Study: Students’ Social Systems Support Successes

Karl Kapp is an expert in the education and e-learning field. In his blog, he regularly answers questions and addresses concerns about the place of technology in educational and training scenarios. In this post, he follows up on three areas of concern that he has been made aware of in recent times. In this post, I’ll address the same questions and expand upon Kapp’s answers.

1) Kids use these “places” like Second Life, Facebook, etc. mostly for socialising.

Students are just as likely to be discussing education or school work as they are to be gossiping, chatting or otherwise passing the time socially when they are using digital social networking tools. These include mobile phones, web-based solutions such as Facebook and its ilk, and the digital environments like Second Life.

This study, completed back in 2007, provides compelling evidence to support this idea. Over a thousand 9-to-17 year olds, a thousand parents and 250 school district leaders who “make decisions on Internet policy” were polled in the study. It revealed that 59% of students discuss educational topics, and 50% of students discuss their coursework when using the wide variety of digital social-networking tools available. Apparently, this academic discussion is performed off their own bat to a large extent, rather than being a required part of their schooling.

Students today have a multiplicity of such tools to choose from when wanting to communicate with their fellows locally and at a distance. Students who would otherwise be somewhat isolated except for family after school, at the time they are doing their homework, and who would be limited for the most part to communication with people who are geographically proximate, are now able to easily contact and communicate with people who are not only from all over the world, with wide-ranging backgrounds. Students have plenty of educational reasons to reach out through these channels. Socially, there is less call to do so, as students are able to communicate with their fellow students  and friends face-to-face and on the phone. What is the likelihood that students are talking about the same stuff they’ve always talked about, and are just using digital tools to do so?

Despite the wonderful news that students are eager to further their own education and support themselves in their coursework through external communication, there is the continuing problem that services available to 9-to-17 year olds are quite restricted. This is in part to protect kids in this age bracket from “adult themes” which are not appropriate for them, and in part to prevent misuse by students. Preventing misuse of services requires greater supervision of kids in general than most educational institutions have the resources to maintain. Nonetheless, educational materials and tools have always been at risk of problematic use – should the majority of students who would use them responsibly be denied because of the actions of the minority?

2) Currently, it seems that much of the Second Life work is more about SL itself — how to use it, what you can do, etc. — rather than the actual educational effectiveness.

Essentially, it is common for new technologies to take in the order of a decade or more to become sufficiently well understood that they can be used as educational tools on a grand scale, unless they have numerous and active advocates. Digital environments and their capabilities are as yet poorly understood, even by the majority of current users, and there is as yet a paucity of data available that gives us any idea as to how effective digital pedagogies have been to date.

3) Much of educators’ enthusiasm falls short of the mark by deferring to what could be called the “You can…” syndrome. That is, the endless possibilities inherent in a system are the source of excitement, but get nailed down in very few instances.

Some of the excitement is bound up in misunderstandings about how tools can be used – it’s exciting to imagine that a new tool is the solution to many, many problems. It’s possible to let the imagination reign, up to the point at which you discover the limitations of the tool you are working with. At this point, some of the excitement fades, and it’s difficult to maintain the same enthusiasm once the hard work begins. Additionally, as with the point above, more testing and trials need to be performed and more data needs to be gathered before solid instances and use cases begin to appear.

If students are let somewhat looser in digital fields than they have been, it would be interesting to gather information on how the students leverage these technologies to further their own education – students make great teachers and leaders.

Taking our biases with us into virtual environments.

Light skin or dark skin - it makes a difference even in virtual environments.

People are using the same cognitive tools in their social interactions within virtual environments as they would in the physical world. A recent study has confirmed this happens even though our avatars do not necessarily represent a clear picture of the people behind those avatars, with regards to gender, race, and all those other things that we have biases against.

The study’s co-investigators are Northwestern University’s Paul W. Eastwick, a doctoral student in psychology, and Wendi L. Gardner, Associate Professor of Psychology and member of Northwestern’s Center for Technology and Social Behavior. Eastwick’s past contributions revolve around romantic relationship development, and the use of speed dating and virtual environments to test psychological hypotheses. Gardner’s interests focus on the social aspects of the self, and the sorts of evaluation that are performed in the human brain that are unconscious.

