An overview of "getting" virtual worlds, my journey and the created of ImmersED Estate, an OpenSim build on Reaction Grid with activities for educators to help them make meaningful use of virtual worlds.
Hi everyone! I'm KerryJ, a Senior Education Officer with Education Services Australia. A bit of background on who I am and who I work for. I am a Senior Education Officer with an Australian government owned agency called Education Services Australia. Our role is to promote the use of technology in education and support educators across the sectors to do so with online resources, communities, research and advice to policy makers. We also build web sites and online technology solutions (the backend stuff), advise on metadata and interoperability and share knowledge wherever we can. I'll be presenting on a build created in OpenSim designed to help educators understand virtual worlds by getting in and using them.
This was my guiding principle: Tell me and I'll forget Show me and I may remember Involve me and I'll understand.
I'd first heard of using virtual worlds for education in 2006 while interviewing two educators – Joanna McKay of Jokaydia and Lindy McEown of Terra Icognita for a podcast I was producing. Both insisted I create an account and come into Second Life to experience it if I were to interview them. So I did. I wish I could say I created my account and never looked back. The truth is that I created my account, did my interviews and spent the next 9 months not getting virtual worlds at all. Looking back, I think it was because I was an outsider looking in. I didn't build. I didn't join a community. I didn't try anything and I was always on my own. The event in the bottom right corner changed that. It was a PD event involving international speakers, some of whom I'd met before. Afterwards, we danced and socialised. I came away from the event feeling that I'd actually attended a conference and the lightbulb went on. What was YOUR AHA moment? Or have you had it yet? From the outside in: The AHA
I ended up renting space on Jokdaydia and as a resident, my first involvement in virtual worlds as education tools lay in attending. I then started working some educational events and unconferences . I presented and wrote about my experiences but realised that using text and 2D tools to try to foster an understanding of 3D environments just wasn't doing the job. If people who weren't active in games and had never been in a virtual environment – they didn't get it. So my next step was to set up and run tours in Second Life for educators. This worked much better. The synchronous interaction across distance and interactions helped them to feel the sense of co-presence.. But – touring empty classrooms – or even classrooms with people in it – still meant they were outsiders. I wanted to provide a learning environments ABOUT immersive environments by immersing learners in one. I got a green light on this concept and asked to build a prototype.
Thee result is ImmersED Estate. Built in OpenSim and hosted on the Reaction Grid. As part of the exploration of a range of virtual world platforms, I came upon OpenSim and was amazed at its potential. However, I still wanted us to use Second Life because of its critical mass of users and assets and because I knew how to use it and had limited time.
I want to explain a bit about Open Sim as a platform and what a grid is – but first a disclaimer. Unlike the LOLcat above, I am NOT from tech support. I'd classify myself as a reasonably cluey end user.
An Application Platform/environment is a framework/base that defines the relationships between and the way in which programs will run. Operating systems and web browsers are examples of software platforms. Open Simulator was derived FROM source code to the SL viewer but is radically different to allow for non-SL styled worlds. Since the source code went out into the wild, OpenSim has apparently deviated quite a lot. I found an article that explains all this better than I could at : http://bit.ly/hjMrv
As part of the exploration of a range of virtual world platforms, I came upon OpenSim and was amazed at its potential. However, I still wanted us to use Second Life because of its critical mass of users and assets and because I knew how to use it and had limited time. My colleagues pushed for a solution that would address the issues facing educators in the field. The need for a service/platform that would span the teen/early 20s age bracket of the Vocational Education and Training and highschool transitions cohort Not tied to a single hosting provider – as jurisdictions require that student work be stored on their servers. Something that could potentially overcome the bandwidth issues Affordable so that the digital divide doesn't widen And if possible, free and open source. Open sim ticked all those boxes – and was similar enough to Second Life that there was no learning curve for me – or so I thought!
