Virtual University Collaboration: ENCKE

The Australian Digital Futures Institute is powering on with its work in virtual worlds. Coming up in a few weeks is their 2-day ENCKE Virtual University Collaboration (ENCKE isn’t an acronym, but a comet bringing change).

The details:

This unique event will begin with an intensive two day in-world meeting. Over the following 4 weeks some of the main ideas and concepts for virtual teaching, learning and meeting spaces developed by participants will be constructed on the new virtual university island (with assistance from professional SL builders). Then over the next 3 months participants will be able to book and use these spaces for their own teaching and learning sessions, role plays and meetings. During this time there will be informal follow-up and evaluation meetings. Traditional conferences last a few days and allow for ideas to be presented and for some follow-up discussion to occur.

The plan is to have the virtual university island(s) as an ongoing collaborative and space to allow for construction and testing of applications of virtual world technologies to university teaching and learning. We welcome your ideas and suggestions for this and future events.

When: 27 & 28 October 2011, 10am to 5pm Australian EST

Where: On a new Second Life island (slurl to be advised)

Registration: The fee to participate is AUD$325 (inc. GST) and includes the conference and related workshop, tutorial, demonstration and tour session plus 3 months access to the constructed spaces. It is expected that participants will have a SL avatar and have acquired at the least the basic skills of interacting in a virtual environment. The event is limited to 50 participants. We do expect the event to be fully subscribed so please register early to secure your place.

Check out our page:

Registration available at:

Multiracial Identity in Second Life: survey participants sought

Passing on a call for survey participants from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. To participate you need to be from a multi-racial background. The full details:

This is research conducted by Dean A. F. Gui (Second Life avatar, Hartwig Valerian) for research into multiracial identity in virtual worlds. Your participation is voluntary and identity kept anonymous. The only pre-requisite is that you have an avatar in Second Life ( and that you consider yourself from a multiracial (more than one racial bloodline) background. Additional enquiries may be sent, via note card, directly to Hartwig Valerian in Second Life, or emailed to Thank you and I look forward to your prompt responses.

Until further notice, all participants who submit a completed survey will receive 100 Linden dollars sent to their Second Life avatar, but only if avatar names are spelled correctly in the consent portion of the survey, and only as Hartwig Valerian is able to generate the funds… so please be patient! 😎

Please click on this link to complete the survey:

Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education 2011

Monash University’s Debbie McCormick dropped me a line over the weekend to ask if I could post a heads up on VWBPE 2011. Obviously it’s something we’re more than happy to do, so if you’re an educator or interested in education and virtual worlds, read on:

Greetings Fellow Educators,

“You are here” – well many of you are, but there’s still room for more!

Last year was a year of change and many of you are transitioning to new and exciting teaching spaces with mixed feelings (was that tactful enough?); but regardless of where you are practicing and what you might think about those who shall not be named, we are still a community so don’t let those changes prevent you from participating in your community.

The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education is a community conference; it is YOUR conference, and your chance to share your experiences with the rest of your community (wherever and whatever that community might be).  We have already received some excellent submissions but we would like more!  The Call for Proposals (papers, workshops, posters) has been extended to midnight 15thFebruary, 2011.  All that’s required is a 50 – 100 word abstract (full papers optional) that:

·          Indicates how your work illustrates best practices in education

·          Indicates the outcomes/learning objectives participants should expect from your sessions

·          Describes how your work might be applied to a particular or multiple sectors of education, i.e. K-12, large universities, community colleges, adult education, etc.

Tell us how you learn and teach. Tell us your stories of what works well and what can be done better. Where does learning happen for you?  Who do you teach? How to you engage learners? Why is learning within the virtual important to you? What is the key learning you want to share with others?

The VWBPE is a free conference, organised and run by  committees of volunteers from K-12, colleges and universities from around the world.  While most activities will happen in Second Life (Linden Lab have kindly donated 20 sims) presentations and field trips can be scheduled for other parts of the metaverse – contact Kavon and her team at for more information.  Likewise, while the main language of the conference will be English we welcome submissions for presentations in languages other than English.

