• July 25, 2014

After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds

The hype is gone, but not the interest, and professors think some emerging projects may have instructional staying power

After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds 1

Open Cobalt Project

Open Cobalt, a virtual world being developed by researchers at Duke U., may be more enticing to colleges than are commercial ventures because it gives educators more control over the environment.

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close After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds 1

Open Cobalt Project

Open Cobalt, a virtual world being developed by researchers at Duke U., may be more enticing to colleges than are commercial ventures because it gives educators more control over the environment.

Some colleges that have built virtual classrooms in Second Life—the online environment where people walk around as avatars in a cartoonlike world—have started looking for an exit strategy.

The virtual world has not lived up to the hype that peaked in 2007, when just about every day brought a new announcement from a college entering Second Life. Today, disenchanted with commercial virtual worlds but still convinced of their educational value, a few colleges have started to build their own, where they have more control.

After sitting in on Second Life classes and touring several campuses in virtual worlds, I see why they appealed to college leaders. Many are fantasy versions of traditional campuses—grand lecture halls or outdoor amphitheaters, with podiums front and center for professors to hold forth. Online education can seem foreign to professors trained in physical classrooms, but these look like regular classrooms, so they must be good, right?

Well, not necessarily, it turns out. Moving around in Second Life can be so clunky that some professors and students have decided that it's just not worth the hassle. I regularly get stuck between pieces of virtual furniture, wander around aimlessly looking for the person I'm trying to meet up with, or lose patience as I wait for my online avatar to walk between virtual classrooms. If all you need to do is chat with far-flung students, there are many easier ways to do it.

Plus, a lot of decidedly nonacademic activity goes on in Second Life, and it's difficult to limit access so that only students can enter a classroom there. Online vandalism is so common that there's a name for it ("griefing"), and it's easy to stumble into areas designed for virtual sex that is, ahem, graphic.

Then there are worries about what would happen if the company behind Second Life, Linden Lab, went out of business. All those digital classrooms could vanish in the flip of a server switch.

That has happened to some of Second Life's competitors: In late December, a company called Metaplace announced that its virtual world would self-destruct because of financial difficulties. "A lot of people got burned," one official who relied on the system for part of a course he teaches on virtual worlds told me. Even the tech giant Google couldn't keep its experimental virtual world going. Google ended Lively, its graphical Web environment, in late 2008.

Linden Lab recently swapped in a new leader to replace its founding chief executive, and it now appears more focused on selling a new "enterprise" service to companies than supporting discounted server space for colleges. John Lester, a Linden Lab official, told me that the company's new strategy will make its world bigger and better than ever, for educators and everybody else, and that Second Life had suffered from overheated expectations.

What surprised me the most was that, despite these challenges, educators appear more interested than ever in the idea of teaching in video-game-like realms. A group of college folks interested in virtual environments organized by Educause, the higher-education-technology organization, has a growing membership. Tellingly, though, it recently changed its name from the Second Life group to the Virtual Worlds group, in part reflecting an eagerness to find alternatives.

And colleges are rethinking some of those first experiments in their palatial virtual campuses. At Case Western Reserve University, for instance, the admissions office has stopped giving virtual tours of its Second Life campus to prospective students who couldn't make it to the real campus. There were few takers for the virtual tours.

It turns out that virtual worlds are at their best when they look nothing like a traditional campus. Professors are finding that they can stage medical simulations, guide students through the inside of cell structures, or pre­sent other imaginative teaching exercises that cannot be done in a physical classroom.

But for that, they need more control than Second Life gives them.

A Community Model

The most ambitious attempt to build an education-friendly virtual world is a project called Open Cobalt, whose leaders plan to announce an initial release in April.

The project is led by researchers at Duke University. Their vision is to create a system that operates with data stored on people's own computers. That will eliminate the need for expensive centralized servers and allow more people to inhabit the system at any given time.

The Open Cobalt effort has won more than half a million dollars in grants from the National Science Foundation, as well as support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The project has already hit some snags, though. Disagreements about direction set back the timeline of the open-source effort by about a year, said Julian Lombardi, an assistant vice president for information technology at Duke.

And because the project's developers have spent most of their time building the underlying platform, they have not yet forged the easy-to-use tools that will let most professors try the system. Right now it takes some hard-core tech skills to install it.

Another open-source effort is already up and running. It's called OpenSimulator, and it is essentially a free knockoff of Second Life. Any college with a spare server and some staff time can use the OpenSimulator software and play God to a virtual world. Or colleges can rent access to the system from a company that has set up servers with the software. ReactionGrid, a company that sells space on OpenSimulator worlds, says professors are switching to their service from Second Life. For $75 per month, plus a $150 set-up fee, a college or department can lease four worlds packed with virtual classrooms.

Professors can also call the Immersive Education Initiative, an organization in Boston that gives away free land in OpenSimulator and other open-source virtual worlds for educators and helps them design simulations and other teaching activities there.

The project was founded by Aaron E. Walsh, a professor of advancing studies at Boston College, who believes so much in the educational power of virtual worlds, he says, that he pays most of the bills for the institute out of his own pocket.

He said more than 2,000 educators have set up accounts on his OpenSimulator world, called Education Grid. About 80 percent of those are college professors, while the rest are schoolteachers, he said. Many of them are former Second Life users. "Now they're saying, I want to do this, and this, and this that Second Life can't do for me. Can you do that?" The main request is the ability to limit access to students in a course, which the group can do.

Still, some who have tried OpenSimulator have been underwhelmed. "It looks just like Second Life," said Larry Johnson, chief executive of the New Media Consortium, a Texas-based higher-education-technology group. "The difference is that not everything works. It's more buggy." Open-source efforts often stabilize over time, however.

To counter these new options, Linden Lab is testing a product that would let colleges install a world on their own servers and limit access to students and professors. Case Western is among those trying it out for its virtual campus.

Of course, there's a chance that the very notion of virtual worlds is flawed. Maybe 3-D online environments are just one of those technologies that sound cool but never fully materialize, like personal jetpacks. Trying to make the World Wide Web look like the real world misses the new kinds of things the Internet can do. Maybe it's time to retire the word cyberspace altogether.

Indeed, a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that only 4 percent of American adults spend time in virtual worlds.

But that same survey shows another telling statistic. Almost 40 percent of adults own video-game consoles, where players explore fictional 3-D spaces.

Defenders of virtual worlds say that's the important number, showing that the idea of a virtual world for specific activities is already mainstream—the trick is creating a platform that will work for education. "We don't ­really understand what we can do and what we can't do with this tool for education yet, so it's more exploratory now," said Peter J. Ludlow, a philosophy professor at Northwestern University who studies virtual worlds. "We know there's something here, but we don't know what yet."

College 2.0 covers how new technologies are changing colleges. Please send ideas to jeff.young@chronicle.com.

Comments

1. ande6991 - February 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

I have toured over one hundred educational sites, universities, colleges and training sites and I have found some engaging and enriching activities going on Second Life for higher education.

I have detailed some of those in my blog. My research and activities are limited. There is a wealth of research and books to draw upon to evaluate the educational application of virtual worlds for education.

Some sites to check out include the Scilands builds in Second Life which encompass approximately 33 sims of engaging Science builds created by educators and educational sites. I would also encourage you to check out the case studies of educational institutions on the www.secondlife.com website.