Eastwick and Gardner performed the study in, which is billed primarily as a fantasy environment – it is social, and the interactions are with real people, but there are no programmatical constraints on how people represent themselves within those interactions. The management at showed significantly more interest in having the study performed in their virtual environment than did other services like Second Life.

Two classic social psychology experiments were performed within the realm of an avatar controlled by the study group attempted to influence an avatar controlled by a member of the native populace to fulfill a request. The door-in-the-face (DITF) gambit, in which a ridiculously large request is followed by a much more reasonable request, and the foot-in-the-door (FITD) technique, in which a small, reasonable request or statement is made, followed up with a much larger request, were used. Then, observation occurred to see how people reacted to a) the request in general and b) to the appearance of two different avatars in acquiescing to the request.

As in the physical world, the most successful technique was the DITF as performed by a light-skinned individual, with an increase in compliance of 20% over a simple request; compare this to only an 8% increase in compliance for the dark-skinned individual for the same technique. Less successful was FITD, which returned a result of only slight more compliance for either skinned individual.

Research has shown this disparity in the physical world for decades. DITF relies on a person’s perception of the person making the request: is this person worth impressing, and do I feel that I can risk offending them? FITD relies more on self-perception: how do I feel about my own reputation, and do I care how I appear to the person making the request?

Interestingly, many people seem to share the opinion that virtual environments are exempt from social influence. This idea possibly stems from the anonymity of having an avatar with which you do not identify, and which has no connection with your real identity. Or perhaps from the idea that virtual environments are in essence games in which anything goes and no-one can be harmed. Or even from the perspective that virtual environments are easy to leave, and therefore there need be no social ties with them. Nonetheless, it would appear that most people using virtual environments are heavily socially invested in them, to the extent that they apply their everyday social biases to the appearance of the avatars of those they interact with, and that they are just as susceptible to social gambits designed to increase compliance.

Source:  Real-world Behavior And Biases Show Up In Virtual World

Wendi L. Gardner’s professional page.

Paul Eastwick’s entry at the Department of Psychology, Northwestern University.

Social Influence Journal article.


The EDUCAUSE Review for September/October 2008 was released recently. For those unfamiliar with the publication, it is an “award-winning magazine for the higher education IT community”. It is published bimonthly in print and online. EDUCAUSE itself is “a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education by promoting the intelligent use of information technology.”

Below are three features from the EDUCAUSE Review, précised:

1. Virtual Worlds? “Outlook Good” AJ Kelton (“AJ Brooks”)

AJ Kelton poses this question: Are Virtual Environments (VEs) viable teaching and learning environments?

Kelton’s perspective is that Second Life is the current reigning champion, having both multitudes of educational folk working within it, and having brought the concept of VEs to the mainstream. He goes on to list many of the other VEs in the educational domain, and points out that there has been interest in the educational value of VEs all across the globe.

Kelton mentions Media Grid and its Immersive Educational Initiative, and their continuing work in forming standards and best practices, and creating interoperability for VEs with an educational bent.

Under the challenges and drawbacks section, Kelton lists:

  • Perceptual: VEs are still treated as ‘games’ by those with no personal experience; ‘fun’ is not expected to be a part of education, so anything that could be construed as being enjoyable is suspect.
  • Technical: Collaborative tools (especially for working with text) and interoperability will be the greatest challenges we will face; other technical considerations will work themselves out over time as broadband services and hardware become cheaper and more accessible.
  • Operational: The learning curve for VEs is steep. There are often technical difficulties with VEs, especially those that are more ‘experimental’. With younger age groups particularly, there are legal restrictions.
  • Pedagogical: Each institution must decide for itself whether the tool is appropriate for them, and whether they can sort out methods of assessment.

In conclusion, Kelton seems to think that VEs have a solid future in education – but that the extent of their involvement is as yet unknown and unforeseeable.

2. Higher Education as Virtual Conversation Sarah Robbins-Bell (SL: Intellagirl Tully)

Sarah Robbins-Bell turns a deft hand to answering the question: how can we increase student involvement? She feels that emergent social media are key in turning “passive, knowledge-receiving students into active, knowledge-making students.” The more conversations we can get going, the more student involvement there will be. As levels of participation increase, students’ knowledge will increase in active ways.

On the topic of why there has been a slow increase in the use of social media in education: “I think the problem is that our pedagogy often isn’t ready for an increase in conversation.”

