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May 24, 2007



Many thanks, that was very interesting interview.

Rebecca Whitehead over at University of Advancing Technology has also being doing some very interesting work using the Warcraft MMO to try and teach Applied Leadership skills, and certainly both Aaron Walsh's, Rebecca Nesson's, and her exploratory work will hopefully provide a springboard for further teaching endeavours in this emergent area.

I was just talking to one of my collegues the other day about a conference he'd been to about future Learning & Teaching strategies and virtual worlds, in an otherwise highly mainstream conference, was certainly being discussed, with Universities who employ these strategies being in the news a little lately:





This is like rising the masturbation to the level of mass / national culture . The edu starts in family , so there should the efforts be focused.


I'd like to have this at home too. Does anyone know when we can use it outside of a college course? The Immersive Education charter mentions 'safe mode' for the client viewer that sounds a lot like a V chip for virtual reality. Now that's something I'd like for my WoW and other games.


Thanks for your comment, David. One interesting aspect of using WoW or Unreal Engine as the basis for classroom sessions, is that both platforms are optimized for fighting/killing/combat. That's not a bad thing -- it certainly serves as a hook for younger students, potentially flattens out the learning curve, and helps with customization-related tasks, thanks to the large developer/support base. Nonetheless, it seems to me that using these tools for instruction is a square peg/round hole type of situation. Of course, instructors can neuter the fighting nature of these platforms, while emphasizing the engines' communication, teamwork, and design capabilities.

Second Life, on the other hand, is a platform optimized for creativity. That can be a disruptive force, but it also appeals to many institutions. It allows customization of environments and objects, and lets students be themselves in a way that might not be possible with many gaming-based worlds.

At some point there may be virtual worlds or VR platforms that are optimized for education. My question for the group: What does "optimized for education" mean to you? What capabilities, characteristics, tools, cost considerations, etc., are most important to teaching students in a virtual world or space?

This is like rising the masturbation to the level of mass / national culture . The edu starts in family , so there should the efforts be focused.

Are you saying more families should teach masturbation, and not let mass culture take care of it? I'd need that idea to be unpacked a little more; it seems unappealing to me at first blush.

I'd like to have this at home too. Does anyone know when we can use it outside of a college course?

If you're talking about MediaGrid, if I remember correctly from some demos I attended (assuming it's the same mediagrid), I think it requires Internet2 because it relies on QoS packets for performance. But my God, what performance! Not entirely related, but I watched a violin master class being given by an instructor in Florida to a student in Philadelphia, basically over the internet(2) - beautiful video & sound quality with a low enough latency that they were able to play together. It was like being in the future =P

What does "optimized for education" mean to you? What capabilities, characteristics, tools, cost considerations, etc., are most important to teaching students in a virtual world or space?

To me, "optimized for education" infers a few things, including some things that are more basic qualifications:

  • Simple, easy to learn interface (a standard computer user can "get it" in 30 minutes)
  • APIs for all the boring-yet-crucial business side of Learning Technology, e.g. single-sign-on, data I/O with courseware systems (e.g. Blackboard), as well as some educational infrastructure tools, like a gradebook and possible artifact/rubric tracking (I don't like to throw the word e-portfolio around because it irks me, but sometimes they are needed)
  • The ability to segregate students out of the total world at important times (see my problem with Second Life #1 below)
  • Tools that are on the level of PowerPoint, or perhaps more appropriately KPT Bryce or Google Sketchup. Well, let me back that up a bit -- there needs to be a base level tool that is fairly easy to get started with and make basic learning objects in world (like a learning object outlining tool with some wizards or something).
  • Enterprise level support and dependability. Seriously, if the grid goes down during a law school exam it gets very unpleasant for whoever is deemed to be responsible for not seeing the outage (ha ha ha ha ha). We look for 99% uptime and redundancy in any system that we commit to. I would say that a fail-over grid that ran locally on University servers would be attractive (e.g. in cases where the world grid fails, the university space continues being run by local servers, so the University space continues, at least for on-campus users).
  • As far as pedagogy, I would say that the Linden design philosophy of encouraging creativity and user based tools is a big hands down winner over using WoW (WoW to me is the absolute worst case system for in-world pedagogy, although it's very interesting from other perspectives) or even an engine like Unreal.
  • More importantly though, there needs to be real, replicable assessment & data surrounding what the tool is used for, what it facilitates and why it is a preferable experience to other competing technologies. Not only that, it it needs to be distillable into understandable language for the uninitiated, because in my experience most Faculty and Administrators can not really appreciate what the possibilities of virtual words are.

