Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Second Life for Augmented Reality - Wow!

Just when I think I have a clue about what's happening with technology, I see something like this and realize I have no idea how technology will change our lives in the next 5-10 years.

For more info on this research project visit AR Second Life.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Sun Microsystem’s Project Wonderland and Immersive Education

The event was packed and many educators, myself included, could not get in to Sun's build for this launch. Instead SL sent us to nearby regions. A bunch of us from the Immersive Education Group, were sending IMs to each other trying to figure out ways to fly around and get in some other way. Someone who was able to get in was sending IMs back to us with a play by play account of what was taking place. Kind of like a twitter event feed, and it was definitely better than nothing. I didn't give up though and every five minutes I tried the slurl to the event again. Five minutes before the end of the event, I got in. It was so packed, and so much lag, that I could barely move, but managed to get this snapshot taken.

Here is a link to a good blog post on VirtuED from someone who made it in and was able to then go into Project Wonderland. This post includes snapshots in Project Wonderland so you can get a good idea of what it looks like as well as links to important info.

I'll be following this as it develops, and will eventually post my own thoughts once I have time to check it out further.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Education Grid launches with Project Wonderland in Second Life

Here is a link to the SLED (second life educator's) calendar event for this meeting in Second Life tomorrow (Fri. 6/20/08). Click on the link for the 1:00 PST event listed there and you will also find the slurl to directly teleport to the event. If you are seriously interested in attending, I would get in a minimum of 15 minutes early, maybe earlier.

For those who are interested in knowing more about Project Wonderland (scroll down to see some good videos & articles on this) - My friend Topher has done an excellent job of providing background info on Project Wonderland on a recent post on his MUVE Forward blog. He also provides a comparison of SL/Project Wonderland. Thanks, Topher/Chris!

Hope to see you in-world at this event tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Another Innovative Educator in Second Life

Steve Dembo is a genius. I won't go into detail about what he did, I'll simply link to his blog post titled, "Cell phone + Web cam + Second Life = Magic" and you can read his explanation and judge for yourself. More of a proof of concept at this point, but it's apparent it can be done and should only get easier.

If you're an educator who has spent much time in Second Life (SL) you'll quickly see the value. As the distance services librarian at my university, I can tell you that the ability to do what Steve accomplished is critical for those of us using SL to work with distance ed students.

IMO, Linden Labs (the company behind Second Life), should pay him for what he came up with, or maybe hire him.

This is another example of the incredible innovation taking place in SL and virtual worlds in general, much of it being lead by educators. It will only get better.

Monday, June 16, 2008

About My Second Life Avatar Gender Identity

My avatar's gender in Second Life (SL) is male. I look to be in my twenties and my skin is blue. In real life (RL) I am female, caucasian, and a baby boomer. But I didn't start out with a male avatar in SL, I started as a female. So what happened? And why do I remain a male avatar?

My first avatar was a large overweight female (I had not even considered making it male, though I did think about possibly being a furry (animal like avatars). I made myself large because I had seen videos of anorexic and voluptuous looking female avatars and was not interested in being either. Within my first three months of joining SL, and after spending little time in-world, my female avatar had run into two rather negative incidents. (Note: This was before the advent of private orientation islands, where new SL residents currently can be more safely oriented in SL.)

Simply put, one incident was verbal rudeness from a female avatar and the other incident involved being physically accosted by two creature type characters. Neither incident was major, but they both bothered me. After the second incident, I wondered to myself whether they would have occurred had I been a male avatar. Would I have been treated differently if my avatar's gender was male? This lead me to experimenting with my avatar's gender. What took place after participating in SL as a male avatar (or my perception of that) has led me to remain that way, at least for now.

In my opinion, from my experience thus far, a male avatar is no safer from griefers than a female. But I discovered something along the way during this experiment as a male that I had not anticipated. I began to feel that I was being listened to and treated differently. That what I had to say meant more than it did as a female. I have no data to prove this, it's only a feeling, but as someone who has been around a good many years in a female form, it's a very strong feeling. And since I've never taken on a male identity before in RL or SL, it is unlike anything I've experienced.

A little background on my RL female identity: I am and always have been a bit on the ADHD side (some may say more than a bit). I personally see this as an asset, but the benefits are not apparent to all. One thing I have always had to work on is listening and waiting my turn, especially if I feel passionate about something. As a youngster I was told that my behavior was not appropriate, and at times I was told it "was not lady like." I still remember wondering what exactly that meant.

