Republished: Second Life at The University of Twente (Part 2)

Posted on 5 February, 2008

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This post originally appearead on Dan’s Glass Houses blog on June 18th, 2007.  

The Drienerburght Hotel played host to an Interdisciplinary Second Life Workshop on the afternoon of June 14th.  Following an introduction and welcome from organisers Adam Briggle and Anton Nijholt of the University of Twente, the first presentation was given by myself, representing the Schome project based at The Open University.  ‘The Vital SPark: Managing a Dynamic Learning Space in Teen Second Life’ provided an insight into the Schome vision and how it embraced Second Life in order to pilot a more empowering and student-driven learning environment.

The presentation then took a close look at Schome Park, covering the subject areas, island layout, and support and management tools including the help and tracking systems.  Views were also given on some of the issues with running an educational island in Teen Second Life (opportunities for griefing, the sometimes challenging results of enthusiastic community building and the difficulty of staff developing new content within a live environment) and also the strengths (student creative freedoms, collaborative developments and self-governance).  My presentation slides are available to view here.

Second on the schedule was ‘Interreality Communication: iCat Meets Second Life’ presented by Patrick Ozer of Philips Research.  Patrick focused on a (real-world) device called the iCat, designed to provide a means of communication from Second Life to real-world and vice versa.  The iCat is small enough to fit on a desktop or even a monitor, providing visual and audio cues configured to represent certain events.  For example it could ‘whistle’ if you receive an instant message within SL, alerting you if you are not sat in front of the computer.

Robert Slagter of Telematica Instituut presented on the topic of ‘Real Business in Virtual Worlds’.  With much press being devoted to real-world businesses taking their first cautious steps into virtual worlds and the success (in some cases) of purely virtual organizations Robert presented a framework to aid in identifying and understanding the different business models available.  Placing on this framework a number of the most publicised real-world companies moving into Second Life clearly raised questions as to whether operating in a virtual world was fully understood.  The kinds of interactions and services provided are often out of joint with the experiences a virtual world aims to provide.

Finally David Nieborg from the Universiteit van Amsterdam presented ‘Don’t Sponsor a Game that is a Playground for Criminals! – The Many Media Frames of Second Life’.    As the title suggests David looked at the high media profile of Second Life, a world where the degree of hype is matched only by the voracity of the sensationalist reporter.  There are of course genuinely fascinating legal, economic, technical and socio-cultural issues at play here, with David concluding that it is really up to us all to frame virtual worlds in a way that can be understood by the wider community.

Dr Peter Ludlow (see previous post for a summary of his earlier public lecture) posed a number of  questions before he and the speakers fronted a lively question session.  The issues were wide-ranging, from the longevity of Second Life to the potential impact of autonomous agents.  Conversation continued in the bar and later in a restaurant in Enschede, highlighting just how passionate the attendees were about understanding and contributing to the impact of virtual worlds.

At the end of Part 1 of my report I concluded that virtual worlds provide an experience that is absolutely real.  Reaching the end of Part 2 I feel nothing but enthusiasm for virtual worlds.  They mirror human society (why would we expect otherwise) and as such there is both and good bad to be found, but which way the big picture steers is entirely in our hands.  We remain at the beginning of a long journey, but an exciting one.

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