Online education and the metaverse

EdTech, Pedagogy, Virtual Worlds

Once More Down the Rabbit Hole

Hamlet Au has done an excellent writeup of Cloud Party. It’s a WebGL-based virtual world, which means that any browser that can handle WebGL* can get you there, just by using a link (pretty well the majority of browsers). Although there’s no viewer to download, to fully experience the programme you must have a Facebook account.  It’s deployed on Amazon servers, which means it will be fast and reliable, and the concurrency rate is 25 avatars to an area. I haven’t been able to figure out whether unused areas are automatically shut down, as in Kitely. If they are, that will increase performance and lower pricing. Participants can use the system tools to build, and they can also import mesh objects, which means that SL content developers will have a market for their goods in both Second Life and Cloud Party.  The most eye-opening aspect of Cloud Party isn’t available yet: they say it will soon be able to run on phones and tablets (it’s already set up in on the entry page).  This is something Second Life people have been demanding for years.

Ellie's Cloud Party homeEncouraged by the positive comments on New World Notes, I decided to give it a go.  I used Chrome to get in, completed the tutorial, and was given a reasonably tasteful little home in a floating mountain suburb, with lots of space and building rights. The residential islands are all identical, as far as I can see.

This new virtual world is pretty sticky — I spent two hours in there before I even realized it.  I met other people who were long-time Second Life residents, and they seemed to  be having a pretty good time, too. I encountered no lag, even at the orientation centre, which was fairly crowded, and full of the usual horsing around.

I found the building tools fairly easy to use at first, but as you try to do more complex things, it gets a lot harder. I’m a pretty good builder, but no expert; I do a lot of things by eye.  You can see my avatar below, standing in front of a one-object hedge that took me an hour to make.  The creation, movement and scale tools are easy, but just getting the texture on the object was a major accomplishment, and I couldn’t figure out how tile it correctly or fix the planar resolution. But it is, arguably, a hedge.

A hedge. My first CP creation.My little blue-haired and bowlegged avatar doesn’t bother me much – she’s OK, I guess.  There are options to create and upload clothing and attachments and other customizations (and avatars too, I think).  This is important for my teaching, and for any teaching that concentrates on gender and identity or uses roleplay. The big problem with the avatar, though, is the lack of anonymity.

There’s a certain freedom to class discussions where people’s real names are only used in the learning management system. It makes for a safe and informal atmosphere.  I don’t like the Facebook part of this. I think that even if I didn’t have serious concerns about the ethics of requiring my students to use their true Facebook identities, FERPA regulations would stop me. However, it may be that Facebook is changing its policy; many of the profiles I checked while there seemed a bit avatar-ish.

Pricing is not announced yet.  The Beta is free, but I talked to a representative inworld who said they will soon be coming out with pricing for private islands. Apparently they weren’t expecting this much attention this fast, and the response has overwhelmed them. This will also be a heavily monetized product.  There’s already a marketplace button (greyed out, so far), and Facebook will no doubt make a good profit on all goods that are exchanged.  I also couldn’t find an intellectual property policy.

It was a whirlwind trip, but I had a good time.  I’ll probably go back and see how it develops.  Can’t teach in there, though, unless we can get around the identity requirement, and I’m worried about the number of people who will be leaving Second Life for this new product.

But that’s another topic.

You can log in from outside Facebook, as a trial, but nothing you create is persistent.  Here’s the link:

*About WebGL:

Browsers that handle WebGL: Firefox v.4.0 +, Chrome v.13 +, Opera 11 &12, and Safari, v. 5.1 + (turned off by default)
There are security concerns with WebGL.

There seem to be quite a few reservations about WebGL. Apple’s not going to be keen on it. Would this world ever load on an iPad? I’m NO expert on this side of things, but for education, you need an inclusive platform.

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