Category Archives: New Zealand

To use or not to use…..Viewer 2

I have just read this very interesting post from Sitearm discussing the pros and cons (well pros mostly!) of using Viewer2 with new student users of Second Life.  It certainly gave me food for thought as I reflect on my own experiences of teaching in SL this semester.

Our course this semester was taught partly in RL by me (on campus in the computer lab), partly in SL by a staff member (from a remote location)  and assisted in both places by a third on-campus staff member.  Each of us had our own ‘preferred viewer profile”.

I have yet to make a successful transition to V2.  Apart from early trials I have used it only when I have had no other option and it has not yet become intuitive for me.  I am still at the “where do I find xxxx?” and ‘grrrrr this sidebar!” stage.  A long term user of the old viewer, I eventually moved to Imprudence as I explored OpenSim and began the laborious process of exporting objects from Second Life.  My colleague, like Sitearm, saw the writing on the wall for the old viewers and made a conscious decision to learn and use Viewer 2 from its early days.  Although he also uses other TPVs particularly for exporting to and accessing OpenSim grids, he is an experienced and comfortable user of V2.  Our assistant has only ever used V2!

The students themselves came from two quite different programmes and with different levels of technical ability.  In  addition, some students from the IT degree programme had their own dedicated laptops (on which they have administrator rights) while the others only had access to the institutional computers (unless they downloaded at home on their own personal machines) which were locked down and ran only V2.  Just to complicate the issue a little more, some but not all of the IT students had already used Second Life and had v1.23 or some other TPV installed.

While it was clear that most of the students would be using V2, I chose not to enforce it as the ‘only’ viewer – partly because of my own preferences and partly as we would have no need for the additional functionality – moap for example. So at any time when an inworld class was happening, it was not unusual to have some students using V2,  some using v1.23, some using a different TPV and on occasion some switching from V1.23 on their laptop to V2 on the lab computer depending on what they were trying to achieve in Second Life.

Chaos? Maybe but nothing that seemed too problemmatic.  Yes, I struggled to help some students with basic V2 UI issues and yes, it was sometimes confusing for my remote colleague not knowing which viewer a student was working on but in general, it was a non-issue.  I liked to see the diversity in the classroom with those students who had a choice making their own decisions about what to use for which activity.

In the future?  I think it will depend on the students themselves but as next year’s offering will take us beyond Second Life into other virtual world grids I think I will be looking to have one of the TPVs as our ‘default’.  However, I have realised that I personally should update my V2 skills *sighs – perhaps I will come to love it!

Would love to hear your ‘viewer in the learning environment’ experiences!

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VLENZ is born….

Ever since the last few months of the SLENZ project last year, we have been hoping that we would be able to keep the team together in some way and make good use of all the good things we learnt and the skills we acquired.   Being a group of educators and virtual world enthusiasts scattered throughout New Zealand the obvious way to do that was virtually but we also needed an RL presence that would allow us to chase funding and gather donations.

Virtual Life Education New Zealand more usually known as VLENZ was conceived by the SLENZ team members and supporters as the natural successor to our successful project.  Thanks to the generosity of NMIT, we were able to pay the necessary fees to establish VLENZ Inc as an incorporated society which had its first AGM tonight.  Now the officers are confirmed we can register for charitable status which should be forthcoming in a few weeks.

We knew from the beginning that VLENZ would need to operate primarily within the virtual environment and various changes to the standard incorporated society rules were made to recognise that society members would meet as avatars rather than face to face – quite a challenge! At the AGM which I chaired tonight we needed to ensure that all the records were kept according to our rules,  particularly  those concerning attendance and confirming that the avatar truly represented an RL individual who was a voting VLENZ member. At the same time of course we had to protect the privacy of our avatar members in line with the SL Terms of Service.  I think we achieved it and I am left wondering how many others have been faced with this challenge and what their experiences have been.

