coming weeks.  My first attempt is to introduce a Second Friends 'status' - a place for your avatar to record their current state of mind or activity, as per the normal Facebook status.  I've made available a very simple Second Friends status updater, an object that tracks whether you are in-world or not and updates your Second Friends status accordingly.  It's not much, but it is functional.  You can get one from the box next to the Second Friends kiosk on Eduserv Island.

More importantly the API for your Second Friends status is open.  Look at the updater script to see how it works and feel free to build your own version.  Why not build a HUD or wrist-band that you can chat your Second Friends status to?  I plan to offer a wrist-band shortly, but if someone beats me to it I'd be very happy.  There is no documentation for the API, but it is very simple.  To update your status, simply make an HTTP GET request to:


setting the following attributes:

  • avname (e.g. avname=Art%20Fossett)
  • secretkey (e.g. secretkey=1234)
  • status(e.g. status=mooching%20around%20on%20Eduserv%20Island)

Remember that your status will be presented (on your Facebook profile) using the form "Art is ...".

Finally, it is also worth noting that there is a new kid on the block in this space - Second Life Link - a very similar Facebook application.  I guess others may also be on their way.  I suppose this is inevitable.  Alja Sulčič provides a nice overview of both applications in her blog.

October 18, 2007

Free video streaming

Prompted partly by a tweet from Alan Levine at NMC, I've been taking a quick look around at what is now possible for free in the area of live video streaming.  Until recently I don't think it has been possible to do this without paying someone to host your live feed.  But recently both Ustream.tv and Veodia (and probably others?) have begun to offer free live-streaming via your Web browser.

Now, I should say up front that this blog entry is not a review of these services - I haven't really used either in earnest.  But to summarise very briefly, both allow you to make a live-stream available at no charge (typically from your Web-cam, though you can use any suitable video source).  Both let you store a copy of the stream for later viewing.  Both are browser-based.

Want to offer your own TV channel live on the Internet?  Now you can!

Webcamstreaming Veodia looks particularly interesting because the stream is available in a format compatible with Second Life.  So here, for example, is an image of yours truly live-streaming my office Web-cam into the Virtual Congress Centre on Eduserv Island in Second Life.

What makes this exciting is that the costs are so low.  All you really need is a laptop, a Web-cam and an Internet connection and you can be broadcasting into Second Life very quickly and easily.  The possibilities for presentations and tutorials are obvious.

Combine Veodia with a cheap desktop video-mixing tool like WebcamMax (yes I know that Mac users can do all of this and more for free!) and you have the ability to do things like streaming a Powerpoint presentation, with a picture of the speaker in one corner.  Again, all very easily done at almost no cost.

I have one slight reservation, which is that the few experiments I've done with Veodia so far have resulted in my laptop freezing or crashing after a few minutes.  My guess is that this is down to my laptop, but it is possible that there are more fundamental problems.  My suspicion is that running the Second Life client and WebcamMax and Veodia at the same time requires a fairly substantial machine. 

Note that Veodia is currently in beta mode (so they have an excuse if the crashes are down to them) and that all new registrations are manually approved at the moment - though mine came back within a few hours.

Well worth a play for those of you interested in this kind of technology.  I'd be interested to know how you get on.

October 13, 2007

Machinima and education

Diane Carr, who is currently working on the Learning From Online Worlds; Teaching In Second Life project (one of the Second Life projects we are currently funding), has a nice introductory article about the use of machinima in education on the Futurelab Web site.

October 12, 2007

Oh bondage, up yours!

The announcement this week about the collaboration between Linden Lab and IBM to produce open, standards-based interoperability between virtual worlds has been widely heralded this week.  Quite right too.

IBM and Linden Lab plan to work together on issues concerning the integration of virtual worlds with the current Web; driving security-rich transactions of virtual goods and services; working with the industry to enable interoperability between various virtual worlds; and building more stability and high quality of service into virtual world platforms.

This is a potentially significant development and one that will help to move us away from the current situation of being bound to particular virtual worlds in terms of the investment we make in them.

I'm less sure that I share the general excitement around being able to move my avatar between different worlds seamlessly - I probably won't be exploring Eduserv Island with my World of Warcraft avatar any time soon, even if it was technically possible - but the increased flow of content and the opening up of micro-payment based commerce does strike me as being very beneficial, not just to virtual worlds but to the Web in general.

October 09, 2007

NMC Teachers' Buzz with Dancoyote Antonelli

Last Monday night I attended a meeting of the New Media Consortium's Teachers' Buzz Group in Second Life. This was the first meeting of the group I had attended, and the guest for the meeting was Dancoyote Antonelli (RL: DC Spensley), a digital artist working in SL. The meeting (report by CDB Barkley, transcript) took place at the site of Dancoyote's “Full Immersion Hyperformalism” exhibit, hosted on NMC's Arts & Letters sim. Dancoyote gave a guided tour of (a small part of!) the exhibit and then there was a short discussion.

I'd already visted the exhibit a few times - I think I first saw it mentioned in one of the "top 10" lists on New World Notes (and I scribbled a few thoughts about the experience over on Peregrinations). I'm not at all versed in art theory, I hasten to add, but it's difficult not to be impressed by the ambition and inventiveness of the exhibit. And it seems to me it also really does exploit SL as a "medium" in its own right.

What also struck me again the other night is the social element which virtual worlds like SL bring to these "digital exhibition" experiences, the capacity not only for multiple remote "viewers" to share their thoughts with each other, but also - as in this case - the opportunities for dialogue between artist (performer, producer etc) and viewer (audience, consumer). Certainly, there are issues of scalability - and the current SL infrastructure wouldn't have supported the participation of a large number of avatars (at least not without some sort of replication across multiple SL locations) - but it was quite a compelling example of some of the possibilities offered by virtual worlds.