Robbins-Bell states that the best way to integrate social media into education is to take one form at a time: she begins with ‘Virtual Worlds’. She then lists the characteristics of Virtual Worlds, and why they work for educational purposes.

  • Persistence: A virtual world can be used at any time, whether or not other avatars are there.
  • Multi-user: Communication exists between users synchronously.
  • Avatars: Avatars with a flexible appearance allow play with identity (roleplaying). Cultural literacy can be studied and learned from them.
  • Wide Area Network: Students can reach out and communicate with students and teachers at a wide geographical divide.

She goes on to caution that instructors will need to come to an acceptance of the lessening of control that they have in this environment, but notes that this can produce useful results: more communication and less sterility.

3. Looking to the Future: Higher Education in the Metaverse Chris Collins (SL: Fleep Tuque)

Chris Collins examines the place of higher education within the arena of VEs.

Collins follows the development of VEs with regards to major corporations (IBM is working towards people coming together virtually to save them from having to be geographically congruent), industrial giants (Seimens and the University of Cincinnati are working together to allow models created in 3D software packages to be able to be imported into VEs), and governmental departments (simulations of weather phenomena, natural disasters, and workplace training scenarios carried out in VEs).

Collins’ expectation of higher education is that it will produce people ready to become employees in this virtually aware workplace.

Collins then covers the typical obstacles faced by educational facilities in attempting to provide sufficient learning resources for their students, whether they be learning on campus or by distance education.

She finishes by stating that the optimal goal is for students to have fostered within them an interest in lifelong learning, which can possibly be achieved through the technology of VEs – education through this format create more personal autonomy and a greater sense of personal investment.

The other two features from this edition, also worthy of note:

Educational Frontiers: Learning in a Virtual World Cynthia M. Calongne (SL: Lyr Lobo)

Drawing a Roadmap: Barriers and Challenges to Designing the Ideal Virtual World for Higher Education Chris Johnson (SL: ScubaChris Wollongong)


September/October 2008 issue of EDUCAUSE Review

EDUCAUSE Review: Back to (Virtual) School (Chris Collins’ original post).

WA Police “Step Forward” into Second Life: detractors in hot pursuit.

The WA Police "Step Forward" Pavilion

The WA Police “Step Forward” Virtual Recruiting Pavilion was launched this week in Second Life. The plan is for the pavilion to be run during a three month trial period, after which this method of recruiting will be reviewed.

“Trudi Karu” and “Dreibergs Lannock” are the avatar names of the recruiting police who will be attending the pavilion at various times over the weeks to come. There is no information yet on how often these staff members will be available to talk to interested parties in Second Life, but it is promising that, unlike with some other government agencies and corporations who have created a virtual presence, there will be an actual person to converse with, rather than a simple 3D rendition of a web site. Unfortunately, there was no-one on staff on Saturday, a day on which many people who work would have the leisure time to get in-world and talk.

Poor video quality mars presentation.

The pavilion consists of a ground-based structure, from which you can teleport to the presentation suite – a sky box consisting of four conjoined, circular huts. The first room is a welcome area, from which you can reach each of the other dedicated rooms. Each room has a link to an appropriate web page, an image of that web page, and a multimedia screen on which to display video content. The video content arrives speedily and without skipping, but is of low visual quality – words cannot be made out – so what the actors have to say has more importance placed on it. Nonetheless, Binary Culture, the company responsible for the build, has produced an attractive and functional build.

On the other side of the story are the folks from the Retired Medically Unfit WA Police Officers Forum (RMU WA POL). While the “Step Forward” Pavilion was unattended by staff, we met up with a member of RMU WA POL at the pavilion. Western Australia appears to be the only state in Australia in which the police, due to a legal technicality, are not classified as “employees”. Due to this legality, police in W.A. are not due any pension or compensation if retired due to medical unfitness. According to RMU WA POL, some of those who have been discharged are not only denied any financial support, but are also denied emotional support and respect.

This is an example of a situation in which a build in Second Life can become equally important a venue for people with opposing or conflicting views as for the people who originally put it together. Indeed, if staffing is irregular, or as is so common in Second Life, absent, virtual presences have the potential to foster numerous views that were not originally intended.

