Thursday, 10 May 2007

At the Eduserv Foundation Symposium

Yesterday I described the scene of today's event, the Eduserv Foundation Symposium. The event is being held in the real world in London, and piped through to three areas within Second Life, plus streamed to a lab in the Open University in Milton Keynes and a few other places online. These screenshots in larger sizes are in my Flickr area.

Pre-event, various people start arriving and milling about at the various arena:


Pete turns up at our arena (or rather, his avatar does) to explain the procedure. The anarchist in me takes over, but my call to "rush the stage" is ignored by everyone. Ach, people in SL are much more serious than those in Animal Crossing:


The symposium has a "group" set up for it in Second Life, so people can communicate no matter which conferencing location they are at (you may need to look at the larger version to read the text):


As we approach 10:30, the auditorium starts to fill up. There's a good exchange of who people are and what they do, which was useful in grabbing contacts:


Andy appears from Eduserv on the big screen. The picture is good quality, and the sound is really excellent. There is one problem that several attendees have, in that he appears to be upside down and swaying, like a bat attached to the ceiling. A quick log out, then log back in...


...turns Andy from bat back to opportunist shoe salesman. The auditorium (and this is one of several) is getting quite full now. The first speaker comes on. Picture quality is good, his slides are integrated into the presentation, and the sound quality is superb. Second Life has astonishingly good audio quality compared to most other online events I've been to over the years. Here's a view of the auditorium from above and behind, as a speaker presents:


Roo Reynolds from IBM was on in the morning. He gave a well-balanced and inspirational presentation about how Second Life is used within the company. One of the many interesting things he outlined was a particular molecule (I think found in the eye?) which was constructed within SL and used as a meeting space. With 50,000 links within, (see the larger picture for illustration on the screen), there are plenty of places to sit:


One of the downsides of SL is the distraction of attire. Though on the plus side, you can turn up for any event, on anything - such as a winged horse, as the person in the picture below has done. He or she would have had little chance of getting that into the real world conference centre: "You aren't coming in 'ere with that, mate; health and safety regulations. I don't care if your name is Pegasus."


The sound and picture quality stayed continually excellent throughout the day. Remember this is live video footage, plus a live audio feed, being relayed to several places in SL where crowds of avatars - all doing their own things - are gathered. This is the fourth and most ambitious event of its kind I've been to in SL, and technically it's worked the best of all of them. Though I wasn't at the live event, it seemed to me to be a pretty convincing example of how to successfully "blend" a real world and online event. 

Just before lunch, we had a speaker from Scotland, who has travelled to London to speak, so it can be transmitted through SL and watched by people such as me back in Scotland :-)  His take on the "Is SL a game?" issue was that SL wasn't a game, but it had playful, game-like aspects.


The afternoon session kicked in, with more attendees - at different altitudes. Plenty of leg room for many:


 Gill Salmon from the University of Leicester made some good points about research and how older, traditional research methods were perhaps not that applicable to Second Life. Especially, she made the case for cognitive mapping (something I know little about) and pointed to some interesting comments and related software. Looks like my learning curve may have just gotten a bit steeper. 

There was also often a good level of discussion during and between the sessions between the attendees in Cybrary. On the upside, SL means you can have a lot of communication in a short period of time. Downside is that following several things, and participating, gets a bit exhausting for a 38 year old (even if I didn't have to get up till 9:30 and I've moved barely 100 yards so far today):


Stephen Downes was the last speaker, who provided a somewhat provocative serious of statements and opinions about Second Life, not all of them positive. This kicked off more debate locally in the Cybrary auditorium. It was notable that the comment with the most agreement in the local IM was when Martin Pattle said I view SL as a prototype of a much  more capable future 3D environment.


One of the more interesting questions of the day was directed to Stephen from Milton Broome (a lecturer in psychology at Derby University who seems to work from his bedroom).  In a difference from the Linden Labs speaker this morning ("Second Life is not a game"), Stephen drew analogies between SL and games, especially comparing the "create the best house you can" ethos of The Sims.

Milton asked: How can Second Life be a 'game' when at this conference alone I've made academic contacts and recruited participants for research. I've done all this on my wireless laptop at home laying in bed. Surely the platform is defined by usage.

My inner thought is "Does it matter if it is a game or not? Define a game anyway - does the magic circle exist in an SL session?". But this one will probably come up a lot in the next conference I'll attend - this time in the flesh - that brings together Gamers, Librarians and Second Life users in Chicago in July. See you there.


  1. This is really interesting, I've got to do a virtual online discussion with young people, do you tend to get discussions or just people continually typing in what they think and not really 'conversing' with each other? Am probably going to use Habbo Hotel rather than Second Life though.

  2. Kathryn Greenhill11 May 2007 at 01:18

    I agree with you about the comments from the audience. I found them really worthwhile, mainly. I'm glad you copied down the quote from Martin Pattle, as I meant to and then missed it.Does this mean we were in different parts of the world, attending a virtual event while liveblogging it simultaneously? I think we both need to go walking on the beach a bit more instead.

  3. Hmm. Second Life. Stll not sold on it, I'm afraid.For an "event" like this - is it not more efficient to use an im-based server like Live Communication Server or the like? You can stil have the interactivity (shared presentations, video, webcams, audio and the like) but with out the overhead of Second Life.Second Life is unusably slow and laggy on my laptop, I find the usernames and avatars pretty off-puting most of the time and the interface is pretty quirky and takes some getting used to.What are the real benefits of using a virtual world (ugh!) for something like this rather than a more traditional solution?

  4. The midden » Blog Archive » Eduserve Second Life Symposium - Virtual worlds, Real Learning16 May 2007 at 21:02

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