SUMMARY: some pointers to Edinburgh and OU Second Life activity, some reflections on ‘so what?’, and a challenge about sending scriptable bots ‘out there’ to blog back what they find.
Following my earlier posting on the subject, and commentary on Edinburgh’s AIAI2, Austin beamed back just after New Year with an additional further comment, saying
we have been using the objects at our “AIAI2″ area to link up with programs running outside of the Second Life environment through XML-RPC and HTTP technologies. Check oiut our progress and see some images of our offices at
Lookin good! Austin always fires me up to say “hey – what are WE doing in this space?”… in fact there are a few Open University experiments on already, with some land-grabbing and virtual meeting venues already underway. Check out Schome (not school, not home) and in particular the Schome communty wiki, which comments
Schome will NOT be another ‘virtual learning space’, it will involve physical spaces for learners, in recognition of the need to provide: social activities; access to specialist resources; and custodial care for (some) young people. However, new technologies will be an essential enabler of more personalized learning and more efficient utilization of learning resources. Information and communication technologies also have implications for the knowledge, understandings and skills that society needs as well as the pedagogical approaches that are possible.
The Schome folks have set up their stall on Second Life in Schomebase, and describe their rationale here on the Schome Second Life Wiki Page.
KMi’s Vlad Tanasescu is working with the Schome team mentioned above, and has built a website which he commicates with through Second Life objects: you communicate with the object, and it blogs your entries… you can see some examples here.
Where’s this stuff going? No one knows. I’ve commented to other KMi-ers that my personal interest stems not from virtual environments per se, but rather from an earlier interest of mine in programmable bots. This reflects some (negative) experiences we had in the very first incarnations of KMi Stadium back in 1995, about which I optimistically wrote at the time
We are enhancing existing media and developing new media intended to give participants a sense of ‘being there’ at events of all kinds, including master classes, performances, tutorials, conferences, workshops, ceremonies, parties, jam sessions, recitals, industrial training sessions, university lectures, training on demand, town hall meetings, debates, and so on. For us, ‘being there’ is not primarily about Virtual Reality per se, although VR can certainly help. Rather, it is a question of capturing the right participative aspects of audience presence (such as applauding, laughing, shouting, asking questions, whispering to neighbours) and harnessing those aspects to convey as much of the mood of an event as possible. We are interested in telepresence at both live events and on-demand replays, because we believe that both types of event are enhanced by a sense of the presence of others. (see related Tech Report, p.3)
As it turns out, our early users found the applauding, laughing, and avatar representations to be cute, but distracting — they just wanted the content, thank you very much, without the cute bits, and without having to ‘navigate’ to their seats!!! Maybe we got it wrong, and maybe modern virtual environments can capture the stuff we missed, but I’d say the jury is out on whether I want ever-better MUD/MOO-like worlds for me and my students to inhabit. Sure, it depends on what’s in those worlds: Randy Hinrichs of Microsoft argued persuasively many years ago that building (say) a Biology World in which you could explore hitherto un-explorable (or expensive to explore) phenomena would be an inherently rewarding experience, and it’s clear that someone needs to do this! But it needs to be done sensitively: Roger Schank argued persuasively many years ago that (to paraphrase loosely), “real classrooms are awful enough, why do you want to inflict that awful stuff on people virtually too?” Nevertheless, there are many other great things to be learned in Second Life, so it’s great to see the pioneers out there in force. And no, as the Schome people point out, they are not simply replicating classrooms.
But I’m intrigued by something else at the moment. How about planting a 100% autonomous agent ‘out there’ in Second Life… let it roam the world, and blog back what’s happening? The Roving Friends stuff I posted a while back is about “Artificial Life meets rare collectible cards in the form of autonomous, net-roving, data-collecting bots scriptable by schoolchildren”:
Roving Friends is intended to be both a new gaming genre and an experimental testbed: with it, children will be able to create their own autonomous net-roving bots, designing both physical appearance and behaviour. The bots will be sent out into the world to … meet other bots, interact with them, and report back to their owners (via ordinary email) with status updates, news stories, travel logs, and ‘holiday snapshot postcard attachments’ that will include evidence of having encountered other bots
This was inspired very much by Seymour Papert’s great work: learning comes from what kids program the bots to do. In Second Life, this may be too difficult, but let’s see how far we can push this!
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