October 05, 2007

NMC Survey on Educators' Use of Second Life

I've only had time to glance at this, but I notice that (hot on the heels of Andy's announcement yesterday of our most recent snapshot from John Kirriemuir of UK higher/further education activity in SL), the New Media Consortium have announced the publication of the results of a survey they conducted earlier in the year:

Sent out to members of the NMC, our in-world educational community, and the Second Life Educators Listserv (SLED) in May 2007, the survey represents the interests, activities, and demographics of more than 200 educators.

Overall, the results reflect the highly social interaction of Second Life and how educators have formed and contribute to a vibrant community in this virtual world space.

They publish a summary analysis and also include an appendix which lists the full content of the replies to the "open-ended questions". I suspect the documents will provide not only a useful source of empirical data, but also hours (well, OK, minutes, then) of amusement and/or winces of recognition. The comments on positive and negative experiences of SL seem to cover pretty much the whole spectrum.

I'll cite only one of my favourites here:

Q 26: Has using Second Life shuffled how you spend your free time? What activities, if any, has your time in Second Life replaced?

A: this is a depressing question

October 04, 2007

Updated snapshot of Second Life usage in UK HE and FE now available

An update to the July snapshot of UK HE and FE usage of Second Life is now available.  This new report, again carried out by John Kirriemuir, is the second in a series of reports that we have asked John to undertake over the next year or so.  It provides an update to the report first published in July, primarily to include a number of activities that were missing from the original.

The remaining reports in the series (due for publication in March 2008 and September 2008) are intended to examine the impact that use of Second Life is having on teaching and learning.  By commissioning a series of reports we hope to begin to build a picture of how Second Life is being adopted by the HE and FE community in the UK and whether that adoption is making a positive contribution to the delivery of learning.

September 25, 2007

A couple of meetings about Second Life

Three meetings in three days at the end of last week meant that I didn't get a lot of time to blog about stuff.  I'm trying to catch up now...

On Wednesday I went to Oxford to speak to staff at ASKe (part of the Business School at OXford Brookes) about Second Life.  I gave them an updated version of my standard "Second Life in 3600 seconds" presentation which actually lasts about 90 minutes in practice, assuming that people are stopping me to ask questions as we go thru.  It sounds like a long talk but actually goes very quickly, from my point of view at least, and there are no shortage of things to talk about.  Recent updates to the presentation include discussing 'voice' as a communication medium, and something about some of the more recent findings published by JISC around student expectations of ICT at university and what they make of Second Life as an educational tool.

I probably ended up being more negative than I meant to be during this presentation.  In general, I am now conscious that there is a danger of being seen as an SL-evangelist (just because I regularly talk about SL, and because I openly acknowledge that I like it from a personal point of view).  However, I do not want my presentations to be seen in that way - I want to offer a balanced view of pros and cons.  It's possible that I  over compensate as a result.  Anyway, I think / hope that it was a useful session for staff there, and I'll be interested to see what conclusions they draw about making use of Second Life in their activities.

Audience On Thursday we held our joint JISC CETIS / Eduserv Second Life in Education event at the London Knowledge Lab.  This went very well I think, with interesting presentations from all four of the projects we have funded this year, an overview of some of the issues around using SL by yours truly, a summary of the JISC position on Second Life by Lawrie Phipps and a discussion session at the end led by Paul Hollands.

I gave my presentation thru the medium of SL t-shirts, a somewhat unusual approach and one that I originally wanted to do in-world - dragging new t-shirts onto myself as the talk progressed.  But I lost my bottle, using a canned Powerpoint presentation instead, not least because we didn't have access to Second Life in the venue until about 20 minutes before the start of the meeting.  (The irony of not having Second Life available at a Second Life meeting was not lost on us - and Martin Oliver in particular pulled out all the stops to get things working for us in time).

One thing that did strike me is the breadth of activity that we have funded - which is great.  Oddly, it wasn't really until I sat down and listened to all four presentations, one after the other, that it fully struck me how diverse the projects are.

We billed the day as offering a chance to:

  • showcase the projects to the JISC CETIS community
  • explore potential issues with using Second Life in Education such as interoperability and sustainability
  • discuss ways in which funding bodies can best support the community's activities with virtual worlds.

I think we definitely achieved the first and second of these.  I'm less clear about the third, though Lawrie's talk touched on the emerging JISC policy in this area.

All the talks (slides and audio) are available from the meeting wiki and slidecasts are promised soon (thanks to Sheila Macneill).

The "1 in 10" issue was raised again towards the end of the discussion - partly because I suggested that I'd missed an "I am the 1 in 10" (a la UB40's hit single of the early 80's) t-shirt from my presentation.  One in ten is the proportion of people who 'get' Second Life, as stated by Babbage Linden in our symposium follow-up meeting.  I suggested, as I've done before, that this kind of proportion (it doesn't matter what the exact figure is) means that we have to adopt a flexible pedagogic approach around Second Life, allowing some students to use SL and others to do something else.  Several lecturers in the room tended to disagree, arguing that "if it's part of the course, then students will just have to get on with it" and "how many students get traditional lectures anyway".

Actually I don't strongly disagree.  My personal preference is for a flexible pedagogic approach anyway - but I can understand that it isn't always going to be practical to do so for all sorts of reasons, not least time.  Anyway, I digress... and I've missed loads of other stuff from the presentations and the discussion, so well worth reading the other blog entries about the event - all of which are linked from the wiki.

Overall I think it was a very good day and several people have asked about the possibility of doing some kind of follow-up when the projects are further into their work.  Watch this space.

September 18, 2007

Student expectations of ICT at university

Via the Lisa Whistlecroft on the HIgher Education Academy technical mailing list, I discovered this interesting study from JISC looking at student expectations of ICT as they enter higher education in the UK.  It's dated July 2007, so appears to have been around for a while, although I haven't seen it before.

