Hook ’em horns!

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Oh yeah, I’m a Texas Longhorn and proud of it (plus I miss TexMex something fierce). So when I found out about the Texas Distance Learning Association I was quick to see if I could speak at their 12th annual conference.

TxDLA
TxDLA

Texas schools, community colleges, and universities enjoy a well-earned reputation in distance ed.  I lived in Dallas when the Dallas County Community College District gained national acclaim with their satellite farm back in the day.  It was an impressive array of large dishes.

DCCCD also has a presence in Second Life that is run by the Second Life passionate Montse who is associated with David Anderson of the eLearning Guild.  Both have helped push what Second Life can do on the education front.

Texas State Technical College is pulling off a major paradigm shift with their work in Second Life as well.

This year, Linden Lab is pulling out all the stops to help make Second Life and even better tool for educators.  Here are some highlights form 2008. And I continue to evangelize what SL can do to help learners.

Texas was a great place to get educated, no doubt.  As a wannabe geologist, it made sense to study in Texas and the state universities offered a solid education in that field.  It was a big move for a French Canadian and meant leaving a budding fencing career (a good move since a fencing instructor is not in very high demand). And I met Dr. Fred Fifer, my graduate department chair who probably does not realize the extent of his influence on me, even to my passion of creating rich media to engage eLearners.  His focus was that every learner is worth reaching and that instructors need techniques that are within their reach.

This means solutions that are either free or very inexpensive.  He had developed a “green box” of easy to assemble goodies that would allow even the poorest school districts to prerform meaningful and engaging science experiments.  His equipment consisted of string, pennies, old prescription bottle, film canisters (back in the pre-digital days), and so on.

I’d like to think that my approach would do him proud as I use those tools that are typically free and easily available. Whether it’s Moviemaker or iMovie (both free and already installed) or free tool like WavePad and Second Life.

Free?  Second Life?  Well it can be and yes, it does make it easier if you have land, but you can do land one week at a time for a few dollars if need be.  Or you can find people, like me, that offer a sandbox type space, and temporary land for projects.

See you at the end of the month, or maybe on the gulf coast of Texas in April, can’t wait to get some real TexMex and be among some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet!

Hook ’em Horns!

Join the Guild for a well-timed Online Forum

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eLearning Guild January 30th Online Forum
eLearning Guild January 30th Online Forum

Not only fast, cheap, and effective, but real skills that you can add to your resume.  Whether you are secure or a freelancer; you still need to push and add to your resume.

And maybe add a video of yourself (avatar anyway) to your portfolio?  Why not? Learn how with my session on Second Life.

If Microsoft hired some senior VP based on their high level in World of Warcraft, who knows what may happen if you display your new found skills online?

Don’t have your own URL.  Who needs one today (frankly, I love my URL – it ties to my grad degree – but I have all but given up on it’s email because of the incredible amount of spam one accumulates after 8 years and 20 other websites along the way).

Get a free blog site, create your own Ning network, or use visualCV.  Lots of excellent alternatives that are just as valid (imo).  So attend some sessions if you can, it’s a great way to network too!

Talk about humbling

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Well, if you know me, I have a big head.  But I really am a very humble person inside, self-esteem can make one act out and I am guilty of that.

But I was blown away by the kind words that Brent Schlenker wrote about my efforts in the eLearning community.  All I did was stumble accross Second Life at a time when I was desperately trying to add 3D content to eLearning.  I tried with an isometric Flash office space (I think it works rather well and certainly very fast to do). But it is isometric and not 3D.

So then I tried Blender 3D.  Apart form an incredibly steep learning curve, render times were far too long making it not practical for our use.  I stumbled upon Second Life (doh, missed all the media hype somehow) because two of our clients are in there.  One was the aloft hotel built by Electric Sheep.  A masterful build that was used as an architectural lab collecting avatar feedback for use in constructing the real hotel.  Starwood (aloft) was fantastic in donating their island to Global Kids when they were done.  What a wonderful gesture.

So I saw Second Life as a 3D application rather than a 3D social world.  I have since gone on to also be behind the scenes of a virtual real estate business, but that is an entierly different story . . .

As a 3D application it comes with physics and lighting already built in as well as avatars (my Make Human models for Blender were pretty sorry looking).  And with all the user created content, I don’t need to build Aeron Chairs and coffee makers, I can find those items for mere pennies.  So, all in all, it was an easy solution.  The toughest part was maximizing the quality and development time in order to make it a viable eLearning tool.

