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I heard some intriguing presentations this week about education in Second Life, but I happen know that there is an open-source, free (?) alternative called “Croquet.”

Do any of you have experience with Croquet vs. Second Life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

I attended two talks, hoping that someone would compare different platforms, or at least give the audience a chance to ask questions, but no such luck.

I think these multi-user virtual environments are really interesting, but I have some reservations about educational institutions making substantial investments in building infrastructure inside of an environment that belongs to a single company, Linden Labs. It would be nice to know why an educational group picked one environment vs. another.

BTW – World of Warcraft looks fun, especially when the participants are interviewed about their favorite candidates, but somehow I think it’s a little bit too far out there for the audience I’m considering.

I did find two articles here and here.

Comments

  1. #1 Saijanai
    November 2, 2008

    That’s a quite complicated question, and you will receive different answers from different people based on their background and biases. Disclosure: I work as a volunteer with Linden Lab on their “Open Grid Protocol” project to define a Second Life-compatible open standard to allow various virtual worlds to work together.

    I can only tell you a little about Croquet, since I personally have never managed to get it to work very well. It is more a research tool, in my opinion. There is, however, a commercial venture based on Croquet that works with companies and schools to implement solutions based on Croquet that you would want to work with if you go the Croquet route.

    So, my impressions of Croquet are that it is stunning, technology-wise. Due to its design, everything in Croquet is a “white board,” meaning that things can be manipulated by multiple people at the same time in collaboration, which makes for some amazing results.

    The downside of Croquet is that it is not meant, as far as I can tell, to be a “metaverse” of interacting worlds. Each Croquet world is basically an island unto itself. You might be able to “teleport” between them, but there is no real plan for communications between them. However, if all you are looking for is a “walled garden”–that never interacts with the rest of the multiverse (the upcoming universe of virtual worlds)–then Croquet might well be your preference.

    Second Life, on the other hand, was conceived from the beginning to be a metaverse. It was inspired by the “cyperpunk” novel, Snow Crash:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Crash.

    About 2 years ago, Linden Lab decided to “open source” its 3D software, allowing outside developers to contribute to its evolution. In September of 2007, they announced the creation of the “Architecture Working Group,” meant to encourage the creation of internet standards to allow various virtual worlds to work together. Earlier this year, IBM and Linden Lab demonstrated the ability for avatars to move between two different kinds of virtual worlds: Second LIfe, and OpenSim, and a project was started to develop this capability and extend it, called Open Grid Public Beta.

    This is part of a larger “ecosystem” of Second LIfe compatible worlds that comprises several different companies and organizations and hundreds of individual programmers. A partial list of contact points for these organizations can be found here:

    https://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/AW_Groupies#External_Resources

    Educational resources for Second Life and OpenSim include the Linden Lab mailing list for educators, as well as hundreds of individuals and groups working with Second Life and OpenSim (open source 3rd party software designed to allow anyone to host their own Second Life compatible virtual world).

    https://lists.secondlife.com/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/educators
    https://lists.secondlife.com/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo

    Other groups and organizations that might interest educators include the Second LIfe Librarians:

    http://sllibrarians.ning.com/

    The Second LIfe Shakespeare Company:

    http://slshakespeare.com/

    The Second Life Education Wiki:

    http://www.simteach.com/wiki/index.php?title=Second_Life_Education_Wiki

    A more generl virtual worlds education page:

    http://www.simteach.com/wiki/

    Hope this helps.

  2. #2 Sandra Porter
    November 2, 2008

    Saijani: This helps quite a bit! I’m certainly reassured to hear that there’s an open source initiative related to Second Life and that there are projects to make worlds interoperable.

    The idea of having a “walled garden” is very appealing, though. Limiting access to the participants would be a big plus.