There's a lot of material here but in this post I just want to touch on some of the Second Life findings, partly because I have a couple of SL-related presentations to make over the next couple of days.

The results are based on a survey of 501 students aged 16 to 18 from across the UK (though the vast majority in England) with at least a low to medium knowledge of ICT.

When asked how often they used various technologies, 21% responded that they used Second Life often or occasionally.  This is actually much higher than I would have expected - I would have guessed 10%, perhaps even lower for that age group.  This compares with 44% who maintain their own blog or Web site (wow!), 39% who use on demand video and 37% who download podcasts.

The least popular technological pursuit from the online survey was taking part in an online community e.g. Second Life. The majority (76%) have never, or only rarely, done this, and three fifths (60%) of females have never done this.

Participants in the groups articulated the idea that a ‘community’ had a social implication which could not be replicated by this type of technology – it is a very niche market and offers different benefits from other social sites. Indeed, few had actually heard of Second Life.

    “That’s a bit weird, to be honest. You would be quite sad to do that”
    Male, infrequent users at school and home group

Some of the more qualitative commentary is also interesting, in particular:

Second Life appeared to be an idea for people older than themselves, for the generation above who were interested in technology for its “own sake”. This is perhaps why the idea amused our participants and why they felt it was “sad”. The implications here for HEIs are that they cannot assume that presenting new technologies automatically makes their institution more youth-friendly – this new generation like to see the concrete benefits of technologies.


When discussing Second Life, students felt that games and virtual worlds as part of learning could easily become “tragic” – technology being used for its own sake, and used rather childishly. They would need to understand the educational benefits of virtual worlds or games, it is not enough that they are simply ‘new’.

In a sense I don't think there are any surprises here - I have always argued that the majority of people found in SL are, err, of the older persuasion. As for the generally negative attitudes about virtual worlds, pro-SLers would probably argue that a similar study done at the start of the Web era might have found a similar state of affairs.  To be honest I don't know whether that is true or not - my memory isn't good enough to recall what student attitudes to the use of the Web in universities was like at that time.  But such an argument would seem at least potentially credible.   

Furthermore, I always somewhat sceptical about these kinds of surveys in terms of how questions are phrased and, therefore, what they are really telling us.  That said, the report is definitely interesting and worth a read.

Serious games social network

Those of you with an interest in the use of serious games in education, health, business, or anywhere else for that matter, may like to note the Serious Games social network (hosted on Ning).

September 17, 2007

Serious Virtual Worlds

Tshirt_3 I got sent to Coventry for two days last week.

No, I hadn't upset the other guys in the office!  I was attending the Serious Virtual Worlds '07 conference, organised by the Serious Games Institute at the University of Coventry.

I listened to talks about the latest in games and virtual world technology development.  I learned how such things are being used in areas as diverse as health, education, the military and business.  I heard how virtual worlds can be used as catalysts for global change in areas such as children's welfare and financial aid and I chatted openly with other delegates about what was being said by the speakers, while they were speaking.

I did all of this without ever leaving my office.


Well, I discovered, almost by accident, that all the sessions from the conference were being streamed live onto the new Coventry Island in Second Life.  This doesn't seem to have been well advertised in advance - I certainly hadn't heard about it - and, as a result, there were only a few other virtual delegates in-world with me.  This is a shame, since all the sessions were very interesting.

Was the virtual side of the conference a complete success?  No, of course not.  Was it useful as an alternative way of attending the conference.  Yes, definitely.

The main problem was that the organisers hadn't put anything in place to allow the virtual delegates to see the presentation slides being used by the speakers.  In a lot of cases, this drastically reduced the impact and usefulness of the talks.

Nor did we have a way of communicating with the real-life delegates. 

Rootalk To give a feel for what it was like to be a virtual delegate at the conference, I've put a video of Roo Reynolds' presentation from the second day up on blip.tv (I had to use blip.tv rather than YouTube because this video is about 30 minutes long and YouTube seems to reject anything over 10 minutes).

The talk provides a nice overview of where virtual worlds, and Web 2.0 social tools more generally, have got to and how they are being used for collaboration in business, particularly from the perspective of IBM.  It's a good summary.

To make it a more rounded presentation experience I've edited the slides back into the video - but if you watch it, remember that those of us that were there on the day didn't have the benefit of seeing the slides.

I've also added in the chat that went on between virtual delegates while the talk was being given.  The in-world discussion isn't earth-shattering (one delegate even went as far as criticising Roo's dress sense!) but it gives a flavour of what is possible by streaming conference sessions in-world. Imagine the possibilities offered by having a shared chat space available to both real and virtual delegates for example.

Of course, as we found at our own symposium back in May, to fully integrate real and virtual delegates at the same conference is quite difficult.  How, using Roo's words, do we make sure that virtual delegates are treated as "first class citizens"?  This is a non-trivial question, and one that we are still learning the answers to.  But at the very least we need to ensure that there is an open, two-way, dialogue between people in the real and virtual worlds.

The ALT-C conference organisers made an attempt at this for the keynotes during ALT-C 2007 this year, using the Elluminate software to allow virtual delegates to make comments and ask questions of the speakers.  However, they, perhaps rightly, got cold feet about allowing a completely open public forum and assigned a moderator to approve comments before they went up live on the screen in the auditorium.  Shame.  Surely an educational audience can be trusted to behave?

My suspicion is that the ALT-C experiment worked quite well in terms of delivering the keynote sessions out to virtual delegates.  But I suspect it failed in terms of making virtual delegates feel like they were part of something?  Asking questions thru a moderator in a relatively bland chat-room is hardly an engaging experience?

The Serious Virtual Worlds '07 experiment also failed, but for different reasons.  I felt very much part of an event thanks to the immersive nature of Second Life.  But it was an event shared with the other virtual delegates - it wasn't the same event as the real-world delegates attended.  Further, the delivery of the presentations to the virtual world was disappointing in its lack of slides to compliment the audio/video experience.