Most of my work in instructional design is based around Learning Systems, Faculty Training and Instructional Design. I agree that Second Life is very interesting as an Instructional Technology, however it has several (to me showstopping) problems:

1) A large amount of the user base is using it as a pornography generator/sex simulator technology. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't want to be the one working help desk when a class of uptight kids comes across a furry orgy while they're doing research on biology.

2) The interface is insane. Seriously. I've spent a lot of time in 3D virtual spaces and it took me to long to figure out how to move and look around without appearing to have a severe motor impairment to others in world. I wouldn't want to show gaming friends how to use the software; I certainly wouldn't want to be in charge of helping Faculty who are still intimidated by email or PowerPoint how to use the software.

But it would be wrong to pin the bottleneck on Faculty - teaching has taught me that my paranoid visions of being replaced by whizkids that spoke fluent hexadecimal and smalltalk based languages were woefully misguided. For every whizkid I meet, I run into scores of kids who use the internet constantly, but can't figure out why text is going all funny in Word, let alone figure something like Second Life out.

3) This may seem superficial, but everyone I know who sees it for the first time (including me) seems to think that the base avatar looks like ass, because it does. Part of the learning curve of Second Life seems to be figuring out how to make the avatar look better -- and I think this is a cool thing -- but unfortunately as you learn how it all works, you discover lots of interesting content (see #1).

4) It doesn't seem like there's anyway to double authenticate, so students could know they were dealing with other students. I'd like to see a feature where in Second Life I could also authenticate to my campus network via sso and others from my University would see me as my real name, while non-University users would still see me as illovich Psaltery.

Important/exciting data point: at the BBWorld 07 Developers Conference there will be a feedback session for Blackboard developers to give feedback on what tools we need from Blackboard to integrate Second Life into the CMS, and since Linden Labs just opened a development lab in Boston, hopefully they'll come along. =)


I'm saying that under the pretense of education / studying education ,the MMOs are anything but online scams. Projected, designed, made and ruled to be so.


I assume Aaron Walsh is the same person as the coauthor of Core Web 3D? If so interesting he has moved to game engines rather than stick with X3D type technologies.
BTW, the pic looks like the Unreal Tournament Ancient Egpyt mod you can download for free from planetjeff.net


illovich, you dont want me to " unpack " it; go take a look at the thread " Teaching in SL..." , here at TN this month. But if you still need a lil bit more blush , i can do it , only for you and only this time : we've seen Law Professors ignoring the basics of law enforcement and regulations ( see ADA ) but preaching " ...oh dear, we are teaching our students in SL , you know ..." . The masturbation is : you are preaching a higher education and another perspective while you lack the basic common ones.
What do you expect to come out of your " initiative " ? A BJ , in the best case.


I recently completed Aaron's class and I am currently working on his project in second life. It truly was a fantastic and unique learning experience. Being able to study from home seems like a lazy way out, but in all honesty it takes an immense amount of skill, self control to participate. Also the participation does not feel watered down at all. In fact being in a V.R world enhances it a bit. I never once found my attention drifting away from what was going on. Perhaps a VR class isn't appropriate for every subject type, thats understandable. Nothing is perfect; but my experience with it is one that will stick with me forever. That and also being able to work with Aaron in second life is an honor words can not convey. Knowing your at the forefront of something so ground breaking that it is even controversial is probably the most unique experience of all. One must always approach these things with an open mind and truly consider the positives and the negatives before coming to a conclusion. After all everything we as a people consider to be knowledge has come about after trial, tribulation, and serious contemplation.


