Sunday, 29 April 2007

Suffern Middle School in Second Life

An interesting blog from Peggy Sheehy at Suffern Middle School in New York, primarily because it shows real use of Second Life for learning by children.

I'm no expert, so I can't comment on the pedagogic aspects of what appears to be happening there, but it is very nice just to see practical examples of learners in world and engaging with each other.

Good stuff...

Second Cite - a PURL-based persistent citation for stuff in Second Life

I blogged a while back about the problem of stuff in Second Life moving, thus rendering any public SLURL-based links somewhat useless.

I proposed the use of PURLs as a solution, suggesting 'Splurl' or 'SL PURL' as a name for the resulting way of doing things.

In the pub the other night, someone used the phrase 'second sight' (not referring to SL as far as I recall) and it made me wonder whether there was any mileage in using 'Second Cite' as the name for my suggested approach.

Therefore, a Second Cite is a convention for using PURLs to cite and link to things in Second Life in a persistent way and that is independent of their current location.

Sculptured prims

I don't think this is going to have such a dramatic impact on the usefulness of Second Life as the addition of voice, but the addition of sculptured prims will certainly change the way the world looks quite significantly.

Personally though, I'd prefer Linden Lab to spend their development time improving the ability to dynamically integrate content from external Web 2.0 services into SL.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

SJSU SLIS machinima

Eight letters... quite a mouthful! But the machinima that summarises the San Jose State University School of Library and Information Science island (OK, I see why they shortened it to eight letters now!) is very nice. I'm secretly wanting to play with creating a movie about Eduserv Island, but there's not quite enough there yet and I don't have enough free time :-(.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Holodeck teaching/meeting space on Eduserv Island

I liked the concept of a Second Life 'holodeck' so much (see my previous post on An English Village) that I decided to experiment with building my own version on Eduserv Island.

I used the idea of a flexible meeting/teaching space in an unused corner of Eduserv Island as the basis for my experimentation.

First I built up three differently configured seating arrangements for the available space, one with 10 seats arranged in a circle, another with 20 seats in a square and a final one consisting of 40 seats laid out theatre style with a screen at the front.

For each arrangement, I linked all the prims together to form a single seating object which I then copied to my inventory.

So far so good...

Next, I created a touchable object, a white post with a ball on top, that is used to hold each of the seating objects and that rezzes those objects on demand (i.e. when it is touched). The post contains a simple script, as follows:

integer controlchannel = 999;
integer current;
integer num;

state_entry() {
num = llGetInventoryNumber(INVENTORY_OBJECT);
current = 0;
llSetText("Touch to\nrearrange\nseating",
<1, 1, 1>, 1.0);

touch_start(integer total_number) {
//llSay(0, "Touched.");
llSay(controlchannel, "kill linked objects");
vector eul = <0, 0, 180>;
eul *= DEG_TO_RAD; //convert to radians
rotation quat = llEuler2Rot(eul);
current), llGetPos() + <5.25, -5, 0>,
ZERO_VECTOR, quat, 0);
if (current >= num) { current = 0;}

What this script does is to query the post's inventory to find out how many seating arrangement objects there are (llGetInventoryNumber()). Each time it is touched (touch_start()) the post sends a simple chat-based message to the currently rezzed seating object, telling it to delete itself (llSay()), then rezzes the next seating object in the list (llRezObject()).

Each rezzed seating object also contains a simple script, as follows:

integer controlchannel = 999;

state_entry() {
llListen(controlchannel, "",
NULL_KEY, "");

listen(integer channel, string name,
key id, string message) {
if (llToLower(message) ==
"kill linked objects") {

on_rez(integer param) {
llSetPos(<35.384, 22.658, 25.126>);

This script listens for incoming messages from the white post (llListen()), kills itself on demand (llDie()) and positions the seating object in the correct location when it is first rezzed (llSetPos());

It's a pretty simple approach, but seems to work well, at least within the fairly trivial set of functional requirements I set myself.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Oxford Uni in SL

I note that the University of Oxford now has an island in SL. See their Web site for details - hey, there can't be many Web pages containing both "Second Life" and " Michaelmas"!? (Nope, I'm wrong, there are actually 209 currently! :-) ).