Note, this is not intended to be critical of either conference in any way.  This is an ongoing learning experience for all of us.  I share my thoughts here simply in the hope that they are useful in moving our understanding forwards.

September 13, 2007

Opening of Coventry Island

Madeleineatkins Coventry University opened their Coventry Island in Second Life today at the close of day one of the two-day Serious Virtual Worlds '07 conference organised by the Serious Games Institute.  Presentations from the conference were streamed in-world during the day, though this doesn't appear to have been widely advertised in advance so the number of avatars turning up seemed quite low.

Maggie_2 The island opening itself was a nice mix of real and virtual, serious and fun.  Delegates both on the island and in the conference venue listened to short talks from Professor Madeleine Atkins, Vice Chancellor of Coventry University and  David Wortley and Professor Maggi Savin-Baden of the Serious Games Institute.  This was followed by a virtual tour of the island by Maggi (Second Wind), an impressive firework show and a small party.

Fireworks Virtual beer has always struck me as an odd idea, but I managed to both pour mine down my newly created "I've been sent to Coventry" t-shirt and drop my glass on the floor making a right mess.  Oh, well.

I think this is the first high-profile Second Life island opening by a UK university?  Time will tell whether it is the first of many or a flash in the pan.  My instinct tells me the former.Drinkproblem

September 10, 2007

Reflections on ALT-C 2007

Pete, Ed and I spent most of last week at ALT-C 2007 in Nottingham.  It was my first ALT-C and, if I'm honest, I went there primarily because Eduserv had a stand in the exhibition area and we'd taken a decision to use it to draw attention to the 4 Second Life projects that we've funded this year.

With this in mind I spent the run up to the conference preparing a 10 minute video to show on the stand - displayed using the, err, rather expensive flat-screen monitor that we chose to hire for the event.

This worked pretty well actually, and generated quite a lot of interest, meaning that we were able to give away a reasonable number of the tiny MOO cards that we'd created about each of the projects.

As a member of the conference programme committee I was also asked to chair a couple of sessions, which I was happy to do.  The first of these had 3 short papers covering the use of blogs to support reflective learning.  The second followed the same format but looked at the use of wikis.

Before the event I was slightly worried that trying to fit 3 short papers into an hour-long session was going to be overly tight.  In fact, all my speakers stuck exactly to their alloted period (for which I'm very grateful), allowing plenty of time for questions from the audience to each of them.

I also attended one other paper session, two short papers about the use of pod-casts in elearning.

The papers in these sessions reported on relatively small-scale cases studies around the use of new technologies in learning.  It struck me that we need far larger bodies of evidence if we want to draw anything other than anecdotal conclusions about the effectiveness and impact of these kinds of approaches.  Having said that, all the papers reported on the efforts of people to get on and do something practical - which is to be applauded.

Several themes seemed to emerge from these sessions:

  • the technology itself no longer presents a significant hurdle, in terms of installing and running the applications (as evidenced by the speed at which we were able to create a Hood 2.0 (see below) Facebook group and blog and almost get it indexed by Google within an hour)
  • however, pedagogic and cultural issues remain
  • student familiarity with Web 2.0 tools, particularly wikis, is often over-estimated
  • hence there is a need for induction to the tools in use and the netiqette (web2iquette?) that goes with them
  • the prominence of the 'VLE as sole delivery mechanism' seems to be diminishing somewhat - though several presenters still talked about the need to embed the external Web 2.0 tools they were using into their campus VLE
  • students do not always use the tools as intended - e.g. a group of students who were asked to collaborate using a wiki, but who chose to do the work in Facebook, only uploading the final result into the wiki - on questioning, it was not clear whether they chose to do this because of a preference for the Facebook style of working, or because they wanted to hide their work from the lecturer!

Last thing on the first day I attended a short briefing session about the JISC Emerge project which was interesting - I wasn't only there for the free wine, 'onest.

And first thing on the second day I attended a rather fun Web 2.0 Slam organised by Francis Bell, Josie Fraser and Helen Keegan.  I knew this was going to be a session in which the audience had to do something but being a rather thick techie, I kinda assumed that I'd just have to stand up and talk about my experiences of using Blastfeed, dctagged and Yahoo pipes to create mashups.  Who was I kidding?  Instead we were split into groups and expected to produce a 90 second skit on Web 2.0.  Suggested options included poetry, which to their credit one group actually managed to achieve quite successfully.

I have the performance art skills of a brick and a creative imagination to match, especially at 9.00 in the morning.  Fortunately, the rest of my group (James, Kathy and Agnes) came up with our offering - Hood 2.0 (a play on the locally relevant theme of Robin Hood (Web 2.0) stealing from the rich (the big corporations) to give to the poor (the individual)).  The resulting Hood 2.0 Facebook group already has 19 members - I have no idea why :-)

Altcemerge Finally, it's worth noting the very large and impressive JISC stand which featured, amongst other things, Second Life - a first I think.  The plan was to have a collaborative build of the new Emerge Island going on in Second Life during the conference.  I'm not sure that this worked out too well, though I and a few others spent some time on the island building stuff.  I'll describe the results more fully on the ArtsPlace SL blog in due course.

Overall the event was well organised and ran very smoothly.  Oh, and the food was great :-)

Summing up:  a fun event, well organised, good buzz, great for networking.

Final thought:  when are conference organisers going to stop filling delegate packs with reams of shite marketing blurb?  This stuff has got to be killing our planet in one way or another hasn't it?  Surely we can find a way to use technology to do this more effectively?

August 31, 2007

3DVisA Bulletin

A brief article about our Second Life projects appears in issue 3 of the 3DVisA Bulletin (September 2007).

August 30, 2007

Eduserv at ALT-C

Several Eduserv-folk will be at ALT-C: Beyond Control next week.  We're on stand 8 in the exhibition space if you are interested.

