Tag Archives: Second Life

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.

Wellington Railway Station

Thanks to some exciting and innovative work by my colleague Rollo Kohime (aka as Mike Baker of NMIT’s Visual Arts team), Koru has sprouted a new and rather interesting build over the last few months.

Wellington Railway Station on Koru

Wellington Railway Station on Koru

Mike is currently studying for his Masters in Art and Design, majoring in Dance and Video through the Auckland University of Technology. His project, “In the Company of Strangers” comments on how strangers negotiate the parameters of meetings, exchanges and conversations in urban spaces. The build, which utilises Mike’s own photographs, blog entries, comments, soundscapes and which will include his video, explores this in one urban space, Wellington Railway Station. The effect is mesmerising and highly immersive. Take a trip to Koru to contemplate the existence or not of some of the boundaries between the virtual and the real, and those between strangers. If Rollo is there, he will happily chat to you about his work in progress and he plans to have a more public display of himself working in Second Life during the Nelson Arts Festival.

Wellington raliway Station - Interior

Wellington raliway Station - Interior

Watch this space for more details on this!

or you can visit Mike’s blog for more information or to leave your comments. Below is a SLURL to Mike’s build on Koru: And if you come visiting feel free to look around the rest of the island too, listen to the tuis or the morepork and if you are really lucky you may catch the whale song in the bay. http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/86/77/22

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!


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.

Real time avatars

Over the last month or so I have become aware of initiatives to assist users to create life like or even real time gestures for their avatars. It all seemed like a dream of the distant future – well a couple of years at least! But then I came across this posting from the ACM Tech News today – and it looks as though that distant future is just around the corner!

Avatar Mimics You in Real Time
PhysOrg.com (03/25/08) Zyga, Lisa

A digital avatar capable of mirroring a person’s movements in real time has been developed by researchers at Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, Germany’s Fraunhofer Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, and Israel’s Ben Gurion University. The researchers say the technology opens up new possibilities for touch-free, intuitive human-computer interaction. The prototype system features real-time performance of audio-visual analysis so that the avatar can move immediately. The system’s hardware ingredients are an inexpensive Webcam and a pair of standard headphones, and the system interoperates with a standard PC. Users must wave their hands around at first so the system can identify their skin color, as it depends on recognizing skin color to follow hand and head movements. The system is capable of recognizing a series of 66 parameters that classify facial expression, and there are also high-level facial expressions that users can manually activate with buttons. The system can recognize many basic gestures, including those from the American Sign Language alphabet, by finger position analysis. Future applications include its employment in virtual chat rooms and online call centers, where users are represented by avatars to maintain privacy. In mobile devices the avatar system could function as an interface that promotes user-friendliness.
Click Here to View Full Article

How awesome will this be! except that now everyone will know if I am yawning or dozing off or just staring out the window or doing other things that maybe I shouldn’t! The potential uses seem endless but is it an invasion of our privacy – do I want someone else to know what my real self is doing? It raises all kinds of questions about what we expect our avatar to be and how far it is us and how far it is a fantasy! One part of me is fascinated the other is somewhat wary!

Funding at last!

Well what an exciting couple of days! I heard about 7.45am yesterday that our consortium’s application for funding from the NZ government’s Encouraging and Supporting Innovation fund had been successful! With around NZ$500,000, it will allow us to devote some real resource to exploring and developing education and education resources in Second Life.  The consortium is made up of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology, Otago Polytechnic, The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand and Wellington Institute of Technology and IBM are giving us their support too.

Our current plans include a research report looking at the pedagogy of immersive environments, the identification and building of two learning activities designed to take best advantage of SL, the introduction of educators to Second Life and assistance for them to effectively teach there, the piloting and evaluation of the learning activities with students by these educators. Ambitious? You bet! It’s going to be a busy 18 months I think but hopefully we should learn a huge amount and be able to pass on a number of tips on what to do (and what not to do!).

Part of the project too is to extend and maintain a community of practice for NZ educators and both Koru and the Kiwi Educators group will be big players in that. Watch out for news of events happening soon.

Sharing Second Life life stories

Just had a neat Kiwi Eds session on Koru tonight. Iphi came to talk to us about International Day for Sharing Life Stories and how we might play a role in Second Life. Those of us there thought it would be a great idea to use Koru for a two hour (perhaps) session. The day is on May 16th and we will use this blog posting to gather some of the ideas on what we might do – so if you have any ideas – please comment!

This is from the the blogsite that Iphi told us about:

“The Museum of the Person International Network (Brazil, Portugal, USA and Canada) and the Center for Digital Storytelling (USA) have announced Listen! – International Day for Sharing Life Stories, an international celebration of life stories to take place on May 16th 2008. They are launching the project website, www.ausculti.org to assist with information sharing and coordination of the campaign. The goal of the campaign is to gain broad recognition of May 16 as an annual day for sharing, listening to, and gathering the stories of people’s lives.”