As a community conference we are always in need of extra funds for activities such as providing transcribers and recording the sessions for viewing after the event; if you know someone who would like to be noticed by more than 2000 educators at the premier virtual worlds education conference then please direct them to

You are already here – so come be part of the discussion and bring your friends.

Debbie McCormick


Chair – Marketing and Communications

Journal of Virtual Worlds Education: inaugural issue

Just a quick heads-up of the launch of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Education. Published by The Center for Virtual Worlds Education and Research, there’s a mix of research and discussion papers covering a wide gamut.

Check out the main JVWE website or view the first issue here.

Virtual Mine: environment education at its best

Virtual Mine is “an educational 3D environment, game, and educational curriculum for teachers, students, and anyone who’d like to learn more about mountain top removal, coal fired power production, alternative energies, and the amazing music and culture in the Appalachian mountains”. Which sounds a little staid on the surface, but the reality is an engaging and immersive education experience. I attended the launch tour this morning alongside around 35 others, mostly educators and developers, to see what was on offer.

Funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Independent Television Service, the Virtual Mine consist of an entire island in Second Life. After equipping a hard hat and HUD, a series of processes can be controlled and viewed. Whether it’s tree-clearing, the removal of the mountaintop for mining, or balancing the nearby town’s energy needs with the environmental impacts of the mining and cola-fired power station, it’s all covered.

Have a brief look for yourself:

This is the sort of build that tends to shine a very bright spotlight on the opportunities virtual worlds provide for education, including environmental education. That said, one of the tour participants made a humourous comment during the ‘turn off all the unnecessary lights in the town’ exercise, asking that we shut down the region’s server in the process to truly save some power.

Some of my other snaps from the launch tour:

Tree clearing simulation

The blasting begins

Coal-fired power and its town impacts

Turn off the damn lights!

Congratulations to the developers of Virtual Mine and the wider support team. You can find out lots more information on the project here.

(Mini) Review: Virtual Worlds – Learning in a changing world

Australian educators Judy O’Connell and Dean Groom have collaborated on a tidy tome called Virtual Worlds – Learning in a Changing World. Aimed squarely at educators who haven’t had any extensive experience with virtual worlds, it provides a concise overview of the current state of play, its implications for educators, and a comprehensive set of links for people that want to explore further. It’s a virtual worlds primer for a cohort of professionals who dually need the most insight into the area and who are likely to drive the substantive momentum in the field in coming years. In that aim, this book achieves what it needs to in a way that a lot of other publications in the field could do well to emulate.

You can purchase the book for AU$19.95 from the ACER website. Or – fill in our reader survey and if your name is drawn we’ll send you a copy as your prize – just specify that’s the prize you want in the appropriate section of the survey.

Why Second Life is already second-best for education

The announcement by Linden Lab in the past 24 hours that their discounting of pricing for educators and non-profits would cease in January 2011, has engendered the expected level of outrage. And rightly so, given the critical mass of educators that have generated significant outcomes for Second Life. In fact, it could be argued that it’s only the good news stories generated by the non-profits that have helped offset some of the negative aspects inflated by parts of the mainstream media and others. The comments section below the announcement is well worth a read: even taking out the initial emotion, the overwhelming attitude is that it’s time to downsize or move on. Of course, the migration to OpenSim grids is already well underway, for a range of reasons.

As someone who follows virtual worlds pretty closely, I thought I understood the specific reasons for the move from Second Life fairly well. However, I only got the full picture over the past month, when I needed to explore options for my own education-related build. Without boring you with detail, I’m looking at conducting some research that will involve some fairly complex simulations. When I wrote the proposal for the research, I was already assuming that Second Life wouldn’t necessarily be the platform due to cost constraints (and this was before the price-rise announcement). That assumption was confirmed after some detailed discussions with a number of people, including someone developing a number of education-related projects including one aligned with my own proposal.

