Archive for October, 2007

Metaplace

Metaplace is an upcoming virtual world platform, one to keep an eye on. The website is http://www.metaplace.com

These are some features listed in the FAQ section of the website that got me very interested –

  • Metaplace is a next-generation virtual worlds platform designed to work the way the Web does. Instead of giant custom clients and huge downloads, Metaplace lets you play the same game on any platform that reads our open client standard. We supply a suite of tools so you can make worlds, and we host servers for you so that anyone can connect and play. And the client could be anywhere on the Web.
  • You can make your own worlds. You should be able to stage up a massively multiplayer world with basic chat and a map you can build on in less than five minutes. It’s that easy. Inherit a stylesheet — puzzle game, or shooter, or chat world — and off you go! Building maps and places is as easy as pasting in links from the Web, and dragging and dropping the pictures into your world.What’s more, you can link your world to someone else’s world. Put a doorway in your virtual apartment that leads to Pirate Vs Ninja-land! Stick your world in a widget on your Facebook or MySpace profile. Mail it to a friend and they can log in with one click.
  • You can make pretty much any sort of game or world you want. You can decide whether it’s massively multiplayer or not (it’s MMO out of the box, but you can set it to a lower size if you want). You can decide whether to have physics or not, you can change the keymappings and the interface, the sort of stuff there is in the world, the maps… basically, it’s all up to you. Game logic is written in MetaScript, which is based on Lua. So it’s easy to make whatever kind of game or world that you want.Metaplace will support everything from 2d overhead grids through first-person 3d. However, right now we only have clients that do 2d of various sorts, including grid view, 2d isometric, 2.5d heightfields, and so on. We expect to keep working on the 3d client support.
  • Scripting Philosophy of Metaplace

I think this platform will open up a lot of possibilities in the areas of learning and teaching. People being able to create their own worlds and have them be accessible by the click of a button by anyone is a huge technological leap from the existing platforms.

This blog entry encapsulates some of the possibilities with Metaplace. Here is a more specific comment towards use of virtual worlds for education and research – “Right now, there are lots of people who want to use virtual worlds for research, or education, or business, but it’s just too darn hard to get one going. Now you can create a world in just a few minutes and start tailoring it to your needs.”

Another blog entry on the website describes the technical details of how Metaplace works.

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What are Virtual Worlds?

In the article ‘What are Virtual Worlds?’, Richard A. Bartle addresses the definition of virtual worlds and the sometimes confusing terminology and acronyms surrounding them. This article is excerpted from Designing Virtual Worlds by Richard A. Bartle.

Some terms and definitions that grabbed my attention –
1. Virtual worlds are places where the imaginary meets the real.
Real. That which is.
Imaginary. That which isn’t.
Virtual. That which isn’t, having the form or effect of that which is.

2. In this context, a world is an environment that its inhabitants regard as being self-contained. It doesn’t have to mean an entire planet: It’s used in the same sense as “the Roman world” or “the world of high finance.”

3. Most virtual worlds adhere to certain conventions that distinguish them from related non-real spaces such as chat, table top roleplaying games, first person shooters.

This is must read article for anyone wanting to understand what virtual worlds are.

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Core activities in Virtual Worlds

Some common core activities that virtual worlds support are –
1. Editing avatars – The ability to customize one’s digital character.
2. Building and designing content – The ability to create custom content, without any required programming or coding.
3. Scripting content – The ability to create objects and items via programming or coding.
4. Owning land and selling items – The ability to own virtual real estate, and the ability to sell virtual items within the virtual world.
5. Community events – Available community supported or sponsored events within the world.

The virtual worlds shortlisted as being education ready, differ slightly from each other in terms of what core activites they support based on the style of the environment and the target audience.

Active Worlds
This virtual environment targets a general audience and is geared more towards exploration. In this world you can edit avatars, build and design content, script content, own land and have community events. It does not allow selling of items.

Whyville
This virtual environment targets teens and kids and is geared more towards education. In this world you can edit avatars, build and design content and have community events. You cannot script content, own or sell items.

