Republished: Monitoring the use of Schome Park

Posted on 6 February, 2008

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 This post originally appeared on Dan’s Glass Houses blog on April 19th, 2007.

Schome Park has now been up and running since early March.  We decided a long time ago that gathering statistical evidence for Schome Park usage was absolutely essential.  Consequently I designed and scripted our first version sensors during development of our Main Grid island, SchomeBase.  These were iteratively improved and refined until team member Olly Butters added the crucial database integration.   Most recently we have turned our attention to how best to display the information.

Schome Park StatisticsThe first display (as illustrated to the left with avatar names ‘smudged’ out) shows the number of unique student avatars and cumulative time spent on the island (by students) during the life of the project.  This is then followed by a graph illustrating the peaks and troughs in time spent on the island across the week. This proved hugely useful in the early stages when we realised a number of session times had been arranged for times that turned out to be difficult for students to make.  We soon adjusted our working patterns to suit when most students were on the island, and continue to make use of this information to drive future planning and events.  

Beneath the graph we then have a list of student avatars listed in order of when they were last on Schome Park.  This provides an “at a glance” view of who was been on and when.  Additionally each avatar name is a hyperlink to a similar set of statistics focused on just that avatar.  Given our pilot is on the Teen Grid working with children this is particularly useful as we can take a view on whether individuals are spending “too long” on Schome Park.

Schome Park Heat MapInspired by Jakob Nielsens use of eye-tracking to create heat maps for usability analysis (e.g. Talking-Head Video is Boring Online alertbox) we developed our own heat map of Schome Park allowing us a location-based view of where avatars were spending their time.  The hot spots in the image correlate to areas such as our arena, sandbox, and ethics & philosophy discussion area.  Given that one of our aims is to keep the island ‘moving’, it is rewarding to redesign an area (or as has happened on several occasions completely demolish one build/building and replace it with something new) and see through the heat map a surge in activity at the new site.  Indeed it could be argued that this state of flux is essential to the health of the Schome Park community.

Whilst I am delighted at how well the system functions and how useful the information has been there are, as always, issues.  Firstly in developing a very active community we set out from day one to allow students to build anywhere, relying on an acceptable use policy and good governance to steer things in the right direction.  The students took to this well, and quickly agreed a policy of creating their own major builds above 100m.  This necessitated swift action on our part to locate extra sensors to cover the sky.  Thus we actually have multiple views of the heat map, reporting on vertical slices of Schome Park space.

Secondly our system does not currently provide 100% coverage of the island.  In some ways this is not critical, as we do have coverage of the important high-traffic areas.  Ideally of course we would like 100% coverage.  That said it does mean our current cumulative total of almost 1000 hours of student activity represents only 1000 hours of recorded time.  The actual figure for Schome Park will be somewhat higher, which is wonderful.

With plans to improve the system further the value of using such a system to inform the development of quality virtual world education spaces should not be underestimated.

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