Our stand will focus on the four Second Life related projects that we agreed to fund earlier this year, though we'll have information about Athens, OpenAthens, Chest and so on as well.  I'd be particularly interested to talk to people about their thoughts on the role of OpenID in relation to e-learning.

Please drop by to say hello and find out more.  Our plan is to have a laptop running Second Life available so that people can try it out if they haven't already.

August 18, 2007

Will the last avatar to leave please turn out the lights?

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeffrey R Young questions the likely reach of SL educational activities and asks:

Are any college officials working in Second Life starting to have second thoughts?

Clearly, asking this kind of question doesn't make you many friends in SL circles! But it strikes me that it is absolutely critical that we keep asking ourselves these kinds of questions as we spend more time, effort and money building up educational spaces and activities in SL.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that we shouldn't experiment with SL in education. Just that we need to be sure that whatever we do there has some useful impact on learning.  And that we need to manage expectations rather better than has been done in some other areas of SL activity.

We (the Eduserv Foundation) are currently in discussion with John Kirriemuir about him following up on his snapshot of SL use in UK HE and FE.  John has already said that he wants to focus more on 'impact' rather than simply 'use' in any future version of the snapshot and I'm very supportive of this - though of course there are questions to be asked about what 'impact' actually means in practice. I'd also like him to begin to ask, "who has tried SL and decided not to continue with it?", and, if so, "why?".

I was wondering earlier on today about whether I could draw an analogy between SL and cycle racks, in the sense that the number of people on campus that make use of them is pretty small, but a university would look pretty stupid not to provide them. But, on reflection, I don't think it works too well :-).

Over on Facebook, Brian Kelly has asked a similar question, "is it time for universities to engage with Facebook or should they leave it alone?".  In answering I said, somewhat incoherently, that at this stage

I suspect that the best form of institutional engagement is 'not getting in the way'.

Perhaps this is all we need from institutions around SL at this stage?  Give the educational innovators with ideas about how SL can make the world a better place a chance to experiment, sit back and see what happens.  Above all, don't throw the baby avatar out with the virtual bathwater just because SL doesn't come up to the hype that has been allowed to grow around it.

August 16, 2007

Joint CETIS/Eduserv meeting on Second Life in education

Cetiseduservmeeting JISC CETIS and Eduserv invite you to a joint one day event to explore the use of Second Life in education to be held at the London Knowledge Lab, 23-29 Emerald Street, London WC1N 3QS, on Thursday 20 September 2007.

This one day event will feature presentations from each of the SL projects that we have funded recently, as well as presentations from Andy Powell (Eduserv) and Lawrie Phipps (JISC). Paul Hollins (JISC CETIS) will lead a discussion session in the afternoon.

The aims of the day are to:

  •     showcase the projects to the JISC CETIS community
  • explore potential issues with using Second Life in Education such as interoperability and sustainability
  •     discuss ways in which funding bodies can best support the community’s activities with virtual worlds.

The meeting is free to attend and lunch and refreshments will be provided. More information including a link to the online booking system is available.

Please note that places for this event are limited, so if you are interested in coming along, please book early.

A poster presentation about the projects which is available from Slideshare and in Second Life.

August 02, 2007

A spot of late night Sloodling

The night before last night I sat in on a meeting of the Sloodle developers group held at the Second Life campus of San Jose State University's School of Library and Information Science. Sloodle is working on integration between the Moodle VLE and Second Life.

It was a late night start (for me, at least - 11pm UK time), as the group has active participants in the US, Europe, the Far East and Australia, and inevitably it's difficult to find a time slot which is ideal for everyone. This was the first meeting of this group that I'd attended, prompted partly by a general interest in interactions between Second Life and Web applications like Moodle (and I think at least some of the functions are common to other applications in other domains) and partly by the fact that the Foundation has awarded a research grant to Dan Livingstone at the University of Paisley for work on Sloodle. (It occurred to me later that I should probably have made it clearer that I certainly wasn't there in any sort of "checking up on how you're spending our money" sort of capacity!)

The meeting was facilitated by Dan and Jeremy Kemp (SJSU SLIS) and there were probably about 15 avatars present. They included several who were quite new to Second Life, so I think Dan and Jeremy probably spent a bit more time than they had intended on bringing people up to speed on what work had been done and what Sloodle had to offer than on the practical planning for future activity. Nevertheless, it was quite useful for me to get that potted history as I myself haven't followed Sloodle in as much detail as I'd have liked. (For newcomers to Sloodle, scanning some of their YouTube videos may be the best introduction.)

A few selected highlights from the discussion:

  • Jeremy summarised some of the recent/current dissemination activities, which have generated interest from many quarters, including from Linden Lab. Some effort is needed now to ensure that tools are fully documented and delivered in usable forms.
  • Work is in progress on developing two new Web sites to complement/supplement the existing sloodle.com site and the Sloodle wiki
  • There was a brief exchange on the relative priorities of advancing "technical"/tool development on the one hand and exploring/promoting changes in pedagogical approaches on the other. I got the sense (though I may be wrong!) that to date Sloodle has focused mainly on the software development end of things, though several participants last night emphasised that it was important that the former be informed by the latter.
  • I was interested in Jeremy's (brief) summary of authentication issues. Most if not all of the work in this area has, I think, been done by Edmund Edgar, who wasn't present at the meeting. At various points over the last few months, Andy has mused about the potential role for OpenId in this area, and my own extremely naive intuition is that having a URI which can be used as the basis for interaction, as well as identification, must bring something significant to the table - but I really need to have a much better grasp of the information flows within SL and between SL and the Web before I can make any sort of useful contribution to this discussion!
  • One of the key objectives in the short term is to package, document, release and support a stable version of Sloodle, and work is in progress to establish a schedule for a development phase, a trial and a review over the next 12 months

The intention is to continue to have these developers meetings regularly, probably on Tuesdays at that time (3pm SLT/PDT) and that SL location, and I'll be trying to attend when I can. There may be some variation to accommodate participants from different time zones, so it would be a good idea to check on the Sloodle site for up-to-date details, and indeed that there is going to be a meeting - especially if you're planning on staying up late or getting up early in order to join in! ;-)

August 01, 2007

More models in Second Life

The eightbar weblog (jointly authored by a "a group of techie/creative people working in and around IBM’s Hursley Park Lab in the UK", including Roo Reynolds, who contributed to the Eduserv Foundation Symposium back in May) has a pointer to a short but quite fascinating video on YouTube, which demonstrates how a model of various layers of system architecture can be (automatically) represented in Second Life.