Second Life
This virtual environment targets adults only (18+) and is geared more towards creation. In this world you can edit avatars, build and design content, script content, own land, sell items and have community events.

Teen Second Life
This virtual environment targets teens and is geared more towards creation and social interaction. In this world you can edit avatars, build and design content, script content, own land, sell items and have community events.

Forterra Systems
This virtual environment is geared more towards training, e-learning, serious games. In this world you can edit avatars, build and design content, script content, own land, sell items and have community events.

Refer Virtual Worlds Comparison Chart

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Second Life Education Workshop 2007 Proceedings

The third annual Second Life Community Convention (SLCC 2007) was held on August 24-26 in Chicago, a conference where over 800 enthusiasts of the virtual world gather and share ideas and best practices. How popular has making use of the virtual environment Second Life for educational purposes become? These proceedings serve as a snapshot of the state of education in Second Life as it is today. It includes “exemplar case studies illustrating how institutional issues in establishing Second Life can be overcome and a number of examples showing how the platform is being adapted to support learning in a wide range of fields and with diverse groups of learners.” It is notable that the sciences and arts are both well represented, demonstrating the breadth of interest and content found in the community of educators that use Second Life.Here are some notes and excerpts after reading the proceedings.

PAPERS –

1. Experiential Education in Second Life (Hilary Mason – Johnson and Wales University)

This paper explores three experiential learning projects in Second Life. Through this exploration it brings to light –

  • how the immersive qualities of Second Life offer experiential learning opportunities
  • and that by utilizing the affordances of the Second Life platform to create experiences that are infeasable or impossible in the real world, educators can create superior learning experiences to those which do not offer virtual components

These points are consistently highlighted in all articles, casestudies and papers that i read. My observation and conclusion after seeing the video showing science learning opportunities in Second Life was exactly the same as well.

This paper includes –

  • what is experiential learning
    ‘Experiential learning programs offer students the opportunity to practice relavant skills that “match as nearly as possible the real world tasks of professionals in the field” (Lombari 2007)However, these learning opportunities are limited by available resources. For example, an aspiring fashion designer cannot necessarily open and operate a boutique store in a mall. This is the paradox of experiential learning.’
  • how SL is a powerful environment for experiential learning projects
    ‘For example, in Second Life, the hypothetical fashion design student could open a store for a nearly trivial cost, learning about marketing, resource management, and design in the process.’
  • qualities of authentic learning programs
    ‘In essence, an effective authentic learning project provides students with challenging, collaborative, multidisciplinary problems, along with support to meet these challenges.’
  • how they can be expanded to take advantage of affordances in SL
    ‘In Second Life, experiential activities should additionally have SL relevance, involve students in experiential design, require collaboration, leverage the SL community and provide the opportunity to reflect in both new and tradional media.’

The three projects are –

  1. Global Outreach Morocco: Goal was to create an immersive experience that educates people about Moroccon culture while enticing them to think about Morocco as a travel destination.
  2. Virtual Blast: Students had to work with practicing scientists to devise a scheme to translate the complexity of scientific ballooning into a Second Life event.
  3. Rhode Island Entrepreneurship Education: Students will have the opportunity to write business plans and prototype business concepts in Second Life, where they will continually evaluate and revise projects through out the course.

2. A Futurist’s View of Second Life Education: A Developing Taxonomy of Digital Spaces (Sarah Robbins – Ball State University)

This paper looks at the mechanics and tools in the environments that facilitate communication and community and their affordances in education.

It includes –

  • forms of communication in virtual spaces i.e. verbal and nonverbal
  • 10 qualities by which virtual environments can be compared
    ’10 characteristics that have the most dominant effect on the kinds of communication that are possible in a virtual space. These characteristics make each environment what it is. For example wikipedia would not be what it is if not for the ability of all users to edit all entries. Second Life would not work if it were a single user platform because its collaborative model relies on being used by more than one resident.’ ‘In this article these characteristics are applied to Second Life to describe the communication mechanics in the space, how these mechanics influence education in the space, and finally how changes in these mechanics will influence the future of the space.