  3. #3 Prokofy Neva
    November 2, 2008

    You don’t have to spend a lot of money on Second Life and buy a $1000 island or spend $15,000 having some “solutions provider” build you a huge replica of your university on an island, or be locked in to any sort of huge investment. Not at all. You can buy land of 4604 m2 in size, which is enough to make some builds, hold meetings, show films, leave out notecard givers, etc. for asynchronous interaction for $34.95 a month (4096 m2 tier level plus 512 m2 base tier). It’s like buying cable or a DSL line. If you don’t want to pay even that much, look around for rentals that are cheaper, i.e. $20/month or less or just use public sandboxes and public meeting places until you decide if you like it.

    Depending on whether you have a private island or mainland parcel, you will have more or less options to close off your parcel as “group only” or to a list of admissions. Universities often assume that they have to buy an entire private island to block all access. Why go to that expense? You can block at the smaller parcel level.

    But after some time you might get over your fear of your strange neighbours based on scare stories you may have heard and find that you can work with them to make interesting communities.

    The other platforms that are either reverse-engineering SL or have other engines just do not have the robust capabilities of SL, which has been in business for five years.

  4. #4 kaela
    November 3, 2008

    openlifegrid.com is similar, younger and without the sophistication of Linden Labs product. But if you want to run a system for example on your own PC or Server, google for RealXtend, it is standalone and can give you a complete understanding of the mechanics of such a grid. It does not give you that element that makes society work however, that positive and sometimes negative interaction between people.(Though, if your tech has the basic smarts, it can be networked and create the environment to watch people interact)

    Kaela

  5. #5 Sandra Porter
    November 3, 2008

    What I want is to have a classroom where students can present posters, “talk” with each other, or listen to lectures. I don’t want all the elements of society.

    I know this can be accomplished in Second Life, but I want to know more about the alternatives.

  6. #6 Ian
    November 4, 2008

    Saijani -

    That was awesiome. If you don’t have your own blog, you ought to!

  7. #7 Toaster
    November 5, 2008

    The problem I would see with creating a classroom in SL is the learning curve. Each student would have to learn how to use the controls to manipulate their character, create prims, develop HUDs if desired, etc.. It took me about 1h to learn how to manipulate the character successfully, and about 3h to learn that there are many parts of SL much better left alone (e.g., SL Barcelona, where one may buy “photorealistic” genitalia for their avatar, or the Furry Island).

    Is it necessary that the students have 3D representations of themselves and their peers? Hosting a normal website with audio streaming available could solve the same problem. If you give the student presenting a stream for audio and interface controls, they could give their presentation while others are watching (although it may be difficult to account for who is attending by this method). Another potential complication of SL is that a large number of avatars being in one place at one time generates a lot of data and can lead to lag-time problems, especially if not everyone has a really fast connection.

  8. #8 Sandra Porter
    November 5, 2008

    I definitely agree about the learning curve and bandwidth issues. Those concern me, too.

    I haven’t tried the audio streaming bit just yet. Supposedly, my wiki has a plug-in that would let people talk to each other if they’re on the same web page. I haven’t tested this yet, so I don’t know how it well it will work.

    Some of Second Life issues that you mentioned, the islands to stay away from, for example, or the problems that would occur when too many avatars visit one site are problems that supposedly wouldn’t happen with Croquet. That’s part of my interest in learning more about alternatives.

  9. #9 PF Anderson
    November 5, 2008

    Hi, Sandra, if you are interested in knowing more about the variety of virtual worlds available for education, there are places to go to learn more. I blogged on this a bit las Spring, but so much has happened since them. My posts can give you a little bit of background.

    Trends in Virtual Worlds, Part 1: Metaverses?: http://mblog.lib.umich.edu/etechlib/archives/2008/03/trends_in_virtu.html

    Trends in Virtual Worlds, Part 2: Open Virtual Worlds: http://mblog.lib.umich.edu/etechlib/archives/2008/03/trends_in_virtu_2.html