Perhaps the WA Police’s Assistant Director for Attraction and Marketing, Trudi Angwin, may have some secong thoughts about the assertion she’s made: “the pavilion met our needs of being low maintenance, highly accessible, and functional without needing our ‘real’ staff to be logged in for long periods of time canvassing avatar inquiries.”

“Step Forward” page on the W.A. police web site.

Article from “The West” web site.

Binary Culture’s media release.

Second Life is my wheelchair.

There’s all sorts of talk about accessibility, particularly around making computers, the Internet, and online services like Second Life accessible to those who are differently abled. From the chaps in Japan, with their innovative solutions that allow folks with very minimal physical capabilities to use Second Life, to the Imprudence team and Jacek Antonelli – just one of a number of groups looking to improve the accessibility of Second Life clients. Then there’s accessibility specialists who look at Second Life from a legal view (current US law, Section 508 of the Disabilities Act), and thus investigate the content of Second Life. There’s so much focus on how it might be accomplished.

Then someone goes and, distressingly, asks, why? Why should should we put all this effort, money and man-hours into these projects? Surely it’s not worth all the expense?

Let’s examine some of the whys behind the accessibility push.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, around 17% of the U.S. population, aged 16 and over, lives with some form of disability.

Kippie Friedkin, 11/09/2008

If the US is representative of much of the world with regards to its Census results, close to 1/5th of the world’s population lives with some form of disability. This equates roughly to a staggering 1.36 billion people across the globe. That’s a huge number of people, all of whom are already at some disadvantage due to their disabilities. They would be disadvantaged further if accommodations are not made for them. Every one of these people has likely experienced some form of discrimination, or one or all aspects of the terrible trio: loneliness, isolation and depression. Because of their disability, these are perhaps the people who stand to benefit the most from the social revolution occurring online, and yet as it stands, they are the ones with the least access to it.

A wheelchair gives someone with limited mobility to walk, but otherwise functional in the real world, the ability to go out and do things and be a functional member of the community. Because of the nature of my disabilities, a wheelchair is insufficient. However, SL permits me to do things without leaving the protected environment of my home where I have an ergonomic setup that allows for my disabilities.

From my computer chair, I can teach, run a business, have an active social life, and be a functioning member of a community. Second Life is my wheelchair.

– Seshat Czeret, 18/09/2008

Seshat Czeret runs a successful clothing and furniture business in Second Life. She runs classes for the NCI, and is a respected member of their staff. She has several friends whom she is routinely in contact with, and many more people she communicates with regularly. She is an avid roleplayer. All these things would not be possible without access to her high-end computer and broadband connection which enable her to access Second Life.

In the physical world, Seshat suffers from a painful disability which leaves her mostly housebound. She is unable to work away from home, to leave the house for social visits, or to participate in her local community.

For Seshat, a virtual environment is a tool. It’s an extra accessory than allows her new, sometimes unexpected but often welcome, freedoms. It opens up her world. It’s a place where she can be an asset, not a liability.

In another sense, virtual environments are also a good pain management tool. Seshat is able to focus strongly on what she is doing, thereby putting some of her pain aside. If she can be said to “escape” into Second Life, it is not in the sense of “escape into fantasy”, but rather in the sense of “escape from persecution.” It is just the same as focusing on walking, or reading, or gardening, thereby creating a meditative state through focus on an activity.


[“Written by all the members of wilde, but namelessly for their protection and greater transparency”]

most of us, if not all of us, have had things stolen from us, because we were disabled

many of us, if not all of us, have been slapped or abused physically, and several times

all of us have been verbally abused– a lot! which hurts by the way!!

we’ve had our money taken from us

perhaps the greatest pain when our dignity has been taken, stolen.

our humanity, feelings, kicked around and abused

control. people take control. they take control of our things, our decisions. they force their will and preferences upon us. no we cant buy that. no we cant eat that. no we have to watch this. no i dont have time now. no you cant go anywhere. no you will be unable to move for awhile. no…

wilde Cunningham, 05/12/2004

“The nine souls of wilde Cunningham”, a group of nine adults with cerebral palsy, wrote the piece above in 2004.

The take-away lesson from this piece is that people with disabilities often have control, in every facet of life, taken away from them. Accessibility options are just a small way in which the world can return that control. The option to have new experiences, travel outside your room or residence, socialize with people you wouldn’t usually get to meet, have a job or run a business – suddenly more of these become available to people to whom it matters most poignantly.