    1. Number of Users – Single user | Multi user
    2. Dominant Content Form – Text dominant | Image dominant
    3. Types of Network – LAN | WAN
    4. Persistence of Environment – Persistent | Non persistent
    5. Stigmergy – Stigmergic | Non stigmergic
    6. Object Ownership – Private | Public | Non ownership
    7. User Identity – Custom | Conditional
    8. Environment Access – Public | Limited
    9. User’s relationship with other users – Collaborative | Antagonistic | Conditional
    10. User’s relationship with the environment – Collaborative | Antagonistic
  • how this comparative analysis can be useful for instructors to be more informed, be able to choose the environment best suited to their needs and see commonalities betn environments that might not have been clear before.’There seem to be new games and environments available every day. However, as instructors consider new environments, charting them according to these 10 qualities may inform our decisions regarding a technology’s effectiveness in our classroom.’

CASE STUDIES –

1. Educational Simulations in Second Life for Fashion Technology Students (Elaine Polvinen – Buffalo State College)

This case study highlights how multiple educational aspects of fashion design can benefit from developing customized simulations in the virtual world.

It includes –

  • a background to the Virtual Fashion (VF) project
    The VF project is part of a larger exploration to discover the educational potential that a virtual educational island setting in SL can provide.
  • what the Virtual Fashion (VF) project is
    The VF project was incorporated into the last 7 weeks of a 15 week Fashion CAD course. The primary purpose being to provide a transition for fashion students to shift their visual conceptualization from 2D to 3D fashion product design and development. And also introducing them to the benefits of Virtual Reality as a pre-production tool that integrates garment design, surface design, construction, fit and fabric drape, into a dynamic 3D virtual presentation before a real prototype is made.
  • the project process
    Starting with students learning SL basics to creating different outfits to developing a virtual fashion collection vendor display, a fashion show video of each students collection and garment layouts
  • learning outcomes
    Students ‘demonstrated the following skills in a virtual environment: organizational; creative thinking; visual communication; multi-tasking; problem solving; collaborative technology; presentation; and market trend research skills.’ They ‘gained experience and introductory skills with: multiple techniques for virtual fashion garment development, presentation and product packaging; development of a virtual fashion exhibit; and virtual fashion show production and presentation.’
  • feedback
    Instructor observation – ‘the organizational skills required to develop and coordinate multiple files for fashion outfits was the most challenging assignment for the students. Students really liked creating the outfits but all were challenged to organize and prepare them for the vendor exhibit.’
  • final conclusion
    ‘The virtual world would be an excellent environment for simulated development of a virtual business plan, theme, store layout and design, branding, product development and marketing. All the aspects involved in real world production of a fashion show can be simulated in the virtual world as well as fashion product design, development and presentation. This open source virtual world will begin to prepare students for emerging employer expectations.’

2. CeaseFire Island – life in the hood (Kevin Harvey, Colleen Monahan, Lars Ullberg – UIC-SPH-CADE)

This case study is an excellent example of virtual world training.

It includes –

  • the background
    ‘CeaseFire, an initiative of the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention, is a strategic community-based effort to stop shootings and killings through street-level outreach, public education and community mobilization.’
  • an intro to project CeaseFire Island
    ‘A team from the University of Chicago School of Public Health, CADE has created this unique training environment in Second Life (SL) to leverage and expand the CeaseFire training program.’
  • audience
    ‘Most CeaseFire case workers are former gang members.’ ‘The two groups are “Violence Interrupters” and “Outreach Workers.”‘ Violence Interrupters try to anticipate situations that lead to violence and find ways to cool it down. Outreach Workers work with high-risk individuals to teach them life skills.
  • the method and goals
    Guided roleplaying – ‘CeaseFire Island will allow “Violence Interupters” (VI) and “Community Workers” (CW) across the country to safely practice responses to these scenarios, while being observed, coached and corrected.’ VI’s learn how to cool down a hot shooter and stop a shooting or how to mediate between two groups in conflict. OW’s learn how to introduce themselves to people and create personal development plans with them. The goals of this project are to allow Violence Interrupters and Outreach Workers to practice their skills and train new workers at any CeaseFire site in the country.
  • challenges
    ‘Most of the target audience are not skilled with computers and many are afraid of them.’ ‘Because SL looks game-like, the target audience shows more interest than if you just taught computer skills. Just in the act of getting an avatar, changing the look, learning basic movements and generally, using the technology, is training in itself. This is also a way to teach them to embrace technology.’
  • conclusion
    ‘The CeaseFire Virtual Worlds project is an idea candidate for using the extraordinary capabilities of this unique environment.’