Thanks for the interview, Ian, and to everyone for your comments and this discussion. I'll respond to many points made here, but rather than run over the bounds of a reasonable length in a single reply will instead be brief and ask questions that might lead to more conversation....

David, I'm particularly interested in hearing what you and your colleague discussed following his trip to a conference about the future of Learning & Teaching strategies and virtual worlds. Did he come away from that with any thoughts about the direction this is taking?

I'd like to respond to you, Amarilla, but don't believe I understand your point completely -- are you saying that Immersive Education and other virtual learning environments shouldn't be developed and fostered because education (should) happen in the home? Not sure if that's what you mean, but if so the same case can be made for books and education in general, yes?

Jane, we're announcing the new Immersive Education platform this fall. It'll be available for college and universities, and also high schools, and a fair amount of course material will be available online as well (so you can use it at home, although most people will probably use it in a school).

Illovich, thank you for taking the time to write out your detailed suggestions. You're right on target with a good deal of the mandates for this work. Is your background in education? Following are some of the requirements now under consideration for the next generation Immersive Education platform (taken from the standards charter, which is available through ImmersiveEducation.org or directly at http://mediagrid.org/groups/technology/grid.ied/):

1. Based on open standards (specifications), open implementations, and open source code
2. Platform-neutral and vendor-neutral client (viewer) and server architectures (no lock-in)
3. Open application programming interfaces (APIs)
4. Support for industry-standard content authoring tools (e.g., Maya, Softimage, SketchUp, Blender, etc.)
5. Scalable network architecture and scalable graphics architecture
6. Interoperable content and asset exchange (reusable content libraries)
7. Voice and text chat with support for recording/playback of in-session chats
8. Privacy controls that enable closed (non-public) virtual classrooms and meetings
9. Option for identity verification (linking avatar and character names to real-world identity)
10. Stable and reliable implementation for all supported platforms (minimal crashing/freezing)
11. Support for recording and playback of user activities and actions
12. Support for instructor-led and self-directed learning
13. Support for "safe mode" controls that shield users from potentially objectionable content
14. Support for game-based learning content and environments (goals, scoring, challenges, etc)
15. Provides a suitable foundation for formal academic curricula and best practices

These aren't the only requirements, but are some of the most significant. The ease-of-use point you make is especially important, as it's unrealistic to expect faculty and teachers to create this type of content. Instead, we anticipate that most teachers/faculty will use a simple Web browser interface to assemble their learning environments from a collection of reusable worlds and objects. In the Use Case section of the charter you'll see references to "reusable content libraries" that are meant for this purpose. The following use case is an example of the typical usage we expect in general:

Use Case #1. Reusable content libraries — A teacher who is not skilled in creating or editing digital media content wants to conduct one of his classes using Immersive Education technology but doesn't have the time or experience necessary to create or assemble the course materials himself. Rather than create his Immersive Education course from scratch the faculty uses a simple Web page interface to browse through libraries of pre-constructed Immersive Education courses that have been built by faculty at other universities and colleges. Because the faculty who created these courses have designated them as "shared" they're available for others to use (similar to the MIT OpenCourseWare initiative). After the teacher finds a pre-made course environment that suits his needs he then uses his Web browser to make it available to his own students through his own server instance, meaning he and his students are able to meet online in the course environment within their own private learning space (with no mixing of students or faculty from different organizations). Over time the faculty decides that he'd like for his course environment to contain more learning objects (e.g., videos, interactive 3D objects, audio lectures, etc.) which he finds by browsing the pre-made libraries. After identifying the custom objects for his course environment the faculty member has one of his student teaching assistants add the custom learning objects into his course.

ErikC, I did write Core Web3D and have been an advocate of open 3D standards (such as VRML, X3D and MPEG-4) for over a decade now. We do use VRML and X3D in Immersive Education, but not for shared multi-user environments (not for collaborative worlds). This doesn't reflect a particular shortcoming of VRML/X3D or MPEG-4, but is instead a reflection on the standards-based multi-user platforms what were available in 2003 when we made the decision to use the Unreal 2 game engine. We also use blaxxun Contact and the blaxxun multi-user chat system for some very basic collaboration, but for full-blown online classes we use Unreal at the moment and will soon be choosing a new platform entirely. If you're interested in what the issues are/were with the VRML/X3D multi-user platforms that prevented us from using them more I'd be more than happy to talk about that (btw, the screenshot is of an Egypt map from Unreal Tournament 2004 and it may be available on the Web as well... we have a few Egypt environments that we use in our classes. If you know of others please point me toward them).