A grid is an instance of a virtual world platform. As described before, OpenSim can be hosted on a public server, you can get your own server or even run it on your computer. ReactionGrid is a hosting company based in Florida but with support staff in the UK and Germany. It has around 218 regions and 4200 users. I chose it because it is dedicated to being PG/PG 13 rated and focuses on being a place where educators, artists and small businesses can experiment. Companies like MS and Intel work with Reaction Grid. Another good sign. Owner Kyle Gomboy says education a market of interest, his goal not to be a hosting service but to support others. Could get a WHOLE island for $25 per month!
My original concept was to build a learning trail, to harness what games do well. Lots of quick wins, build skills and confidence, etc. Participants would learn more and more about how to do things in virtual worlds. This, I thought, might inspire them to try out virtual worlds in their teaching once they felt comfy.
Why I scrapped that concept: People need to be motivated to learn how to do something. I was giving them no real reason to learn about virtual worlds. That concept didn't answer the question WHY?
The new concept puts, I hope, the reason why at the forefront. The sim is an attempt to showcase the affordances of virtual worlds by creating learning activities to allow educators to experience them. The activities don't focus on preparing participants for proficiency in virtual worlds. The how-tos are available on a need to know basis.
So here is a rough mud map of the island and the activities. The primary considerations were immersion, interaction, accessibility and support tools that were immediate and relevant. The island consists of a mix of resources and activities. All are available for educators to use with a colleague and/or use with learners.
The welcome centre is the home page. It has an overview of all the activities and direct links to them. There is also an events board and an area for meeting. The first floor has a N00bies area that houses all the support materials from the activity areas. But these materials are also available at the site of the activities. It also has a customer service agent alert, so people can engage with us right away. And I've used avatars to act as amabassadors.
Okay, a quick sidebar on our customer service avatars. My organisation owns all of the intellectual property I create for them. Thus they own everything I've created for them on ImmersED estate and the topography of the island itself. What they don't own is my avatar, profile, network and reputation. If I were to leave the organisation and my avatar were the main representative, that would leave a hole. I'm not giving Pandora away, she has been an extension of me since 2006. And I was in Open Sim first. Tessie – short for Tesla Tester graduated from my test avatar to a customer service av/male model to provide a generic avvie for us to use. How does your organisation deal with these issues?
The resource centre has informational posters, self-run slide shows and a video on research around the use of virtual worlds in education. But it also has the ability for visitors to provide feedback. We have a suggestion box for long-form feedback and a graffiti board for quips. The first floor has freebies of all the items I've created for the island and know that I can safely give away. Future content will include links to other educational sims on ReactionGrid and case studies.
The good stuff – the first activity. Role play is one of the most effective uses of a virtual world in my opinion – second only to PD events like we're experiencing this weekend. It provides that sense of co-presence that web conferences can't provide It allows you to create a customised, immersive environment for little to no cost It can mediate what can be a daunting experience. There are several instances where using virtual worlds for roleplay have actually been found to be MORE effective than in real life – including teacher PD, shyer students or complicated activities that can't be reproduced well in a classroom I decided on a scenario involving a job interview in an office setting because although we provide a fictitious company and job Participants could substitute a real company and job and still use the rest of our resources
The role play area includes a place for participants to get a complete avatar and learn how to customise their look.
I worked with the career professionals at the myfuture.edu.au service For the interviewer, they provided questions but more importantly – the rationale behind the questions. As well, they provided links for interviewers who want to learn more about interviewing well. For job searchers they provide an excellent overview of the search process and links to tutorials. We also provide the fictitious job and I created a ficititous company with web site.
The office provides an immersive environment specific to the role play. The interview can take place at the main desk or sofas to the side. The back wall is solid on the inside, but transparent from the other should users wish to record machinima. It is my hope that this activity will allow educators to: “get” virtual worlds for role play, experience the sense of co-presence they offer, understand that environments in a virtual world can be customised to their unique needs feel the immersion
The 3D Safari activity asks participants to put knowledge into action by analysing educational sims with a partner. They are given notecards with Landmarks and some questions to answer. They are asked to enlist an interested colleague – preferably not in the same building. Visit three sims, answer the thought-starter questions, take photos, submit your answers.
