The Future of Education in Virtual Worlds

posted in: education, virtual world | 0

With Second Life’s Teen Grid closing in December, where does that leave the educational use of virtual worlds?

Adult education can carry on but K-12 may need to change. Certainly those working with students under 16 will need an alternative. Those working with students 16 and older may also want an alternative rather than be tossed into the main grid.

Over the last year, the trend seems to be social use for Second Life and education/business use for OpenSim-based virtual worlds.

Closing the Teen Grid is a clear indicator that education is not a priority for Linden Lab.

One alternative is to abandon virtual worlds entirely. Some educators will do this from lack of time, resources, and/or out of frustration.

Creating a good inworld presence takes a very real commitment. It can also require access to good content.

Not everyone is like our Ener Hax and just makes the commitment to create anything needed. Ener has also developed deep relationships with talented people who contribute to our work in Enclave Harbour*.

Many educators have relied on content available within Second Life which may not be available in OpenSim. Even with equivalent material, such as teaching tools available outside of Second Life, some of these may require reconfiguration and, taken as a whole, moving may simply be too daunting. Some educators will inevitably step away from virtual worlds.

However, many educators will stick with what virtual worlds can do and put in the effort to move. Ener Hax has written many articles on how to move plus the trials and tribulations of moving from Second Life to an OpenSim-based environment (see the iliveisl blog – this post appears there as well).

OpenSim alternatives include (1) installing OpenSim on your own server, (2) contracting a third party to install it for you, (3) having an OpenSim hosting provider create a private grid as a stand alone or hypergrid-enabled grid, or (4) joining an existing grid.

1) Installing OpenSim on your own server gives you the greatest control and the least expense. This assumes that you can do the install or have the IT support to get this done.

Installing OpenSim is within the reach of many and numerous articles are out there on doing this (Hypergrid Business has a current guide which may help you decide if this is a viable option).

Your own installation means you can completely secure your world behind your firewalls. For school districts this seems like a great option.

2) A third party can install OpenSim on your server or on website hosting servers that are suited to running OpenSim. is a website hosting company that is heavily used by the OpenSim community. They have dedicated servers allowing root access that run OpenSim very well.

We looked into this and contacted Justin Clark-Casey about installing OpenSim for us on our own box. Justin is one of the core OpenSim developers and is available for hire as are others in the OpenSim community.

3) Another alternative is to use an OpenSim hosting provider. Hypergrid Business maintains an up-to-date hosting directory. Compare not only costs but hardware specs as well.

It turned out to be $100 a month less expensive for us to go with a hosting company than running our own box.

How is that possible? SimHost‘s owners include one of the core developers of OpenSim and an admin of OSGrid and they work closely with who helps support the OpenSim initiative.

Going with a hosted solution frees you up to do education. You don’t need to know any of the technical aspects and this is similar to being in Second Life.

While I would like to have the technical know how, I would rather focus on our endeavors. For us, virtual worlds are simply a means to deliver science education content, much like a photograph in a textbook. I do appreciate the expertise that our host has because it allows both of us to concentrate on creating immersive 3D educational activities.

Being hosted offers additional options to consider. Similar to a self-installed version, you can be a private grid with your own registration page, you can be firewalled, or you can be part of an existing grid such as OSGrid or ScienceSim. As a private grid you also have the option to be hypergrid-enabled which would allow you and/or visitors to travel to other hypergrid-enabled regions.

4) Joining an existing grid has benefits and some hosting providers run their own grids, such as Reaction Grid. Reaction Grid has a business and education specific grid which is safe for use by students and allows teachers to network. We were with Reaction Grid for 10 months and they are an excellent option.

It seems that private grids, where you can turn hypergridding on and off, are becoming the preferred choice by both educators and business.

OSGrid is somewhat analogous to the internet. You can hop around regions (about 5,000) and hypergrid to private grids. The advantage with OSGrid and a private grid is that you could use OSGrid for your avatar account rather than create accounts for each private grid you visit.

There are many things to consider but there are also many choices. Those choices are growing rapidly.

If you have been thinking of trying OpenSim or are being forced to find an alternative, do your homework, study the offerings, and take the plunge. It certainly can be rough but once done, it is well worth it.

*- Enclave Harbour is a joint venture enjoying the talents of Dream Walker, Nickola Martynov, Micheil Merlin, Ener Hax, and David Miller. Its goal is to serve as a virtual field trip “world” to explore environmental science for middle school students from public, virtual, private, and home schools. To date there are 50 workbook activities developed with additional ones in the works. Expected launch is summer of 2011.

serious builder

Enclave Harbour is hosted by SimHost and runs on a dedicated 64-bit server with 8 gigabytes of RAM, 4 CPU cores, 500 megabyte hard drive, 100 Mbps dedicated port, and 32.4 terrabytes of monthly bandwidth. Our server has been heavily customised beyond the standard install to give us options such as the ability to have 4 GB RAM per sim and additional web interfaces.

This has also been posted on the iliveisl blog.