July 20, 2007

UK academia Second Life snapshot

I'm very pleased to announce that a study by John Kirriemuir entitled July 2007 "snapshot" of UK HE and FE developments in SL is now available on the Eduserv Foundation Web site.

As John notes in the conclusion:

This report shows that a growing number of UK academic institutions, departments and groups are at different stages of SL development. It is, perhaps, presumptuous to conclude that UK Higher Education has reached a "tipping point" in terms of using and developing facilities in SL.  However, there has been a considerable increase in activity between March and July 2007, marked by the beginning and end of this survey. The appendix lists over 40 UK Universities and Colleges that have a building, land or island on the grid, many appearing in the last few weeks and not yet open for public visiting while they are being developed.

I know that John is still receiving some responses to his earlier survey questions on the SLED mailing list and elsewhere so the raw data on which this report is based is still growing slightly - we hope to make that data available in some form (possibly via a wiki) in due course. Nonetheless, the snapshot provides a valuable picture of where we are right now in the UK higher and further education community .

July 06, 2007

Simulated Ants!

Amongst the projects recently funded by the Foundation under its Research Grants programme is the Modelling4All project, led by Ken Kahn and Howard Noble (OUCS, University of Oxford).

The project plans to develop services for creating, exploring and analysing models, and also to try to build up a community around those services where models and their components are shared and discussed. In addition, they are interested in exploring how such models can be run in shared virtual spaces such as Second Life. I'm quite intrigued by this (especially their aspirations to offer "an alternative to the 'god's eye' view" when a model is run - playing the role of a fish in a school and so on), so I'm looking forward to seeing how the project progresses.

Via a post on the O'Reilly Radar weblog, I came across this YouTube video of a simulation of ant feeding behaviour running in Second Life. While I don't think this example really encapsulates all the sort of features that the Modelling4All team suggest, it nevertheless hints at some of the potential for using Second Life for this sort of application. And it's quite a fun video!

July 04, 2007

Learning activity management for avatars

I'm giving a presentation entitled When worlds collide: learning activity management for avatars at the 2007 European LAMS Conference tomorrow in London.

When I originally agreed to give this talk I was, naively, hoping that I'd have done some real work experimenting with how LAMS and Second Life might be integrated.  But I haven't, so tomorrow's talk will be somewhat more theoretical than I would have liked.

No matter - I still think it's a potentially interesting area.

I posted a message to the Second Life Educators (SLED) list a few days back, asking if anyone was doing any work in this area.  It seems that not much is being done.  Peter Miller from the University of Liverpool responded with his ideas about how

learning spaces could be rapidly rezzed from transparent prefab sculpties incorporating the necessary seating/gadgets to support a particular activity/stage in a learning sequence/design. These could be arranged LAMS-like in a sequence but students have the option of walking through walls as well as following the pre-determined path.

There's also the work going on with SLoodle, some of which we are now funding.  It is clear that there is a lot of potential for Open Source collaboration in the area of Moodle/SLoodle/LAMS integration with Second Life.

June 21, 2007

Second Life in 3600 seconds - University of Bath

I had originally planned to give this seminar up a the University of Bath last week, but we canceled it because of SL scheduled maintenance - so I'm now doing it next week instead.  Details are as follows:

Title:Second Life in 3600 seconds
Start time:Thursday 28 June 2007, 2:00 until 3:30PM
Location:8 West 3.22, University of Bath
Description:This seminar, presented by Andy Powell, will be an opportunity to see Second Life in action. It will provide an overview of the features of Second Life, with an emphasis on its use in education, using a mix of slides, live demos and discussion.

Second Life (SL) is a 3-D virtual world, a.k.a. a metaverse, which is attracting quite a lot of interest from the global education community because of its potential use in e-learning. Educational applications include virtual delivery of seminars and lectures, collaborative exercises, tutorials and discussions, virtual archaeology, visualisations of architectural history, art and design applications, and so on.

Andy Powell is Head of Development at the Eduserv Foundation. Eduserv is a non-profit UK educational charity that works to realise the effective use of ICT for learners and researchers.

Contact:Artemis Cropper, 01225 386256, [email protected]

Thanks to people at UKOLN, particularly Arte, for organising this.

W3C TAG considering identification in Virtual Worlds

I just noticed while browsing the mailing list archives of the W3C Technical Architecture Group (which are always a good read, I should add) that one of the items currently under discussion is "Naming and Identification in Virtual Worlds". Actually, there are only a couple of posts on the topic at the moment (the thread starts here) but I imagine more will follow.

This relates to a point about the use of SLURLs which Andy discussed in a couple of posts over on ArtsPlace, and more generally one of my interests is in understanding how virtual worlds like Second Life integrate with the Web - with identification being a key part of that - so I'll be following the TAG discussion with interest.

efsym2007 revisited

On Tuesday we hosted a mini-event in Second Life, a panel discussion as a follow-up to the symposium held back in May. The aim was to provide an opportunity to continue and extend the discussions which had started in the symposium, and particularly to try to focus in on the questions - which perhaps we didn't quite get to grips with as fully as we would have liked in the symposium itself - of how Second Life is being used, or could/should be used, to deliver and support learning and research.

