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  • subQuark 10:19 pm on April 23, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: , , ,   

    collaborative learning environments & us 

    I was reading Tony Karrer’s excellent blog, in particular a post on simulations, games, and social learning, and wanted to express my take on virtual worlds as a social learning tool. I have shifted from a purely “eLearning” use of virtual worlds to also developing environmental science activities aimed at Earth Science students (7th grade).

    I have been doing corporate eLearning for about 8 years and before that I was an Environmental Science professor at Miami Dade College for seven years and for three years prior to that, a private school science teacher. While I love doing eLearning development work in Flash (I even ran my own Flash forum for a few years), I truly love teaching and developing curricula.

    A large part of this shift is due to how economical virtual worlds have become. Reaction Grid‘s hosted OpenSim has allowed me to do more than filming in temporary office sets on vacant lots. As far as expressing the social nature and “vision” of how virtual world’s can fall into social learning, I can’t sum it up any better than our chief builder and full on virtual world expert – Ener Hax. What follows is an unedited repost (how is that for a disclaimer!) from the iliveisl blog:

    collaborative learning environments & us

    *barf* okay, i feel better now!

    it’s just that the term “collaborative” is sooo overused when in comes to virtual worlds. but it is a good word to describe what virtual worlds offer. being able to share a real time workspace with others that are from all over the world is really great

    it’s easy to gripe about lag or inventory or sim crossings, but only because it is easy to forget what we are really collaborating within

    virtual worlds are instant rendering 3D applications. try creating a room in Blender 3D, add physics to it (there is a Blender game engine), put a person in the scene (Make Human is an open source person creator for Blender – like Poser) and then create a walk cycle and render out a one second walk at 24 frames per second. just the rendering will take a few minutes (could be hours too – did you know that some individual frames of the movie Cars took up to eight hours to render?). now add to that the ability for the Blender person to chat, create prims, do scripting, and be able to view thousand’s of objects and hundred’s of textures and you would have, err, you’d have a virtual world like second life or opensim!

    the point being – it is easy to take a collaborative environment like we think of for granted

    the most important thing about a collaborative environment are the interactions it allows, not the technologies it is made of

    these environments also include things like google docs which several people can work on at the same time, ning networks (bah on the free ones going bye-bye), moodle for education, and so on. all allow many people to work and learn together at the same time

    that’s what we are doing with Enclave Harbour – creating a learning space for secondary students. it’s not a simulation as talked about in eLearning and education circles. Enclave Harbour is a representation of selected real world settings designed to be used in conjunction with a lab manual/workbook – things like solar, wind, and nuclear ener-gy =p

    but . . . virtual worlds get a mixed rap in the education community. there was so much media hype three years ago, do you remember all the news about Second Life? it was like the best thing since sliced bread (ener <– still a fan of sliced bread)

    corporate eLearning people were preaching that it was the ultimate way to do training (subQuark has had 11 venues to share his eLearning use of it) and universities were diving head first into Second Life. at its peak, there were about 250 universities and colleges isl

    once the media hype smoke cleared, the majority of the eLearning community never actually got into virtual worlds (they did a lot of talking) because of the cost and the amount of time to get good at it. it’s hard to “learn” second life on a 9 – 5 job if you are not crazy passionate about it

    the eLearning gang moved on but the education gang stayed and is still pretty big on virtual worlds. now that opensim options are out there, and much less expensive, some universities are in both or have fully moved from second life

    Princeton University just pulled completely out of Second Life. i have not heard if they are continuing on in any virtual world

    so what happened? hype. simply over hyped and expectations were often never met

    virtual worlds can be great collaborative environments, but only if key passionate people develop them and keep them going for their respective organizations . . . and expectations are realistic (virtually realistic?) =)

    for Enclave Harbour, we get to build some neat things and offer it as a way to let people communicate and learn. our expectations are to create points of discussion for specific topics and that’s it. it’s like taking a text-book picture and making a 3D virtual version of it and letting you walk around it

    currently, 3D LCD projectors are all the rage for K-12 but that means big expenses for schools to buy not only the projector, but also the 3D class materials. in the end, students are simply looking at 3D art. why not go a less expensive route with virtual field trips where you could even collaborate with other schools in other countries?

    that’s our take on collaborative learning environments =)

  • subQuark 11:27 pm on April 20, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: , ,   

    Enclave Harbour sandbox now open 

    Our virtual world sandbox is now open for public use. Just grab a free Reaction Grid account, log into the Reaction Grid world, and head northwest.