3. Appalachian Tycoon: an Environmental Education Game in Second Life (En Ye, Yanhui Fang, Chang Liu, Tiao J. Chang and Hiep Q Dinh – Ohio University)

4. Nutrition Game (Tessa Cooper – The Vital Lab at Ohio University)

This case study talks about a proof-of-concept game exploring the potential of the Second Life 3D virtual world in education and outreach.

It includes –

  • what the game is about and its goals
    ‘The game was designed to increase awareness about the health effects of eating fast food and certain traditional ethnic foods. A player is able to choose foods from three different restaurants to simulate a days worth of food choices. Information about each food can be viewed and the player can choose meals to eat for the day. After eating three meals, a player is given statistics on how his or her health would be affected by continuing this style of eating.’
  • technical lessons learned to be able to build what they wanted in Second Life such as having dynamic info show on a prim that was personal to every player, developing a system for many players to interact with the same object in a way that messages for one player are not picked up by other players.
  • player feedback
    The survey conducted showed that almost all players took away something from the game. Responses varied from simple to detailed. Some players said they learned how to eat healthy, some said they learned how different food types compare to one another in the context of calories, sodium intake etc. They found that some foods were more damaging than expected while some were not as bad as they had imagined. The biggest drawback was when SL ran slowly resulting in dialogue boxes not showing and events not getting triggered at the correct time.
  • conclusion
    ‘Presenting health material in the form of a game introduces it in an engaging and informative manner that allows users to learn in a fun environment. Players are able to see how different foods and different eating styles affect their health in an environment in which their actual health is not at risk. So far the game has shown to have impact on the people who have played it. Many people have reported learning about the foods they regularly consume at fast food restaurants, and hopefully this new knowledge will impact them the next time they are eating at a fast food restaurant.’

5. A First Experience on Implementing a Lecture on Second Life (Luis M Martinez, Pablo Martinez, Gabriela Warkentin)

This paper explores the possibilities and challenges of using Second Life as a asynchronous environment. It exposes the organizational and spatial considerations of implementing a lecture inside Second Life. It presents the steps followed by the teacher in terms of instructional design for an in-world lecture and the description of how the classes followed.

It includes –

  • the background/ summary
    ‘We implemented a lecture in SL as part of the Technology, Human and Transcendence undergraduate course at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, based on pedagogical principles and delivery criteria.’
  • preparation and implementation of the lecture
  • student survey
    All students were satisfied with the experience (could be due to novelty factor), however they felt that learning in this environment was slower than in a conventional lecture hall and discipline is relaxed in this learning experience.
  • conclusion
    SL is a novel and exciting platform for online learning. In contrast to conventional LMS and CMS it provides immersive interaction and synchronous dialogue. Other conventional platforms can provide digital classrooms but will never resemble the reality of the conventional classroom as in SL.

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What is ‘Quest Altantis’?

Quest Atlantis is an example of how virtual environments are being used in educational settings. The work is supported by National Science Foundation and MacArthur Foundation.

Quest Atlantis (QA) is a learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-12, in educational tasks. Building on strategies from online role-playing games, QA combines strategies used in the commercial gaming environment with lessons from educational research on learning and motivation. It allows users to travel to virtual places to perform educational activities (known as Quests), talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae. More

QA can be integrated into many settings, including classrooms, after-school programs, public libraries, and museums.