We were fortunate that five of the six speakers at the symposium - Jim Purbrick (Linden Lab), Roo Reynolds (IBM), Hamish MacLeod (University of Edinburgh), Joanna Scott (Nature Publishing Group) and Stephen Downes (National Research Council of Canada) - were able to participate as panelists. All participants were joining the event remotely and we hadn't set up any audio or video streaming for this event, so communication was entirely via in-world chat. I think there were about thirty-odd people in the audience plus the five panel members - enough for us to experience some degree of "lag", but I don't think it was severe enough to cause real problems (though Paul Walk notes his keystrokes being reduced to a crawl, and I think Stephen did lose his connection briefly.)

However, as Andy notes over on his ArtsPlace weblog, we had something of a, ahem, "learning experience" with the use of the PanelPod software which Andy has developed to provide "virtual chairing". (The PanelPod software manages queues of participants who wish to speak and provides prompts for them to start talking when they reach the front of the queue - simulating the role of a human panel chair in a physical meeting). We started the meeting using that system, but it soon became evident that the "structured" approach imposed by the system was inhibiting discussion, and working against our intent that the discussion should be relatively informal. So we switched it off, and the conversation seemed to flow more freely afterwards. (In a comment on Andy's post, David Tebbutt provides some statistics to support that! Thanks, David!)

In terms of the content of the discussion, Andy has posted the full chat log so I don't intend to try to summarise the whole thing here, but I'll try to highlight a few points which emerged:

  • The opening discussion picked up on a question raised by Diana Laurillard during the symposium of whether SL resulted in, or enabled, "new pedagogies". The consensus seemed to be that SL didn't in itself change pedagogical approaches, but that it did provide a new context and that change of context encouraged more thinking about how we teach and learn in that context.
  • In terms of specific practical applications, there was some agreement on the power of providing 3D visualisations in SL, e.g. Nature's work with molecular structures and IBM's with abstractions such as network architectures.
  • (It was round about this point that a question about the use of SL for discussion led to reflections on the use of the queueing system in this discussion, and the conversation switched into an open chat. Although there were a few moments where threads overlapped and possibly a few points were lost along the way, I think it worked out OK.)
  • This prompted a question of the "gaps" between an individual's conceptualisations and their ability to realise those conceptualisations in SL, e.g. the "learning curve" involved in becoming sufficiently proficient in building and scripting to realise some project - though as Algernon Spackler pointed out, that may be a problem with other software tools (or indeed with pen and paper!). And indeed Kimberley Pascal indicated that his experience was that students did take well to building in SL.
  • Algernon suggested that we should take opportunities to "[reach] students where they currently are (whether its Second Life, Facebook, or wherever)" rather than seeking to replicate such systems. This led into two questions: firstly, whether our students really are currently in SL (which I'm not sure we really addressed!), and secondly, how to ensure that their early engagement with SL in a learning context is a positive one. Babbage Linden acknowledged that probably only 10% of people "got" SL, which raised the question of whether there was a requirement "to make SL better" (improve the interfaces etc) or to acknowledge that for some people perhaps virtual worlds were not the most suitable tools. (Edit: between my drafting this post and publishing it, Andy has expanded on these questions over on ArtsPlace.)
  • The question of how to assess learning in SL was also raised, with the suggestion that assessment was more difficult in SL. I admit I'm not sure I quite grasped the points being made here, as I hadn't thought of the challenges of assessing learning carried out in SL as fundamentally different from those of assessment in Web-based learning environments.
  • The role of SL in encouraging a collaborative approach amongst learners, and more broadly the "social dimension" of SL and its "network effects" proved to be a point of debate, particularly between Babbage Linden and Labatt Pawpaw. Babbage suggested that SL facilitated people meeting other people with shared interests ("places and things provide the points around which communities form" and "you go to the space flight museum for the rockets and stay for the people"), and Labatt argued that this was not borne out by his own experience, where many SL places are relatively empty and large numbers are clustered only around venues like casinos.
  • Following in part from the discussion of socialising/networking, and in part from an earlier point about what made SL attractive/compelling, Art Fossett emphasised that one of the central attractions of SL for him was the ability to build (needless to say, I've noticed this from sitting across the desk for the last six months!), and also that building provided an important point of contact with others (e.g. striking up conversations with other builders in sandbox areas). This sparked some debate about the role that building might play within learning and teaching (Graham Mills: "Building is very demanding". Misha Writer: "most teachers & students will not be going to build". Magistra Clary: "A lot depends on the discipline...do law students like to build?".) Art did expand his comments to emphasise that he was adopting quite a broad notion of "building": "for me, the term 'build' is fairly wide - i include 'make a film', run a virtual courtroom, put on a play, etc." (Edit: again, more thoughts from Andy over on ArtsPlace.)

Overall, once discussion got going it did flow quite well, and it was an enjoyable conversation with contributions from a reasonable proportion of the audience (25, according to David's statistics!). However, on one last note, there was one question asked (also highlighted by Paul Walk) which did leave me wondering about how we had approached this particular event. The question (from avatar Lovely Day) was "Who in this room is reading the chat history? And who is looking at the people? And, if the chat history, why bother with SL?" 

For some of the time I was looking at avatars, but mainly because I was trying to capture some snapshots of the event (and at those points I wasn't really following the chat)! When I was looking at the chat log I certainly wasn't panning round the room to find out which avatar was "speaking" at the time. Having spent a few hours pulling together snapshots and assembling these notes, it does seem to me the questioner had a point. Couldn't we have had a similar discussion using IRC or some Web-based chat forum/message board? What did having the discussion in SL really add? Of course, I'm aware that it would have been perceived as rather odd, given the Foundation's recent activity in this area, if we had decided to hold a "virtual" discussion about SL outside of SL, but, OTOH, I still struggle to articulate exactly what holding the discussion in SL brought to Tuesday's exchanges. Which is not to say that I think SL has nothing to offer to such events - not at all, and indeed I found myself agreeing with some of the points made on Tuesday about visual and spatial cues - but that question made me realise that (with the possible exception of the fact that the panel were seated separately from the audience) I made almost no use of those aspects during the event itself. Hmmm.

