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Ken Kahn :: Blog :: Eduserv Foundation Symposium “Virtual Worlds, real learning?”

May 14, 2007

Last Thursday I attended the "Virtual Worlds, real learning?" symposium.  



This conference was a good mix of people interested in Second Life and learning. I missed the first two presentations (unfortunately one was by Jim Purbrick of Linden Lab – but I talked to him during several of the breaks) and the other was what IBM is doing in Second Life. I found out from Jim that our plans for building a web site where you can build models and then export them into Second Life were feasible and unlike any efforts he knew of. I learned of their plans to make scripting in Second Life rely upon the common language runtime -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Language_Runtime -- enabling one to write Second Life script in any of hundreds of different languages. Unfortunately he said he didn’t expect it to be running a year from now – it’ll take longer. He told me about the new physics engine (Havok 4) and how many don’t use physics at all but those that do will appreciate the new engine.


I heard Hamish Macleod talk about the island that the University of Edinburgh has built. It seems this effort was partially a continuation of earlier web-based efforts to support virtual field trips. They tried to make their island (Holyrood Park) playful: e.g., students sitting on logs around a campfire rather than a more conventional university campus setting.


My favourite talk was by Joanna Scott of Nature Publishing Group (the publisher of Nature). She is in the group that is involved in everything but the journals. They started by meeting in Second Life and it was a disaster since they were all too new to Second Life. But they saw the potential and kept with it. They bought an island named Second Nature to explore enhanced 3D visualisation, rapid development, communication and presence. An early success was M4 that could visualise any molecule (and would automatically query the web for technical details as needed). They also commissioned a virtual cell based upon an article they published on a simulated cell. The problem they discovered was that the real model needed about a thousand times more prims (primitive elements) than is currently feasible in Second Life. They built a virtual exhibit on “ideal knots” (based upon another Nature article) that was well-suited for the resolution constraints. They then focussed more on opening it up to contributions from scientists and mathematicians. Blue Obelisk Cemetery was created by a chemistry researcher that involves a social interactive quiz. Another contributed a “gallery of human chromosomes”. A eukaryote cell was constructed that you can walk inside of. They have a translating pavilion for people to meet that don’t have a language in common. There are currently efforts to simulate reacting molecules in Second Life. They are hosting Terminus, an a-life area, which is for research as opposed to education (which is the focus of the other examples). They are going to be hosting events by authors of popular science books.


I didn’t get much from the next talk by Gilly Salmon of the University of Leicester.  Stephen Downes from the National Research Council of Canada gave a sceptics view of all this that was basically that nothing was really new here, it is over-hyped (probably true), and we should be wary of building upon a commercial platform.


The panel discussion followed had a few nice bits:

  • It is now news if the same thing happens in Second Life that happens in Real Life. Need to focus on stuff that can only happen in a virtual world – Jim Purbrick, Linden Lab
  • For distance workers [and distance learners?] it is significantly better than instant messaging – Roo Reynolds, IBM
  • Not new but all pieces work together and are accessible – Hugh Denard, King’s College
  • Value is the way elements mix together – Joanna Scott, Nature

Overview for Keywords: Eduserv, Real Learning, Second Life, Second Nature

Blogs with Keywords: Eduserv, Real Learning, Second Life, Second Nature

Posted by Ken Kahn


  1. It certainly was an interesting day. The parrallel session in SL also seemed to be of value.

    David WhiteDavid White on Monday, 14 May 2007, 15:46 UTC # |

  2. Hi Ken,

    Thanks very much for an interesting report from the conference. I've posted elsewhere in here about a more collaborative and coordinated application(s) of Second Life but here maybe I might say something different.

    The current flavour of the time is user-generated content and another is social networking. To have a core team produce a highly complex object is useful and much learning may well come of it. It does however seem a huge undertaking for what may be achievable in other ways. Maybe we don't know until we try.

    So what might user generated content etc look like in Second Life. Well certainly there is all the building and trading that emerges in there. That's a lot of exchanging and collaboration. Another more interesting thing is geo-tagging. This is already a biggie in the general (whatever that means) networked world but newish to immersive environments. However, it is now beggining to happen in Second Life. What does this mean?

    Well for example it is possible for people to annotate the place(s) in there. This can happen in different media (if it can't be just yet it will be available very soon -haven't looked recently). So, a learning applicaiton might be to go around there and produce a trail of items you think belong to a category of some sort; it might be to create a soundscape in there; it could be to label instances of something in there; and other possibilities.

    This geo-tagging facility is already common in google-map based applications as you probably know but is newly arrived to Second Life (there a bit behind the run of things maybe). It does however bring new games and new learning - both science and arts into view. This also gives rise to all the potential applications of tagging so popular in things like delicious too!


    Nick Bowskill

    Freelance elearning Worker




    Nicholas BowskillNicholas Bowskill on Monday, 14 May 2007, 19:41 UTC # |

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