But it has been worth it! We now have an officially constituted society  that is committed to exploring, supporting, mentoring, advising New Zealanders on as many aspects of education in MUVEs  as we can manage.  We have a broad skill set, a ton of experience and cartloads of enthusiasm and we are ready to boldly go!  But most of all we share a common sense that the use of multi -user virtual environments will  change forever the ways in which we teach and learn.

A new chapter

My interest in virtual worlds, and education, in them has been seriously re-energised by the happenings in the metaverse over the last few weeks.  As some of you will remember I spent a great deal of time and energy 2007-2009 as an evangelist for the use of virtual worlds to design and create engaging, exciting and useful educational opportunities for tertiary students.  (Bets used to be taken as to whether I could survive a meeting without mentioning Second Life! )

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An opportunity for NZ educators…..

Today saw the issue of a very special request for proposals! Special if you happen to be interested in teaching in Second Life that is, and especially if you are currently teaching in a New Zealand tertiary institution.  The SLENZ project was set up to design, develop, build and pilot learning activities that could add educational value to the experience of NZ tertiary students. In order to do this, the project team needs to work with at lest two groups of NZ tertiary educators, preferably spread across the sector and with access to a reasonable number of students (not too many and not too few!).

Today the SLENZ team issued their call for proposals from educators who would like to work with the development team.  Full details are here .  Realising that there may well be individuals out there with a passion but, as yet, no community, the SLENZ team are happy to help put individuals in touch with each other in the hope of creating a working team.  So if you are interested just get in touch with either Terry Neal (terry.neal@blendedsolutions.co.nz) or with Clare Atkins (clare.atkins@nmit.ac.nz) or of course just leave a comment on this blog and I will get back to you 🙂

John Waugh has also posted about this today on the SLENZ blog.

eFest08

Members of the extended SLENZ team at eFest08

Members of the extended SLENZ team at eFest08

I have just returned from the 2008 eFest conference at SkyCity in Auckland. This conference brings together educators, instructional designers and many others interested in all forms of e-learning and blended learning in New Zealand.

As it was just over a year since Isa Goodman and I presented our thoughts on Second Life for education to eFest07, we spent a little while discussing how far the thinking around education in virtual worlds had come since then.  Delivery of the NMIT island Koru was being eagerly anticipated at the last eFest and there were attendees who were highly sceptical of the value that this might bring to our students.  A year later, our second island has arrived and for the first time we were able to present some real experiences of teaching real students in a real course using a blended approach which combines real and Second Life delivery.  Toddles Lightworker, otherwise known in real life at Todd Cochrane has been demonstrating how this can be done effectively in a first year degree course, and he was able to join us in providing some personal observations on its effectiveness (Thank you Todd!).

While there are still doubters and sceptics within the community, Dr Scott Deiner inspired many with his from the University of Auckland inspired many with his presentation of the build which he has created for the delivery of course material to medical students, both with a simulated Intensive care unit and a sohpisticated HUD driven system to simulate in real time the pressures of an emergency unit.  All members of the SLENZ team, and many in the audience, were inspired by the approach that Scott (otherwise known as Professor Noarlunga or just ‘the Prof’) is taking and the opportunities it creates for possible collaboration not only between medical students but also perhaps between nursing students as well.

Part of the purpose of the presentation was to highlight to interested educators the areas in which our literature review is suggesting that Second Life may add value to student learning and to encourage all to think of ways in which they might be able to contribute to the development of the SLENZ project.  This will be the subject of a separate post over the next few days as the SLENZ team are just about to issue the request for proposals to work with us to develop learning activities to trial in Second Life.

One other bonus of eFest was meeting up with Dr Melanie Middlemiss, who is managing the ONGENS project.  This project is a collaboration between the University of Otago and the the University of Canterbury and is looking to investigate the creation of a virtual grid for New Zealand to support the use of OpenSim.  I have been investigating OpenSim over the last month and will post some of my intitial thoughts later.