Based on those discussions and my own observations, here’s the key reasons I’ll not be working in Second Life for my education project (and most likely using either Unity3D, OpenSim or both):

Content creation: Although SL provides some great scripting options, the learning curve is significant and there’s minimal support for defacto design and modelling platforms. This leads to the need to either hire an SL builder or give up a significant chunk of time to learn a scripting language that’s not transferable elsewhere (except in some respects to OpenSim).

Structured learning: There is minimal ability in SL to guide avatars through particular experiences. Heads-up displays can work to some extent, but the scene-by-scene capability of Unity3D is head and shoulders above.

Reliability: ignoring historical challenges, the fact remains that down-time in SL is totally at the mercy of Linden Lab. A standalone OpenSim grid or a Unity3D installation aren’t as susceptible.

Client: SL being still being a standalone client makes it a bigger challenge to use for education that a web-based client. That may change in the medium-term but it’s a deal-breaker for purposes where dedicated PCs aren’t an option.

Ease of use: One of the key weaknesses of SL is it’s ease of use, particularly for new users. It’s something that has improved and will continue to improve. Although competitors aren’t markedly better, they certainly aren’t worse.

I want to make an important point: Second Life deserves to continue to grow and I’m still confident it will, albeit with a very different focus to what it has now. The decision on education pricing fits the wider business model as it now stands. Even that is fine, if it’s based on confidence of a new market and unshakeable faith that the current shortcomings of SL will be overcome soon enough. On the face of it, that market isn’t apparent and the improvements still seem a while away.

I’d love to hear from educators / non-profits at the coalface. Emotions aside – have you started considering moving away from Second Life, and if so why?

Update: Linden Lab have made a follow-up statement with a rather interesting take on things.

Games are cool for school

You may have heard of the term Serious Games before: essentially they’re games with a purpose beyond entertainment. There’s a growing awareness that games can be used for wider purposes such as business productivity, health support and for education. It’s that last point I’ll focus on here.

Arizona University’s James Paul Gee has completed a brilliant piece on the usefulness of games in education, which you can view below. The key point is that games are one ongoing test, like school, and there’s a bunch of good reasons why combining the two can be incredibly useful for educators.

Sceptical? You may be less so after hearing the case for serious games:

Over to you: would you like to see more games-based education in schools? If not, why not?

via [Edutopia]

Educators and Second Life: local research

Between August 2009 and February this year, Holmesglen’s Kenneth Rankin (SL: Ken001 Silverfall) undertook some research in Second Life as part of his Master of Education studies at the University of Southern Queensland.

It’s a fascinating snapshot on the state of play in regards to educators and Second Life, and includes some substantive recommendations for the future that may generate some debate. More on that later, but first the data:

Research context

After reading some of the results, I took the opportunity of contacting Kenneth, to ask him for some background and clarification of specific results:

TMJ: When was the research undertaken, with whom was it conducted, what was the sample size and the overarching research methodology?


· Data was collected during Nov 2009 via a web based questionnaire on SurveyMonkey.
· 79 persons responded, but 14 did not fully complete the survey. Analysis was conducted on data collected from 65 persons.
· The survey was undertaken only by educators who had at least one avatar in Second Life.
· Background: The technology adoption cycle, described by Rogers, shows the adoption of technology in various phases of adopters. First are the Innovators, then the Early Adopters, the Early Majority, the Late majority and finally the Laggards. Most technologies will enter mainstream use only if they can cross ‘the chasm’ between the Early Adopters and the Early Majority. Second life has been predicted to remain in the Early Adopters phase until 2013 when it is expected transition into the Early Majority phase.
· The main question to be answered by this research was “what can be learned from the experiences of the Second Life Early Adopters to facilitate the move into the Early Majority phase?”
· The topic was: “The collection and analysis of avatar experiences in order to provide conduct and appearance guidelines for educators adopting Second Life”.
· The research was a cross-sectional, qualitative, non-experimental design. The survey consisted of 29 questions with a mix of open and closed questions.