Open Simulator is a definite option for those who want to experiment and better understand the application of virtual worlds for creating engaging educational experiences, as well as Reaction Grid..where I lease a Sim....

Essentially Virtual Worlds provide for university expansion, the opportunity to do in virtually, with the same outcomes, what an educator or educational institution cannot do in "real life."
Cathy Anderson andersonlcathy@gmail.com

2. academicavatar - February 14, 2010 at 01:11 pm

I agree with Cathy. I've used Second Life in my classroom for about a year now, and the experience has been amazing for me and my students.

Is SL perfect? No. But my students and I have had no trouble creating anything in SL. This article mentions that colleges are frustrated by griefers, but we can easily make our island a "restricted access" zone and not worry about vandalism.

This article also mentions that colleges have left SL to venture into other virtual worlds "where they have more control." Well, this confuses me. I have complete control at my college's island, so this argument seems flawed or over-exaggerated.

3. manupool - February 14, 2010 at 05:08 pm

This might be interesting:

The "Virutal Worlds - Best Practices in Education 2010" Conference is MARCH 12-13, 2010. Virtual World Developers as well as eudcation researcher will attend the conference.

www.vwbpe.org/

Reagrds, M.A.Link
www.manupool.de/the-geo

4. larryc - February 15, 2010 at 03:15 am

A friend and colleague keeps bugging me to enroll in Second Life and meet her there. But what if her avatar looks like Elvira but with a squirrel's head? How will I face her in the next faculty senate meeting?

5. billso - February 15, 2010 at 11:49 pm

I'd rather have more control over the online classroom environment. Second Life doesn't seem to provide enough features in that area.

6. wankelc - February 16, 2010 at 06:00 am

I have found Second Life to be provide new visions of interfaces for doing functions like having project meetings or getting advanced training with a mix of media (video, PowerPoints, voice, etc.) in a virtual world. My classes have teams of learners joining from different continents together. I set them out to inteverview Second Life business people and learn their models and develop their own.

Charles Wankel, Associate Professor of Management, St. John's University, New York
My new books in Higher Education in Virtual Worlds: Teaching and Learning in Second Life (Emerald, 2009) and Emerging Ethical Issues of Life in Virtual Worlds (Information Age Publishing, 2010).

7. bikegrrr - February 16, 2010 at 06:40 am

First Life is challenging enough.

8. bigfruitbasket - February 16, 2010 at 08:41 am

Second Life = big waste of time & money. Try reality instead.

9. imohax - February 16, 2010 at 08:41 am

Those who criticize and fear the connectedness, openness, and immensity of Second Life miss that this is the greatest reason to embrace it over other solutions, even cheaper ones. Access control by course, group, or individual is trivial to those minimally trained in island management as is griefer control.

Walled gardens are withering in the dawning sun of the social media revolution. Let's stop thinking about how to insulate and protect our students and, like documented in PBS's Digital Nation, focus on helping students learn to protect themselves with principles and tools they need such as Second Life. With 2010's exciting announced changes that will directly benefit education above anything available in any other platform.

Respected institutions like the University of Texas don't buy 51 SL sims lightly, they respect and understand the long-term benefit of giving students a tool and skill they can take with them rather than a short-term, disconnected tool they have to learn to complete a class at a given university.

I applaud the survey of alternatives in this post particularly for those in the K-12 space with legal requirements to limit access and such. I use OpenSim regularly on my desktop to more efficiently preview content while I am developing it. My 9-year-old son has used OpenSim at home like a virtual tinker-toy set to make amazing things. However, the discussion of use of SL at the Higher Education level, to me, is different. Students at this age are adults and need introduction to the tools of the adult work force including Second Life. It would save organizations like IBM from having to train them in the technology when they arrive.

I am comforted largely by watching one high school senior enthusiastically building his verticle hydroponic greenhouse and engage his teachers from multiple-disciplines to do it. Because he chose SL, he can share his creation and receive input from higher ed and others in the agriculture industry where he would not have been able to in most of the other closed grids. More enterprise and higher education assistance and review is available currently to him through Second Life than any other option. This may change, but with Second Life's announced changes in 2010 the rest will playing catch-up despite SL's continued quirks.

10. imohax - February 16, 2010 at 08:49 am

... and comparing Second Life's 7 years and 9+ million users to Metaplace and Google Lively? Come one. They were never even close to being in the same league. If anything their failures proves that Second Life's momentum is worthy of note v.s. the upstarts, including the buggy, disorganized volunteer-based open efforts. Sometimes having a profit-based company is more stable than any alternative platform to get things going. Remember NCSA web browser, Netscape, Mozilla and eventually FireFox? A lot to learn from that progression of technology.

11. imohax - February 16, 2010 at 09:12 am

By the way, if any readers want hard research and case-studies with essays from Harvard-educated industry leaders in education and corporate learning rather than, well, this article pick up Karl M. Kapp and Tony O'Driscoll's recently released and respected 'Learning in 3D, Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration' (and no, I didn't manage to get an essay it it, though I know several who did *grin*).

12. learningdesigner - February 16, 2010 at 01:10 pm

While SL has its issues, there's a reason it's the major player in the VW space. Educators have ony begun to explore the affordances of virtual worlds, affordances that go well beyond 3-D videoconferencing.

The detractors remind me of the skeptical fellow who sat next to Ben Franklin, watching one of the Montgolfier brothers' first balloon flights. "Of what possible use is that?" he scoffed.

Wise old Ben nodded slowly. "Indeed," he said. "Of what possible use is a newborn baby?"

13. alex_heiphetz - February 16, 2010 at 01:44 pm

My experience allows me to agree with the author in one regard: educators (and I am talking not only about academia, but corporate world as well) who use Second Life for training simulations, do well and gradually expand their presence, classes, number of projects, etc. The author mentions medical and biological simulations. I am surprised that he did not specifically mention U. of Kansas Medical Center's great simulations for nurse training.

Unfortunately, this is the only point where I can agree with Mr. Young. It has become apparent a while ago that building copies of university campuses in Second Life does not produce any results and can only kill an interest in the new technology. To me it is also clear those who begin with building campuses, and do not progress towards using interactive and collaborative opportunities of virtual world are often the people who complain about lack of control, lack of security, etc; while those of us who work with more advanced projects find our way with security, griefers and control. This is not to say that Second Life is absolutely the best forever and ever, but to say that it does work well today, especially where education and training benefit from interactivity, 3D visuals and collaborative knowledge management/transfer. More importantly SL programmers can and do use feedback from users when developing new versions. Open Cobalt and similar projects do not have this hundreds-of-thousands user base with which to work. This makes catch-up even more problematic, than reported disagreements within the project.

One more word about griefers and security. For the case studies in a recent book (http://www.TheVirtualWorldsBook.com), I worked with people from several well-known companies (MS, Michelin, Cisco, TMP Worldwide, World Bank, U. of Kansas etc.) For all the hackers and griefers companies of this statue have a target painted all over them. However, none had much of a problem even though their approaches were drastically different. Some of them had a luxury of being able to allow access only to their employees and students (even for some reason Mr. Young thinks it is impossible, it is quite possible and is done every day). Others had to have open access and to employ tools other than access control.

To make long story short (and not to write another thesis :-), the fact that somebody develops competing virtual worlds is great! It is not a reason, however, to sit and wait when will these projects materialize while you already have access to a well-developed system.