We wondered whether it would be fun to have part (or all ) of the session on Second Life life stories – what do you think? And would you be prepared to share a story of your life (second or first?) let me know so that we can think about some planning!

SL Core Competencies

One of the things that has puzzled me for sometime is how people with little knowledge of SL can contemplate bringing students into SL and doing anything useful with them.  I found that it took me some time to ‘learn the world’ before I felt I was ready to start coping with helping others!  I wrote about this (and other early impressions of Second Life) in an invited paper for the Bulletin of Applied Computing and Information Technology (BACIT) last year.   So it always amazes me when someone posts a request for basic assistance on the SLED list,  for example how to open a box in SL, and yet believes that they will be able to function as a teacher in SL.  (I don’t mean that there is anything wrong with not knowing how to open a box or move an object around, we all have to learn these things, – only that you HAVE to know those things before you even think about teaching there!).

So when I came across the Second Life Core Competencies Framework being put together by Chris Eggplant over at EducationUK (RL Chris Swaine), I got quite excited and I have been using it as a an informal list of things that people need to know at different times.  The framework has three levels and is described in the document like this (for practitioner read educator, as that is the context):

  Education in Second Life requires the acquisition of three sets of skills:

  1. A set of core skills / competencies to become an effective SL resident.

  1. To be an effective learner requires the resident core skills, plus a further set of skills / competencies which would enable the use of tools and functionality to support their learning within Second Life.

  1. To become an effective practitioner requires both resident and learner core skills, plus a further set of skills to enable them to identify and setup tools, as well as using appropriate and pedagogically sound approaches to learning and teaching, which support the personalisation of learning. “

A group of interested educators who felt this was a worthwhile project have helped to create a list of the required skills which can be found here (I hope! You may need to register with the EducationUK site to access the pdf.)

I have found this to be a very useful list and I would love to hear what others think.  Unfortunately I can’t find any further work that has been done on this but I will keep looking.  It is a framework that I think we could usefully adopt in our BIG Second Life project that might happen next semester (if we are successful in getting our funding! more later!).

An interesting (and local) conference

I became aware today of a conference being hosted by the University of Otago in June 2008 which I thought might be of interest to a number of people.  It is the International Conference on Computer Mediated Social Networking  (more details here) and in the call for papers they say this (among other things!)….

“An important new platform technology where all these developments come together and which has inspired many expert observers is that of the new virtual environments, such as Second Life and There, which enable people to meet and engage in virtual, three-dimensional social interactions. The future of SNS will certainly be played out on these platforms, and their scalability can only be tested presently on high speed networks.”

Unfortunately paper submission closes on March 9th and I don’t think I will have anything ready in time for that, but nevertheless I am going to try to attend, if only to network with another (mainly university I expect) community that is interested in virtual environments for education.

Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, for a conference in this area there doesn’t appear to be any intention to use Web2.o to broadcast the conference out beyond those who are physically attending! But maybe I’ve missed the information *grins*.

In the Neighbourhood

Late last night, dancing with Isa Goodman on Koru and catching up with each other on the week’s news and happenings, an interesting phenomenon developed – a neighbourly meeting!

Isa and I have adjoining parcels of land on the mainland, even though we mostly seem to meet up on Koru, and both of them are primarily gardens. In Isa’s case a quiet place to get away from things and in my case a large public garden that is visited and enjoyed by a wide variety of avatars, some of whom have become good friends. The existence of a large garden area appears to be an attractor to other garden builders and three of these neighbours, Zotarah Shepherd, Drongle Macmohan and Myah Juran all happened to be online at the same time – a relatively rare occurence. The three of them joined Isa and I on Koru and we exchanged neighbourly news and concerns as we all danced!

It was the first time that I had felt a different sense of community in Second Life. I have long felt at home in the virtual community of educators both on Koru and in other educational sims but here were 5 RL individuals, most of whom would never have met even in SL if not for being virtual neighbours. Over the past months we have offered each other support of various kinds and it was a pleasure to introduce Myah our newest neighbour to the others. We didn’t dance for long but it was surprisingly reassuring to know that we have a neighborhood in which we belong.

It reminded me to the PhD research that a NZ student, Archmunster Toll, is doing into how far the concept of nationhood extends into Second Life. His survey questions including several that ask after your sense of ‘belonging’ to the region that you have as your SL home. I was a little flummoxed when I saw the questions a month or so ago but I have finally begun to realise that I DO feel a sense of neighbourly community with other land owners in my home regions and that I have developed some pride that the sim and its surrounds are developing in a way that I find not only friendly but aesthetically tasteful too.

How long before someone designs us a flag and how will we feel about interlopers then !