Students love photography

Gridjumper has a great post on the Photo Hunt Group in Second Life. On Monday mornings and Wednesday nights this group visits a preselected location together, and spends an hour taking photographs. They then gather to select their favorite image; no cropping, no photo manipulation, just the shot.   This is a way of improving the photography skills of photographers, teaching them how to get the best out of in-world lighting and camera controls. It also promotes speculation on the differing perspectives individuals bring to the same scene.

Watch the birdie

Watch the birdie

A photo hunt would be a wonderful idea for a collaborative class appraisal of an event or exhibit, but it does pose logistical problems.  Although the cost of uploading an image for display in SL is only about three cents, most students don’t have any Lindens, and considering the possible number of photos, many instructors won’t want to underwrite the cost.

I do use photoshoots in my class, but what I’ve done up to now is to provide the group with a set of provocative questions and require a given number of photographs. Answers and photos are e-mailed to me through the SL photo tool.  This means that I must choose representative photos for the class, and this can’t be done immediately, so I usually do it as a follow-up in the next class. But for instant review of class work, there must be a better way.

It’s possible to organize a Flickr pool and show class work on a media-on-a-prim viewer, but students will have to join Flickr, and this requires a Yahoo account. Most of my students use Gmail, and I think that’s pretty common.  My students resent requests to join things they feel are superfluous, no matter how politely I ask.  They’ve already tangled with the SL learning curve, and they get grumpy.

It would be easier for them to just use Snapzilla.  The signup is simpler and it’s not hard for me to set up a group account.  This would provide me with a lot more flexibility in how I use pictures in class, and all students would have to do is e-mail the pictures to the group address.

So that’s my plan for next term, and I’ll let you know how it works out. If you’ve got a better idea, I’d appreciate hearing about it.

ADDENDUM:  Kate Miranda reminds me that with Gmail accounts, students can sign up for Google Picassa and Google +, share photos on Google+ or embed Picassa slideshows in a website.  Sounds like a better solution.

One Billion Rising

One Billion Rising

February 14 – all day.

Webpage at One Billion Rising:
Second Life Group: One Billion Rising
Twitter Stream:
Flickr Group:

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.

Two classrooms, one presentation format

basement classroom (ugh)

I’ve been lucky to have two really great classes this term, with some wonderful students. However, the locations for these classes couldn’t have been more different. My science fiction class was held over the lunch hour in a hot and windowless basement room, where forty sleepy students smuggled in sandwiches and coffee. My Women’s Studies class met in Second Life in the evenings, a dozen or so students seated in a wooded seaside area, keeping a lively conversation going even though they were tired after a long day’s work.  Members of the Second Life class who couldn’t participate during class time contributed through blogs.

student presentation in SLI don’t need to tell you which space I preferred to teach in, but what’s interesting to me is how similar classroom management was in both spaces.  The high point of both classes was the student presentation; students in both classes were asked to a ten-minute presentation.  They weren’t required to use PowerPoint, although they were given some instructions on what NOT to do with a PowerPoint presentation (20 words per slide, 15 slides maximum, no reading slides, don’t forget to finish with a discussion question).* The Second Life PowerPoint was prepared  the old-fashioned way; the PowerPoint was saved as .png images and uploaded as textures, which were then loaded into a standard slide projector, which the student controlled.

Almost unanimously, my students chose to use PowerPoint, and most were highly successful presentations. There were some minor differences; students in my physical class usually waited politely for the speaker to finish before they asked a question, while students in my virtual class often did a running commentary in text chat when a presentation interested them.  Students in my physical class often mentioned their nervousness at speaking in front of a large class, while my virtual students commented on the relaxed nature of a virtual presentation.

In both the physical and the virtual class, however, the short PowerPoint proved to be an effective kick-off point for discussion; sometimes we would go back over a particular slide in the question period, and students could challenge a point, or make suggestions for improving the presentation.  The Powerpoints were also useful for revision; if the student gave permission, their PowerPoint could be linked to the relevant page in the learning management system, while in Second Life the student could just leave their presentation in a convenient area for review.  In Second Life, this worked well for the asynchronous students (bloggers), who could visit the classroom later on to see the presentations.

As far as I’m concerned, social exchange is what makes a class, and presentations are a good way to encourage this.  I’m always a bit baffled by the “Death by PowerPoint” people, some of whom seem to believe that these kinds of discussion aids shouldn’t be used.  I’ve found PowerPoint very useful in both physical and virtual spaces, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned.  With the summer stretching ahead, it seems like a good time to explore other possibilities.  Any suggestions?

* Update, June 2013: Since I wrote this, I’ve found I get better presentations when I make it 10 slides, 10 words, 10 minutes, the last slide is a direct quote from the reading under discussion.


Lightbird is the new art installation on Minerva, part of the AAUW Community Events series. The students have loved it, especially after they were told not to expect a “lesson” from the art. They simply explore it, and report their reflections.  I do notice, however, that as the exhibit involves animating the avatar to sit on an egg, students have had a tendency to reflect on reproduction and freedom.

