Wonderful first day (out of three) of the Immersive Education Institute, 2010 Boston Summit at Boston College. I attempted to tweet the conference – so you may also want to find those (twitter ID: rheyden). You can follow any of the feeds from the conference with the hash tag (#iED).
The conference opened this morning with organizer, Aaron Walsh (Director of the Grid Institute) setting the stage with historical context featuring video tours of previous immersive environments.
Then we moved on to Nicole Yankelovich, director of Project Open Wonderland (originally developed at Sun Microsystems). Open Wonderland is a completely open source java toolkit for creating virtual worlds. It is not a destination (like Second Life), rather it is a toolkit for creating federated, specialized virtual worlds, according to a modular architecture.
With Sun’s recent acquisition by Oracle, Wonderland was cancelled. In a fascinating move, the original (now laid-off) Sun team has spun off a non-profit foundation to continue the work – Open Wonderland. With the move from Sun, all of their code, tools and support mechanisms were transferred to outside, open tools. For example, their code base is now on Google Code; their forum is on Google Groups; the old Sun Wonderland blog is now a blog on WordPress; they have a community wiki, and they have open developers meetings every week. Interesting, eh? Remains to be seen how Open Wonderland will be financially supported.
Yankelovich showed us some amazing examples of builds using Wonderland code. For example, a virtual academy from Lockhead Martin for training mechanics and technicians; Greenphosphor’s virtual data visualizations; a dynamic 3D blog from Siemens, Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s virtual warehouse to teach accounting, MiRTlE from University of Essex (method for bringing remote students into a live classroom), the Wonderland Bicycle Game (featuring a wii remote on a bike) to help rehabilitate cerebral palsey patients, plus educational work by St. Paul College and the Birmingham City University.
She also talked us through the basic features of Open Wonderland – application sharing, immersive (CD-quality audio), telephone integration, ability to import Collada 3D files, drag and drop just about every file type (pdfs, jpgs, pngs, gifs), and something I found very intriguing – the ability to set permissions on individual objects and places in order to carefully and differentially control security. So, for example, when you open an object, you can specify who (avatar names) can see it. They also have this interesting “cone of silence” ability to set a private area for conversations that cannot be heard by anyone else. I’m hearing more and more about these security concerns from my clients and collaborators.
Next up was Julian Lombardi (Duke University), talking about Open Cobalt. This is a free and open virtual worlds platform and construction tool kit, developed at Duke University, built on Open Croquet. Lombardi did a good job of walking us through the basic features and capabilities of Cobalt – I was definitely intrigued – and we’ll learn more about that platform tomorrow.
Following that, John Belcher (MIT) gave a great talk, describing the way he’s teaching physics to undergraduates at MIT. He’s designed a series of simulations to teach electricity and magnetism which are used at MIT, in a specially designed classroom. He’s now working to import those simulation objects into Wonderland. He chose Wonderland over Second Life because it’s open source (SL is proprietary), multi-user, immersive, and collaborative. It was critical for their project that they owned their build (he needed to control it completely). Also he explained that the Wonderland Toolkit is easier to work with than Linden scripting. Apparently OpenSim wasn’t available when they started the proejct 10 years ago.
John’s goal here is to use the virtual world to show students the things that are all around them that they can not see (electromagnetic waves, in this case). He showed us a video of student avatars manipulating the simulation, displaying the field lines (and moving through them!). Very cool.
John’s collaborator on a new NSF proposal, Jennifer George-Palilonis (from Ball State University) is a journalist, designer, and professor of multimedia – she talked about the importance of storyline. To help the students connect these physics simulations to each other and to the line of reasoning. She also talked about the importance of considering the instructional design, right along with the environmental design and the graphical design (the “look”) of the whole thing, so that it all works together to maximize the learning.
Next up were Melissa Carrillo and Emily Key from the Smithsonian Institution’s Latino Education Center and their Latino Virtual Museum (LVM) in Second Life. Carrillo and Key started their talk with this prediction from Gartner Research Group: 80 % of internet users will be in a virtual world by 2011. These women see this as the next phase of the internet and, therefore, the place where libraries and museums need to be. They have a build in Second Life (three islands) that is open to the public. They feel that SL offers shared experiences, a feeling of presence, visual immersion, and real time collaboration. But there are problems – security issues and including children in the experience. They are now planning to expand their builds to Open Sim and the Grid Institute – they are not giving up on Second Life (they’ll maintain that) but will add these new experiences to their repertoire. In these virtual world builds, they want to explore the relationship between culture and the environment. They showed a nice machinima video, explaining the LVM eco-explorers design – immersive yourself, play and learn. They are using gaming strategies in their LVM build (based on national standards) – students go on a quest, immerse themselves in the environment, and play (as opposed to the first thing a curator has to say to you in a museum – “don’t touch!”). This is not to say that real life museums will no longer be needed – it is always important to be able to see the actual artifacts – but the virtual world offers the museum curators a way to extend their visitors’ experience to provide interactivity at the level of the object.
Carrillo introduced us to their new project – Tales from the Blue Crab – a collaboration with the Grid Institute. They showed us a QT movie of a spectacularly rendered, photo-realistic, anatomically correct blue crab (rendered in Blender). The crab was a high resolution, scalable object. You can see the crab move, swim underwater (a constructed immersive underwater scene), and watch its feeding and defense strategies. You can observe it in isolation or place it in its environment. Very cool.
At that point, I switched over to the K-12 track to hear Richard White, Immersive Education Developer for Greenbush Southeast Kansas Education Service Center. They have build spaces Open Sim (Snowglobe), Edusim, in Cobalt, and using Moodle.
The day concluded with a panel discussion featuring Al Meyers (Saisei Consulting), Richard Gilbert (Professor of Psychology, Loyola Marymount), Ian Lamont (Immersive Education Initiative), Diane Ketelhut (Temple University), and Wesley Williams (Boston Public Schools, Founder RIT Immersive Education High School). The title of the panel was “Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll: Videogames as Learning Tools?” and it was a good, lively discussion…here are a few highlights:
– what would we say about a child who was reading novels 5 hours a day? would we say they are “addicted to novels”?
– there is no reliable research on transference to demonstrate that anything we’re doing in schools is sustained in later life for our students – so transference isn’t an argument either way
– surgeons playing videogames for 30 minutes prior to surgery in order to enhance their hand-eye coordination and dexterity
– don’t forget the military – they have been succesfully using this technology for 30 years.
– for all the good that comes out of games, there will be bad things – just as with anything… main stream media will continue to emphasis the disturbing and violent
– creativity – these are worlds that inspire creativity as kids design, build, and select
Whew! That was a looong one (sorry about that!). If you can stand it – more tomorrow!