Out of curiosity, does anyone here still use blaxxun Contact or CyberTown?

And finally, thanks for taking the time to participate in this discussion, Kamal. I didn't know you felt that strongly about our past semester, and hope that the Second Life work we're starting now is just as interesting to you. I've also asked your classmate Jeff Gallo to consider comparing Unreal and Second Life here, as I'd like to hear how you both feel about these two platforms in general (Second Life is a candidate for the next generation Immersive Education platform, and your feedback is useful; you can also use the "contribute" links on the standards group form to provide that if you'd like).

On a parting note, we're assembling a library of research materials (studies, reports, white papers, thesis, and so forth) related to virtual reality learning environments and game-based learning. If anyone here has come across any interesting or new materials of this nature please do point me at them.



The immersive ed platform, and the collaborative effort to design standards, seem to be a very promising direction. I have been thinking about how such platforms could be used for business education (as defined broadly...from ecomics, finance and accounting to politics, regulation and sociology). My initial thoughts are posted here.

Virtual worlds are a natural fit for business topics, because they have such robust economies. However, there isn't yet a world/platform that I would view as appropriate for business ed. A good business ed platform would include game content (like World of Warcraft), but with managers and bankers instead of orcs and elves. That way, people could be led through successively challenging business-oriented quests (World of Bizquest?).

My hope is that one day we can have a platform that allows faculty in business-related areas to create their own business RPG worlds and instances, on a platform that supports the key elements that drive economies in MMORPGs: player attributes, goods, production functions, etc. However, the world would have to support far more sophisticated forms of property rights, contracting and commercial arrangements between players, and business reporting (financial statements, etc.)

Is anyone aware of virtual worlds platforms that allow users to create programmed RPGs? I have spent a fair bit of time in Second Life, and as far as I can tell, it is devoid of true RPG content. Does anyone know why? Is SL simply too poorly designed to handle user-created game content?


Aaron : you confuse the education with the instruction. The education STARTS at home. Without the " sugar & stick " you dont have education . This is why any " immersive " is a fake education : because it simulates . This is why instead of earn the benefits of education , you just endorse the behavior of " ...so what if you saw me, so what if it's obvious, you dont have a witness or material evidences or a good lawyer...." .
Using the terms " higher education " and " another perspective ", proves a lack of education .
Read more Confucius and you'll understand , if you didn't already yet.


Get real, a job or lost ....the instruction teaches you how to use a gun, the education teaches you if and when and in what circumstances to use- or not- the gun.
The online ones , are not educating but only instructing : because you dont get educated by the game, but by its rules. The RL games can be educational , because of the dualism " good-bad ".
In school , you dont have education if the teacher theaches you - let say - history , and between classes he rapes a 12 yo girl or scam the students. You never put a felon to be a teacher of law.


David, I'm particularly interested in hearing what you and your colleague discussed following his trip to a conference about the future of Learning & Teaching strategies and virtual worlds. Did he come away from that with any thoughts about the direction this is taking?


I believe he commented that the particular conference speaker at the seminar he went to started with "I know this is going to frighten a lot of you.." Which apparently caught the gist of the feeling in the room. This particular University had a copy of its campus in Second Life and the seminar was focused (apparently, this is 2nd hand knowledge though) on future directions.

We had a long discussion about this, and certainly our opinion was that while the technology was changing at a great pace, and our capabilities where changing, generally there seemed to be resistance to using these capabilities. Both from the teaching staff themselves (due to lack of awareness, skills etc) or indeed the worries over academic credability, or perhaps even more simplist barriers which institutions face. For example, in my institution we have a widing participation agenda, which includes us trying to make ourselves much more accessable to disabled students (Indeed, I have followed with interest the posts on Terra Nova lately regarding disabled issues).