Referring back to my last post, I also note that they are planning on using an internal competition to design and build part of the island.

An English Village

Sounds rather quaint doesn't it... thatched cottages, flower beds, tea on the lawn and cricket on the green??

The (virtual) reality is rather different. The English Village is a SL island dedicated to language education.

What makes English Village interesting (to me) is their use of holodecks to provide a strong scenario-based context for language learning. Want to try out your use of English to navigate an airport and get on a plane - do it in a simulated airport. The resulting approach is referred to as 'holoteaching'.

It's a neat idea, and one that appears to have been implemented very nicely. Take a look.

Their Web site provides more information, and Fire Centaur, the owner of English Village, also maintains a blog about his activities.

I'm not sure what technology has been used to build the holodecks, but a quick Google search turned up a commercially available holodeck tool from Inside this World.

Another thing that interested me is that they have used a competition to generate new content for their holodecks. It'll be interesting to see how successful this has been. I'm very tempted to try the same sort of approach on Eduserv Island.

Camera controls

I just came across this video tutorial by Torley Linden about how to use your camera controls.

This isn't particularly new or anything, but well worth watching if you haven't done so already. Although I've been aware of these kinds of videos for some time, I've never bothered sitting down and watching them.

Lots of neat SL client tips and tricks in this.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Splurls anyone?

Slurls are great... they provide a fantastic way of integrating SL resources into the fabric of the Web (and in particular into Web 2.0 services). For example, by using a Slurl I can bookmark a resource in SL using - in fact, I can use a Slurl any place that I can currently use a URL.

However... and this is a pretty big however... Slurls suffer from exactly the same kind of persistence problems as URLs. Probably worse in fact, because a Slurl, by definition, really does identify a 'location' whereas a URL can (and often does) act purely as an identifier. If a resource gets moved to a new location in SL, its Slurl stops working as a useful link.

Take for example the Slurl for ArtsPlace SL that I've used in previous postings to this blog:

ArtsPlace has now moved from Pak to Eduserv Island. Going to the above Slurl now will land you bang splat in the middle of some kind of bondage cave - at least it did the last time I tried it. What you get to depends on what is currently at that location. There is no easy way of persistently linking to a resource like ArtsPlace in SL (as opposed to a particular location of the resource).

This problem can be solved by adding a level of indirection. (As everyone knows, all computer science problems can be solved by adding one level of indirection! :-) ).

A Splurlis a SL PURL (yes, I know that the acronym isn't perfect!). A PURL is a persistent URL, so a Splurl is a persistent Slurl. Splurls work by using the PURL system to maintain a mapping from each Splurl to the current Slurl for the resource in question. When the Splurl is used as the basis for a hypertext link, the PURL server issues an HTTP redirect to the current Slurl.

Here's one for ArtsPlace SL:

Easy huh?? The Splurl will work as a useful identifier and link for ArtsPlace SL for as long as the PURL system continues to work, irrespective of where ArtsPlace happens to be located. If for some reason I have to move ArtsPlace in the future, then all I'll have to do is update the PURL mapping table to the new Slurl.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

Eduserv Island

Work on the new Eduserv Island is progressing. The plans include four areas as follows:
  • Conference Space - an area dedicated to meeting facilities of various kinds.
  • SLashup Space - an area for experimenting with learning-oriented SL / Web integration.
  • Exhibition Space - an area where we work with libraries and museums to build virtual exhibitions.
  • Office Space - high rise offices for Eduserv and selected partners.
The island is shaped into the Eduserv 'E' logo, essentially built out of 10m grass cubes though I'm still working on terraforming the ground under these areas, bringing it thru into mounds and hills to give a bit of interest. Buildings on the island are being themed around Bath stone, white concrete, glass, dark metal frames and wood floors - that's the plan anyway. With gravel paths connecting areas of interest.

I've focused on the Conference Space and the Exhibition Space primarily so far - partly to prepare the way for our symposium, "Virtual worlds, real learning?", which we have now confirmed will be streamed into SL on the day. To house the SL part of the symposium we have built a venue inspired by the Congress Centre (in London, where the symposium will be held in RL). Note that we haven't bothered with a roof, to make entry and exit easier.

