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Eduserv Symposium 2007: Virtual Worlds, Real Learning?

This Thursday I attended the Eduserv Foundation Symposium: Virtual worlds, real learning? through Second Life. I registered early enough to get a sit at the Eduserv Island, and I must say I had a great time listening to all the presentations. It was quite a long event, so I’ve got quite some notes to share :)

First I’d like to say a few words about how the event was delivered and organized. The quality of the video and audio stream was in my opinion very good. Both the video and audio worked perfectly through the event. We had a few problems with video at the beginning, but a quick log out and log in fixed it for most of us. I especially liked the fact that there was a live streaming of the presenters’ desktop - all the presentations in SL that I’ve attended so far had slides preloaded as images in SL, and although the quality of the slides was excellent when loaded, it does take a while to load the image, you also have avatars touching the screen all the time, and often the slides aren’t in sync with the presenter’s talk. So from my personal view streaming the presenters’ desktop was definitely a great idea despite the fact that the image wasn’t crystal clear. But I liked the fact that we were able to see the same image the audience in RL saw (including websites and computer alerts ;) ), and the fact that the slides were completely in sync with the presenter. During the presentations we also had a smaller frame on screen with the presenter’s face, which was a nice feature. If we also had the RL audience on another screen I’d give the technical part of the streaming an A+, so without that they deserve “just” a good A :)

A great feature of the SL event was the participant registration. Those that registered early were put on the Eduserv Island attendance list, so there was no need to worry about losing your sit in case you had to log out and log in back to solve technical issues. Definitely a great idea!

Also, I really liked the fact that they prepared free delegate bags in SL, which included a free T-shirt, the event schedule, and speaker details. That definitely made me feel welcome, although the lunch and tea breaks were quite boring for us (the SL attendees) as there was no virtual tea party or lunch organized ;) But anyway, overall I really enjoyed the event, and I must say the organizers did a great job, especially considering that this was their first SL event of this kind. (Oh and by the way! It was great to be finally able to attend a SL event during the day - finally an Europe centered schedule ;) )


Of course the reason for attending the virtual symposium wasn’t just the quality of the streaming, but the presentations. Here are some notes of mine for each of the presentation:

  • Learning in Second Life (Jim Purbrick, Linden Lab)
We started the symposium with a pretty elementary presentation of Second Life: what Second Life is and what it can be used for (no mention of casinos though ;) ). Although Jim isn’t an educator, I think he made a good point when presenting the skills needed to create content in Second Life. He pointed out that the skills that people need to create virtual goods aren’t useful just in Second Life, but are much broader digital skills. Still, this presentation was quite business centric, and “branding” was a word we heard quite a few times during this presentation.

The symposium continued with another business-related presentation by IBM. IBM would like to take part in building the 3D internet in which different virtual worlds and formats could connect through standards, and at this moment they are experimenting with different virtual worlds. First, Roo presented how IBM uses Second Life. They have some interesting projects in SL (Australian Open project, Greater IBM Connection etc.), and they also use SL to host virtual meetings (also informal) a couple of times a week, during which people can meet and talk, and create a better digital social and spatial presence. They also see great possibilities for organizing training, medical simulations, rehearsals, conference streaming, doing research and many other areas. However, they don’t want to use SL to talk about confidential informations, so they’ve decided to experiment with their own metaverse project, which can be hosted on own their own servers, behind their firewall and can present some sort of 3D intranet and a safe business environment, in which they can also host confidential meetings. I think that might be the future of many enterprises - building a presence in a public virtual world and at the same time having a private virtual world for internal uses. I think schools could do the same - have private and safe classrooms on their own servers, but at the same time present their achievements to the world in public spaces. For more info about Roo’s presentation see his post at eightbar.

During this presentation we heard the reasons for building a SL presence from a more educational point of view. The Edinburgh University chose to enter Second Life because it is cross-platform, because it is not a game, but still quite playful, and because several educational institutions already had a SL presence. During the presentation Hamish pointed out some important things they considered while building Holyrood Park (their SL space): they wanted to have students talking and meeting outside, and also they wanted to get away from classical spaces and artifacts that are used in traditional classrooms. I think these are very good points, and I really think Holyrood Park is a great educational space that makes visitors feel really comfortable. Also, Hamish presented the benefits of using SL for their university (presence in an important media space, opportunities for learning, teaching, research and development), pointed out some of the educational potential of SL (new learning spaces, active learning, digital identity and presence,…) and also some issues that the unversity has to deal with (legal issues, systems requirements, accessibility,…).

The next presentation was about the Second Nature island, which is owned by Nature Publishing Group and that has a lot of great scientific tools and simulations to offer. NPG sees Second Life as a great tool for science education, scientific research, and as a communication tool (to host scientific meetings, events, and conferences). Joanna presented some of the existing content on Second Nature island, which I first visited after her presentation. Second Nature is definitely an interesting place in SL, and I certainly can’t wait to see more content added!

Next, Gilly presented the Leicester University Second Environment Advanced Learning (SEAL) project and their University presence in SL.



And the final presentation of the day saw Stephen Downes playing the techno sceptic and (in my view) presenting Second Life more rationally. Stephen reminded us that SL is a game (“and it’s ok!”), and he presented some of the SL current issues: the fact that a company owns Second Life, the problems of scalability, the fact that SL heavily relays on its economy, private propriety etc. Stephen made an excellent point by saying that SL “taps into a latent conservatism” - SL feels very safe and it is very tempting to do the old things in a new space using the old way. SL isn’t like Web 2.0, and it should be: in Stephen’s words it should be distributed, open source, non commercial, diverse, democratic, and a place to create our own identity for free - more like the web we know and love. I certainly agree with Stephen: SL in its present form is not the future for education (something I’ve already pointed out in one of my previous posts).

  • Panel session
And at last there was also a panel session (questions from SL were taken through an IM channel), during which many interesting questions were asked and answered. I got the feeling that most of the questions were about the current SL issues. And we got some nice promises from Linden Lab that they will be opening their software even more, and that they are working on optimizing the maintenance process. Can’t wait to see that really happen :)


And with the panel session the virtual symposium was over for us avatars. It was interesting to see all these different points of view, and I think the presenters were well chosen. For those of you who missed the event a recording should be available soon enough on the Eduserv’s website. If you won’t have much time to listen to the presentations, just make sure you listen to Stephen; I assure you it will be 30 minutes well spent :)



Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2007/05/eduserv-symposium-2007-virtual-worlds.html