14. aaronwalsh - February 16, 2010 at 02:12 pm

As a followup to Jeff's article I'm writing to clarify that the non-profit organization that I direct is called the Immersive Education Initiative (not GridInstitute). Membership is free at http://ImmersiveEducation.org and includes free access to educational virtual worlds, simulators and learning games. The Immersive Education Initiative is a non-profit international collaboration of universities, colleges, research institutes, consortia and companies that are working together to define and develop open standards, best practices, platforms, and communities of support for virtual reality and game-based learning and training systems. Thousands of faculty, researchers, staff, administrators and students are members of the Immersive Education Initiative, which is growing at the rate of approximately 2 new members every day.

Open Cobalt and OpenSimulator, both of which Jeff cites in his article, are two of several virtual worlds technologies endorsed by the Immersive Education Initiative. Wonderland and realXtend are the other two. Virtual worlds are only one part of the Immersive Education technology suite, however; learning games, simulator, and mixed reality are also endorsed by the Initiative. All technology platforms endorsed by the Initiative are open source, and free of charge.

Open Cobalt, as the article points out, will become available in April at the 2010 Immersive Education Summit in Boston. The world's leading experts in virtual worlds, learning games and educational simulations convene April 23-25 in Boston for the Summit, which is a special three-day conference open to the global education community. Presentations, panels and workshops dedicated to all virtual worlds platforms endorsed by the Immersive Education Initiative will be given at the Summit. Details are online at http://MediaGrid.org/summit and at http://ImmersiveEducation.org along with programs and presentations from previous Immersive Education Summits.


Regards,
Aaron E. Walsh
--
Media Grid: http://MediaGrid.org
Immersive Education Initiative: http://ImmersiveEducation.org
Personal page (bio & contact) : http://MediaGrid.org/people/aew

15. martysnowpaw - February 16, 2010 at 03:44 pm

To date the Virtual Worlds Best Practices Conference (www.vwbpe.com) has received over 150 proposals from academic,educational and business professionals from around the globe. Last years conference attracted 3800 unique visitors, this years is projected to go over 5000. There are over 750 college campuses on the Second Life grid where over 10% of the 1,000,000 monthly active users identify themselves as educators.

And yes pick up a copy of Karl M. Kapp and Tony O'Driscoll's recently released and respected 'Learning in 3D, Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration' and then come here them speak in Second Life at The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference on March 13 at 12 PM (PST)

Regards,

Marty Keltz
VWBPE Executive Committee
www.vwbpe.com

16. kaseido - February 16, 2010 at 08:00 pm

I am currently teaching a law school course at Arizona State University on the governance of virtual worlds, with sessions in the classroom, in World Of Warcraft and Second Life. Virtual worlds provide an opportunity for hands-on engagement with community building, with contract, property and criminal law.

Yes, it takes time to learn the medium. It takes time to learn the medium of law school as well.

Yes, there are colorful people and environments in SL: there are in the neighborhood around our campus as well. Teaching, whether in the physcial or digital classroom, is embedded in a larger community. Few of us study in remote monasteries anymore. This is not a bug, but a feature.

Second Life enables us to bring guest speakers from around the world into our classroom, at no cost. It also enables my students to experience the legal and political issues around online communities first hand, rather than as dry abstractions.

--John Carter McKnight
Adjunct Professor of Law
Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
Arizona State University

17. saurilio - February 16, 2010 at 10:01 pm

The notion of a technology having "instructional staying power" got me to thinking about effective practice and how little it has to do with the technology itself but what's done with it. It's fairly costly to design an effective simulation or serious-game. It requires a lot of expertise too. At this point, I'm not sure of the pedagogical point of delivering lectures and presentations in a virtual world. In a distance education setting, it's much more engaging to BE in 3D than in 2D. But BEING isn't synonomous with learning, and there are plenty of examples historically in which explorations of new educational techniques failed to produce better learning.

Although I'm an SL Resident and have conducted educational research in-world, I'm skeptical that there broad adoption of 3D environments for learning in institutions of higher education. There are too many institutional barriers. I'd love to be wrong on that though.

The reasons range run the gamut from the lack of faculty expertise in learning design generally, to the trend of downsizing and cost-cutting via the rhetoric of technologies for learning. For the foreseeable future, we'll be looking at instructional technologies as means of reaching more students with less resources.

Of course there will always be trailblazers and extraordinary practitioners. And they may all be avatarized too.

Suzanne Aurilio
Assistant Director, pICT, People Information and Communication Technologies
San Diego State University
My study is here: Learning in the Wild of a Virtual World
http://tinyurl.com/yjojsu3

18. nanzingrone - February 16, 2010 at 10:27 pm

It's a shame that Mr Young could misunderstand the exodus of large universities who built virtual campuses with no real notion of how they were going to use them (or big corporations either) as an indication that Second Life is dead. With 18,000,000 plus members, and 50,000-80,000 people logged on at any given moment, Second Life is hardly on the way out. But the point is that Second Life and a number of other virtual worlds, outside and inside local firewalls, provide the opportunity to imagine new ways of teaching, ways that can be more efficient, more immersive, that can provide learning that is learner-generated, interactive in new ways, learning that stays with the learner longer than that acquired by many other methods.

"Bigfruitbasket" misses the point too. In my case, where in the real world can I rent a three-story space for a learning center for $1.00 a week and provide education on my corner of the scientific world to over 600 visitors in six short months. Where in the real world can I attend 3+ hours of professional development lectures every week for free, sitting alongside faculty from all over the globe, listening to/interacting with presenters from equally far-flung places, talking about every conceivable issue in education, not just issues that arise in virtual worlds. The possibilities for self-education and global interaction and collaboration are endless.

And the builds are beautiful and instructive, creative, and amazing. In the Chilbo Community in Second Life where my learning center is based, the collaboration and community is better than the best small town. Artists, educators, musicians, we all work together to build a breathing environment that nourishes all of us. Chilbo in particular and Second Life in general provide an amazing resource for education and for establishing a global community. If comfort in a virtual world requires a learning curve, if it's occasionally tough to navigate, or a little daunting for whatever reason, it's worth hanging in there. The richness of Second Life more than repays the effort.

One last point: that alternate worlds exist out there other than Second Life -- like Reaction Grid, OpenSim grids on public and private servers -- is not an indication that Linden Labs has failed but rather that it has successed. Virtual worlds of all sorts provide something lasting and real: educational and corporate goals can and are being solved not just in Second Life but everywhere else in the immersive world. Many educators are "Grid-Hoppers" (as one educator's group is called), "living" in Second Life, getting their professional development needs met there, and working on Reaction Grid or on another Open Sim. There are efforts out there to build "hypergrid" transport systems, so folks can fly through from one world to another. There are efforts to build virtual worlds accessible through browsers. The creativity is continual expanding, interconnectivity between worlds is on the horizon. Nowhere is it written that one can only have one membership in one world and as one goes up another must come down.

The key for "Gridizens" as they are called on Reaction Grid is to know why you're there, and to have a goal that the Virtual World fulfills. For me it's that $1.00 rent and the chance not only to learn but to provide learning, not only to enjoy the creative building capacities of others, but to be creative myself.

Virtual Worlds are not a substitute for "reality" or for "first life", they are life. In all its richness. Good and bad. Such a shame Mr. Young can't see the point.

