Technology for mediating learning seminar, Kings College, 13th June

I’m really interested in virtual conference technology, so the seminar I went to at Kings College about the Sun Project Wonderland (toolkit for building 3D worlds) and MiRTLE was right up my street as I’d like to organise a virtual Barcamp or dorkbot. Anyways, here’s a write up of my notes from the two presentations, the first was with Bernard Horan:

When Sun Microsystems realized that only 50% of workers were in the office at any given time, they decided to do some research, this revealed an impact on motivation of their remote staff:

* with remote working you get a lack of social interaction, ie building up relationships, trust & loyalty and people get motivation from other people.

* there were management issues – it was difficult to establish what employees were doing

* difficulty brainstorming – apparently we only do this face to face

They concluded that current technology lacks social bandwidth. Sun started looking online at Second Life and World of Warcraft and how their communities and technology work together. Although it’s been a bit slow in the past, improvements in broadband, bandwidth and latency allow you to have a better shared experience.

A fascinating fact was revealed that in 2006 1 billion dollars were spent alone on acquiring objects in/for World of Warcraft.

The upshot of this was the Second Life MPK20 experiment – Sun built a campus in Second Life and exciting things started to happen, such as a guy who had his first serendipitous encounter with another person in 7 years of home working!

But there were a few drawbacks: in Second Life you can’t use your own name, you have to chose from a list of preset names, so no-one knew who was who! In the end they got round this by having a wiki page so people could find out. It turned out that social experiences in Second Life were okay in their Sun campus, but they couldn’t do any real work.

Wonderland is a virtual worlds toolkit and its goals are:
• to be emotionally salient
• have social presence
• encourage spontaneous, unplanned actions and socialising before and after events
• enhance communication between coworkers

• live approach sharing
• integration with business servers
• internal external scalability
• 100% java
• opensource
• audio as core feature
• free
• extensive telephony integration

Audio & telephony:
Lots of audio and telephony features, there was a really neat way for workers to ring into the system if they were without a PC or connection and join in – they appeared as glowing orbs – very nice!

A tutor who teaches ESOL in Second Life who was present, said she feels that what you can do in the unreality world of Second Life is what is great about virtual worlds. For example she took her remote students to see an Van Gogh paintings in art gallery set in Second Life, something that she wouldn’t be able to get her students together for in real life.

She also uses the ‘holodeck’ in Second Life which allows her to turn an environment round so that her students can appear in a virtual hotel reception and practice languages – this is another example of what she couldn’t do in real life with her students.


BTW – I haven’t quite figured out adding/embedding media in WordPress yet, so the smaller photos are of MiRTLE!

MiRTLE – funded by Sun Microsystems in an educational context, presented by Michael Gardner

MiRTLE is an opensource mixed reality teaching and learning environment.

They’re developing for several reasons, but we heard in one example that various Universities such as Shanghai Jiao Tong University, are overpopulated, ie here are not enough of them to cope with demand, so one solution is to look at online worlds, with delivery of lectures in real time.

There are lots of ways remote students can log in and lectures are broadcast over many different platforms such as the internet, IPTV, mobile phones and SMS interaction.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University has a smart classroom for holding/broadcasting the lectures.
Apparently there are certain issues with things like teachers being able to see if students are asleep and also monitoring their mobile phone use and cultural differences in attitudes to learning.

Remote learners seen in real classroom on screen as avatars, they’re using (or plan to use), audio, live video feed, PDF viewer, shared apps and sunspot. They also would like to develop more control on avatar customization, such as avatar gestures and also to create more advanced world building tools.

Some privacy issues have come up and need to be tackled
* spatial access – who can move their avatar where
* media access – who can view what
* mutable access – who can use and change virtual reality objects

Some work also needs to be done on virtual presence and emotion – they’re developing sunspot, which is a small wearable computer, which measures heart rate, etc, and maps/feeds back emotion to the group/tutor. Presently it’s taken the form of a finger clip, but they’re looking to make it into a watch or something more comfortable.

They’re using the information from sunSPOT to map data from the body to emotions and mapping learning styles to emotional stages. There is of course lots of ethical stuff to consider when using this technology, such as whether the students/users want people to know how they’re feeling – for example if they’re bored by a lecture or by someone who is talking to them!

Shanghai Jiao Tong University is looking at all this stuff in more detail and also:
* using virtual worlds to do things you can’t do in the real world
* new avatar technology so you can use photos to build very real looking avatars – they’ve nicknamed this ‘uncanny valley’ which amused me greatly!
* location detection – build maps of real life locations such as classrooms so you can sense where people are and project their avatars into place in a virtual world

Some terms came up that I’m going to look into:
* jISC habitat project
* moodle
* sloodle
* opensim – create your own server and link it to second life
* opensim grid – allows worlds to link together and jump between worlds