In Second Life they are on a equal setting and we don’t see the handicaps.

Toy LaFollett

Virtual environments which do not show the user’s face nor use voice put more people on an equal footing. What harm is there in ignoring, in failing to display one’s disabilities, when common reactions are those of pity or of prejudice – both of which have a tendency to lead to a lack of control and shame for the disabled individual?

Being in Second Life is how I imagine an innocent man who had been locked up wrongly feels when he is finally set free. In Second Life I get to call the shots.

John S.

Additional thanks go to Shelley Schlender, for her thought-provoking article.

A match made in Second Life.

Fighting the forest fire.

Public services.


What do these two things have in common? Typically, people outside those fields would consider them to be necessary but uninteresting. Many people have experienced the rough ends of these services. You’d think it would be difficult to create a useful and engaging experience in a virtual environment that combined the two fields.

In this case, you’d be surprised to find that those challenges have been faced and overcome.

The Ontario Ministry of Government Services has worked in concert with metaverse developers TheSLAgency to produce that most remarkable of things: a fun and educational experience about careers in the public service. No, seriously.

The Ontario Public Service Careers Island is situated in Second Life. At first blush, the build is pretty, the scenery extensive and attractive, and the main building contains web links for a whole variety of pertinent information regarding career choices with the Ontario Public Service (OPS). Look a little further afield, and you find that outside the main building (that also comprises the landing point), each section of the island has an instructive purpose that is not just interactive but also interesting and fun! For each career path available with the OPS, there is a representative display, with an activity that gives prospective employees some idea of what their job might be like.

Teleportation options board.

I visited the OPS Forest Fire Simulation first. You are given a hose to attach to your avatar to fight the fire, while in Mouselook mode. You also get a list of instructions to assist you in fighting the fire. It includes information about evaporation of water from the hose impeding your ability to put out the fire, the spread of fire, and letting you know where to concentrate your efforts. Our attempts to put out the fire were laughable in their futility. I suspect greater persistence is required in training water on the flaming parts. I spent a great deal of time taking photos during the process, too – photojournalism and firefighting do not mix.

Laboratory entrance

The second stop was the Water Testing Facility. You receive a HUD in the form of a vessel to contain water. You search the island for a body of water, and if you are close enough to the water when you click on the HUD, you will obtain a sample to take back to the laboratory. We found a small puddle of water out behind the airfield, and brought that back to be tested. Here is what the Water Analyzer CK-225 had to say about its quality: ‘This water suffers from heavy lead and hydrocarbons levels, petrol derivates, synthetic oil in quantities that makes its potability virtually impossible. This water is definately dangerous for health, and measures should be taken to clean up the area and limit its accessibility.’ Not a surprising finding, given the test sample’s location.

Traffic Media

The effort put into the project, and subsequent success of it, have not gone unnoticed or unrewarded. The ‘OPS Virtual Career Fair on Second Life’ received a merit award in the innovation category at the 2008 Showcase Ontario awards. TheSLAgency Managing Partner Joe Mastrocovi states, “Our innovative government work in virtual worlds has produced a lot of successes, and we’re honored that the Ontario government feels that our work is award-worthy. We’re proud that beyond awards, this engagement brings our client real results with increased job seekers, applicants, and final hires!”

Overall, it’s a neat idea that has been well executed. Other government and educational services would do well to take a look and incorporate some of these ideas into their own virtual environment projects.

ZOMG … Terry Pratchett!

Terry Pratchett. In Second Life. No, your eyes do not deceive you. On the 9th of October, 2008, at 8pm (BST), Pratchett will appear in-world on “Nation” island to take part in a Q&A with fans from across the globe, as a part of a month-long Second Life promotion of this new children’s novel by UK Publisher, Random House.

Pratchett’s latest work, Nation, is set to be published in the UK on 11th September by Doubleday, price £16.99 and in the US on 30th September by HarperCollins.

From Pratchett’s web site:

  • “The first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published in 1985 and there are now 36 books in the series.”
  • “Only 12 books have never been out of the top 5,000 chart and three of them are by Terry Pratchett.”
  • “Nation is set on a small desert island and challenges the way we think about cultural identity, nationhood and the history of civilization.”