Nancy Zingrone, PhD
Division of Perceptual Studies
University of Virginia

19. s_higley - February 16, 2010 at 11:34 pm

I'm currently using Second Life to explore its educational possibilities in the literary and artistic fields with a view to representing medieval studies. I second Nancy Zingrone's disappointment with this article and its inaccuracies. Simply because some universities are finding other virtual platforms for their builds does not amount to a mass exodus from Second Life, but rather an expansion on its revolutionary idea.

Further, as with any computer program, Second Life makes some basic demands on the new user that are easily learned; so for the author to claim that it is "clunky" on the grounds that he got "stuck between pieces of furniture" or "wandered around aimlessly" looking for his contact avatar (instead of Instant Messaging his mentor and requesting a teleport) speaks more to the impatience he brought to learning the ropes rather than the unworkability of Second Life. To be sure, the program has its faults: there are times when bandwidth is stressed, resolution is delayed and you're logged out. But even on the laggiest days, one navigates around a piece of furniture as one does in real life. This world uses fewer muscles: press the arrow keys. Most students are able to manage this and other rudimentary operations.

As for having "more control over one's environment," Linden Labs has given a great deal of control to its residents, allowing them all manner of security measures. Moreover, the degree to which they control their creative content and its details and what it can do--within the technical parameters of the system--is considerable.

Yes, the varying quality of equipment makes access to SL difficult in a pedagogical setting. I remember when the same was true of Windows and the Internet, though. Harder are the institutional barriers that Suzanne Aurilio has already talked about above. But with her I agree that that is not a reason to stop experimentation with 3D distance learning where the point is not to make "fantasy versions of traditional campuses" that "look like real classrooms," but to create a new vision for creative instruction.

Over the past two years, I have been an active member of a poetry group in Second Life that publishes its own magazine; I have made books that open and shut and turn their pages; I have friends among the artist communities there, many of whom create using three dimensional units they shape and texture and set in motion; I've built a representation of our special collections library and I've made objects emit words that float into the air; I've attended colloquia on the nature of virtual (actually, "actual") art and its direction; I have wandered through a three-dimensional representation of Macbeth's demented mind, which requires students of Shakespeare to fight with the ghosts that confront them; I have attended original plays set in Second Life; I have admired the whimsical "steampunk" builds by Bryn Oh and watched with pleasure some of her extraordinary "machinima" (a newish addition to YouTube formats); in short, I have taught myself a new technology and am still learning. Best of all, I have been put in contact with some extraordinarily imaginative people: artists, writers, builders, educators. I am heartily disappointed with the unimaginative and negative piece of misrepresentation shown in this article.

Sarah Higley
Professor of English
The University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627

20. katemir - February 16, 2010 at 11:43 pm

I remember things like getting stuck between the furniture ... wait.. that happened for about 15 minutes when I first learned to navigate in Second Life 4 years ago. Like driving a car, it took a little bit of practice to master. Sounds like the author never got it out of neutral but feels qualified to tell us that driving a car is a waste of our time. Buy a horse!

It is actually very simple to limit access to a simulation to an allowed list of students and faculty. If you don't like the banlines that have been available in the virtual world for some years (did Mr. Young actually ever make it off "Orientation Island") then you can purchase any number of security devices that send anyone home who is not on the guest list, after a polite warning.

But I question the whole isolationist bent of institutions in virtual reality or anywhere. Griefing is little more than hijinks and graffitti and easily dealt with by anyone with any virtual world training. Any real world campus knows that they can't stop their students from experiencing downtown life. There is sex and violence on the internet and in the books on library shelves and yes in some Second Life neighbourhoods. Such is the nature of our human society in which we all have to make choices.

Within the Second Life community there is also an established international academic, research and cultural community that can provide an incredibly enriching, motivating and rewarding experience for students.

Institutions that cut themselves and their students off from this community are depriving themselves of vast pools of learning and condemning themselves to unecessary duplication and expense as they reinvent the wheel in little rinky-dink walled garden sims where nothing is quite as good as Second Life and there is no "out there" out there.

21. s_higley - February 17, 2010 at 12:00 am

Katemir makes an excellent point I had overlooked. What a stunning final paragraph. Indeed, Second Life has an "out there." The philosophical implications of a region that is larger than the educational simulations it supports and why that might be good instead of bad or dangerous or laggy are quite intriguing.

22. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 12:27 am

A Facebook discussion thread has also been created:
http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?topic=13069&uid=302074397206

23. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 12:52 am

Enterprise Immersive Software Decision-Making Guide from Thinkbalm is a use case-based guide designed to aid business decision makers in the enterprise immersive software selection process. What 3D software viewer, 3D browser-based application, 3D SAAS etc. should be used for what kind of 3D meeting, 3D conference,... or 3D training? 19 virtual world vendors are analyzed and compared in a decision-making structure http://www.thinkbalm.com/2010/01/19/thinkbalm-publishes-immersive-software-decision-making-guide/

The PDF guide
http://www.scribd.com/ThinkBalm-Decision-Making-Guide-Jan-19-2010-FINAL/d/25899407

24. thaiisthei - February 17, 2010 at 12:57 am

The writer of this article expresses the kind of sex and grief
perspective that indicates a control mentality. As we all know, there is no sex or grief in meatspace... You cannot control what your students do online. Stop trying. Unless you want to be China.

If you have concerns about what they might get up to then present your perspective and offer them something so engaging they won't be bored enough to go looking for whatever it is you don't want them to do. But they probably will anyway. You create a taboo and young people will go looking for it. Identity formation requires something to define yourself against. If you want to define yourself as not like the generation before you, you will tend to engage in their taboos. But hey, they chose the taboos, so they chose what you would seek...

Weasel worlds. "some colleges", "a few colleges"

If you know this say who. If you don't it is uninformed opinion.

"...it's difficult to limit access so that only students can enter a
classroom there".

Not at all. Just click one check box.

"Google couldn't keep its experimental virtual world going".

A bad implementation of anything will fail. This does not indicate VWs in general, or SL in particular are not viable.

"Tellingly, though, it recently changed its name from the Second Life
group to the Virtual Worlds group, in part reflecting an eagerness to
find alternatives."

This name was changed to VW's as there are now so many VW's that just calling it an SL group was inaccurate. This change indicates the success of VW's not their failure.

"It turns out that virtual worlds are at their best when they look
nothing like a traditional campus. Professors are finding that they can stage medical simulations, guide students through the inside of cell structures, or pre­sent other imaginative teaching exercises that cannot be done in a physical classroom.

But for that, they need more control than Second Life gives them."

Control is not the issue. There is no other VW that offers its users
more control of their environment than SL. This paragraph indicates that many of the issues with VW's were in people learning how to use them. The corporations failed in SL in the same way, because they thought of it as the web in 3D. Having failed to grasp the medium it is unsurprising that their approaches turned out to be inappropriate.

"It's called OpenSimulator, and it is essentially a free knockoff of
Second Life."

This is just plain insulting and reveals the writers' ignorance.

"Many of them are former Second Life users. "Now they're saying, I want to do this, and this, and this that Second Life can't do for me. Can you do that?" The main request is the ability to limit access to students in a course, which the group can do." See previous remark re one check box. OpenSim can do nothing that SL can't. It is SL opensourced. Sure you can get more prims on your land and its cheaper, but it has exactly the same technical limitations, and more, as SL. You can make your own TOS however. Once again this reveals the writers' ignorance.

"Trying to make the World Wide Web look like the real world misses the
new kinds of things the Internet can do. Maybe it's time to retire the
word cyberspace altogether."