Just outside the virtual Congress Centre there's a tall stone needle, inspired by the one in Queen Square, Bath.


In thinking about the uses we could make of the new Eduserv Island, I coined the term 'SLashup' - a Web 2.0 mashup delivered in Second Life. One of the areas of the new island will be a 'SLashup area'.

A quick search of Google indicates that the term hasn't been used in this way before (though it has been used for a Slashdot mashup).

I quite like it as a term?

ArtsPlace SL has moved

I've moved ArtsPlace SL to the new Eduserv Island. This means it is in a more controlled location, without my needing to worry about who is moving in next door so to speak.

The new SLURL is:

I apologise to people who have bookmarked or referenced ArtsPlace using the old SLURL - hopefully, this location will be more persistent.

If anyone has any suggestions for new exhibitions that could be hosted in ArtsPlace I'd be keen to hear them. I'm primarily looking for exhibitions based on library or museum collections.

Friday, 6 April 2007

On naming...

There are a couple of slides in my talk (see previous post) to do with identity - one concerning appearance and one concerning naming.

In discussion at the end of my talk, someone raised an interesting issue about naming...

No-one in Second Life has their own name - it simply isn't possible given the way that names are assigned. You have to choose a surname from a pre-determined list. The questioner wondered if the act of having to choose and use a new name would be a hurdle for some students? I'm not sure.

It was also noted that remembering a second name for every student would also be a hurdle for teachers and lecturers!

I wondered if it might be possible to get round both these problems by selecting a surname for a whole cohort of students and then asking them to create their first name thru some algorithmic transformation of their real name. So for example, instead of being 'Art Fossett' I might be 'AndyP Fossett' or some such.

Meanwhile in Manchester...

I repeated my talk about Second Life in Manchester for a group of about 40 learning technologists. It was a good turn out and people seemed to enjoy the talk. It was blogged here with some interesting follow-up about the value of virtual creations. I used the same slides as in my presentation to Eduserv staff last week.

It probably doesn't come across well from the slides but in my talk I wanted to stress two things...

Firstly, that my aim in giving these presentations is not to add to the levels of hype that already exist around Second Life. My intent is only to give a balanced view on the strengths and weaknesses of Second Life in the context of its use in education.

Secondly, that there is no point in approaching Second Life as if it is a game. Second Life isn't a game, and if you approach it in that way, i.e. expecting a purpose to be laid out for you, then you'll go away disappointed.

Some thoughts flow from this second point, which I didn't really expand on in my talk - they occurred to me during the 4 hour train journey home to Bath. People seem to engage most with Second Life when they have some purpose to being there - a librarian setting up a virtual reference desk, an artist building a virtual exhibition, a programmer building a scripted object, a teacher putting together a virtual lesson, and so on.

Second Life is much less engaging if you simply turn up to see other people's creations. I suggest that for the most part, people who only do the latter, get bored pretty quickly and go home wondering what all the fuss is about!

Now, in the context of education, we want our students to be as engaged with Second Life as the teachers - more so probably. So it is not sufficient for us to prepare things in Second Life for our students to do - we need to find ways for them to build stuff for themselves. I suspect this is why we are tending to find that Second Life works better in some subjects than in others.

Monday, 2 April 2007

Presentation to Eduserv staff

I did a lunchtime seminar for staff at Eduserv about Second Life. The slides are available on Slideshare and in our virtual symposium venue on Eduserv Island. My plan was to present from within Second Life, but unfortunately the hotel wireless network that I was on didn't offer sufficient bandwidth to make that viable.

I'm repeating the talk tomorrow to a group of elearning types in Manchester.

I'm also open to other bookings if people are interested ;-)

Eduserv Island

Eduserv have bought an island in Second Life to support various activities... our plans are tentative at this stage (building is just about in progress) but some outline ideas are available at SlideShare for those that are interested.

Museums and the Web paper

ArtsPlace gets a mention in the following paper for the Museums and the Web conference:

Urban, R., Marty, P., & Twidale, M. A Second Life for Your Museum: 3D Multi-User Virtual Environments and Museums. In J. Trant and D.
Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings. Toronto:
Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 31, 2007 at