Maya Paris: Lightbird exhibit on Minerva

Maya Paris: Lightbird exhibit on Minerva

To begin, you have the option of wearing a bird mask and wings, which does get you into the mood of the thing.  You should also change the time of day to sunset or midnight (I prefer midnight).  To do this, go to >>world  >>environment settings.  Then, click on the sign at the entrance for your free mask and wings, follow the instructions on the notecard, and just participate in the art.

You may feel a little silly, sitting on an egg with a beak on your nose, but that’s part of the fun; you have to let go of your self-image a little before you can freely participate.  You can also fly high in the air and dance with dandelion clocks.  There are a lot of sounds to listen to, words fly by, and the whole thing is very provocative.

Maya Paris’ exhibit will continue on Minerva until June 20.  All are welcome; if this is the first time you have visited, see the help page.  If you’re an experienced virtual worlds explorer, just click the link:

Dancing in the dark with a dandelion

Dancing in the dark with a dandelion

Visit to FleepGrid

The Hypergrid Adventurer’s Club is a great way of exploring the metaverse; they get together weekly to poke around new places outside of Second Life.  I still don’t have the basics of hypergridding, so it’s really nice to have more seasoned explorers along to help me out.

Last trip we visited FleepGrid, Fleep Tuque’s private grid.   Fleep works for the University of Cincinnati, and she’s the most clever avatar I know; she runs FleepGrid on an old Pentium 4 she had in her basement.  In her basement!

Fleep is also a very talented content creator.  Her orientation area is stunning.  But what I really liked was this illustration of the differences between virtual worlds.

On a pedagogical level, this illustration demonstrates the value of a 3D world for learning: when you can actually walk around inside the thing, you learn about it pretty fast.  We are built to understand things in 3D. But even looking at this picture gives you a lot of information about the new directions virtual worlds are taking.  The signs were easy to read, but they don’t show up in the picture, so I’ll transcribe them here:


Second life is like the New York City of the Metaverse, full of people, culture and events, but it’s a WALLED GARDEN.  You can’t travel to other places, you can’t back up your creations or take them with you to other places, and it’s very expensive to rent or buy land there.


Opensim grids and standalones are like smaller towns, villages and houses popping up all over the Metaverse; land is either free or much cheaper than the big city, you can travel to and from Hypergrid-enabled locations, take your avatar and things with you, and backup your stuff.

Some grids like Avination, InWorldz, and SpotOn3D are WALLED GARDENS, just like Second LIfe.

I’m not keen on walled gardens myself, and I think they are only going to become more of an issue as time goes by.

It was a fun and informative visit.  If you’d like to try exploring the Hypergrid on your own, you can always use John (Pathfinder) Lester’s list of sites, or if hypergridding is a bit intimidating for you, just join Open Sim and use Firestorm or the Imprudence Viewer to tootle around in your avatar for a while.

Happy trails.

I visit Rutgers University

Rutgers football stadium in OpenSim

Standing on the 40 yard line

These days I’m exploring OpenSim
as a possible new home for Minerva.
It’s surprisingly solid, and some of the  grids even have voice.  Today I had a look around Rutgers; their OpenSim build looks as if they have reproduced their entire university there, student residences and all.

When I entered the grid, I found myself in the virtual version of the Rutgers football stadium, and it’s very impressive.  I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting linebackers to come crashing down on me at any moment.

Rutgers seems to be taking a very sensible approach to acclimating students to a virtual environment. Because OpenSim is so much less expensive than Second LIfe, they can spread out, giving incoming students a stronger sense of the actual campus.  Many things are still under construction here, but I hope they will include a robust teleport system to help students navigate the campus.  It’s just SO big!

Old Queen's, entry

Information kiosks help students learn about the campus

I began with the old campus, historic buildings surrounding a lovely park.  Old Queen’s is the oldest of these, the  first building to be occupied at Rutgers in 1811.

Old Queen's, Rutgers
An elegant old buildling

It’s a lovely old structure, and very well maintained.  I doubt they will use it for teaching, as it’s a bit hard to navigate inside buildings, but it’s a good way to show incoming students what the old campus looks like.

The whole project is very well put together. Some of the buildings aren’t finished yet, but  after exploring for about an hour, I’ll bet I could identify the major landmarks at the actual university to find my way around.

Of course, reproducing campus buildings is only one aspect of using virtual worlds for education; I was interested to find out how individuals in the different disciplines were using this space. I think it’s still early days, but people do seem to be hard at work on their own projects: there are lots of inviting spaces for group discussions, someone is building a Renaissance chapel, and people are creating art all over the grid.

There’s still a lot of space left; I’ll be sure to visit again to see what they get up to.

The Event Horizon display at Rutgers

The Event Horizon: Mindbending science/art project at virtual Rutgers