As a male avatar I have attended and participated in many events - presentations, discussions, and classes in SL (I must admit here that I did little of this as a female in SL. My comparison is more with my RL experiences as a female vs. my SL experience as a male).

At first I just listened and did not participate at all. I had a lot to learn still about SL and about how people interacted in-world. Slowly I began to participate. A question here and there, a comment now and then. Some would bring no response, but others would cause avatars around me to comment or ask me questions. I remember how at first I found that surprising and how, eventually, I began to feel that I had something to say that was worth hearing to some. Eventually I began to receive private IM requests from others to help or to become involved, and even to take the lead in some situations.

This felt foreign to me. It was around this time that I began to feel that I was experiencing things differently and felt it was connected to my avatar being male. And as I began to develop relationships with some of the RL people behind the avatars, I felt more sure than ever that I was being treated differently. With males, I sensed that we were on a more level playing field, there seemed to be a new level of camaraderie, and maybe more respect. With females, I sensed greater acceptance.

I know I have used the words felt or feel a number of times. I know I could be completely wrong in my analyses here. But I know how I feel, and whether my perceptions are skewed or not doesn't really matter.

Posting this info here is partly an attempt to fully disclose my RL self to some in SL whom I have come to know and respect. To attempt to make amends perhaps. I have met some wonderful RL people in SL. Very helpful, smart, and kind people. I never meant to be dishonest about my identity, and I apologize to any reading this who felt I was. I will be linking to this post from my SL profile, under my 1st Life tab, where I also uploaded a RL photo of myself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Virtual Worlds About To Explode?!

I ran across something new recently. I've been having trouble believing some of the stats out there on virtual worlds (VW), especially those that show users close to a billion in the near future. Partly it has to do with the definition of VWs.

Check out ExitReality. (Note: if you have a mac computer you will be disappointed to learn that you currently can not run this on a mac.) Take a look at the sites that ExitReality is currently compatible with. I have a mac so could not run this yet on a computer, but I was able to find some flickr screenshots on this as well as what's found on the ExitReality site.

The reason this is of interest to me is because I have been wondering how VWs were going to hit the mainstream. Until I saw ExitReality, I figured the numbers would grow from the growing gaming/virtual world maket. The virtual worlds for kids market is projected to see especially strong growth.

If ExitReality takes off with facebook, bebo, MySpace, etc. users, virtual world user numbers will explode. Or will they? Could new technologies like this, which the ExitReality site calls an "enhanced 3D, multi-user, immersive messaging environment" end up taking away from the heavy duty VWs like SL? Or will VWs become more like these 3D environments. Sort of a Second Life lite version, without all the crashes and steep learning curve? Time will tell.

The other 3D technology I recently discovered is weblin (again, not yet with a mac, though you can visit sites where other weblin avatars are hanging out using weblin lite). Or check out this short YouTube demo. I'm less sure about this, but the fact that one can have their avatar on any website where you meet and interact with other avatars is fascinating to me. I really just discovered this one last night and went from the weblin site to YouTube and watched the weblins hanging out there. I was pretty amazed. Again, I'm talking about this in the context of virtual worlds/avatars (3D) entering the mainstream and eventually becoming ubiquitous.

On the Second Life Educator's Listserve (SLED), there have been more postings recently on interoperability amongst virtual worlds. This will be important for growth in the true VWs. After looking at ExitReality and weblin, I pictured my SL avatar teleporting from SL to Wonderland to Croquet, and maybe sooner than I thought.

What do you think? Are these fads that will disappear? Is this a trend that's here to stay and can we expect even more surprises related to virtual worlds and 3D environments in the near future? I believe we will see some amazing things. I'm not at all sure what virtual worlds (3D) will look like or how they will work in the future, but I believe they are here to some form or another.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reflection: An Academic Librarian - Leading My First Discussion In Second Life

This post is a reflection on my experience leading a discussion on InfoLit Island in Second Life (SL). Here is my original post: "An Academic Librarian-Leading My First Discussion In Second Life."

All in all, the discussion went well. It was well attended and I received positive feedback. Most valuable to me was what I learned from the experience. I had already attended a number of events and discussions in SL so I was familiar with the chat discussion format. I found that attending/participating in a dicussion and leading a discussion using chat are very different experiences. I found it both challenging and rewarding.

I knew I couldn't fully prepare because you never know what will happen in SL. Sometimes there are technical issues (and a couple of attendees did crash during my discussion). And sometimes people show up in the middle of a discussion and want to know what is being discussed (that happened too). But usually there are core folks who attend because they are interested in the topic and really want to learn something. You have an opportunity to share what you know and to learn from others who attend.