Still, a useful discussion, I think. Thanks to all who participated.

June 18, 2007

Virtual worlds, real learning, revisited

We're running a short follow-up meeting to the symposium on Eduserv Island in Second Life tomorrow at 4.00pm (UK time) - that's 8.00am (Second Life time).  Registration not required.

We hope to relay all the chat from the session into RL using Twitter.  If you are a Twitter user, follow 'eduservisland' to see the discussion.

June 08, 2007

Second Life: a personal view

Eduservislandlogo I was asked by Eduserv's PR company for a couple of paragraphs about my views on Second Life.  They'd looked at this blog (and possibly at the ArtsPlace SL blog as well) and hadn't found anything suitable.  I realise now that they are right... despite blogging and speaking fairly often about Second Life, I've never been particularly up front about my views on it.

So here goes...

Well, firstly, I guess that it is pretty obvious (both from my blog entries, particularly those on ArtsPlace SL, and to those of you that can see me online thru the friends list in-world) that at a personal level I really like Second Life and that I'm spending a fairly decent amount of time in-world these days.  I try not to count the hours(!) but I admit that I tend to use Second Life most days, usually during the UK evening.  So, if you need to find me, that's where to look!

Why do I like it?  That's harder to say!  I've never been a big gamer - in fact I can only think of one occasion in my life where I've got hooked by any kind of gaming software (Tony Hawkes 1 on the PlayStation if you are interested, and even that didn't last long).  Before anyone screams, I know there's an issue about whether Second Life should be called a 'game' or not.  For what it is worth, I tend to think that it shouldn't but that it shares some superficial gaming characteristics.  One way or the other, it doesn't strike me as a major issue.

But I digress... I am a confirmed 'hacker' (I use that term in its positive sense) and have been more or less ever since I discovered the joy of programming sometime back in the late 70s.  I see hacking/programming as a craft (not as engineering, though I'm a Software Engineer by degree, and certainly not as a science) and, for me, it works best (i.e. is most enjoyable) when it can be combined with some level of design - whether that is interaction design or visual design or whatever.

Second Life, with its combination of building skills and programming skills, seems to me to bring these things together very nicely.  I think that's probably why I like it so much.

So, what about from a professional perspective?  Why has the Eduserv Foundation got interested in Second Life?  Why did we hold the symposium and fund Second Life projects in this year's round of grant making?

Well, it seems clear to me that there is significant interest within the education community in the use of 3-D virtual worlds in learning.  This interest was most visible to us from the reaction we got to the symposium and the grants call, both of which swamped us with responses in the area of Second Life.

You'll note that I seamlessly switched from the generic, 3-D virtual worlds, to the specific, Second Life, there without any problem.  This isn't surprising to me.  I made the point at the beginning of the symposium that Second Life is where most of the 3-D virtual world learning action is at the moment - so it makes perfect sense, to me, for us to focus our attention on it.  The Second Life brand is the Hoover of the 3-D virtual world space at the moment - or so it seems to me.

Whether this level of attention is justified is another matter of course.  As with the early days of the Web, what we are seeing at the moment is a lot of experimentation - with no-one being quite sure what works well and what doesn't.  We're seeing lots of people in the education sector getting excited, getting involved, getting in-world, and then trying to work out what the hell they are going to do when they get there.  Those people are usually operating alone or in small units - there is still little high-level strategic commitment to Second Life or 3-D virtual worlds.

I see the Foundation's role as helping to move our understanding forward in this area - helping to facilitate a debate about what works and what doesn't.  And if appropriate, helping to grow that ground-level excitement into something more permanent.

I have a gut feeling that 3-D virtual worlds are going to play a significant role in education in the future - but no more than that right now.  Part of my interest in helping with the debate is because I am genuinely interested in where things are going in this space.

On Second Life itself, I think it has strengths and weaknesses - but that is pretty much inevitable at this stage of the game.  I don't know whether the future lies with Linden Lab or not, and I don't really much care.  I don't mean that offensively, by and large I think that Linden Lab are doing a great job, I just mean that I see what people are doing now in Second Life as an important part of the learning process - an essential part of the debate I mentioned above - and it doesn't seem particularly critical to me me whether we are still using Second Life itself in 2 or 5 or 10 years time or whether we are using something else.  Other environments will come and go and we, as a community, will adapt to them - and hopefully help them adapt to us!

At the symposium, these was a significant debate about the commercialisation of Second Life (and, indeed, of education itself).  I must admit, I don't buy the negative side of that debate - the side that says that Second Life can't be usefully used in education because it is a commercial enterprise that supports a commercial virtual world.  Perhaps I'm missing something, but to me, that feels like a non-issue - or at least, it feels like an issue that is already with us in almost every other aspect of education!  Perhaps I'll return to this in a future post.

Anyway, that's a quick summary of my views.  If you are reading this at the PR company, I hope it helps - if it doesn't, drop me a line and I'll have another go!

May 25, 2007

Second Life events

Slbpstand As noted here, we currently have a small stand in the non-profits area as part of the exhibition associated with the SL Best Practices in Education 2007 conference.

For info... I've also agreed to speak at two other SL-related events.

On June 12th at 14.00 (UK time) I'll be facilitating a one hour in-world Second Life discussion session entitled, "Barriers to the mainstream adoption of Second Life for teaching" as part of the JISC Innovating e-Learning Online Conference.  The session will be held on Eduserv Island.

And the following day, I'll be repeating my "Second Life in 3600 second (or My life in the bush of avatars)" talk up at the University of Bath.



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