immersed in virtual worlds

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Virtual worlds for
education: ImmersED

KerryJ /
Pandora Kurrajong

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.

Tell me and I'll forget;
show me and I may remember;
involve me and I'll understand.

Chinese Proverb

This was my guiding principle:

Tell me and I'll forgetShow me and I may rememberInvolve me and I'll understand.

From the outside in:Getting virtual worlds

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.

ImmersED Estate

ReactionGrid

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.

From Flickrthe boy on the bikehttp://bit.ly/ctb5J3

CC (by) (nc) (sa)http://bit.ly/UMa9

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.

What is OpenSim?

Application Platform/Environment:
a framework for software programs to runi.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

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

Why OpenSim?

Flexibility

FOSS

Affordability

Australian educational jurisdiction policy

Accessibility issues

Vocational education / highschool transition age boundaries

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!

What is a grid? Why Reaction Grid?

http://reactiongrid.com

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!

The original concept

Immersive learningProgressively more sophisticated activitiesBuild skills, build confidenceEncourage trials, use

A Learning Trail

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.

The original concept

Immersive learningProgressively more sophisticated activitiesBuild skills, build confidenceEncourage trials, use

A Learning Trail

Answering the wrong questions!

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?

New concept

Immersive experience

Activities relevant to teaching and learning

Affordances/features of environment supporting,
not lead role

Nuts and bolts on a need to know basis

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.

Welcome centre

Primary considerations:

Immersion AccessibilityInteractionRelevant support

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.

Welcome Centre

Think 2D web home page

Overview, links, events

N00bies area 1st floor

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.

QUICK SIDEBAR:Customer service, IP, identity and the fictitious Mr. Tessie Tester

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 th