    The sandbox is in the northwest corner of the Ener-gy Hotel sim in the Enclave Harbour Estate.

    So if you have been curious about trying an OpenSim world, come give it a shot! See you in-world!


    • Maria Korolov 4:32 pm on April 21, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Is Enclave Harbor hypergrid-enabled?

      – Maria

      • subquark 6:57 pm on April 21, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Hello Maria, it’s always nice to hear from you and you likely are more certain of this than I am! When we signed up for Reaction Grid we were a private grid and at that time I believe Reaction Grid shut down hypergridding for security reasons. We have now connected to their main grid and as far as I know, hypergridding is not enabled. I have just put in a ticket to see if I can learn more about this.

        Hypergridding was one of the criteria we used in selecting Reaction Grid and hopefully will be available soon.

        *heads over to favourite VW blog – to learn more* =)

    • Maria Korolov 7:00 pm on April 21, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Oh, ReactionGrid is very much hypergrid-enabled.

      In fact, I’m there now, hypergridded from OSGrid.

      — Maria

      • subquark 7:02 pm on April 21, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        Lol! You answered faster than Reaction Grid! I need to read up on how to take advantage of this! I would love our sims to be reachable by anyone on OSGrid.

        Thank you Maria!

        • Ener Hax 7:24 pm on April 21, 2010 Permalink

          ha ha ha! you got schooled! and i have an easy blog post for tonite!

          thank you Maria for letting us know =D

          this is exciting! w00t!

        • Maria Korolov 7:28 pm on April 21, 2010 Permalink

          It’s an easy thing for them to activate, in the OpenSim.ini file.

          They’ve already got several other regions that are hypergrid-enabled, so it should be really straightforward.

        • subquark 9:19 am on April 22, 2010 Permalink

          Thank you Maria for sparking this conversation. Chris Hart from Reaction Grid will enable hypergridding on our 16 sims. A miscommunication in December had me thinking it was not possible at the time. Your comment was just the impetus needed to get this done.

  • subQuark 11:21 pm on April 6, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: earth science,   

    Malls, Guns, and Conservation 

    What do these three things: malls, guns, and conservation have in common?

    Teaching science is a wonderfully fulfilling endeavor. Making it memorable by tying it to student-relevant and “non-science” experiences is what I love to do.

    In creating a “virtual field trip” set of activities set in an easily accessible online world; keeping science relevant has been a guiding principle in the work Ener Hax and I have been doing in Enclave Harbour, a Reaction Grid hosted OpenSim estate.

    Teaching science through rote methods suck.

    Who wants to memorize the first 50 elements of the periodic chart of elements? Does it mean anything at all to know that a mole of any gas is 22.4 litres at standard temperature and pressure? We know where we stand in terms of STEM careers in the US and we could do better. Middle school and high school is not the place to weed out kids from science, it’s the time to fire them up about the wonders of viewing the world with greater science literacy.

    Despite making science a generally miserable experience for the majority of students, we still are known for incredible achievements in science and having the best science education available.

    But what if we had science be what it really is? An integrated part of our everyday lives. That doesn’t mean that those students that love and thrive on learning Avogadro’s number and Pi to 200 places would not be allowed to.

    photo by Eron Iler

    Harnessing electricity is a result of applied science but no one denies the benefits or claims it to be against religious teachings (I imagine there are some that do, but you get my drift). Science is simply a framework to view our world in richer detail.

    My classic example is teaching that sunsets are red because only the longer wavelengths of light are able to penetrate the thicker slice of atmosphere at sunset. That’s an easier way to relate to wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum than memorizing actual wavelengths. Coupled with that I mention that microwaves are slightly larger than the holes in the door of a microwave.