This statement made me laugh out loud. Basic Second Life
misunderstanding #1: Second Life is not on the web. It is on the internet.

"...the trick is creating a platform that will work for education. "We
don't ­really understand what we can do and what we can't do with this
tool for education yet, so it's more exploratory now," said Peter J.
Ludlow, a philosophy professor at Northwestern University who studies
virtual worlds. "We know there's something here, but we don't know what
yet."

Once again the technology is not failing, people just don't understand
how to use it yet. That said, SL has many flaws, the writer of this
article has just not identified them.


Morgan Leigh
PhD Candidate
School of Sociology and Social Work
University of Tasmania

25. devona - February 17, 2010 at 04:31 am

"And colleges are rethinking some of those first experiments in their palatial virtual campuses. At Case Western Reserve University, for instance, the admissions office has stopped giving virtual tours of its Second Life campus to prospective students who couldn't make it to the real campus. There were few takers for the virtual tours."

The Second Life tour would only be available to 18 year olds and older. Many high school students are doing campus visits in their sophomore and junior years, and would only be able to visit the Teen Grid. Did they ask any of the prospects why not?

College recruitment fairs are now being held in Second Life and are becoming very successful. The Case Western anecdote makes little sense.

26. historiana - February 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Very disappointed in a piece from the Chronicle of Higher Ed that has been based on so little research. Some of the problems described are non-existent to anyone who has spent more than a few hours in SL. The list of "competitors" that failed were not competitors at all....Lively was a joke and nothing like SL. The comments from fellow educators prior to mine have spelled out the serious flaws in this article. Sadly, even though it paints a completely false picture of SL and its pros/cons, the mere placement of such an article in this publication will mean its future citing among committee members opposed to and ignorant of the entire concept of SL. Thanks a lot Jeff! It is also very sad that you failed to see the multi-faceted uses and experiences of SL. It's not just about the closed classroom experiments, but also about the cultural, social and psychological implications. Don't close off the students from the rest of the grid....let them explore, and then make them talk about how people are representing themselves and causes in virtual environments....many fascinating studies can be done from just observing the complexity of the humanity behind the avatars. SL is a 3D human petri dish....let's see what it grows!

27. scottmerrick - February 17, 2010 at 02:36 pm

Mr. Young is certainly entitled to his opinions, misguided as they may be. Anyone who admits that "I regularly get stuck between pieces of virtual furniture, wander around aimlessly looking for the person I'm trying to meet up with, or lose patience as I wait for my online avatar to walk between virtual classrooms" is clearly opining from an uninformed and non-invested perspective, perhaps even a hostile one.

I'd just like to add to the responses here that Second Life is not being abandoned by educators. Yes, our own innovative explorations may be panning out into other virtual worlds, but Second Life is the touchstone and figures to be for a good long while. I attended an event last night where over the course of an hour there were as many as 77 educators present to hear the owner of one of these new worlds talk about his work, but note that the event itself was held at ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education) Island in Second Life. That's not a fluke: Second Life can handle large collaborative events like that. As defacto head of the group that offered the event, ISTE SIGVE (special interest group for virtual environments, http://sigve.iste.wikispacees.net) I believe that the lead in virtual environments for educators is still Linden Lab's to lose. And that healthy competition is just that: Healthy competition.

28. travismurdock - February 17, 2010 at 02:50 pm

.

29. nanzingrone - February 17, 2010 at 03:11 pm

Thanks Scott for mentioning ISTE which I failed to mention as one of the best providers of professional development for educators and others in Second Life, with VSTE and other educational groups putting on great events too. And I agree wholeheartedly that in the exploration of other virtual worlds (in which I'm also involved, being a member of Scott's special interest group in RL and in SL), Second Life is always the touchstone. And thanks to everybody who is making the case so eloquently. If I were Mr Young's editor, I'd be worried about his ability to do sufficient research to write such a seemingly authoritative piece.

30. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 05:28 pm

Immersive Environments
http://second-life-tool-ranking.ning.com/group/immersiveenvironments

Building Mixed Reality Apps
http://second-life-tool-ranking.ning.com/group/buildingmixedrealityeducationalappsforsecondlife

Open Source Virtual Worlds
http://second-life-tool-ranking.ning.com/group/opensourcevirtualworlds

Rapid Browser-Based Sims http://www.thinkingworlds.com/

31. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 05:31 pm

Teacher Preparation is near Impossible as Currently Conceived

The path to teacher accountability & results-justifiable tenure is obstructed by an error in logic that is not only easily fixed but would greatly improve efficiency and effectiveness in every classroom. Teacher certification and staff development are seriously flawed. There is no real market place in proven ideas, in some ways Teacher Education is unregulated, a "Free Market" controlled by vested interests and locked in place by another case of industry blindness. It is more of a mishmash of competing whims and crystallized but untested practices with no continuity across the profession.

http://teacherlingo.com/blogs/literacyman/archive/2010/02/16/teacher-preparation-is-near-impossible-as-currently-conceived.aspx

32. urspider - February 17, 2010 at 06:19 pm

The author does a disservice to those of us who have worked hard building immersive simulations in Second Life. That said, I'm not a fanboy of Linden Lab (though I have taught four classes using their world and in networked classrooms since the early 90s). It takes time to teach well in SL, and it's advisable to spend at least a semester studying the world before bringing students in.

So I want to note, first, where Mr. Young gets it right.

First, the author understands the power of simulations, which is the most compelling application for virtual-world technology.

Bravo. Young's also correct in stating that educators "need more control than Second Life gives them." Much of the blame for that rests with the company, not the world itself.

Here Mr. Young misses a really key part of this story.

Too often since the short-lived "media hype" era for SL ended in 2007, Linden Lab has taken its education customers for granted. Examples abound. They don't understand that many first-year students outside the US are 17, not the minimum of 18 needed to create an account. While ramping up system-requiremnents to look more like higher-end games, the company doesn't consider the systems that students will use to connect to SL. Doing so on a typical student laptop via wireless can spell disaster. They have not provided educators with ways to back up our simualtions on local equipment, except for a laughably expensive "enterprise solution" or third-party clients of limited utility.

With OpenSim worlds, for all their warts, a school can host its own virtual world and control its own IP.

Mr. Young could have written a far stronger indictment of this particular virtual world's shortcomings, however, had he not shown his lack of skill in SL and, say, taken a look at the fine (and not so rosy) study of experienced users just released by the New Media Consortium:

http://www.nmc.org/2minute-survey/virtual-worlds

It's painful when a reporter shows his "noob" status. He states--and this had me alternately laughing and groaning--that "I regularly get stuck between pieces of virtual furniture, wander around aimlessly looking for the person I'm trying to meet up with, or lose patience as I wait for my online avatar to walk between virtual classrooms."

That, Mr. Young, is your fault, not SL's. I learned such basics within my first semester with SL. My students last term had those "level one" skills down in...two weeks.

There are many reasons to doubt that virtual worlds will soon attract a large number of faculty. But the Chronicle should have sent someone "in-world" who at least possessed enough skills to avoid his own bias about using the interface. I'm not angling for that job...I'm too ticked by Linden Lab. But at least, as I teach my writing students immediately, one begins analysis by noting one's biases and lack of expertise.

BTW, "RIP Second Life" is, as we'd say "in world" a lame link to have.