So a final thanks to all who contributed to eFest, especially those who took the time to come to our presentations and to talk with us further about the project and Second Life in general.  Great to meet up with some old SL friends (Iphi and DebZee) and also some new ones (Lianna) and some who I am sure will become friends over the next few months!  And thanks to ITPNZ and all other sponsors of eFest and particularly to Amy for making it all happen! You did a grand job!

The SLENZ Project

Well the SLENZ project is finally up and running and is really the main reason why this blog hasn’t been updated for way too long!

The core development team met a few weeks ago to set out the arrangements, understandings, roles and general pattern of the project. It was an inspiring meeting in which we all met for the first time in real life, although we had all met in SL. One major outcome of the meeting was the agreement that we needed an official, impartial communicator – particularly blogger – for the project. Johnnie Wendt’s (aka John Waugh) name came immediately to mind as Isa Goodman and I had known him for a long time in SL and I had had the pleasure of meeting him once for a wonderful coffee in downtown Nelson as he was passing through! John took little persuading to join the team and the SLENZ blog was born, with its first entry on Aug 1st to coincide with the real start of the project.

Work was already underway on gathering and absorbing resources for a major literature review focusing on the pedagogy of virtual worlds as well as on other’s experiences of teaching and studying in that environment. That work is continuing and is proving to be an exciting challenge. As yet there is still little peer reviewed literature on Second Life or virtual worlds and of course what there is, is often very out of date by the time it is published. We have to be careful not to place too much weight on such studies, despite their provenance, just as we have to carefully assess informal literature. At the TELSIG conference, there were some interesting comments from Mark Brown on the rise of the ‘amateur’, particularly through the ease of online publishing, and how dangerous relying on such anecdotal information could be. I am constantly reminded of that admonishment when trawling through the amount of online information about education in Second Life. However, I cannot ignore the fact that a huge number of valuable insights and a large amount of incredibly useful information based on practitioner’s experiences and reflections are contained in these informal publications. While such literature may not be rigorous in the usually accepted sense, we cannot afford to ignore it!

Last week saw the first of the project steering group meetings. It was so encouraging to know that we had such a supportive and friendly governance group. Drawing together senior managers from 4 ITPs (Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics), the TEC (Tertiary Education Commission) and 2 of NZ’s biggest corporate presences (IBM and Telecom) and with a link to the University of Canterbury – this is a group of people who know what they are talking about! It is going to be fun working with them!

TELSIG – 2008

I am currently attending the Tertiary Education Libraries Special Interest Group’s (TELSIG) biennial meeting In Palmerston North – once again, a friendly interesting conference with some very interesting speakers, particularly Ass Prof Mark Brown of Massey University views on emerging trends in eLearning and some useful information on such things as recent developments in NZ copyright law and institutional repositories.

Not a conference that I would usually have attended but one where I had been invited to coordinate to session on Second Life in education and its potential for libraries in particular. Having been given a 2 hour session, we managed (with valuable assistance from Tim Darlington and Rob Mooar – thanks guys!) to create a truly inter-world presentation!

I provided a short overview of Second Life using in a standard form (i.e. powerpoints and speaking to the RL audience) but then it got interesting! Having mentioned the value of real time interaction, we were able to move almost seamlessly to Jo Kay in Sydney or rather to Jokay Wollongong on Jokaydia in Second Life. With the assistance of Timothy Greig‘s avatar Aramis Maginot, we were able to project Jokay on to the screen while she showed us around the Jokaydia islands, talked to the audience about what we were seeing, and answer questions put directly to her. Impressive technology indeed!

We then moved to Emerald Gerant (in real life Kathryn Greenhill of Murdoch University in Australia) for an insight into libraries in Second Life and for a quick view of what Murdoch are doing. The audience was also treated to a little view of themselves as Timothy had taken a photo of the conference which he then uploaded to SL and which Kathryn then used to decorate a cube which revolved beside her as she was speaking! She had also arranged for her webcam view to be projected into Second Life – cool!