    So what do malls and guns have to do with conservation?

    In Enclave Harbour, we are creating a mall for people to get virtual goods for their own use. And like in the real world, malls are opportunities to see how science is a part of our lives. You could discuss the process of having a mall built which typically includes an Environmental Assessment and possibly Environmental Impact Statement. In the case of the mall in Enclave Harbour, you could also speak about the reclamation of a rock quarry (similar to a real world example of a hotel in China to be built-in a reclaimed quarry – thank you Nickola for showing that to us).

    Here is an example, within the mall, of an activity to help connect real world and relatable topics to environmental conservation:

    The Enclave Harbour Marine Patrol has a boat on display at the mall entrance.
    In reading the display sign, it mentions that the boat's guns can be used to
    fire paint balls. 
    How are paint balls used as part of forestry conservation?
    Hint: use the internet to look up the "Nelson Paint Company".

  • subQuark 12:41 pm on March 22, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: corporate social responsibility,   

    Why build a social presence? 

    Following and exemplifying “best green practices” is important in our new Reaction Grid project. Getting that word out is part of our mission and one reason we are so adamant with social networking.

    The iliveisl “brand”, as well as Ener Hax as the spokesperson, is the focus we have used. Ener never wanted to be in the spotlight, but has grown to love it (and be obsessed with it – 17,000 Twitter followers and daily blog posts).

    The term “brand” is so sterile but seems to be the best fit for discussing effective social awareness. The purpose of the iliveisl online voice has always been to share what we find wonderful about virtual worlds. It’s not sales oriented and is meant to show the “adventures” of a day-to-day avatar, Ener Hax, and perhaps help others see virtual worlds through the eyes of someone very passionate about them.

    Ener’s passion is easily 10 times greater than my own and certainly more involved. In the last week alone, Ener has built a marine patrol boat, a “megamall”, and a secret meeting space. Plus many small details like putting in a road, blogging daily (sometimes twice daily), meeting with new people in-world, and so on.

    As we define our focus for Enclave Harbour (even redefine the name on Ener’s request to be the proper spelling of harbour), we are using our social presence to spread the word on environmental issues. I am very proud of our Corporate Social Responsibilty consultant for following a similar online strategy and becoming recognized by Environmental Leader and become one of their bloggers (his first post with them). I work with Matt and we often talk about the best way to get your message out.

    Everyone with a Twitter account seems to call themselves a social ninja, but in reality, there are a few simple things you can do to become better known.

    Why is that important?

    Depends on your goals and in the case of Matt, it is to help promote environmental responsibility.

    The simple plan revolves around a key aspect that typically can not be faked or gamed. Passion and knowledge and Matt has both. He founded and chairs the Green Committee at our company (which was the first commercial LEED-certified building in New Hampshire). The next ingredients are straighforward, and like iliveisl, will lead to high online visibility.

    Effective blogging, tying into something like Flickr and YouTube, and connecting all the bits together with Twitter. Those three things will carry you a long way. There are additional items, such as a gravatar account, LinkedIn integration, and so on that may be specific to your needs. Facebook is big of course and a “fan” page may be applicable. Ning groups and a wiki may be good fit for you as well.

    When using third party social sites keep in mind that they can change their terms at any time and even charge for their services. As long as you keep control of your main content in something like a blog, then changes in social platforms will not be as big a deal. MySpace was “the” choice five years ago, Facebook is now that choice, and something else will come along and be the next new choice.

    It is vital to have one central place to point your viewers and a blog works well for many endeavors. Companies with multiple blogs often dilute their messaging and a better strategy may be to have multiple authors on one blog.  I am more likely to go to one place for information on one company than to chase down a handful of blogs. Allowing to sort by author, as on the iliveisl blog, let’s the viewer decide what they want to see.

    What’s your reason for social networking? Job hunting, online portfolio, a cause, hobbies? All valid reasons and likely to aid others.

    harbourPatrol (3)

    Marine Patrol - take note environmental policy violators!


