The first day of the Second Life Community Conference (SLCC) was exhausting (and I didn’t even make it to the avatar’s ball!) – my head was chock-full of new ideas and my vision of the future was thrown for a loop. Very, very good stuff. And now, onto Day 2…
John Lester. John Lester (SL name: Pathfinder Lester), formerly from Linden Lab, gave a rousing keynote to kick off the second day. Designed for inspiration he addressed the small, early morning group, as pioneers and encouraged us to both “predict the future” and to “protect your most precious assets”. He had an impressive slide deck, complete with well-chosen images and a few nice clips (my favorite, a video clip from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…”if you’re going to shoot, shoot – don’t talk”).
He’s a practiced presenter which made the fact that so much of his presentation was about him, all the more glaring. Which leads me to one of my observations about the conference in general… I’m struck by the self-consciousness of it all. While I’ve discovered a solid cadre of people here doing very, very good work, there is also a thick layer of self consciousness or preciousness to it all. A “me” culture that insists on my agenda, my needs, my story. Maybe that’s what it’s like, being in a group of pioneers?
Kenneth Y T Lim. Ken Lim (SL name: Veritas Raymaker), an Assistant professor in the Learning Sciences at the National Institute of Education in Singapore, gave an interesting talk about the Six Learnings Framework, which he had introduced at a previous SLCC, as a way of helping educators think about the pedagogical affordances of SL. In Singapore, he uses SL with grades 7 and 9, to help students surface their own misconceptions and misunderstandings about the discipline.
He gave an interesting example of using SL to teach geography with middle school students. They use SL to virtually represent tectonic landforms – contour lines are expanded to layers – cutting the virtaul mountain, in effect, with contour planes. Since Singapore is small and flat, his students don’t have an implicit understanding of mountainous terrain. They have found that the 3D quality of the environment allows a greater potential for mistakes to happen, for misconceptions to surface.
For another of their SL geography lesson, he divided two sims into a series of bays that represent drainage basins – students then design and terraform their own drainage basin. Lim explained that an important element of what they do is to transpose their work back to a written modality – they sketch, map, label on paper, after they’ve done their work in SL.
You can find Lim’s presentation slides here. Very good stuff.
Andrew Hughes. Andrew Hughes (SL name: Andrew Hughes) founded Designing Digitally, Inc. which has done SL development for the US Department of Defense as well as 22 university builds in SL. Designing Digitally was also responsible for the SL replication of the St. Louis arch and, most recently, 900 machinima videos for the state of Vermont.
Hughes gave a very well-done presentation about the future of virtual worlds for education. He first quickly walked through a video timeline of virtual world development to show how virtual reality and virtual worlds are blending.
He reminded us that there are 450 virtual world spaces out there today – many choices and lots of action. Browser-based virtual worlds are becoming an increasingly influential factor and a trend to watch.
He talked about augmented reality – data put on top of the video screen – as a coming trend. Microsoft’s Project Natale (new name: Kinect) – an oft discussed example of this – will be released in November of this year – and will sell for $149. That relatively low price point and the complete absence of controllers are two factors that are sure to drive things forward. And surely, Hughes tells us, the other gaming stations will follow suit.
Designing Digitally has developed a motion tracking system on the Unity platform that controls their avatar without a keyboard (moving your head, waving your arms). Hughes asks the question: “If we are trying to build communities in virtual worlds, then why do I have to be stationary, in front of my computer in order to engage?” as he talked about convergence of your iPhone/Droid and your browser based virtual world.
Andrew’s crystal ball:
– Virtual worlds evolve into your booted operating system (“We are going to double the amount of users in a virtual world by next year” – KZero)
– Realism between virtual space and real space gets closer – blurred line between virtual and world
– Neurological control and feedback to the virtual world (read electronic pulses from your brain to control your avatar)
What are the obstacles? To name two…
-interoperability issues (prims vs. poly vs. mesh)
– different user accounts for each virtual world; and a plethora of virtual currencies
What does this mean for education?
– Easier ways to implement content and conduct classes in a virtual setting
– Brick and mortar schools will diminish
– Online virtual schools will become a standard, socially acceptable education delivery
Snow Storm Team. After lunch, the Linden team gave their presentation on the new viewer (Viewer 2) and the plans going forward. Following the tradition of all people who work at Linden Lab taking on the avatar last name of “Linden”, Esbee Linden, Oz Linden and Q Linden (who, having recently suffered a small stroke, was piped in via Skype) took the stage. They talked a lot about their work going forward – “more transparency” – and how they were going to communicate with the SL community. Best way to get a sense of this one is to watch the USTREAM video.
A favorite element of the conference for me was the ongoing art installation, in one of the small conference rooms, with Jeffrey Lipsky (SL name: Filthy Fluto) and CJ Ross (SL name: Winter Nightfire). I kept wandering back there, throughout the weekend, to watch what was happening. Filthy and Winter were creating stunningly beautiful abstract paintings and drawings of the conference events. Capturing moments and summing it all up. Apparently the artwork will be auctioned off in-world (soon?) for the benefit of Virtual Ability Island.
One of my over-arching impressions from this conference is feeling struck by how intensely interested the SL community is in the inner workings of Linden Lab. The post-lunch presentation by Oz and Esbee Linden on Viewer 2 involved a deep and extended Q/A session, with people asking questions and making suggestions about the way their product development teams are made up and function, communication strategies, and the way the public is represented in the inner circle. For instance, one irate participant stood up and told the team that, in his opinion, they would not be successful if they did not have stakeholder representation, from their customers, on the team. To which Oz Linden replied, “If we get productive user input, we promise we will use it. We have regular office hours, show up!” The participant quipped back, “That’s just the opposite of what I’m suggesting. A small team (scrum) can get it done, but if you have 100’s of voices talking to you about what they need and want, it will get lost.” I am hard-pressed to think of a business example where customers are so intensely interested and involved in the business creators of their products. Certainly, one of the functions of a business is to listen carefully to its customers and then, with that input vetted and synthesized, make thoughtful decisions about their direction. They are a for-profit company, not a cooperative. Can you imagine a group of Bank of America or Colgate or GM customers demanding their place on the company’s product development teams? Of course, maybe the interesting twist on that question is – can you imagine a BofA, Colgate or GM customer caring enough to even ask the question?