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Article for IIE on Virtual Worlds

I was recently invited to contribute a small piece (a magazine half-page) for the Institute for International Education.  I’ve only just sent in my draft and am awaiting editorial response.  This exercise made me re-think why I believe virtual worlds can provide a unique and unparalleled educational experience for the right content.  It also made me look hard at what has stopped virtual worlds from becoming more main stream and why the fanfare of 2007-2010 went bust.  Sad thing is, not much has changed since I was at all actively involved.

Death of an Island

An era, of sorts, has come to an end.  The official presence of Montclair State University in Second Life has officially gone from 3 regions to 2.  Montclair State CHSSSouth went POOF tonight, and disappeared into the ether, taking many memories with it.

 This snapshot, the right, is a view looking south, beyond the sometime quidditch pitch, sometime ice skating rink, toward where CHSSSouth used to be.

CHSSSouth was the last of the MSU islands and was originally funded through an end-of-the-year grant from MSU’s Office of Information Technology.  Our OIT was generous enough to continue to fund this region beyond the one-year grant.  When Linden Lab announced that they were, in effect, doubling MSU’s cost on the island, it provided an opportunity for the university to assess its land usages.  It was decided that the island would not be renewed.

At that same time, MSU began experimenting with opensim instances and now has its own hosted opensim grid.  So, in essence, we got rid of one region and picked up four for a fraction of the cost.  For what MSU was using that space for, an opensim alternative is more than suitable.  In fact, its given us the opportunity to try things we could not in Second Life, thanks to the control we have over the servers.

Other than what MSU used the space for (faculty office space other than for classes, replica of a building that is just now actually being completed on our actual campus and ready to open soon, and some classroom space) CHSSSouth was known for two things: The VWER Meetings and the Free Land Initiative.  The VWER has since found a wonderful home on the Bowling Green Virtual Campus.  The Free Land Initiative was taken over by the VWER and moved to its own opensim grid hosted and sponsored by ReactionGrid.  In June of this year, ReactionGrid notified the VWER that it could no longer maintain the sponsorship relationship and needed to shut down the VWERGrid.  This put an end to the Educators Land Initiative.

The faculty space on CHSSSouth has moved to MSU’s opensim grid.  The Finely Hall recreation and language classroom have been relocated to Montclair State CHSS, which is our original island.  The disposition of that after its maintenance expires in April of 2012 is still in question.

Streaming streaming into Second Life

I am working with the folks at the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) on a few different aspects of their Annual Meeting in February.  One of the things we are working on is streaming the general sessions into Second Life.  We thought it might be a bit easier this year, with the new media settings included in Viewer 2.x but I seem to have run into a snag.

When I use this URL The page shows up on the prim just fine.

When I click on one of the videos I can hear the audio but the video does not show up.  Any idea why?

Thanks in advance.

Reporting or Readers, which matters more to Jeff Young?

Jeff Young is the technology writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education.  In an article not that long ago he asserted that people were leaving Second Life in droves for opensim options.  Actually to summarize the article that way is unfair, there was a lot of other information there that was not entirely accurate and poorly researched.

Wait, come to think of it, I’m not so sure it was poorly researched.  In fact, it seemed as if the article was designed to do exactly what it did, attract readers and make his article the #1 most read for a few days.

Mr. Young was brave enough to face a quite hostile crowd as my special guest for one of our Virtual World Education Roundtable meetings.  You can read the transcript here.  Please, do read it, it’s quite interesting in how Mr. Young defended what most visitors considered shabby reporting and even worse research.  I was part of Mr. Young’s research, in that I talked to him for almost 45 minutes as he was preparing his article.  In fact, although not by name, he mentioned the VWER and our recent name change.  I’m sure that Mr. young, like most reporters, cherry picked what he wanted from our conversation.  Not that he quoted me directly on anything, but I could see in his article what he was looking for when he interviewed me.

I was willing to give Mr. Young the benefit of the doubt, as you will plainly see in the transcript of the meeting.  I tried to keep it fair and balanced (and NOT in a Fox News way) and tried to make sure our members treated him with some respect.

I remember seeing another short a few weeks ago where, after reading it, I thought to myself that it was clear Young was fishing for readers and not reporting.  I don’t recall the article, I could find it I’m sure if pressed, but I do remember thinking that the title was very misleading.