From Pratchett’s Wikipedia entry:

  • “Pratchett’s first novel, The Carpet People, was published in 1971.”
  • “As of December 2007 [he] has sold more than 55 million books worldwide, with translations made in 33 languages.”
  • Nation (2008) marks his return to the non-Discworld children’s novel.”

In the build up to Pratchett’s appearance, a number of things will be happening to whet our appetite for the grand finale of his appearance. A treasure hunt will run from the 11th of September to the 10th of October, and during each week of that period fancy dress parties, quiz nights and special events will be held.

All events will occur on Elysian Isle (the treasure hunt begins here) or on “Nation” island.

As of 2am on the 11th of September (US Pacific time), the island is accessible to Second Life users, but the treasure hunt was not yet fully set up and ready to run: the group that you need to join to take part has not yet been created (or does not appear in search), and some of the clue cards have not yet been filled in with information. The build on “Nation” island looks to be complete: a lush rain forested isle, picked out with rude huts, lines of crops, unfinished and finished canoes and sea-going craft, and the obligatory ship-wreck. “Nation” island, too, is accessible to the public at this time.

If you head on down to Elysian Isle in Second Life, you can collect a note card (hopefully also as yet unfinished, as it seems somewhat incomplete); here is a precis of the information:

Terry Pratchett Nation Treasure Hunt.

  1. Join the “Terry Pratchett Fans” group.
  2. Visit the eBook exhibition on Elysian Isle. Look for a poster for a title by Terry and now available in eBook form. Touch the poster; you will get three objects.
  3. Follow the instructions contained in the objects you received in step #2.

Good luck!

Be sure to keep a close eye out for the group creation, which should denote the beginning of festivities. There are apparently many delicious prizes to be won, both real and virtual.

Pratchett’s appearance in Second Life is particularly surprising since, due to the onset of a very rare form of Alzheimer’s, posterior cortical atrophy, he has had to give up writing dedications at book signings. One also wonders, since this is a children’s book, and not one of the Discworld series of books for which he is so well-known, why he is making an appearance on the adult Second Life grid.

Perhaps, despite being titled a children’s book, it is yet another example of Pratchett’s work that is accessible by all ages. Like every other book he has written, it probably carries that wonderful satirical flavor and important knowledge about the world that makes fans love his books so much.

SLEDcc: focusing on fun, fruition, and finances.

Image courtesy of Rik Panganiban

Image courtesy of Rik Panganiban

The Second Life Education Community Convention (SLEDcc) ran in Tampa, Florida, over the last weekend. Presented here are wrap-ups of three keynote speeches given over the course of the weekend, each with a different focus on the issues facing education in virtual environments.

Why Second Life Can’t Tip: The Power and Perils of Living La Vida Ludic

Presenter: Barry Joseph (GlobalKids Bixby in Second Life)

Barry Joseph is of the opinion that until society becomes more familiar with integrating play into every day life (the “ludic” life), Second Life will not tip.

The word ludic holds its roots in the Latin ludere, meaning “to play”. It therefore shares a common root with the word ludicrous, meaning “amusing or laughable.” Though ludic started out as a word with meanings relating to aimless play and squandering of time, those meanings have lost their derogatory status, so that in the context of modern education the connotations are far different.

According to Joseph, ludic, in this context, best describes the way in which “game/play dynamics, aesthetics and sensibilities … increasingly define our social interactions.” Thus, the ‘ludic life’ is one in which we bring gaming skills to bear in our everyday lives, rather than one in which we treat life as a game, as in the philosophy of ludism.

Until more people are living the ‘ludic life’, it seems unlikely that Second Life will tip. To date, Second Life has hit a major peak in the rate of people joining up, only to have that rate steeply fall off again; clearly the statistics are showing that Second Life is nowhere near tipping yet. Is this what it will take, for us to nurture our game-playing selves, to create ludic lives for ourselves in the real world, in order to make Second Life more appealing?

Explicit Bargains: Setting Realistic (Yet Powerful) Expectations for Teaching in Virtual Worlds

Presenter: Sarah Robbins (Intellagirl Tully in Second Life).

Sarah Robbins’ keynote speech covered how to increase the effectiveness of in-world education. Borrowing from Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody, she presented the following structure:

  • The promise: what are we expecting to get?
  • The tool: how are we going to achieve the promise?
  • The bargain: this is what I am going to do; this is what you are going to do. We achieve the promise by fulfilling the bargain.