TMJ: Were there any results that surprised you?


· 38% of educators have no real-world code of conduct.
· 74% of educators have no real-world appearance code.
· The main reason to lose the ‘newbie’ look was originally thought to be as a deterrent to ‘griefers’. It was found that people lose the ‘newbie’ look in order to increase credibility and to display experience.
· Female avatars appear to be the target of more griefing incidents than males and are specifically targeted for sexual griefing. 17 males reported 6 non-sexual incidents and zero sexual incidents (35%), while 48 females reported 23 non-sexual incidents and 9 sexual incidents (66%). This was a surprise in an environment that was expected to be female friendly and gender neutral.

The full results

· The respondents were 74% female, average age just over 47, mainly from Nth America (54%) then Asia/Pacific (31%) and Europe (15%)
· Highly experienced group with more than half having over 3 years of Second life experience.
70% of educators use multiple avatars (accounts).

Recommendation: Educators should aim to have a single purpose for each of their avatars. The most common singularity of purpose is to provide for a private avatar and a professional avatar.

62% of employers provide a real-world code of conduct (CoC)  for employees

23% of employers have extended their RW CoC into SL

6% of employers have an SL CoC

43% of employees believe that a CoC is required in SL and 43% believe that it is not required.

26% of employers provide a real-world appearance code for employees

6% of employers have extended that RW AC into SL

5% of employers have an SL AC

8% of employees believe that an SL AC is required and 89% believe that it is not required.

Recommendation: The Early Majority will look for greater structure and guidance in SL than that required by the Early Adopters. A CoC and an AC should be considered as facilitation factors to assist more educators to adopt SL.

Recommendation: Educators should not be dissuaded from the adoption of alternative forms and appearances for their avatar. Appearance, however, does need to be appropriate for the educational context, especially when representing an organisation.

Recommendation: Each avatar should have in their inventory, a collection of appearances or outfits that are appropriate to their range of educational contexts and functions.

89% of respondents chose human form in Second Life

6% represent themselves in the opposite gender.

44% have some form of name relationship with their avatar

79% have some form of appearance relationship with their avatar

Recommendation: Care should be exercised when selecting the name of the avatar at the account creation stage, as this is one of the few aspects of the avatar that cannot be changed later

66% of avatars have lost the newbie look within 1 month.

The main reason to lose the newbie look is to increase credibility and to display experience.

12% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the RW person

40% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the RW place of work

53% of avatar profiles provide enough information to identify the person’s RW position or role

Recommendation: Educators should exercise discretion with the information provided through the avatar’s profile. This information should be checked against the purpose of the avatar, the code of conduct and the privacy guidelines of the employer.

Of the critical incidents reported, 58% were of a positive nature and 38% were of a negative nature.

Recommendation: Educators need to be made aware of the ‘big 6’ SL community standards, the range of positive and negative incidents that can occur in SL and how to manage these incidents. Educators also need to be aware that griefing of a sexual nature does exist and appears to be specifically targeted at female avatars.


This research provides a great deal of insight into the educator demographic in Second Life. A lot of the results aren’t surprising, but as a whole they do provide some fascinating launch points for further discussion. So over to you: whether you’re an educator or not, what stands out for you in the results? Do you agree or disagree with the recommendations put forward?

A big thanks for Lindy McKeown for the heads-up.

Interview – Evelyn McElhinney, Glasgow Caledonian University

kali1 (This story appeared earlier today over at Metaverse Health).

Coming from a nursing background myself, I’m always fascinated by the work going on in virtual environments in regards to nurse education. To some extent it’s a natural fit in that clinical simulation is a pivotal part of the education process for nurses anyway – using virtual environments is simply an extension of recognised practice.