Today, Young puts out another article about Woodbury University being banned, AGAIN, from Second Life.  I was in SL during the first banning.  A griefer group was using the Woodbury Campus to stage its attacks around SL and, from all reports, Woodbury would do nothing about it (like simply banning the griefers from the island).  SL was forced to take the island down.  It was a controversial decision at the time but most of us, in the end, felt like they handled it as best as they could.

Well, apparently the same thing has happened again and once again Woodbury has been banned and their virtual campus taken down.  Now, Second Life, and the company that owns it – Linden Lab – is in business to make money.  One does not make money by tossing out paying customers willy-nilly.  They also don’t make money when people are talking about THIS crap instead of all the positives of using virtual worlds in education.  So, it must take some real consideration to make a decision like this.  I certainly don’t know, perhaps they just made a dumb decision, but I’d err on the side of wanting the supposed $1000 a month, unless what was being done wrong was so egregious.

This is not my point.  My point is that Jeff Young is clearly trying to get more readers than get the story right.  He’d rather have the most talked about article, even if its got terrible inaccuracies (by omission), then produce good journalism.  When did journalism become about getting attention instead of getting the story right.  Perhaps Young attended the Fox school of journalism – it doesn’t matter if it is right or twisted, it only matters if they read it and talk about it.

As one for instance, Young quotes Edward Clift, dean of Woodbury’s School of Media, Culture & Design, as saying
“The professor said he felt that the virtual campus did not conform to what Linden Lab wanted a campus to be—with buildings and virtual lecture halls.”

Ok, so, Clift may have said that.  Now, wouldn’t it be the job of a good reporter to find out if this assertion is true – that this is what Linden Lab wants a campus to be?  Mr. Young was a guest on the Montclair State University island.  If he had looked around, he would have seen that, although we do have some buildings, we have no virtual lecture halls, and – in fact – our campus looks very little like an actual world campus.  I’ve been involved in the education side of Second Life for over three years and I can tell you that most educators, and institutions, in SL, may have some buildings, and a high-profile lecture hall or two, but the MASS MAJORITY of educational builds in SL are not mock ups of the actual world institutions.

Aside from the very silliness of that thought, Linden Lab is not in the business of telling its customers what their virtual worlds should look like.  The Lab is most concerned with the terms of service and to make sure others do not violate those.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I have my gripes with LL and how they are moving forward with the SL product, but never, not once has a single person from Linden Lab even suggested what our campus should look like and, in fact, we’ve received quite high praise from the educational team in Linden Lab for our creativity and originality.

Anyway, this latest example is not really such a big deal.  When coupled with the other reports that use similar language, similar tactics, and, in my opinion, similar tabloid reporting, it shows a pattern that I had hoped-against-hope was not the case when I interviewed Jeff in February.

Dear Chronicle of Higher Education, if you are looking for someone to write National Enquirer type articles about Second Life, keep Jeff Young on the spot.  Let him continue to put into print these one-sided, badly reported snippets that are doing more harm than good.  Those of us in education, working in virtual worlds, are struggling with this new platform and working hard to help it find the legitimacy it deserves in education.  By printing, and supporting, half-baked articles like this, you are unnecessarily alarming some with accounts that are not accurate (by omission) and you also undermine your own legitimacy as a new source as opposed to of an entertainment outlet.

UNC TLT Conference Plenary

The University of North Carolina Teaching and Learning with Technology Conference will be held entirely in Second Life and is free to all those who register.  I will be the plenary presenter at the opening of the conference on Tuesday, April 13th, at 9:00pm Eastern Time (6:00am Second Life Time).  The conference lasts for three days and has over 50 scheduled sessions in a well-rounded and well-informed schedule.

