OpenSim Educators’ Consortium

posted in: education, virtual world | 8

I have been following a discussion in LinkedIn’s Virtual World group that has taken a shift into an area of interest to me. It will come to no surprise to the reader’s of Ener Hax’s iliveisl blog to learn that this shift was loudly accented by our own Ener.

Linda Rogers (Bread and Roses | Music Island), whom I have a deep respect for and who has a comprehensive knowledge of Second Life, started this shift and brings up a great point in a conversation with Ener.

With heavy editing below, here is part of the thread to set the stage for my two cents.

Linda: I frequently run into educators that are new to Second Life, because one of the places they tend to visit (if they are interested in the Arts) is my music series. It is amazing how frequently I meet educators in their first week who are just blown away by things they have visited, the virtual Dresden Museum, the virtual Sistine Chapel, historical sims, science sims, space and ocean sims. AND they want to bring their Grade 3 class to see something and explore. That’s when they find out with a shock that Second Life is not open to children.

These educators want a world with the quality and depth of content of SL available in a child-friendly environment.

Ener: well the good news is that educators can have that same experience in OpenSim! =)  because everything that was built in Second Life can be built in OpenSim. a teacher could build it themselves, create a consortium of like-minded teachers and do it as a project, or even hire others

Linda: Linden Lab has indicated clearly that they are disinterested in retaining Educators.There’s clearly room for someone else to take that ball and run with it.

Ener: if a group of teachers can organize, then a great number of things can be built. i think if all disparate OpenSim educational efforts could loosely come together, people would be surprised at the tremendous volume of educational material out there. Linda, you hit on a very good point and i believe that it is up to teachers to form this and not some corporate entity =)

Linda and Ener have hit upon a very good point indeed!

Second Life was the first “create anything you want” virtual world that saw mainstream media attention and attracted many people who did come and build fantastic places.

We all know what Linden Lab thinks of education – the layoff of many that dealt with education, such as Pathfinder Linden, the closure of the teen grid, and the cessation of the educational/not-for-profit discount.

Second Life does have a large amount of interesting builds and, unfortunately, many have disappeared due to a number of factors. However, there is no longer the need to pin all hopes on a corporate entity that will make choices to serve itself over that of education.

The advances and stability seen in OpenSimulator make it nearly as viable as Second Life. The one exception, in my opinion, is the physics engine.

The challenges in creating an educational consortium, which could be as simple as a list of Grid URIs and a sentence about each, include some of the following:

  • semi-private grids, such as our Enclave Harbor
  • grids existing on local servers, in the school or district
  • classroom grids on local machines, such as Eric Nauman’s
  • grids behind firewalls
  • grids on teacher’s personal computers at home

There are further variations but even with hypergrid-enabled regions, not all grids will be able, nor necessarily want, to connect into a large consortium. With Second Life, we were all in this one single “walled garden” which invoked a community feel that made it more natural to want to share your work. Often, sims were paid for from school budgets and did not represent as deep a personal investment as some OpenSim grids do. To compound this, many Second Life builds were heavily comprised of “things” that were bought or found for free.

To use Enclave Harbour as an example, Ener has created every item we have in-world, even trees. This makes for a more personal investment into OpenSim than in Second Life. Buying a chair for fifty cents is easier to share with others than a chair you may have spent a few hours creating. Add to that the more “gritty” feel that running your own server has and its expense and somehow it feels more emotional than it did in Second Life (even though we pay what one educationally discounted sim cost and have 16 sims). This may simply be my own bias, but I am protective of Ener’s work and value it greatly. I confess to not seeing much value in being open to the public. It may sound callous, but I bet my feelings are not that different from others who have gone through the trouble to establish their own grid and have all of their content custom-made.

However, a consortium of educational OpenSim grids could have great value in the larger scheme of K-16 education.

I would like to see this consortium include linkages with community colleges and universities. The educational grids could serve as “feeders” to higher education institutions and this is something that would hold value to me. If students going through Enclave Harbour resulted in a higher number of students pursuing science studies in college (particularly STEM with emphasis on reducing its gender gap), then I would open our grid up because this meant that a real relationship existed between us and a college (or colleges). This would add value to our grid in a way that benefited us and the partnering college, in effect our program would have value to the students and to the college.

If you are interested in being part of a listing of educational grids, even if you are fully private, let me know. I would be glad to start a listing (perhaps even self-registration via public Google Docs). Private grids being listed may help others gauge the size and richness of OpenSim educational work in a way analogous to Second Life and spark new ways to look at OpenSim for education.

also posted at iliveisl