And I love sharing this and will on January 30th via the eLearning Guild’s Online Forum Successful Techniques and Strategies for Navigating Turbulent Times – Fast, Cheap, and Effective e-Learning.

I’m all for fast and effective, but the cheap part? I refer back to the start of this post and my big head, I prefer “economical” to cheap!

*pardon me, do you have any grey Poupon?* =D

subQuark gets facelift for online forums

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While working on the online forum presentation for the eLearning Guild, I took breaks by revamping subquark.com and creating new mini Moo cards. The new header image for subQuark is also used in the mini Moos.  Mini Moo cards are interesting in their size and a set of 100 is $20.  Now you can get business cards for less, but probably not with full bleeds and full colour.  Plus, I almost flipped out when I met with a few business Linden’s in San Fran and saw that Linden Lab uses mini Moos!  And with mini Moos, you can upload up to 100 pictures/graphics for your set.  That’s pretty cool and makes for an interesting variety.

The videos are coming along well for the forum and the DemoFest entry from DevLearn08 has been sized to it’s original size for proper viewing.  The version on blip.tv was scaling to 640 by480 resulting in pixelation.  The original version was intended for podcasting at 320 by 240. It can be seen on either subquark.com or virtualtqm.com.

Also added were the full text script which should be included in all video eLearning pieces. It’s easy to discuss accessibility but we often fall short as eLearning providers.

the subQuark website gets a facelift
the subQuark website gets a facelift

Blue Snowball mike is easy to use

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The Blue Snowball mike is so nice that I decided to redo the DevLearn08 demo video.  It is very easy to set up and the quality is far superior to many other microphones.  Shop around as there is a wide range in it’s price.  I found it at Amazon for $78.

Blue Snowball

You can hear the results on the VirtualTQM store page.

Look for it’s use in the supporting videos for the eLearning Guild’s January ’09 Online Forum session entitled

Add Value to You and Your e-Learning with Fast and Easy Virtual Agents

in which I discuss Second Life as a tool for tight budgets in 2009.  It’s easy to use and the video tutorials will be online at subquark.com for anyone to use.

Good luck with all your endeavors and check out the Online Forums, they are loaded with hands on sessions to help you add to your skillset and rachet your eLearning up a notch or two.

Wow, go eLearning Guild go!

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I am so excited to get another chance to share my passion for Second Life with the great members of the eLearning Guild.  It was truly humbling to be so well received at DevLearn08 and to be able to have three opportunities to work with you (DemoFest, Breakfast Bytes, and a session).

January 29th & 30th are the dates for an Online Forum put on by the Guild.  I am honoured to be able to teach more specifics on the use of Second Life as a true 3D tool rather than an application.

I have used Blender 3D extensively and it is an excellent program, but is very steep to learn (all keyboard driven, but that makes it very fast once you learn it).  I have also used tools specific to Flash such as Swift 3D.  Blender can yield great results (comparable to Maya) but is not designed for online delivery as in eLearning. Plus the rendering times are long (for examaple, a 90 second chess match with only the board and pieces took 20 computers two weeks running 24 hours a day as a render farm).  Swift 3D is intended for web delivery via Flash and is faster to render, but I find it has a “stronger” niche look than Second Life.

My approach is easy to learn in short order, renders real time, and yields animation similar to virtual agent software.  The total cost (money and time) is very low and the results are more tied to your imagination than any hard to achieve expertise.

Resources will be available in the form of video tutorials (even no frill mp4 versions for your iPod) and PDF guides.  More to come and thank you for looking at this as an option and possible tool for your toolkit.  :)

Happy Holidays! And tutorials update . . .

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It’s been a hectic month and holidays are a small part of it.  Much time has been spent working with the Second Life private estate iliveisl.

In a nutshell, pricing changes on one of Linden Lab‘s products has resulted in a refocus of goals.  For those not familiar with how Second Life works from a private estate point of view, you basically act as a reseller, similar to website hosting.

Fortunately (for Subquark Hax), I am in the background acting as a sounding board and futurist for the estate. Many estates were abusing this product (Openspace sims).  By abuse, I mean running so many scripts that the performance of these particular simulators (sims or islands) was very low. Anyone exploring Second Life as a corporate or educational tool that ended up on one would likely deem Second Life as a poor option.

Corporate adoption is a significant focus for Linden Labs in 2009.  There is much to say about the prestige and press that large players, such as IBM, bring to Linden Lab.