At the end of her talk, Emerald then teleported to Koru where Aramis Maginot was waiting to present his slides both to an inworld and a real world audience while Timothy provide the voice over in the conference room transmitted back into Second Life. His talk based on the work from his Master’s thesis was very interesting and hopefully he will find time to give us some help with the SLENZ project.

I finished up with a very short conclusion on the future and our SLENZ project plans. By far and away the most complex technical presentation that I have been involved with, and I am still a little in awe that it worked with so few glitches!

Everyone seemed to have found the presentations interesting and thought provoking and much of the rest of the day and evening was spent answering sl questions! Exactly what I had hoped for!! Sure hope some of you will find your way into SL!!

ICCMSN2008

Conference season has arrived for those of us in New Zealand and it has been my pleasure to be involved with two so far with one more coming up next week.

The first conference on my list was ICCMSN2008 (International Conference on Computer Mediated Social Networking) held at the University of Otago, in Dunedin – a friendly stimulating conference and even the weather behaved!.  Others have blogged in more detail about the conference itself and a number of resources from the conference are available, including the slides of my presentation and thoughts for the panel on Online Identity. The conference organisers are intending to bring everything together from the conference website soon.

For me it was a very stimulating conference and a very useful networking opportunity.  I wasn’t able to attend all the sessions as I often found myself involved in long conversations with people instead.  It was such a pleasure to hear the opening address by Martin Purvis and to re-make contact with him.  I am certainly hoping that we will be able to provide support to each other in our investigations of virtual world environments.

It was also a highlight to meet Malcolm Shore of Telecom NZ and University of Canterbury.  One very  productive conversation lasted two hours and we are now SL friends! Once again we are both hoping for opportunities to work together in the future in helping to create a NZ virtual community.

It was fascinating to hear about the strengths and weaknesses of LSL (Linden Scripting Language) from Robert Cox and Patricia Crowther of the University of Canberra.  There are too few LSL experts down-under! Wonderful to meet them in real life and to have acquired two more interesting, stimulating and helpful SL friends!

I came back buzzing with ideas and am currently still frustrated by not having had the time to really get going with some of them.  Never mind!! Not long now.

Reminder – Sharing Second Life stories

May 16th seems to have come round VERY quickly!

The Kiwi Educators group invites everyone to come and share their Second Life lifestories on Friday May 16th 8pm (NZ time)  (thats May 16th 1.00am PDT) at the Kauri grove on Koru in celebration of the  International
Day for Sharing Life Stories.

We’ll be using Voice chat to share our stories in a storycircle.  Be prepared to speak for no longer than 5 minutes and IM Arwenna Stardust inworld to arrange for the display of any images you would like use to illustrate your story.  With your permission, we’ll record your stories and have them ready to share later.

Even if you prefer just to listen (we’d love an audience!) come and join us!

Live NZ music in SL – NZ Music month begins

Mandosam Carter\'s First SL Performance

What a party! It may not have lasted that long but it was a huge buzz. The first time we managed to stream our own live music from Nelson, New Zealand into the Kauri grove on Koru. (OK nothing new for SL but new for us!).  The occasion was a surprise Kiwi Educators party for Isa Goodman’s 2nd rezday (He’s now one of the terrible twos!) and we used it as a reason to finally make the music happen! What a great start to NZ Music month.

Toddles Lightworker kindly lent us the use of his streaming account, Thelonius Ra was the engineer and Mandosam Carter played guitar, mandolin and sang and oh we all danced! A very big thank you to everyone.

We all danced

So will we be doing it again? Oh yes! We have PLANS. We hope to have Mandosam again, other musicians too, and eventually we hope to offer SL as a live performance venue for students on the RL Diploma of Contemporary Music Perfomance here at NMIT. And wouldn’t it be great to be able to offer the winners of the Smokefree RockQuest a gig in SL as one of their prizes? How about it Pete?!

So once again a special thanks to all those who put up with my nagging and made it all happen – it is very much appreciated – and tired though he was I hope Isa liked his little surprise. We wouldn’t be here today without you Isa – so a very BIG thank you to you too!