You can find general information about the conference here:

The conference sessions are listed here:

And registration is here:

Here is the description of my session:

Big wheels generally move slowly and formal education can be a fairly big wheel. For many years, how we taught did not change. More recently there has been a shift from the “sage on the stage” methodology to a “guide on the side” approach. This constructivist approach has been at the heart of Montclair State University’s (MSU) nearly 3-year adventure in Second Life. AJ Kelton (SL: AJ Brooks), Director of Emerging Instructional Technology for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at MSU, will take session attendees through the three phases of adoption MSU has gone through since opening their first of three islands in April of 2007. Included will be detailed highlights of some of the most popular and pedagogically sound locations on MSU’s Second Life presence. The discussion will conclude with a brief look at what could be next for education and virtual environments. Following this presentation Mr. Kelton will take question from the audience.

SLOODLE Moot Conference in SL this weekend

A great friend of mine is working on the SLOODLE Moot conference that is happening this weekend – FOR FREE – in Second Life.  Here are some of the details.

SLOODLE Moot 2010 is approaching!

This weekend SLOODLE Moot – a free, online conference will be taking place in Second Life. A range of presentations, discussions and demonstrations will take place over the weekend including:

  • Devil Island Mystery. Learn how freshman students in S. Korea were stranded on a virtual island – and had to develop their English skills to survive – and solve the Devil Island Mystery!
  • Hacking SLOODLE tools. SLOODLE is open-source – in this sessions learn why you might want to change SLOODLE to suit your own ends – and how you can do so.
  • SLOODLE at the Open University. With around 250,000 online students, and individual courses with student numbers in the thousands, the OU faces some significant challenges in using virtual worlds to support its courses. Learn how the OU has been using SLOODLE to meet this challenge.
  • Cypris Chat demonstration. After a very successful set of demonstrations earlier this year, Mike McKay gives another demo of SLOODLE and the Awards system.
  • Saturday night social. Lights, music, dancing!

Timetable yet to be finalised, but get all the details at the SLOODLE Moot pages.

The Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable visits New Zealand Grid

I realized this is very short notice, and I take full responsibility for that – but the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable will be holding its monthly “Other Gird” meeting this Thursday, March 11th – from 12:00pm Pacific Time for an hour.  Our host grid this month will be the New Zealand Virtual Grid and Dr. Scott Diener.

In order to join us, you have to follow the instructions below.  We hope to see you Thursday.

To request an account you need to first go to  Select the Auckland University Portal as your NVWG portal.  Our host has requested that everyone use their real name for the avatar, as that will simplify things.  Of course, this is not a requirement, but a well considered request.  The system is automated so the new account should be approve in very short order.

While waiting for your confirmation on your account, here is what you need to do in order to access the New Zealand grid.  Please note, the following instructions are for a PC.  Mac instructions are in the works. (you may want to print this out)

  1. Make a copy of the Second Life shortcut on your desktop
  2. Right click the new shortcut and select properties
  3. Select the General tab and rename the shortcut to ”NZVWG’ (change the text in the box at the top)
  4. Select the Shortcut tab and change the Target as below:
    “C:Program FilesSecondLifeSecondLife.exe” -set SystemLanguage en-us -loginuri -loginpage
  5. Click OK
  6. Double click the new shortcut and the Second Life viewer should start.
  7. Enter your NZVWG account First and Last names for your avatar and your account password.
  8. Do NOT log in to Home.  Login to region Kapua 3

According to our host, apparently when you first rez your avatar will be a fluffy cloud,  so you will need to create a new skin/shape/hair and clothes.  Here are the steps he provided in order to do this.  Its suggested you log in prior to the meeting to take care of this – as far in advance as possible.  Once you are signed in to the New Zealand grid:

  1. Click the inventory button at the bottom right of the viewer.  This will open an inventory window.
  2. In the inventory window, right click on Body Parts.  Select New Body Parts -> New Shape.
  3. You can give your new body shape a name if you like.
  4. Do the same thing to create New Hair, Skin and Eyes.
  5. These new body parts should all now appear in your inventory under Body Parts.
  6. Select all the new body parts in your inventory (ctrl-click to select multiple) and right click to select Wear.
  7. Now right click on your avatar and select Appearance…
  8. The appearance window should now be displayed.  Down the left hand side of this window are a number of tabs that you can select and these will give you options to change particular parts of your appearance.  NOTE: At this point you will not be able to change your clothing
  9. From the shape tab you have the option to make your avatar male or female.
  10. Once you have customized your appearance, click Save All  and close.
  11. You can now go back and change your appearance at any time by following steps 7 – 10

Rez day?