It was also nice to see educational development of Second Life as a priority as indicated in this blog post.  Educators have been early adopters of Second Life as a delivery tool and over 250 universities have a presence inworld.  Even Moodle, the LMS, made it into Second Life as SLOODLE.

As a passionate and long time corporate eLearning person and college professor, I am glad to see Linden Lab’s commitment to both the corporate and educational communities.  I would love to help shape both goals (hint: read the upcoming post on the Czar of Education and Creative Culture Development). On the educational front, I have been working on a set of 20 video tutorials developed for the eLearning community and in support of my presentations for the eLearning Guild.

Being both an eLearning developer for training used by 70,000 people a year and a multi-sim owner gives me a unique perspective.  Professionals that I am in regular contact with, from my conference presentations and publications, can attest to my evangelic passion for Second Life.  I sincerely believe that it is the best virtual world and will remain so for years to come (I have explored the OpenSim network and Openlife Grid, and they are lacking the tremendous user-generated content that sets Second Life apart; even with tools such as Second Inventory, Linden Lab has the capital, expertise, and passion to outpace the competition – and the loyal core of virtual land entrepreneurs).

The videos are a small part of what I can offer back to the eLearning community. I truly believe that teaching is one of the most rewarding endeavors and sharing new tools to reach more people is a responsibility of all educators.  The final video library (lol, it will never be final, I keep jotting down more topics) covers all aspects needed for current corporate eLearning departments to start using Second Life not as a delivery platform, but as a 3D application for creating high quality video.

The quality of Second Life video, when done right, is comparable to CodeBaby‘s virtual agents.  I have nothing against CodeBaby and think highly of their product.  It has distinct advantages in that it is true software that can be run stand alone and audio can easily be changed for localization purposes.  However, the price tag puts it out of reach of me as an individual and even my company.  Our education development department is of good size, but the price tag for CodeBaby makes it impossible for us to justify it.

Look for a library of video tutorials (sneak peek), in the next two weeks, that will help you start using Second Life to create engaging video that will increase learner retention and add to your marketable skills!  It’s fast and easy to use once you learn a few tips and tricks (and almost free).

Happy New Year! =D

Sample Avatar Alternative to Higher Priced Software

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I have nothing against great eLearning tools.  But . . . budgets make us aggressively seek out viable alternatives.  We have gone down the road of using “talking heads” that output to Flash and were easy to incorporate into our eLearning.

Before that we had used the Microsoft animated characters which work quite well.  Petey the parrot would fly in and out of the page and offer narration to help drive key points home and engage learners.

And then we looked at Blender 3D, the price was right (open source) but the development time followed by the incredibly long rendering time and subsequently huge files made it impractical to use.

At about that same time, Second Life was getting a lot of press coverage.  So we looked into that.  I made a test video (still the same one I point to since it showed decent results for the very first video I made) and it was certainly to the quality required.

We looked at out of the box solutions, like CodeBaby, but the cost was too high for our budgets. It’s a great product and easy to use and has some distinct advantages when it comes to lip syncing and localisation.

So at the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn a few weeks back, I had the honor to participate in their DemoFest, facilitate a BreakFast Bytes session, and hold a session on the use of Second Life as a virtual film studio.

Because of the requests I had during DemoFest about whether Second Life could produce something close to avatar programs, I created this sample in my hotel room on a laptop.

DevLearn08 DemoFest Entry

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Using the footage you develop for a lesson, you can easily (and rapidly) develop a short video podcast to leverage your video footage.  I would encourage you to add a running text line in your podcasts that highlight key points.

Actual eLearning use of this always uses 640 by 480 pixel video where complete text is clearly legible for users.  This helps address ADA 508 compliance and also gives the very real option of use in settings that do not have audio capabilities.

The original file is 20MB and a bit higher quality than displayed here.  This was entirely done with Windows MovieMaker (iMovie would work too).  The version displayed in the session on the Blackberry was simply converted with Blackberry software.  Super C is a free tool that can be used to convert to MP4 and many other formats with good results.

This video was originally shared on blip.tv by subquark with a No license (All rights reserved) license.

edit – Jan. 19, ’09: blip.tv post updated to reflect closer to intended 320×240 portable size.  Also re-recorded with Blue Snowball mike and text included.  License changed to Creative Commons.  lol, why do Quicktimes always turn the bright whites into a dingy gray when I export from Flash?