Questing
In Quest Atlantis the central activity is to go “QUESTING!” Members do this by travelling through virtual villages and worlds in which they locate and complete quests. More

QA Worlds
Quest Atlantis, a virtual place, consists of 11 worlds that communicate an overriding message or theme to members who visit it. Each world has 3 villages that address different aspects of the world’s theme, and it does this through the 20-25 quests encountered in the village. A quest lives inside of a village, and is an exercise or activity that Questers complete either in the virtual space or in the real world that allows them to investigate their world based on the village in which they are questing. More

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Virtual Environments as Educational Platforms

As the technological barriers to creating collaborative virtual environments (CVEs) have decreased, a growing number of researchers have created CVEs specifically as educational platforms.

On http://www.virtualenvironments.info/ were some examples of virtual environments used for education. Here are some approaches that were taken.

Approach 1: Virtual environments that reward offline behavior
Quest Atlantis (Barab et al. 2005) is a “learning and teaching project that uses a 3D multi-user environment to immerse children, ages 9-12, in educational tasks.” Students (ages 9-12) travel to virtual places to perform “quests”, educational activities that require players to interview family members and peer, research community problems, or produce media. Privileges and points can be earned in the virtual world and by completing quests. Participants can talk with other users and mentors, and build virtual personae. (View more information on Quest Atlantis)

Approach 2: Task and reward embedded within the virtual environment
River City (Clarke & Dede, 2005) is a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) in which students investigate a town and develop hypotheses for why an illness is spreading within a place called River City. It is designed to teach learning scientific principles and hypothesis-testing. The environment created an immersive experience that allowed students to become shapers of a scientific experience rather than passive observers. Secondly, River City allowed students to shed their identities as a “‘student failing science’ and take on the identity of a scientist” (pg. 5). And finally, the immersive experience also encouraged critical thinking by actively engaging students. It is worth noting that these three features would not be present in systems using the first approach, because the reward structure in and of itself does not provide these features.

Approach 3: Use existing online environments for research
Whyville is a 2D virtual environment in which participants can explore, interact, and earn clamshells (a form of virtual currency). UCLA researchers wanted to see if scientific inquiry could be promoted, including aspects of awareness and learning how epidemics spread. Working with the Whyville staff, a contagious pox illness was created into the world, randomly infecting a small number of players, and those infected would occasionally sneeze (their chat messages would be affected) and their avatars’ faces would show spots. Researchers found that the spread of the illness caused players to explore the medical libraries in Whyville and student interactions centered on scientific topics (in chat and message boards) increased dramatically (by 2000%). Whyville is an example of how virtual environments could be used to increase interest and inquiry in specific topic areas.

References
Barab, S., Thomas, M., Dodge, T., Carteaux, R., & Tuzun, H. (2005). Making learning fun: Quest Atlantis, a game without guns. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53, 86–107.

Blascovich, J., Loomis, J., Beall, A., Swinth, K., Hoyt, C., & Bailenson, J. (2002). Immersive virtual environment technology as a methodological tool for social psychology. Psychological Inquiry, 13(2), 103-124.

Clarke, J., & Dede, C. (2005). Making learning meaningful: An exploratory study of using multi-user environments (MUVEs) in middle school science. Presented at AERA, Montreal, April, 2005.

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Science learning opportunities in Second Life

This video provides examples of science learning opportunities in virtual environments.

Some that I found really interesting were –

  • Interactive real-time data visualization compiling real time weather data with the geographic display.
  • Interaction with cholestrol molecules created by publishers of the well known science magazine Nature.
  • The ability to enter a giant cell and interact with the cellular structures on Genome island.

From these examples it is evident that virtual environments have the potential to provide highly experiential learning experiences. They are able to provide a third dimension to the learning experience that is not available to learners in a traditional classroom setting. Adding to it, the advantage of being accessible globally.

I have to visit these islands – Genome Island, Second Nature, NMC Research Park, Arc Research Center, ISTE Auditorium, Tower Section of Genome Island. They were mentioned in the video.

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