Ignatius Onomatopoeia (SL)
http://iggyo.blogspot.com

33. moderator - February 17, 2010 at 06:39 pm

John Lester (aka Pathfinder Linden) of Linden Lab here. Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me about this article -- it's an interesting read and I wanted to add a few comments.

I completely agree that "virtual worlds are at their best when they look nothing like a traditional campus." This is a beautiful insight most educators eventually discover. Second Life is full of immersive learning experiences that are artistic and incredibly imaginative, bearing little resemblance to traditional rooms full of desks and blackboards. For example, check out this interactive human larynx teaching space: (http://bit.lu/9NQ2wL)

It's important to note that the rools to give educators complete control over their Second Life experiences exist today, and we're continuing to provide more. For example, if educators wish to creative proviate spaces for classes they can do that *today* in Second Life. Private regions provide "estate tools" that allow you to create a Second Life presence as open or restricted as you like. And for the ultimate in professional-level control and tools, there's Second Life Enterprise. And there are even more tools on the horizon ...

Educators are pioneers. As such, they explore new pedagogical opportunities whenever possible. Anecdotally, yes, some educators have left Second Life to explore other virtual world platforms. But the plural of anecdote is not data ;) And the vast majority of them are not leaving Second Life, but exploring other virtual worlds in addition to Second Life. Recent survey statistics from the New Media Consortium (http://bit.ly.aIBPGJ) provide some real data on usage patterns. I think the current exploration of diferent virtual world platforms in addition to Second Life is fundamentally a very good thing, clearly showing that educators value virtual worlds and are investing a good amount of time exploring all the possibilities.

I appreciate your attention to the subject and hope you'll keep an eye at how the educational uses of Second Life and other virtual worlds continue to develop -- there's a lot going on! For more info about educators using Second Life, you can check out our Learning Inworld blog (http://bit.ly/d3PtR0) and join the Second Life Educators (SLED) mailing list (http://bit.ly/zds49), where educators actively discuss a range of topics around using virtual worlds -- including this article!

34. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Immersive software for meetings will expand the information worker toolkit

http://www.thinkbalm.com/2010/01/06/immersive-software-for-meetings-will-expand-the-information-worker-toolkit/

Rapid Browser-Based Sims http://www.thinkingworlds.com/

35. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 10:36 pm

ePredator writes:

The future of learning? Wake up to virtual!
http://www.feedingedge.co.uk/blog/2010/01/28/the-future-of-learning-wake-up-to-virtual/

"I will get back to my Opensim, Second Life, Web.alive, Unity3d, Moodle, Sloodle, Pivote and custom build meanderings and try and convert as many people as possible in as many industries."

Check this one too.

Teaching and Learning Languages in Immersive Worlds http://www.rendezvu.co.uk/
Rendezvu language training uses Virtual Assistants & Artificial Intelligence http://www.rendezvu.co.uk/about.aspx

36. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Beyond the scope of K12-University education, check this..

VirtualEdge Summit 2010 Immersive Worlds
http://adult-learning.ning.com/events/virtualedge-summit-2010

Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and
Collaboration
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Learning-in-3D-Adding-a-New-Dimension-to-Enterprise-Learning-and-Collabora/215471002519

How is Immersive Media being used for training?
Metanomics mixed reality event
Future of the Enterprise: Special Event Live from San Francisco
http://tinyurl.com/metanomics-2009-11-04

Immersive Education
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=20430276844

37. eurominuteman - February 17, 2010 at 11:09 pm

This one doesn't even mention Second Life...

Online Learning for Trade Associations http://alearning.wordpress.com/

38. makjuyet - February 18, 2010 at 02:18 am

Really a educative and informative post, the post is good in all regards,I am glad to read this post.

http://www.articlesbase.com/dental-care-articles/celebrity-white-teeth-review-get-free-trial-now-1851148.html

39. ldorland - February 18, 2010 at 02:20 am

I see that a lot of my incredible Second Life friends and colleagues have already commented above.

I was very disappointed with the limited perspective presented in this article. The author relied more on his interpretation of the impressions of a few sources than on an in-depth review of research studies or visits to the hundreds of creative education spaces (and educators) in Second Life.

In particular, I second those who point out that the strength of Second Life is in the interdisciplinary and international collaborations and friendships that are an integral part of the community. There is no other virtual world that comes close.

Mr. Young might want to ask Larry Johnson about the results of the NMC survey of Second Life use. It actually showed that only a tiny fraction of respondents are leaving Second Life for other virtual worlds, and the majority are spending as much or more time in SL as they were two or three years ago.

John Lester/Pathfinder Linden was more measured in his comments than I can bring myself to be. In fact, I am biting my virtual tongue to avoid saying what I really think of the article!

I, like most of my colleagues, do visit other virtual worlds and explore their potential. But Second Life is where the core community and the majority of group events are, and will be for a long time to come.

Liz Dorland / Chimera Cosmos
Washington University in St. Louis

40. jennfor - February 18, 2010 at 09:11 am

Like Liz/Chimera above, I am also pleased to see my Second Life connections respond to Jeffery's article. The comments are in fact, most informative and reflect the strength of community and the excitement we share in this grand experiment.

My efforts here are very much focused on helping to migrate teams into Second Life, despite variable issues with equipment, technical expertise(or phobia,) and the true difficulties involved with understanding just what a virtual environment offers, or does not. Digital tools are evolving so rapidly, and it is our great challenge to stay apprised of effectiveness. That said, I would like to share what I know can be a very frustrating and confusing experience in Second Life if your machine is not able to process the highly graphic nature of dynamic movement in a platform filled with user-generated content. There are adjustments to be made, but often it is tough to understand exactly what and where. Many, many times I have shared a laugh with a friend who purchased a properly equipped machine, or updated their existing one, and suddenly found themselves overwhelmed with the beauty and ease of what they had previously been struggling with. You do need to sort the technical issues to appreciate what can be a wonderful and easily used tool.

There are excellent support groups who have responded to this challenge with wonderful materials and attentive helpers. Please consider seeking them out, and then look for the totally original art being created in this unique place, or attend a book group or seminar which readily provides amazingly personal and relevant options for professional development, and great discussions!

The passion regarding places such as Second Life runs deep, because many of us have found a lively intellectual and creative connection here which rivals anything available anywhere. Chris Smith, (aka Shamblesguru Voom/sl,) lives and works in Thailand but attends events that I also enjoy here from Wash DC. He cited this experience during his recent talk for the TED session in Bangkok. Despite being on opposite sides of the globe, completely opposite times of the day, we can both share in the energy and expertise of a growing community of educators and artists motivated to use the tools and reach of a virtual environment.

It does take time, but not excessive time, and it often takes reaching out for the help which is readily available. Mentoring is a shared responsibility by all of us who have survived the experience of being a "New Resident" and have humorous but sometimes harrowing tales to tell. Sharing what we have learned, and what we are enjoying about Second Life is very much a part of the platform. Community unites with Technology to deliver big on opportunities for life-long learning and engagement.

So Jeffery, I invite you to Join Us! at Metanomics, attend sessions at ISTE, or Train for Success, hear live music at Sea Turtle Island or Muse Isle. Check in with Dusan Writer for a tour of the art he collects at the Remedy sim or go see the brilliant architecture on the Princeton University regions. It's here to explore, a rich new cultural extension of human creativity, and we're happy to help.