What is a Rez Day, you may ask.  Well, if you’re not in Second Life, it will mean absolutely nothing.  Even if you ARE in Second Life, you might not have heard it put this way.  But one’s Rez Day is the day they first “rezzed” in Second Life, or in simpler terms, the day you started your account.  Its like a birthday – but its called a Rez Day.

Today is my 3rd Rez Day.  It’s been three years since I first created my SL account and SOOOOOO much has happened in that short time.

Today is also the 3rd Rez Day for Rixhawz Milestone and Hugo Vansant.  Doesn’t it seem odd that our of all the people in SL, and all the ones I know, that I know two other people who first created their accounts on the same exact day in the same exact year?  Well, for Rix, it is a strange and happy coincidence.  I met Rix a year or so into my SL adventure.  He works in the California educational system.

As for Hugo, well, having the same Rez Day is not such an odd thing.  Hugo is the first person I ever met in SL.  Back then, you showed up in an orientation area, a place where you learned the basic of using the application (moving, communicating, etc…)  Hugo showed up a few minutes before I did and we got to talking.  This is where the coincidence comes in.  Of all the places in the world Hugo could be from, he is Brasilian.  Now, for most of you that might not seem so odd, but that is because you don’t know about my ties to Brasil.  So, not only is he from Brasil, but he lives in Brasilia, a city in which I’ve spent a great deal of time.  Not only does he live in Brasilia, but he lives in a suburb (they call them satellite cities) call Guara I.  The suburb I spend nearly all of my time in Brasil in was Guara II, which is – as you can imagine, right next to Guara I.  So Hugo and I had a great deal to talk about, and knew many of the same places.  In fact, it turns out, that we used the same Pharmacy (Pharmacists in Brasil can dispense more medication than here in the US, often replacing the need to go to a doctor’s office).

It just goes to show – it really is a small world, but actual and virtual

Six EDUCAUSE events in the next two weeks!

In the next two weeks there will be six events for the EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds group.  All six will be simultaneous events.  If you will be attending the conference on-site, please plan to join us there.  If you’re not attending the conference in person, you are welcome to join us for any or all of the following events.  The Constituent Group meetings will be discussions, whereas the other meetings will be streamed audio and slide show from the featured session in Austin.  See the URLs for session details.

EDUCAUSE Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference
Baltimore, MD

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

EDUCAUSE Virtual World Constituent Group meeting
Lloyd Onyett (SL: Komputer Merlin)
11:45am to 12:45pm ET (Baltimore time)
8:45am to 9:45am SLT (Pacific Time)
Montclair State University – InWorld

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Conference
Austin, TX

Penn State World Campus – InWorld

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

EDUCAUSE Virtual Worlds Constituent Group Meeting
Tanya Joosten (SL: Juice Gyoza) and Shannon Ritter (SL: Shannon Rutkowski)
10:00am to 11:00am CT (Austin Time)
8:00am to 9:00am SLT (Pacific Time)

Bob Heterick Memorial Lectureship – Digital Histories for the Digital Age: How Do We Teach Writing Now?
William G. Thomas, III,
1:00pm to 2:15pm CT (Austin Time)
11:00am to 12:15pm SLT (Pacific Time)

2010 Horizon Report and Lightning Rounds
Malcolm Brown, Laurence F. Johnson, Alan Levine, and Rachel Smith
5:05pm to 6:30pm CT (Austin Time)
3:05pm to 4:30pm SLT (Pacific Time)

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
Born Digital
John Palfrey
8:30am to 9:30am CT (Austin Time)
6:30am to 7:30am SLT (Pacific Time

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Computation Thinking
Jeanette Wing
10:45am to 12:00pm CT (Austin Time)
8:45am to 10:00am SLT (Pacific Time)

Technology as place?

Although I attended Sloan-C this year, virtually, one of my colleagues attended on site.  She forwarded to me a slideshow from one of the presenters, Steve Kerby from McDaniel College.  Steve talks about “Technology as Place: Designing Environments for Student-Centered Learning”.

You can watch the presentation here:
it’s about 16 minutes long.

The link should open for you in a new window.  Once you’ve watched it, feel free to come back here and in comments let me know what you think.