    Enclave Harbour Megamall


    Off the beaten path indeed!

  • subQuark 9:25 pm on March 18, 2010 Permalink
    Tags: , ,   

    The right virtual world for us 

    Last year, I had eight opportunities to share the joy I have in creating eLearning images and video using Second Life as a 3D application.  There was no need to use Python to create physics like in Blender 3D. No need to create characters and articulate their joints. No need to make their wardrobes. There also was no need to wait for weeks to render out a few minutes of footage. Granted, Second Life video does not look like Blender output.

    But when compared to products like CodeBaby, it was hard for me to justify the pricing difference and flexibility. Codebaby costs about $10,000 and you get a talking head and very limited clothing and hair options. One thing CodeBaby does very well is in localisation. You can set up your person and feed any audio through it. I get around that by using inner monologues, a “God” voice, and just embracing that it’s okay to not have the characters speaking perfectly. Yes, you can do lip synching, but then you have timing issues and that adds complexity and time.

    My approach is to create video, and static images, for use in fairly rapid development. Here is proof that your 3D animation does not need to look photo-realistic to get almost any point across:






    Immediately, we tend to see these as “smileys” and attach emotion to them. So if that can come across as very happy, winking smile, sad, surprised, and indifferent or miffed, then a virtual world avatar certainly can get a lot across in an eLearning piece!  =)

    It always boils down to content. Good content and a drawing in the sand with a stick will also work (Plato).


    click to learn more

    I have a short 15 minute pre-recorded webinar on Friday at noon Eastern time that talks about what I will cover in a workshop at the end of May in Chicago. If you get a chance, please listen in. It’s very casual (read: I had my Snowball mic and Bose headphones connected to Adobe Connect but then learned I would be recorded via phone! So onto the Blackberry and a more-than-usual relaxed discussion!). Maybe that’s an example of mobile elearning? =D

    The major difference from what I have spoken on before is that I no longer use Second Life. Not at all.

    Reaction Grid works better for me with higher frame rates, more freedom, and a sound base of other educators. Not only is the platform itself better, but I have the full support of the Reaction Grid Team – Kyle, Robin, and Chris are there in a flash if I need them.  What a switch from Second Life!  I could not get a peep from them even though the iliveisl estate had 19 sims!

    Reaction Grid not only says they can help (and do help brilliantly), but they also come up with other ways to support their users. You can imagine my thrill at having a banner on the Reaction Grid login page promoting this webinar! Linden Lab now charges $6,000 a day for a 100 word text message but Reaction Grid placed a banner on their’s for me! And if it is up for two days that’s like a $12,000 sponsorship! Not too bad!

    Yes, they don’t have the number of page impressions, but I’ll take a few hundred hardcore educators over 10,000 pole dancers (not that I have anything against them – our lead scripter did that for a while from what a little pink birdie told me! And I count myself extremely fortunate to have the incredible scripting skills of that person combined with the imagination of Ener). =D


    Truly supportive - thanks Kyle!

    The title said the right world for “us”. That’s a reference to our other half (far more than a half!), our very own Ener Hax. Ener loves to build and ran the iliveisl estate for two years always hoping to be able to afford an entire sim just for personal builds. Unfortunately, a combination of high costs and Linden policy changes (plus a big Ener heart) never allowed the estate to get to that point. So now, in Reaction Grid, Ener has total free reign over our 16 sims and gets to build anything at all. Thanks Ener. =’) (is that a happy teary-eyed smiley?)

    So fellow eLearners, now that the media hype is gone and a great alternative in Reaction Grid is here, maybe it’s time for you to take a second look at virtual worlds. Take 15 minutes to hear a light discussion and then come over to Reaction Grid and explore our Enclave Harbour and build in our sandboxes!