Evelyn McElhinney (SL: Kali Pizzaro) is a Nurse Lecturer in the post-registration department of Glasgow Caledonian’s School of Health. She teaches a number of advanced practice modules including modules within the Nurse Practitioner pathway. She joined the university full time 3 years ago, and was a lecturer/practitioner working in an advanced practice role within the National Health Service prior to that and has worked in a number of acute care areas including anaesthesia. Evelyn also happens to be active in the use of Second Life in Nurse Practitioner training, so I caught up with her to discuss her work to date and some broader issues around collaboration.

Lowell: From a nursing education viewpoint, what are your key areas of professional interest / research focus?

Kali: Advancing practice, physical examination, clinical simulation, and recently the use of virtual worlds for Nurse Practitioner Education.

Lowell: When you say nurse practitioner, can you define that a little? I’m assuming you mean someone undergoing their undergraduate nursing education?

Kali: Ah no in the UK Nurse Practitioners are Registered Nurses who are advancing their practice. A nurse who takes a history, physical examination, diagnoses, prescribes and treats.

Lowell: Ok, that’s similar to Australia then. So are there particular advantages for using virtual worlds with more experienced nurses like practitioners rather than nursing students?

Kali: The advantages are that they need flexibility as they have competing demands on their time. So any medium that allows for extra practice in a time conducive to them is attractive. However, virtual worlds can do more than the usual virtual learning environment.

Lowell: When did Second Life become a consideration in your work?

Kali: I considered Second Life after seeing a project by one of my colleagues. I had know about it’s existence as the University had a project exploring it’s use for marketing. That was in March this year.

Lowell: Can you describe the work you’re doing in Second Life and how it links to the University’s CU There initiative?

Kali: I am trying to develop a virtual patient which will be used by Nurse Practitioner students to practice history taking. I have also embedded heart sounds into the avatar’s chest to enable the student to link the history to the heart sounds they hear. They must click on the correct anatomical position to hear the sounds. This work links to the CU There project as it fulfills the criteria for use of virtual worlds in education. By creating an AIML bot/bots the students have the flexibilty to practice at any time either as an individual or as a group. I plan to have a number of patients and to build on the sceanrios to create longer problem-based learning scenarios. The bot we use were developed by myself and the School technician Andy Whiteford aka AndyW Blackburn.

Lowell: So what level of work has been required to get the lab to this stage and how much more is involved to get it to where you’d like it to be?

Kali: The clinical skills lab was designed by the CU There team with guidance from the head academic in charge of the simulation lab . The build was done mainly by a computer student who is seconded to the team. There are plans to build an ITU for a scenario for 3rd year students. For my scenario it is mainly me thinking of ways to expand each scenario in alignment with the needs of my students.

Lowell: The most common feedback I’ve gotten from nursing academics is a skepticism on what virtual worlds offer that a well integrated curriculum with comprehensive leraning management tools can’t, that is, aside from the advantage of not needing to get students to a real-world simulation lab, are there other benefits of working in environments like this?

Kali: The immersive environment enables authentic scenarios to be developed. There is also the ability to offer syncrounous text and voice communication, as well as the ability to show the whole class videos etc. We can also simulate things that would be difficult in real life.

Lowell: Is there an example of that you currently use?

Kali: Not at the moment. However, for undegraduates it could be useful for them to be inside a heart or lung to understand the anatomy and physiology. It is also much more interactive than other VLE’s.

Lowell: I suppose that’s the crux of the challenge for nursing educators using virtual environments: convincing others that things have moved beyond the gimmicky, would you agree?

Kali: Yes, you need to show them something that is pedagologically sound, something they can see is useful.

Lowell: On pedagogy, what do you see as the key foundations in your work and in virtual environments more broadly?

Kali and Colin_001Kali: Constructivism and social constructivism are the key learning theories in my work. By linking history and heart and lung sounds to other parts of a clinical scenario, I am building on the students previous knowledge to create new knowledge. People in simulations tend to act the same as they do in real life. The ability to capture the text allows for reflection on the decision-making of this particular group.