Janalee Redmond /Jennette Forager
Community Manager, Metanomics
Director, The Epoch Institute



41. jenaia - February 18, 2010 at 11:13 am

I am sitting here reading Mr. Young's article with a mixture of amusement and dismay. Amusement because he obviously did not do his research, and dismay because it is clear that despite having been on the Uncle D Story Quest with 12 of Northwestern University’s brightest and most articulate students – all of whom were raving about the Quest and asking how they could contribute – he didn't seem to notice the learning that was occurring right under his nose.  Of course that might have had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t remember how to touch objects, teleport, turn on his music or media streams, or participate in group chat.  This despite repeated offers of help from myself and the students.  I mention this not to embarrass Mr. Young, but to point out what anyone who has tackled Second Life knows – you cannot fully appreciate or participate in the wonders of Second Life until you have some basic skills under your belt.
 
Frankly, it seems both unprofessional and disrespectful of Mr. Young to write a piece that is so patently inaccurate. Had he bothered to interview any of the dozens of educators or students who are using Second Life with great enthusiasm and success, he would know that there is remarkable, groundbreaking work being done there.  
 
Finally, I would like to personally invite Mr. Young to attend The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference on March 12 and 13, 2010 (http://www.vwbpe.org/) where dozens of the world’s most highly respected educators (including Karl M. Kapp and Tony O'Driscoll, authors of "Learning in 3D, Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration") will be sharing their thoughts, experiences, and projects in virtual reality. Perhaps this will give him a more realistic and informed view of what is really happening in education in Second Life. 
 
P.S. In order to participate in the conference you will no doubt want to brush up on your Second Life skills Mr. Young. If you would like some help, feel free to IM me (Jenaia Morane) or e-mail me at jenaia.morane@gmail.com.  You will need to be able to sit down and type into chat at the conference ;-)

42. thoodcpa - February 18, 2010 at 01:15 pm

I beg to differ - we have been / are using Second Life for training for continuing education as well as for students vis several colleges / universities and find it to be an effetcive and engaging eductaional environmenr. You can see our experience over on our blog www.cpaisland.com Is it perfect, no, is it effective - we think YES!

43. pusser - February 18, 2010 at 04:06 pm

RIP Second Life? Young is correct that some educators are looking at other VWs, as they should, but it's wrong for the Chronicle or anyone reading it to think that SL is less popular than it was a year or two or three ago. It's MORE popular among educators, and less among companies who entered the world to try and sell real-world goods. But as an educational tool, it has no equal in the current VW mix.

44. timebandit - February 18, 2010 at 06:21 pm

Some commentators here are very enthusiastic about virtual worlds, but proponents should also recognize that not everyone appreciates the venue, in part because of the lack of control mentioned above, plus the implications of too much mixing of personal and work/school. Maybe we need a buttoned-down correlate for professionals? eg. facebook vs. linkedin.

Plus there are ready alternatives for many core functions if you think about it. For people who want guest speakers from afar, skype is a perfectly viable, professional looking alternative. (So long as your campus wireless isn't bogged down by excessive megavideo watching like ours of late. Sigh.) I also like the accountability and trust from seeing the real image of people who use the video stream.

Well, perhaps this is a gender bias on my part - maybe with the declining male undergraduate trend, we need WAY MORE video game type courses and teaching tools, which should then be advertised heavily online, and wherever the hottest video games are sold.

45. eurominuteman - February 19, 2010 at 10:08 am

Why do I hear complaints of a lack of students, lack of newbies, lack of attendees etc. every week on every sim? Everyone knows it.

This indicates that there are too many chiefs and not enough indians running around. If you don't get raving out-world indians flocking in, and this in masses, it's clear that sustainability is not established.

If sustainability is not established, you will see people leaving SL, eventually...


46. willdiehl - February 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Many inaccuracies in this article - others have noted them but as I sit here looking at my subscription renewal, I have to ask that you please apply more effort and care in researching topics before publishing articles.

47. eurominuteman - February 19, 2010 at 01:28 pm

Without sustainability, even those "die-hards" will leave SL...

48. eurominuteman - February 19, 2010 at 02:44 pm

The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education Conference
Best Practice for the Sake of Sustainability

The New Quality Standard ISO/EIC 19796-3:2009 for E-Learning: Enabling Global Quality Development

http://adult-learning.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-new-quality-standard

49. eurominuteman - February 19, 2010 at 02:51 pm

Benchmark Best Practice:
National University of Singapore in Second Life
ISO 9001 certified for Real Life, Virtual Worlds, Mixed Reality, and Webcasting
http://adult-learning.ning.com/video/iso-9001-certified-national

50. djorgovski - February 19, 2010 at 03:06 pm

Lots of excellent comentary, to which I will add this:

It is a mistake to focus on the superficialities of the current implementations of VWs. The technology is still in an embryonic stage (awkward avis, cheesy graphics...) but it is destined to grow. My own impression (which I know is shared by many who have seriously tried this technology) is that eben in this primitive form, it already works "unreasonably well" in terms of the quality of a subjective experience. We humans are made to interact with other people and objects in 3D; the 2D representations on a flat paper or a screen copy of a flat paper are just a historico-technological artifact. The amazing success of the interactive games is a clear indicator (astually, I don't play any, but I see the numbers). VWs today (SL included) can be compared with the early Internet services, say like Prodigy; things will get much, much better, because the immersive VR experience works so well with our perceptive system. It is a part of the natural evolution of technology, of how we represent and interact with information, and with each other. I believe that some synergictic combination of both immersive and augmentative VR and the informational content of the Web will be as transformative as the Web itself has been. Give it 10 years or so.

Alas, like any other worthwhile thing, VWs do not offer an instant gratification; if that is what you want, have some candy instead. A learning curve of a few hours needs to be climbed, and things do get better with practice.

It would be nice if the academia would help mold this emerging technology is some sensible ways, and not just abandon it to the video games and the sex industries. For example, a group of us has been exploring the use of VWs as a platform for research, education, and scholarship in general, through the Meta-Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA; http://mica-vw.org). I invite you to explore the website, then come to some of our events in SL.

For serious professionals, my advice is to have a purpose when you try VWs for the first time (e.g., attending a talk, a discussion, etc.) rather than to just blunder about, see nothing interesting, and give up. Keep an open mind - always a good idea... If you approach VWs with a convincion that it is all just some silly nonsense, you will certainly succeed in failing to understand the good things they have and will have to offer.

51. eurominuteman - February 19, 2010 at 09:41 pm

If I read these comments, I still see the belly-button domestic SL tool focus prevailing. This is not sustainable, given the innovation speed of the Open Source community, for example.

Furthermore, lots of deductive/empirical raw data exist that extend the system boundary lines from domestic virtual to mixed reality, then to the greater focus of immersive environments.

http://second-life-tool-ranking.ning.com/group/immersiveenvironments

These comments above also do not make it clear how a next generation SL educational transition to Grid Computing ("Web 4.0") and the Education Grid will be executed. These issues are indeed in the pipeline...

http://adult-learning.ning.com/group/thegridadultlearning

The business domain is clearly outpacing the educational domain with regard to this definition of system boundary lines by stating the business use case with its needs & requirements first, then deciding on the tool to be deployed.

The tool focus is secondary. As soon as this revelation becomes clear, the educational domain will, of course, take other tools in consideration.

Reversing this process, as the education domain frequently tries to do, displays a gap in administrative approach. Pushing the bike pedals without holding the handlebars and without reading a roadmap is not a sustainable approach.