The just in time poster tutorials are on site as well as available via our supporting Moodle web site. I hope that this activity will provide participants with: The opportunity to put information about virtual worlds to the test by actively analysing implementations The chance to connect with a simulation relevant to their teaching practice Exposure to the mad and wonderful variety of ways people create educational environments The sense of co-presence that exploring with another gives to distance learners Please test it and let me know what you think.
Next release is the 21 st Century learning space Concept is to get two teams – one of teachers, one of students Each team builds their “ideal” learning space Did some searching on the web and found a web site by Irish middle school students with their ideas. A swimming pool, dance floor and games are a few of their ideas. I'm looking for more from learners aged 12 to 16. My email is email@example.com
How many of you know what the Simulation-Linked, Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment or SLOODLE is? Free, open source project that links Second Life with Moodle. They have an island on ReactionGrid (another reason for me to choose it) and are working on it working with OpenSim. Activities done in-world can feed back into the Moodle interface – assignment drop notifications, chat, quizzes/assessment. If you'd like to come play with it in Reaction Grid, let me know. In Second Life – Fire Centaur is your man for SLOODLE.
It isn't all beer and skittles when it comes to using pre-Beta environments The challenges were and remain around the lack of assets available to me The stability and performance of the platform And rich media performance.
The opportunities for educators and us as an organisation are The Flexibility when it comes to hosting The fact that we can help overcome a major barrier for remote schools and schools with bandwidth issues The ability to customise access and functionality The affordability it's hard to beat FREE if you host it yourself or $25 per month for a supported island of your own
Our support site is built in a multi-user instance of Moodle and is located at htpt://immersed.net.au All the learning materials, overviews of the activities, resource centre research links are there. It's designed for all users of the island. All materials are free to view. If people want to join – it's free and gives them rights to add to the wikis and participate in the forums. To follow the ImmersED project on Twitter, we're immersednetau I also blog about it on my company blog - http://blogs.educationau.edu.au
ImmersED in virtual worlds
Virtual worlds for education: ImmersED KerryJ / Pandora Kurrajong
Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand. Chinese Proverb
From Flickr “ the boy on the bike” http://bit.ly/ctb5J3 CC (by) (nc) (sa) http://bit.ly/UMa9
What is OpenSim? Application Platform/Environment: a framework for software programs to run i.e. Apache Server, computer OS Derived FROM source code to Second Life's viewer but radically different internally to allow for non-SL style worlds. Open Source and in pre-Beta stage http://bit.ly/hjMrv
Why OpenSim? Flexibility FOSS Affordability Australian educational jurisdiction policy Accessibility issues Vocational education / highschool transition age boundaries
What is a grid? Why Reaction Grid? http://reactiongrid.com
The original concept Immersive learning Progressively more sophisticated activities Build skills, build confidence Encourage trials, use A “Learning Trail”
The original concept Immersive learning Progressively more sophisticated activities Build skills, build confidence Encourage trials, use A “Learning Trail” Answering the wrong questions!
What would it look like? What would it have in it? </li></ul>
Challenges Assets Limited portability even with Second Inventory & Meerkat Scripts do not behave the same Not a critical mass of creators – had to build from scratch Intellectual property/copyright as a government-owned agency No in-world economy on ReactionGrid Platform stability/reliability Has improved immensely since September 2009 Still in pre-Beta release Functionality depends on hosting service back-end Rich media performance Voice just working on my plot but haven't tested it fully Video/audio slows down performance considerably
Opportunities Flexibility Hippo OpenSim browser + OpenSim = mega prims (and they don't crash servers!) Can host yourself, on a LAN, on a computer and even off a USB Can connect to other grids Accessibility Local hosting means bandwidth issues vanish Customisable Hosts can choose to support certain functionality or not Can whitelist your entire grid Can back up and store all your assets locally Affordability Your own 4-island grid can cost as little as $US75 per month Your own island on public grid only $US25 per month on ReactionGrid