Lowell: What has the feedback been from students?

Kali: Positive- they can see they value. They feel they are in the sceanrio. However, it is early days. We have only had a few folk through as a pilot. We will be using it more in the next two semesters.

Lowell: Are there formalised evaluations planned on clinical skills training in Second Life ? Will there be comparative studies on those who used such tools versus those who didn’t and their subsequent outcomes?

Kali: Yes, a number of academics are evaluating their projects and one is plannning to compare in-world and out-of-world simulation. Some of these are through a University scheme, Caledonian Scholars.

Lowell: What’s your take on nursing research in virtual environments internationally? Is it fair to say it’s still very early days?

Kali: Yes, there are a number of good projects. However, it is still in it’s infancy. Simulation seems to be the most popular project.

Lowell: Is there any research completed or underway that has particularly interested you?

Kali: Many projects have impressed me. For example the work of John Miller at Tacoma, the Imperial College in London and the Ann Myers Medical Center. However, any project which is being used by students impresses me. With regards to research most are evaluations, however, my own university has just completed some research into student nurses’ clinical decision making (Dr. Jacqueline McCallum, Val Ness, Theresa Price, Andy Whiteford).

Lowell: Can you discuss what it’s found?

Kali: It’s still in publication, however a lot of what the students said was that they wanted to experience areas they had not been to, and that they also found the scenario exhausting. Interestingly, they did not do a single observation in an hours sceanrio in a busy surgical ward. They also did not know what to do with a patient who was demented and kept leaving the ward. I think they were too busy thinking what to do next, this was despite being prompted to do observations.

Lowell: You raise a very interesting point – perhaps virtual environments make a more natural stage for making errors as there isn’t the stress of the educator looking over their shoulder?

Kali: Maybe, although this sceanrio had educators involved. Although that is the beauty of simulation – make mistakes and no-one dies 😉

Lowell: For the nurse who has been working in either a hospital or community setting for five years or more, how do you make virtual environments like Second Life an appealing and logical extension of their professional development needs?

Kali: By making the scenarios authentic and as realistic as possible. Also they must be available at all times to ensure maximum flexibility. The student must see the value to be motivated to take part. If they are fun, then great.

Lowell: Do you think Second Life is at a stage of usability that it can achieve that now?

Kali: Not yet in the UK – it is still not widely know as a social tool. However, if it is introduced in education they may see more value, as it helps them to learn.

Lowell: On usability though – it’s still quite a learning curve to actually use, particularly for those not as net-savvy as others?

Kali: Well you could say that about any VLE, and it is really only arrows and clicking. Changing clothes is not mandatory for education. Well, not all education. I think most folks would get it in a short space of time with some guidance.

Lowell: Again specific to nursing, is there any great degree of collaboration going on internationally in regards to projects like these? How do you think nursing faculties could further improve collaboration?

Kali: We are exploring a couple of collaborations. I know Scott Deiner in New Zealand has collaborated with American colleges. However, there is the potential for major collaboration both nationally and internationally. Although you need to have a firm idea about what you want to collaborate on. Also there is still a little bit of folk finding their feet, so to share is still scary methinks.

Lowell: Do you think there’s the critical mass for organised collaborative structures such online journals or other formats for working together?

Kali: There could be, and the Virtual World Watch here has opened up avenues for collaboration by highlighting the people who are involved with virtual worlds, although there is a bit to go.

Lowell: So for a nursing academic looking to integrate virtual environments into their teaching or research, would you have any simple advice?

Kali: Make sure you think about what you want to use it for. Script the scenario and look around at other people’s work to find out what the virtual world is capable of. Also visit educational areas and talk to other academics or join a group. Make sure there is a strong pedagogical structure to your idea and show it to folks when you have something to show!! Seeing is believing.


To view the publicly accessible clinical skills laboratory in Second Life, go here.

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