In essence, “Innovation fails when the bargain breaks down.” However, each part of the structure must be analyzed to ensure that any given educational project goes off well. If the tool is inadequate, the promise is not sufficiently promising, or if the bargain is being consistently broken by one side or the other simply due to circumstance, any one of these can jeopardize the whole project.

Why Johnny Can’t Rez

Presenter: Beyers Sellers (“Metanomics” presenter).

Beyers Sellers addressed the tricky issue of how to get support (funding, resources and other types of assistance) for educational ventures into virtual environments from faculty and other educational staff.

Essentially you need to demonstrate that you are supporting the goals of the educational facility at which you teach by using virtual environments in your classroom. Without this reassurance, you are unlikely to get the support you require.

Sellers identified these three questions as ones that administrators are likely to want answered:

  1. Which goals, for yourself and for the institution, are being supported, and how will they be supported?
  2. Why should a virtual environment be used to accomplish these goals, as opposed to another solution?
  3. What are the costs and risks of using a virtual environment?

In conclusion

Second Life could be a promising educational platform under the right circumstances. However, not only does Linden Lab need to make preparations at their end to make the magic happen, there are plenty of opportunities available for educators, and the wider public, to do their bit to support and improve education on the Second Life grids.

Healthcare giants: have clue, will build.

Whyville Bioplex

When it comes to the use of virtual environments, the healthcare industry is no less prone to fall into marketing pits of doom than any other industry. Static data, presented in a slap-dash fashion like posters on a wall. Huge, unused buildings that serve no particular purpose, and the occasional video. This seems to be the standard fare presented by companies and organisations coming into virtual environments who are not sensible about use of the medium. Often, these folk would have been better served by a well-organised Web page than the mish-mash they present within virtual environments. Indeed, their attempts are distinctly reminiscent of the early days of the Web, before people got a handle on that medium.

It’s not all bad, however. A couple of companies and organisations have produced useful and significant services that are appropriate for virtual environments. They have clearly thought about how best to discharge the services they already provide to demographics containing the folks they previously had a great deal of trouble reaching. People who use virtual environments, and who:

a) are unable or unwilling to leave their homes to obtain health information or care;
b) suffer from chronic illnesses that require some maintenance by the patient that can be bolstered by health information or care delivered online;
c) are young, not requiring specific healthcare, but can benefit from information delivery.

One of the best efforts open to the public eye is Palomar West hospital, a venture by Cisco, Palomar Pomerado Health, and metaverse developers Millions-of-us. The Second Life version of the hospital, built before the real version, is an exact model of what you can expect to see in San Diego in 2011, to the extent that several rooms are fully kitted-out with the sort of equipment that will fill the real thing. The Second Life exhibit is quite interactive, and provides an excellent idea of how things might operate in reality. Cisco Systems will power the real hospital. A central, internal network will be created to support the operation of the hospital, from patient locations via RFID tags, to room temperature and lighting via bedside screens, to the robotic technology that enables surgeons to operate remotely and automated systems for diagnostic work. Incidently, when we wandered past the site to take a closer look, a research study was being conducted. It’s good to know that this virtual environment replica is useful not only for future patients, and public healthcare at that level of education, but also for medical and other professionals.

Another ongoing project that has proved to be successful is one put on by the CDC in Whyville. Whyville is a virtual scientific learning environment for kids aged 8 to 15 years old. During the influenza season in the real world, Whyvillians are also placed at risk of developing the “Why-flu”, which causes sneezing and red spots on the avatar’s face. Not only were kids given the chance to have their avatar inoculated prior to the Why-flu season beginning, during the season those who caught the flu had a chance to buy remedies from the pharmacy, which were time-limited, and which came at a cost. During the second round of the project in 2007-2008, Whyvillians were encouraged to invite their grandparents to come and be virtually inoculated also. Thus information was disseminated across several generations online, and no doubt further than that offline, to other family members, and from there into the wider population.

This year the CDC has teamed up with CIGNA to produce a healthcare island in Second Life.

“About 90% of what we’re doing with chronic disease management involves behavior change. We could do more for our patients who have diabetes, weight problems or hypertension by helping them relieve their stress and achieve better mental health.” This is what they hope to cover in the virtual environment.

