Evaluation SURFnet pilot Active Worlds

After a very intense period of finishing projects, I am now recharging my research batteries. As I am travelling and networking a lot, time for my blog is limited. However, I will try to give brief summaries of some of the events I have attended recently, but not written about yet.

SURFnet provides a high-quality network specifically intended for higher education and research in the Netherlands. It is a subsidiary of the SURF organisation, in which Dutch universities, universities for applied sciences and research centres collaborate nationally and internationally on innovative ICT facilities. One of its R&D topics is how to use virtual worlds in higher education.

On October 1, an inspiring evaluation meeting was organized to discuss the results of a pilot using the Active Worlds virtual world environment. Several pilot projects that had been using Active Worlds for educational purposes in the past year presented their results. Interesting was the wide variety of applications, even in only such a small number of pilot projects. Overall, the gist was that virtual worlds can be very useful in education, as the constructivist, collaborative way of working in virtual worlds immerses students to the subjects in a much deeper way than allowed for by traditional textbook learning. However, this immersion comes at a cost, as considerable preparatory and facilitation efforts are required by lecturers for such projects to succeed.

Clearly, more advanced didactic approaches are needed to more effectively and efficiently apply virtual world resources in learning. Developing such innovative ways of using virtual worlds will require testbeds and more trials and (errors) by lecturers and students jointly. Many questions will need to be answered, ranging from which worlds to use (Active Worlds, Second Life, open source based environments?), when to lead and when to let students take the initiative, how to link virtual worlds to other web based resources, which collaborative and communicative workflows to define and support, and so on.

For another impression of this day, see the post by Inge Ploum.

Pitching social enterprises at The Hub

Having finished my portal project, I am in Berlin now. As it’s been a very intense project, I really felt the need to “reset my brain” and decided to have a creative breather in Berlin. It’s a great city to visit for such a purpose, and to get inspiration for new R&D ideas. At the end of the week, I will be attending Barcamp Berlin 3.0, more about that later.

To warm up, I attended a nice event organized by Self Hub Berlin yesterday. Such hubs are increasingly being established in cities all over the world as creative places for social entrepreneurs. I already visited The Hub Rotterdam, and was curious to find out how things are done in their Berlin counterpart.

Yesterday’s event was dubbed “Pitching for Inspiration” and allowed a number of new social entrepreneurs to present their visions and solicit feedback from fellow entrepreneurs and other interested members of the audience. Afterwards, there was space and time for informal discussion. There was quite a variety of themes. To give you an idea, presentations included proposals for an institute for intergenerational learning, an academy for developing and realizing visions, a network of experienced entrepreneurs helping new ones, a theatre of young people performing for primary and high school kids showing them how to better deal with conflicts, an organization  that aims to apply “wisdom of the crowds” by allowing many persons to vote on competing project proposals after a bidding period in which the proposers develop and defend their project ideas using blogs, an initiative to use web mashups to show wheelchair-barrier free locations in first Berlin, then Germany, then the world. There was also a presentation of an already established annual contest in which students can develop communications campaigns for non-profit organizations.

Most proposals were still in quite a premature stage, but it was nice to see the variety and enthusiasm with which they were presented. These hubs are all about developing relations, connecting ideas, and releasing energy, and there was plenty of all that around.

It is interesting to see how these hubs are very much place, i.e. city-based, yet at the same time they are part of a growing worldwide network, a “meta Hub”, as one of the participants called it. They remind me very much of Saskia Sassen’s work on the global and the local being necessarily very much intertwined when trying to understand what globalization really means.  In particular, these hubs seem to be a key example of thinking communities, for which providing a good communications infrastructure and location, as well as resolving a wide range of social, professional, and financial constraints is essential for their success.

Meeting The Hub

It’s been a busy time with my projects, too busy to keep up my blog. Of course, that is no excuse as very useful finally-get-into-and-stick-to-that-writing-habit sites  like Write to Done try to tell us all the time. Well, us lesser mortals will have to keep practicing to get more disciplined, I guess.

On August 11, I attended a very inspiring lunch meeting at The Hub Rotterdam. Guest speaker was Maria Glauser, a host and co-director of The Hub London.  We all shared stories about what we do and aspire as the “social entrepreneurs” of the present or near future.  In their own words:

The Hub’s business is social innovation. Our core product is flexible membership of inspirational and highly resourced habitats in the world’s major cities for social innovators to work, meet, learn, connect and realise progressive ideas. The Hub is currently located in London, Bristol, Johannesburg, Berlin, Cairo, Sao Paulo and Rotterdam. Hubs are being started in Amsterdam, Brussels, Halifax, Madrid, Mumbai and Tel Aviv/Jaffa

I particularly like the summary of their essence, as described on The Hub’s main site:

People who see and do things differently

Places for working, meeting, innovating, learning and relaxing

Ideas that might just change the world a little

The Hub is pioneering concepts, methods, and techniques for enlightened social entrepreneurship. They should be watched as a creative catalyst, linking the worlds of high ideals with practical business. Although small in size, their ideas could and should influence more traditional innovation initiatives and networks, so their impact can spread more rapidly. It will therefore be interesting to find out how all these initiatives best connect with and mutually benefit one another.