So how did I prepare? Well I spent more time than I want to admit researching the main tool I would discuss, the Sloog HUD (an in-world social bookmarking tool much like I also spent a fair amount of time looking into the Salamander HUD.

Next, I created my notecard in SL and sent that on to Sheila Webber, the island owner, so she could set up the poster, etc. in the building where we would meet (the notecard is what the attendees receive when they touch the poster and is all about the topic I chose titled, "Expanding/Enhancing Information Literacy Using In-World Tools.").

I then wrote some notes that I would share with those who attended using Google docs so that I could copy and paste into the chat text field as I lead the discussion. I figured that would help things move along a little smoother. And it did, but it also hindered some as I had to be sure to keep track of where I was in my notes and keep track of the questions people were asking, and greeting people who arrived late and so forth. I also thought the notes would help me to stay on topic, and they did serve that purpose, though with discussions of this type you also have to follow the attendee questions to a degree. And that's not as easy as one might think.

One of the main problems I had was that I rushed things. I was concerned about not covering everything. I really wish I had allowed more time for people to continue writing where they were from and for questions and input from the attendees.

The biggest mistake I made had to do with timing as well. After about 25 min. into the 1 hr. disucssion, I asked whether the group would like to walk outside to get one of these tools themselves from the vend machines I had brought. I was excited about having them do this (it's always fun to get free things in SL), and I still think it was a great idea, but I really wish I had continued for 20 more minutes and then at the end offered them an opportunity to get a free Sloog and Salamander HUD. It was tricky to get everyone back in the building. I should have known better because if you gave me a new tool in the middle of anything, I too would be playing with it the rest of the time.

Once folks were back in, the questions had a lot to do with how the HUDs worked. This information was included in the help notecard that comes with the HUDs, but of course most had not had time yet to read those. So anyway, I did not really get to cover as much as I would have if I had waited until the end to share the tools.

So now I know I would do some things differently if I ever lead a discussion again. And I also feel I gained confidence in leading this way. The more time I spend in SL actually doing things, the more confident I feel. Even non-techie folk like myself can lead in virtual worlds. It's really a matter of being willing to spend the time to learn how things work. And a willingness to take risks, and maybe make a fool of yourself at times helps. I found that since I could hide a little behind my avatar, that it wasn't quite as nerve wracking as giving a presentation to a group in real life. But it was close. And I feel like I gained confidence through this experience that will help me with real life presentations as well.

Here is a link to the chatlog (transcript) of the discussion. Here is a link to Sheila's blog "Adventures of Yoshikawa" post on my discussion (check out her whole blog by clicking on the home link towards the bottom). A copy of the notecard as a pdf that was handed out from the poster can be found here as well, along with a slurl link to her InfoLit Island in SL (in case you want to visit). This one also contains some good snapshots of the event. I was too busy to take any myself that day. Though I will include one here I took the night before while getting ready.

And here is a link to the Information Literacy Weblog post on my discussion, that Sheils Webber co-authors along with Stuart Boon. I so appreciate all Sheila's hard work in providing a venue for discussions on her island. I've learned a lot from her and recommend her information literacy discussions to all.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Skeptical Educator? Second Life & Education

“Inside the Lab” Podcast, a Discussion on Education in Second Life" (transcript incl)

I know a lot of educators who are skeptical about Second Life (SL) and virtual worlds (VW) in general. And rightly so. I was one such educator, and I know how the skeptics think. And I still tend to watch with a critical eye as virtual worlds are sprouting from everywhere now, and educational uses of these worlds continue to develop.

VWs like SL are still in the early stages of development, and the technologies being used are newer, so there are tech problems and challenges, which can be frustrating.

Having said that, I have spent enough time, and participated in enough discussions and classes in SL to say that I am convinced virtual worlds are here to stay. And educators as a group are contributing in some of the most innovative ways.

Lastly, I will say this - if you're an educator wondering about SL, I would recommend you take a look at the link I've included above. I would listen to that just released podcast and/or take a look at the transcript (you can get the links to sites that way).

But I wouldn't stop there. I highly recommend you create a Second Life account and then spend some time there, (20-30 hrs. minimum attending educ. events, classes, tutorials, networking, etc.), and then judge for yourself. That part is key. One can not fully understand how teaching and learning in SL is very different from other online forms of teaching/learning without experiencing it yourself. I am more convinced than ever that it is just not possible any other way.