First design the roadmap, then hold the handlebars, and then start pushing the bike pedals makes more sustainable sense...

If you oppose the intrinsic and implicit statements of this article above, what are your benchmarks and implementations for the sake of Sustainability, ladies and gentlemen?

Heroic back-slapping and self-celebration is not sustainable.

52. zacry - February 20, 2010 at 12:24 am

I have not yet tried Second Life, ubt I will make a point to go in and attend a meeting and learn something. The picture at the top of the article begs my question(s): For the physical sciences, aren't animated avatars a waste of bandwidth? The three visualizations are presumably linked, and they should be manipulable to facilitate interactive learning. Add voice, text, and video communication as necessary. The professor would probably "broadcast" as per traditional class, but incomming transmissions might be grouped, sorted, and flow-controlled prior to broadcasting, to facilitate maximal "class" size and interaction. Don't forget interactive white-boarding, if and where it might be needed.

So: Scientific visualization with Audio, Video, Text, Drawing, and facilitating groups of people interacting with the data (without tangling of course). Is anyone doing this effectively? Are the avatars and "virtual environments" more appropriate for theatre arts and sociolgy education?

53. eurominuteman - February 20, 2010 at 09:14 am

> ...aren't animated avatars a waste of bandwidth?

Next Generation Web: Grid Computing and Education Grid
http://adult-learning.ning.com/group/thegridadultlearning

54. zacry - February 20, 2010 at 04:04 pm

eurominuteman,

I watched one video at that site (thus far) and will probably join some discussions there: It seems "bandwidth" will not be an issue. To simplify: The Avatar is probably an unnecessary distraction in basic science education, and it wastes space on the monitor. Since bandwidth is/will be abundant, the professor can be videotaped. Students could configure their own monitor like they do now in the Matlab environment. They could open a video window if the professor is talking or displaying something to the camera, and they could push the video feed to the background when the professor is discussing manipulating various media. Maybe some are already using distributed, multimedia, highly interactive learning environments.

My first impression is that anthropometric avatars acting in virtual worlds are tools most appropriate for social sciences and theatre arts. Still, there will be applications to combine the virtual worlds with multimedia transmission of the immediate physical world. Robotic surgery comes to mind here.

55. eurominuteman - February 20, 2010 at 07:39 pm

Zacry,

Yes, could be... I would also expect a mix of preferences and niche approaches, and less a single tool approach like SL...

This Immersive & Mobile example supports this branching out...

Becoming literate, one cellphone at a time. As part of an international project, DA-IICT students develop cellphone games that teach English as second language to children in rural India

http://www.ahmedabadmirror.com/index.aspx?page=article§id=3&contentid=2009042320090423024314686b8583724

56. midtownlabgeek - February 21, 2010 at 12:12 am

Virtual environments could have one huge advantage for teaching science that the real world struggles with - demos and labs.

If I'm teaching a lesson on how gases behave, I might want to show the motion of the gas molecules at the same time as I adjust the temperature or volume. Tough to do that when you can't see actual molecules.

With so many advocates of learning in virtual environments - could anyone offer info on how well SecondLife or other environments would support this?

(I don't expect it to handle the motion of millions of independent molecules - dozens would do for illustration, or hundreds for a "virtual lab" experiment. But the physics behind it must be realistic. I checked out SL once a year or so ago, it didn't seem even as capable that way as the average video game.)

57. eurominuteman - February 21, 2010 at 12:36 am

Virtual World Use Cases
http://second-life-tool-ranking.ning.com/group/immersiveenvironments/forum/topics/virtual-world-use-cases

3D Data Visualization in Immersive Environments

3D Data Visualization in a 3D Mindmap Format for Virtual Worlds
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1OgIZ2mVhk

The Wikitecture Tree
3D Wiki & 3D Mindmapping by Architects in Second Life
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3eWKIJxzyc

Molecular Motion - A Second Life script simulation
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=592rXlgCnoQ

Orac - A Second Life 3D Molecule Rezzer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tOfhuoRbnCg

58. eurominuteman - February 21, 2010 at 01:39 am

Here is an example of people leaving Second Life...

http://www.nature.com/secondnature/index.html

59. eurominuteman - February 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Comparing Opensim and Second Life
http://rezzable.com/blog/rightasrain-rimbaud/comparing-opensim-second-life

60. imohax - February 24, 2010 at 01:37 pm

Here are some more links to related threads, including some real honest skepticism about virtual worlds for learning from Zonja Capalini, which I appreciate:

http://www.google.com/buzz/imohax/gjBqGQM14kq/CEO-of-Second-Life-again-makes-point-it-isnt-about

Zonja goes on to call Second Life education a 'myth' in a related blog post:

http://zonjacapalini.wordpress.com/2010/02/21/sl-vs-webex-the-myth-of-second-life-as-a-platform-for-education/

I haven't finished my conclusions other than the comments I put there that I still think virtual world technology, Second Life and OpenSim today, are like the internet, computers, television, phones, even the books of earlier ages of learning technology innovation and that simply for that reason alone, we do students a disservice not to require they master these skills even if they are 'immersion haters.' Just because learners don't like something doesn't mean it isn't essential to their personal success and progress. If so, many would through out math long ago (and some have).

61. imohax - February 24, 2010 at 01:39 pm

Did I really type 'through' instead of 'threw.' Ugh, am I becoming THAT guy from all this social media. ;)

62. steveguynup - February 26, 2010 at 06:26 pm

Jeff is quite correct. The SL folks on this list need to do less cheerleading spend more time acknowledging failures. As an old school developer, the only way forward is to fix the problems. Instead I see only plugs for the positives, yes immersion and collaboration are nice, now start addressing real problems like managing learning outcomes and participation instead pretending its all wonderful. The best practices mentioned in the urls above are laughable, often repeated, band-aids within a flawed system...

Next SL needs to get over itself, the methods employed by folks here date back to 1986. (yes 1986, so the revolution here is in ignorance) Waves of technologies have come and gone. Take a moment, research the past, and then lets move on.

On 1986 try:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=CA&hl=en&v=VVpulhO3jyc
(its 2D, but none of the pedagogy in SL breaks from this)

As for me, I actually have designed, modeled, coded and taught in web3D worlds in dozens of technologies - including getting asked to do a 400,000 dollar failure in SL. (the 1st task I was assigned - make Bathroom Stall doors open and close, Doh)

I'm also the Web3D Art & Design Retrospective Chair for ACM Web3D Symposium at SIGGRAPH.
http://www.web3d.org/conferences/web3d2010/web3d_art

PS So yes, I'm pro virtual worlds for education, but after 20 years, I'm a little tired and cranky. Too many people believe they are inventing the wheel when actually they are spinning in circles.



63. macchardy - March 13, 2010 at 12:22 am

My ex and i broke up almost a month ago. It was a mutual decision at the time and there were no hard feelings at all. It was mostly over distance but there were some differences between us that weren't helping anything. In the first couple weeks, she felt the pain of the breakup whereas i did not. I went about my merry way, a little bummed out the first weekend but the second weekend after the breakup i met 2 nasty sluts and had sex with one and the other gave oral to me and a friend the same night. Met another girl that weekend who ended up with the nickname of "dumptruck" because of her size. I didnt do anything with that one thank god. Anyways, during the breakup as we were talking about the reasons for it,

SMoke Relief

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