    • Audrey 7:18 pm on March 19, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Hi David,

      I appreciate you reviewing various 3D applications, including ours, for an eLearning context. I would like to correct a few things that you said in this quote “Codebaby costs about $10,000 and you get a talking head and very limited clothing and hair options. ” True, CodeBaby for a single user retail price does cost that. However, that does not take into account volume purchasing or non-profit, government and education discounts. Second, CodeBaby is more than a talking head. The characters can walk on and off screen, sit down, turn around their complete bodies, and we offer features such as tweening and positioning on screen. Additionally, we have 26 standard characters that range in type from a casual character to those with shirts and ties and with more to come in future versions. We have a full library of props. And soon again, you’ll have the option to switch out hair and clothing for the standard characters. If you were trying to compare us to a complete sim environment, we’re certainly not that nor are attempting to be. However, we have easily exportable 3D characters that can be placed in those environments and some of our client base adds our characters to 3D environments, but most of them choose to insert the SWF into other formats such as in Articulate, Captivate or even Adobe Connect for an avatar enhanced webinars. As I have experienced and learned not every type of learning goal can be met in a 3D environment. I really thank you for your time and please reach out to me if you have any questions or would like to trial Studio again.

      Thank you,


      • subquark 11:51 pm on March 19, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

        As a fellow Canadian, I appreciate your gracious response. CodeBaby is certainly an excellent tool and for most eLearning departments, a wonderful choice. A point also for CodeBaby is that the output if of a higher quality than OpenSim or Second Life, A higher poly count is noticeable. What I like the most is the ability to simply switch out audio, edit timeline length to match audio (in that a German audio may be longer than an English one).

        To be very fair, I am somewhat competent in Flash. Having 11 years experience, being a large contributor to, and even running a small forum for three years. I have never used Articulate or Captivate because I find it easier to just work directly in Flash and ActionScript. So my use of virtual world “video” is augmented by what I can do with it in Flash. For example, creating the “video” scenarios, then pulling in external SWF questions in various languages and external audio files in different languages, dynamically adjusting movie clip lengths of the video give me a level of control not possible in other applications.

        Also, a significant factor to consider, which makes Codebaby more practical for many is passion for what you do. I love virtual worlds and spend 30-40 hours a week in them in addition to my day corporate eLearning job.

        And the use of “talking head” was in the light of the eLearning community and your product is beyond one such as SitePal or Sculptoris.

        It would be lovely if your product would support importing objects such as Google SketchUp, Blender 3D meshes, and so on (perhaps it does?).

        I agree that not everything can be taught in a virtual environment but many things can be taught in virtually any environment (real or virtual) when the proper teacher is involved. I think you could even use flip books effectively.

        I taught for three years in a high school that could not afford “proper” science equipment, but it’s amazing what you can teach with 35 MM film cannisters (boy am I dating myself!) and pennies. I then taught for seven years at the largest college in the US, had great science resources, but there was a certain disconnect because the lab equipment was so specialized it was too removed from the students to easily make the connection to their real lives.

        Your product works very well and for those with the means, it is worth the cost (my barometer for that may not be the norm – our Ed Dev department is actually a profit center to the tune of a couple of million, yet we won’t spend $500 for the full version of a particular software and it’s not uncommon that my personal still and video camera are used!).

        Thank you for the corrections and an example of the great use of Google alerts (I assume – but what a wonderful tool).

    • Audrey 6:14 pm on March 20, 2010 Permalink | Log in to Reply

      Hi David,

      Thanks for your very kind reply. I appreciate your clarification. I can tell you seem to be very literate in technology, and much more so than me or the average eLearning developer. CodeBaby does support importing backgrounds of your choice and if you’re more expert, which it seems you are, one can change the textures and look of the clothing. We have some clients that use 3DS Max to change clothing, although we do have enhanced character clothing available for more choices. I think this is what you’re referring to.
      And I agree with you there, an eLearning program or sim environment can fall flat without the proper instructional design techniques. We’ve had clients experience that on both ends. A CodeBaby character is an effective tool, but clever and engaging design techniques performed by a human is what pulls it all together.
      Again, thanks for your reply. Sounds like you’re the one to watch and learn from regarding virtual eLearning. Yes, the ever omniscient Google Alerts is how I found out.

      Best regards,


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