    The scientist I’ve spoken with who seems to have the richest understanding of the open source options for 3d worlds, the pros and cons of each, has been Maged N Kamel Boulos. You can find some of the information he has collected in this page (NOTE: the bullets points expand to show more information):

    http://healthcybermap.semanticweb.org/sl.htm

    Regarding the risks and benefits of students working in SL, I have some thoughts, actually more like other questions. Basically, match the tool to the task. All of these are tools, and have different appropriate applications. Remember, you can use Adobe Connect for the functions you’ve defined as core. No need for a virtual world at all, unless you are looking for their special functionalities or outcomes that appear to be maximised from their use — engagement, immersion, retention of students through distance learning program, increased satisfaction with distance learning experience, transferability of skills to real world environments, utility of skills in other virtual world or online learning environments. Here is something I wrote about why SL is useful for me, professionally speaking.

    Work Productivity in Second Life: http://mblog.lib.umich.edu/etechlib/archives/2008/04/metanomics_and.html

    Perhaps the resources mentioned in these presentations might be useful to you in assessing Second Life as a potential learning environment.

    Second Life Teachers Toolkit: http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/second-life-teachers-toolkit/

    Second Life Research Resources: http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/second-life-researcher-resources

  10. #10 Toaster
    November 5, 2008

    Wellwhadyaknow? It’s a small digital world, no?

    PF Anderson and I work at the same institution, although she knows me as “Mortimer Foxtrot” and I her as “Perplexity Peccable”.

  11. #11 Sandra Porter
    November 5, 2008

    That’s funny :-) . If you meet me in another world, I’m Vitro Vita.

    Thanks PF! Those look like wonderful resources.

  12. #12 Liz Dorland
    December 11, 2008

    Hi Sandy,

    I responded to this post right after you made it, but the computer ate it somehow. :-)

    Prokofy and I don’t always see eye to eye on Second Life and Real Life politics, but her comments here are right on in terms of making a start. I see some other familiar SL names here too. I entered Second Life in November of 2006, but it was a year later that I really “got it” when I attended an NMC conference for 2 days “in-world.” I recommend that to anyone. See http://sl.nmc.org for more info. There are more and more conferences that use “mixed reality”, providing options to attend in Second Life and/or by web meeting spaces such as Elluminate or Adobe Connect. Screens in SL and at the meeting give participants in both worlds a view of each other. Very interesting.

    What is impossible to understand until you have spent time in-world and made community connections is that the highest purpose for SL is as a collaborative space. For professional development and networking, it’s dynamite. SL is also a place where students and faculty can encounter different cultures and make friends from around the world.

    My advice to educators (and not mine alone) is to come to Second Life and explore what is there with current residents. Go to events and conferences, visit spectacular environments, make friends. Then you and only then can one begin to visualize the possibilities of a space where interactions are much more rewarding and “real” than on the flat web. I encourage you to visit Jokaydia (http://jokaydia.com) where I have a small space. I’d be happy to meet you there any time–just let me know.

    I haven’t seen you since the workshops at Elaine’s Biolink Fellows event over a year ago. I hope you are well–is sounds like you are!

    Cheers,
    Liz Dorland/Chimera Cosmos

  13. #13 Liz Dorland
    December 11, 2008

    I forgot to comment on Croquet! It’s fine for what it is and it is developing rapidly. But Croquet is a walled garden, and I think that Second Life offers so much more that is beneficial beyond simply learning science concepts. Context is important. Connections are important. Croquet will not have those for a long time, if ever. For me, that dictates where my efforts will be.

    Right now, the biggest impact comes from Second Life. Of course, I am talking about college students, teachers, and faculty. Using second life with students younger than 18 is possible in Teen Second Life, but that is a whole other story with a much higher activation energy. Look at what Global Kids has done and join http://www.rezed.org (based on the Ning platform) for a wealth of information on virtual worlds in education in general. You can download an entire curriculum developed by Global Kids for learning in SL.

  14. #14 Sandra Porter
    December 11, 2008

    Thanks Liz,

    I agree. It is really hard to understand why this would be helpful until you’ve actually been there.

    Next time, I go to Second Life (and I’m afraid it won’t be for a month or so), I will come and visit your space.

    So much to learn, so little time.