We are yet to experience the island for ourselves, however given the success of the Whyville project, it seems that the CDC have an excellent idea of what it takes to sell healthcare information to the younger generation; it will be interesting to see what tack they take for older folk. Most people like to take their medicinal information with a spoonful of sugar – experience will tell whether games will be the sweetener required, or whether talks and general social interaction are the preferential nectar.

Another site of note: the Second Health hospital or Polyclinic, Second Health London in Second Life. In a similar fashion to the West Palomar site (though in less detail), the Polyclinic displays a 3D representation as it might exist in real life. The establishment can be toured, though perhaps the machinima made at the site in Second Life, with accompanying information, is more enlightening. Though an entire medical campus has been built, with signs denoting the areas in which GPs and specialists will see patients, the acute care clinic and diagnostic facilities, none of the detail of equipment or functioning of the clinic has been created.

Yet another fantastic use of virtual environments is exemplified by the folk over at Play2Train. A town and two hospitals have been fitted out to enable “Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), Simple Triage Rapid Transportation (START), Risk Communication and Incident Command System (ICS) Training”.”Play2Train provides opportunities for training through interactive role playing.”

For a quick round up of other nifty virtual doings in healthcare, visit this link.

There is a vast diversity of healthcare information that needs to be delivered, both to professionals and to the general public. Virtual environments may only slowly be coming into their own in this realm, however, there is hope for them yet.

PacRimX, Skoolaborate and Global Challenge merger: the beginning of an Education Grid?

Bakamatsu region, Kyoto, on the Second Life Main Grid

PacRimX (Pacific Rim Exchange)

Stan Trevena, director of technology for Modesto City Schools, is the man responsible for the PacRimX project, developed in 2007. The idea was that kids from Modesto and their counterparts from Kyoto Gakuen in Japan would be able to interact with each other in a virtual environment, prior to an international student exchange in which 20 Modesto students traveled to Japan, and vice versa with 50 Japanese students.

Due to time-zone issues, video-conferencing was ruled out as a solution early on. Instead, Trevena bought an private Island on the Teen Second Life Grid. He fitted it with some basics, including a welcome centre, but noted that “a lot of the innovative use of the island will come from the kids.” The number of islands has now expanded to four. Trevena describes the facility as “a place for our students to communicate and collaborate with each other in building a place where they can share their interests, cultures and languages.”

Students from Kyoto arrived in Modesto on June 24, 2008.


Westley Field, Director of Online Learning at MLC School Sydney, founded the Skoolaborate Project in 2007. Skoolaborate works with junior high schools around the globe to foster students collaboration, involving the use of digital technologies: wikis, blogs, virtual environments and other online learning tools. The Skoolaborate learning space, also on the Teen Second Life Grid, is a private, secure area with an invitation required to access it. “Skoolaborate now has 14 schools from Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and the USA.”

Global Challenge

“In the Global Challenge, teams of US high school students collaborate with international counterparts from October to May to address global climate change and compete for prizes and scholarship awards.”

Approximately 2,000 students have already participated in their program.

The merger

Kyoto Gakuen has been working with both Skoolaborate and PacRimX independently since the genesis of each program in 2007. This is how a relationship developed between the directors of the programs, which ultimately led to the merger between the two. The Global Challenge program was brought in separately, to complement the work of the others.

The resulting merged program, featuring input and participation by 17 schools from across the globe, is now the world’s largest virtual environment project, designed for kids of junior high school age.

“Schools collaborate using a variety of online tools and environments to share experiences, thoughts and ideas from around global understanding, social and environmental education.”


Having a private project on the Teen Second Life Grid could have been a great way to ensure that students encountered a slow-moving, sterile environment, with great homogeneity of culture, opinion and thought. However, this partnership should bring together a rich and diverse mix of folks, students and educators, which should create a varied, stimulating environment in which to learn.

Linden Lab is in flux, and the cause is not at all clear: speculation is rife and rumors abound, and the Lab has all but cut off communications with it’s residents. The Millennial Generation does not seem to be the target audience for the Second Life “platform” – this indicates that there is unlikely to be an “Education Grid” any time soon, or perhaps at all. It looks like the program developed by the combined force of PacRimX, Skoolaborate and Global Challenge will be the one of the largest contenders for an alternative.

The question is: will the Teen Second Life Grid remain active for long enough for any of their goals to come to fruition?

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