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.
The hype is over. Whereas only a year ago, Second Life was everywhere in the mainstream media, the mad rush seems over. Then, every major organization seemed to try to establish a presence “in world”, and the virtual sky seemed the limit. Now, the number of active users seems to have stabilized, and many initially over-enthusiasts are disappointed, because their unrealistic expectations have not been met.
However, the dot com bust around the turn of the century did not kill the development of worthwhile applications of the Internet, on the contrary. Similarly, the current stage in the evolution of Second Life from mere vision to serious business, educational, and many other applications is a natural one. Consolidation and reflection on where to go from here is healthy and necessary. Issues to be worked on include tool systems and (workflow) process models.
For a nice glimpse into already existing “useful” applications of Second Life, check out Wagner James Au’s list in his “Second Life: Hype vs. Anti-Hype vs. Anti-Anti Hype” post:
He’d see applications in, for example, retail shopping (as here), online gaming and entertainment (as here and here), data visualization (as here), national security (as here), international relations (as here), non-profit fundraising (as here), architecture (as here), scientific simulation (as here), education (as here and here), and therapy (as here); just ten industries worth billions of dollars, which could potentially impact hundreds of millions of Internet users, quickly culled from my bookmark cache– and that’s not even mentioning the as-yet-unproven applications which have already gained traction, like in-world celebrity appearances (as here), political activism (as here and here), and marketing/brand promotion (as here.)
One particularly interesting use I have experienced myself is as a venue for cyberconferencing.
I had an interesting conversation yesterday with Philippe Kerremans, who through his Louis Platini company is implementing Second Life business solutions. We agreed that building virtual worlds in, for example, Second Life is not enough. Additional necessary conditions are an accompanying website in “ordinary cyberspace” and process models that can be used to ensure that available functionalities are actually being used by community members in all their various roles.
Second Life is hot. Just having attended the Interdisciplinary Second Life Workshop at the University of Twente, on June 21 another workshop on this themewas organized at Tilburg University by TILT (Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society), together with ECP.NL, a national platform which tries to improve the Dutch international competitive position with respect to the information society and economy. Although many of the issues were related, the focus was slightly different. The symposion was in Dutch, but the (sometimes translated) titles of the presentations should give a good idea what this was all about:
- Barend Raaff (DNB Media): Guided Tour through Second Life
- Arno Lodder (Free University Amsterdam): Best of Both Worlds: Physical Characteristics in an Electronic Environment – About Education and Conflict Resolution in Virtual Three-Dimensional Worlds
- Jacob van Kokswijk (University of Twente): Virtuality and Interreality
- Kees Stuurman (TILT): Rules of the Game or Rules of Law?
- Ronald Leenes (TILT): Privacy in Second Life: Who Needs it?
On June 14, I was at the University of Twente in Enschede to attend the Interdisciplinary Second Life Workshop. It was organized by the new inter-facultary Center for Information Technology and Society (CITS), part of the Centre for Telematics and Information Technology.
The workshop was very well-attended and lively. The speakers gave a good overview of the main promises and problems surrounding Second Life. The workshop was preceded by an inspiring keynote address by Peter Ludlow, well-known as editor of High Noon on the Electronic Frontier and founder of the Second Life Herald newspaper.
The titles of the presentations give some idea of the kind of issues addressed:
- Peter Ludlow (Uni Michigan): Emergent Gameplay, Deviant Ageplay, and the Elusive Payday of Business in Second Life
- Dan Seamans (Open Uni, UK): The Vital SPark: Managing a Dynamic Learning Space in Teen Second Life
- Patrick Ozer and Albert van Breemen (Philips Research, the Netherlands): Interreality Communication: iCat Meets Second Life
- Robert Slagter and Wil Jansen (Telematica Instituut, the Netherlands): Real Business in Virtual Worlds
- David Nieborg (Uni Amsterdam): ‘Don’t Sponsor a Game that is a Playground for Criminals!’ – The Many Media Frames of Second Life
From a research point of view, everything still is wide-open. Tools, but especially governance, workflows, and business processes still are only in their infancy. However, the general consensus seemed to be that Second Life, at least as a stepping stone on the way to a whole class of virtual worlds, holds great potential, waiting to be mined.
Below the gallery that contains the pictures taken by Al Mohr (Second Life) / Aldo de Moor (Real Life) of Schomer Simpson ‘s (Second Life) / Peter Twining’s (Real Life) presentation at the Second Life Best Practices in Education International Conference 2007. The topic was “Using Teen Second Life to Explore Visions of Schome (Not School-Not Home-Schome, the Education System for the Information Age)”. As you can see from the pictures, Schomer/Peter’s talk was very well attended. The issues raised were most interesting and he got lots of questions. The Era of Immersive Online Conferences has begun…
Everybody interested in Second Life should attend the 1st Second Life International Conference 2007: Best Practices in Teaching, Learning, and Research. Lack of money or travel time are no excuse, since the event will, of course, be held completely in-world. There will be all day events, keynote speakers, and even free bags of goodies from the best SL content creators. So, sign up, and see you on Friday!
Second Life is all about being immersed and feeling that you are inside that virtual world instead ofobserving it from the outside. One major drawback so far was that the only way of communication was to chat. Wouldn’t it be nice to combine Skype’s power of natural talking with Second Life’s strength of visualization? Well, that day seems to have come: Second Talk offers free virtual headsets that Second Lifers can pick up from various locations. Since yesterday, I am the proud owner of such a futuristic device. Now I need to wait for some friends to hook up in order to try it out. I am very curious…
Interestingly, Second Talk’s invention seems to directly challenge Linden Lab’s business model, as the latter version comes with many more constraints. From the Second Talk website:
1. Linden Labs’ integrated voice won’t work everywhere. Second Life landowners determine whether or not voice is enabled on their property, so it’ll be entirely possible to cross from one region where voice works to another where it does not.
2. Linden Labs’ system isn’t free. Second Life landowners must upgrade to the current $295/month land tier in order to use Linden Labs’ system on their regions. Although this is a small investment, we understand that a lot of landowners won’t want to make it.
3. We’ve been asked to continue support. Even in light of Linden Labs’ announcement, many Second Talk users have asked us to continue support for Second Talk. Many people want a system that simply facilitates connection to an impartial third-party voice system, rather than routing through a captive system.
Let’s see how this dynamic will play out!
I am currently visiting my colleague and good friend Mark Gaved, who works at the Knowledge Media Institute in Milton Keynes. He is involved in an absolutely fascinating Second Life project, Schome. Basically, it’s an exploration of new learning systems for the 21st century. SchomeBase is a pilot of trying out some of the Schome ideas in Second Life. There is also a closed teenage space called SchomePark. It’s been operating with 150 students for three months and is extremely active. It’s amazing what these kids have been able to build, script and how they are developing very complex social norms and practices to govern themselves. One of the best examples of a thriving virtual world I have come across so far! To get a feel, have a look at the beautiful Japanese garden, where the students studied philosophy guided by “Socratic Shepherd”, a researcher from the University of Warwick up to a few weeks ago.