Virtual Reality vs Virtual Worlds Smackdown!

Bethany's Avatars: T-Rex & "Tiny"

Bethany’s Avatars: T-Rex & “Tiny”

I recently joined my Community Virtual Library and SJSU’s VCARA colleagues at a fun event held at iSchool Island in Second Life. We held a Virtual Reality vs Virtual Worlds Smackdown Debate, complete with our impressive avatars ready to duke it out for the audience!

Our sparring was moderated by Dr. Valerie Hill, the director of the Community Virtual Library in Second Life, Avacon, and Kitely. We each had five minutes to speak, and then five minutes to refute our opponent’s position on the most important criteria for immersive environments (as recently identified in an unpublished VCARA survey). The criteria include:

  • Persistence
  • Accessibility
  • Open Educational Resources (OER)
  • Community of Practice
  • Building Independently and Collaboratively

Alyse Dunavant-Jones, the co-director of CVL, argued that  “VR is the future, and the future is now!” while embodied as an enormous fire-breathing dragon. I was embodied as a fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, arguing that virtual worlds have a much longer and proven history, and still offer a tremendous opportunity for immersive learning. Our avatars were actually so big, we traded into smaller sized ones while standing in the boxing ring to speak. As Alyse spoke she was embodied as a human-sized Gecko in the boxing ring. My T-Rex avatar loomed ominously outside the ring, growling of course. When it was my turn to speak I changed into my “tiny”, a cute black kitten with a fierce attitude. I was fearless of Alyce-as-dragon flying overhead! 

The event concluded as a draw, with both sides conceding that there are benefits and drawbacks to each. Also, it’s critical that pedagogy remain central. It is not enough to merely learn how to use the technology. The main takeaway I wanted to leave with the audience with is that regardless of what platforms we may use in the future, designers of any immersive learning activities have to be familiar with the long history of virtual worlds in education. More importantly, they should already have hands-on experience in virtual worlds. 

Check out more pictures at the VCARA blog post about the event. Anyone interested in networking (and having fun!) with educators in virtual worlds should contact Bethany at eCampus to learn more!

Immersive Learning Research Network Conference 2019

The fifth annual Immersive Learning Research Network conference was held this month in London, England. This conference brings together an international group of developers, educators, and research professionals from a range of  disciplines who collaborate to develop the scientific, technical, and applied potential of immersive learning. In particular, conference participants share their research in an ongoing effort to continually examine the elements that create effective immersive learning experiences. 

I had heard about the conference from one of the organizers, Jonathan Richter, who had presented a keynote at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference in April. I had presented at that in-world conference. Jon had let me know that there was still room for poster presentations at iLRN19, so I had the honor to represent San Jose State University at an international community event.

Bethany at iLRN 2019

My poster synthesized research on the affordances of virtual worlds, and my experiences as both participant and in-world builder for the last year and a half. All of the conference events were great, but I was particularly inspired by Jim Purbrick’s presentation Lessons Learned in Virtual Worlds. As a former developer for Second Life, (and current engineering manager of Oculus VR in the UK), Jim articulated the increasing importance of understanding the social aspect of collaborating in open virtual worlds. Of course, I think the best way to do that is join the educators and librarians who have been holding events and conferences in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim for the last 10 years. So if you have any such interest, do let me know!

If you’re interested in the research, the conference proceedings (linked here) contain 18 final papers selected from 60 submissions. These papers fall into seven different categories; STEM, disciplinary applications, special education, history, pedagogical strategies, immersion and presence. I’ve also linked here to a PDF version of my poster. (From the QR code on my poster you can access additional information and videos about virtual worlds I have posted on Canvas.)

I hope San Jose State will have an even bigger presence at the conference next year, when it will be held in June at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo! 

OpenSim Community Conference 2018

Bethany at OSCC 2018

This is a good follow up to Yingjie’s previous post about the upcoming Immersive Learning Institute for 2019. As I wrap up my thoughts on my conference experiences for this year, I’m most delighted that I was able to attend the sixth annual OpenSimulator Community Conference 2018 on December 8th and 9th. This was my second year attending this virtual world conference, and it allowed me to network with educators, artists, and others from around the world, all of whom are passionate about this open source alternative to a virtual worlds platform such as Second Life.

Presenting in a Virtual World

This was also my first time presenting in a virtual world! Originally I was to co-present with a colleague, Dr. Valerie Hill, the director of the Community Virtual Library (CVL). Valerie wasn’t able to attend, however, so it gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to this community, and tell them about CVL’s plans for a hypergrid resource library on two different virtual worlds that are using the OpenSimulator platform. As the project lead, my presentation included screenshots of the two buildings I’ve put in place where all our content and resources will be housed, along with the portals that allow for visitors to jump easily from one virtual world grid to another.

Bethany presenting at OSCC 2018

Hypergrid?! Hypergridding?!

Since the concept of hypergridding is likely to not be familiar to you, here’s a simple explanation. There are many virtual worlds built on OpenSimulator, and those worlds can be on anybody’s computer or server anywhere in the world. So if virtual worlds are like 3 dimensional websites, hypergridding is the protocol that allows a user to jump from “website” to “website”. Instead of just navigating the different pages of one virtual world, a visitor is empowered to travel from different computers or servers to another.

While there is a bit of a learning curve, and the technology is still kind of wonky, I think of open source virtual worlds and hypergridding as kind of a 2.0 mashup of the internet and social media. It’s every sci-fi geek’s dream –  the emerging metaverse!