Since in every module we design we have to take into account these issues the default setting many times (wrongly, I'll agree) is to reject novel teaching methods which could be used in favour of tried and tested ones in case students are disadvanataged. I think this is an issue which cannot be ignored of course. Certainly when I questioned Rebecca Whitehead at University of Advancing Technology as to what she would do if she had a blind student on her Applied Leadership course which used World of Warcraft as it's setting, she seemed a little at a loss to give response (though I'll happily admit, I have no idea either of how her course, a brilliant idea IMHO, could be adapted for a blind student either)

In other words, at the moment, despite the fact that our students are increasing highly computer literate, and despite the fact that our students are increasing blending learning able, and despite the fact that our students are increasingly visual learning orientated, there does seem to be a distinct lag in how the teaching methods adapts to this.

Personally I think we here at my institution are probably a little ahead of some of the game with our extensive use of our VLE and our focus on innovation in teaching & learning. Despite this (in direct answer to your query) me and my colleague found it difficult to see how to overcome many of the implimentation issues arising.

That said, I think it's fair to say, we're very open minded on the issue, with certainly projects such as yours and others showing the wider academic community in general just how these technologies can be used for teaching & learning. As more emergent evidence from such projects arises, let us hope that use of such technologies also becomes more widespread through dissemination of best practice.

Or am I too optimistic? :-)


Hi everyone, my name is Gregory J. Gallo. I am a senior at the Woods College of Advancing Studies at Boston College pursuing an undergraduate degree in Philosophy. I recently took Professor Walsh’s 3D Virtual Design class. In 3D Virtual Design we worked with Unreal Tournament and Maya. I am currently enrolled in Professor Walsh’s Adv. 3D Virtual Design. In Adv. 3D Virtual Design we will be working with the Second Life Program. I wanted to comment on my personal experiences with Immersive Education to give a student’s perspective on Immersive Education. My experiences using Unreal Tournament this past semester have left me with some positive ideas about Immersive Education and the future platform for Immersive Education. As Professor Walsh commented in his interview, voice chat can be problematic with network issues at times. Text chat was a good default communication device for us that kept both students and teacher connected while in Unreal Tournament. With email, IM, and telephone as back up communication devices, we were able to stay connected throughout the learning process this past semester. The use of outside materials as learning aids added to the Immersive Education experience. I felt fully immersed in the curriculum; I wasn’t waiting for the class to be over or watching the clock. I felt challenged by Professor Walsh, who made each class different from the last. Outside materials as aids to the Unreal Tournament environment enabled the Professor to use other devices and the full resources of the World Wide Web to fuel the learning process. Some of the outside materials were so much fun I forgot I was in class and at the same time I was being introduced to the history of 3D Virtual Reality. 3D Virtual Reality being the basis of the main learning platform, Unreal Tournament, and tools, Unreal Tournament Editor and Maya. Another positive point about Immersive Education for me, as a student, was the reduction in driving time back and forth to class. I work full time and commute more that an hour each way when traveling to and from school. Immersive Education enabled me to have more time for my other classes and more study time all together. This past semester I was able to earn all As in my three classes and I attribute this to the additional study time Immersive Education allotted me.

Choosing a new platform to teach Immersive Education is important because the potential for other subjects to utilize this teaching methodology is significant. Unreal Tournament is a good platform with a relatively simple 3D engine. Using the Unreal Tournament Editor is not as user friendly as using a tool such as Maya, but Unreal Tournament’s platform is a good learning environment, because of its simplicity. Second Life is a good candidate for future Immersive Education, but the environment appears huge and complicated compared to Unreal Tournament. As I begin to use the Second Life Program I view its complexity as a good way to incorporate outside material aids into the main program in the form of object links. For example; the tutorials on Orientation Island have some objects, such as post signs, linked to places on the World Wide Web. I don’t know the kind of programming this would entail, but the potential is there. After building in Second Life this semester I will have a better understanding of the program and it’s potential as a tool for Immersive Education.

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