Tuesday, 29 July 2008


I've been messing about with full 360 x 180 degree panoramics. When you map one of these photographs onto a sphere and walk inside it, it gives a good sense of being in a real space. The image distorts a little as you move around in the sphere, but your brain seems to be able to make adjustments quite easily, so I can imagine that you could map other objects within this space and you would get a reasonable sense of their position in relation to the projected panoramic. If you had a bunch of avatars inside this space, and each avatar had a rectangular cone object which projected out in the direction they were facing (the cone would correspond to the field of view of their camera), then everyone would be able to see what they were looking at. This would be very useful in group discussion about the location of the panoramic image that everyone was inside. It would also indicate when someone was looking you in the face, providing another valuable visual cue in the 3D virtual space. Browsers and whiteboards could also be placed within the sphere to facilitate the discussion.
I reckon all of this is do-able with Wonderland.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Walking in an Inter-Wonderland

Some more quick thoughts on Wonderland.
Wonderland is basically a 3D conferencing tool, a bit like a 3D version of Elluminate. Rather than avatars, it would be more useful to see a live video stream of the people you are communicating with. Bandwidth restrictions would probably limit this to low-rez versions of each participant's webcam, but even this in the 3D space would be useful. As a participant watches you move around, they would get a sense of what you are looking at, as your video image would be orientated to face that thing. In group meetings, the direction that you are looking would make sense in the 3D space. If you look to someone on your left, your video image would seem to be looking at the same person in the 3D space. This would provide valuable cues to enhance social cohesion. If someone decided to wander off, you could follow them, see what they are drawing or browsing, and engage in a meaningful conversation with them about it.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Wonderland spillage

Some initial ideas about Wonderland after spending half an hour messing about with Open Habitat's MPK20-based test area:

It ain't Second Life. This is both bad and good.

The shared applications are great. Walk up to a whiteboard and shift-click on it and you can just draw straight onto it. No external applications needed like in SL.

The avatars just look disturbing, and editing them is clunky and pretty pointless really. What would be better would be to allow users to upload a mugshot of themselves and apply it to a box.

The bots are even more disturbing. They create a sense of confusion (your not sure if they have real people connected to them at the other end or not). Hearing a voice coming from them makes you want to find out how to walk away faster (Press shift to double walk speed).

The performance is terrible, until you adjust the clipping settings to something sensible.

As MPK20 is geared up for 'you being you', using your own voice and using 2D applications in a 3D world, the first person (mouselook) camera view makes more sense. Being able to see your avatar forces you to see them as an external character, and you can't help going down the road of wanting to dress them and love them etc. Second Life is a million times better for this role play, and it's looking like it will take a long time before wonderland's avatar rendering will catch up with SL's sophistication. I'd quite confidently say that it never will, so why not ditch the 3D avatar side of things now? A good photo of someone's face when you're on the phone to them helps. Seeing a creepy generic doll does not.

The range of possibilities for what you can do using Wonderland/MPK20 are far more limited than SL, for sure, but the few things that you can do - if tweaked and focussed - will have much wider appeal for business and education. This is something that I could imagine would benefit a large number of my Graphics students. Second Life is one type of media out of many. Wonderland could be a tool that could help students whatever type of media they work with.

I'm imagining something quite abstract. Minimise the lag inducing things. Trim the clipping right down. Fill the place with loads of browsers and whiteboards and make it into an ideas studio. Write some specifically adapted web based application, and link to Graham's e-portfolio tool. e-Studio?

With the services of a decent Java developer, we could make something really good out of Wonderland.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

United! United!

According to Christine Kenneally (New Scientist 21 May 2008) the only things that are uniquely human are art, cooking, religion, humour, sport and world wide domination. I can't help wanting to combine these things together somehow. The art bit is already there. The world wide domination thing is relevant to the sorts of global technologies we are messing about with. Graham and I spend quite a lot of time laughing about our preposterous plans. Someone once suggested that I start a virtual cult, with my hologram of Clive Egginton as the God of Second Life (I think Philip Linden has already claimed that one.) Not sure about cooking, although mixing up prims to a recipe for a tasty dish of art might be an interesting line of inquiry.
The one that I am really intrigued by is sport.
I must point out at this point that I always got picked last for the team at school, and I can barely throw a ball let alone catch one. I also have little interest in sport as a spectator, except the odd football game on the tele. However, my interest in sport as a potential model for learning in virtual worlds has been stoked up by two things. The first is the need to find a more effective way of getting productive collaboration going in phase 2 of the project. The other is the announcement that Leeds Met is to become the UK Centre for Coaching Excellence.
I have been interested in coaching ever since I attended three coaching sessions as part payment for a website I made for a life coach (This was no cowboy coach. She had qualifications and everything, and usually charged £200 quid an hour). These sessions had a profound effect on me. It helped to reveal to me what I really valued, and gave me permission to be brilliant as me, not what other people thought was me. I certainly wouldn't have got involved in JISC if I hadn't had those three one hour sessions. I realised when I was getting coached that there were many similarities with life coaching and the negotiated learning/tutorial based approach that is central to the way we do things. I also stole some her techniques and tried them out on colleagues and students, with some success. So, I'm a fan of coaching based approaches to personal development and the subsequent learning that is unlocked as a result.
Back to sport. As I was spilling 50 ideas for Phase 2 onto the floor of my last blog post, I found my mind wandering towards sport as something that might provide a possible framework for creative collaboration in virtual worlds. I like the idea of teams with different skills working together. I'm interested in two or more teams competing. I'm wondering what the rules of art/design sports might be. I like the fact that teams can compete globally. I can see how the tutor could be like a coach, picking the team, structuring the training exercises, motivating and encouraging, but ultimately standing on the side line whilst the students put in the effort and perform.
Another issue that is limiting the potential of the Open Habitat project is working with Noobs. I wonder how we might recruit good players for a team? Can we look outside of the University, in the same way that clubs sign players from abroad? Oh, the brain's working now. More on this soon.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

50 ideas for phase 2

Time to start the brain up again. Phase two starts tomorrow.

1. Explore/test SL/OpenSim hybrid via Open Grid Public Beta
2. Make OpenSim standalone package (Mac)
3. Make VMware standalone package (PC & *nix)
4. Run sessions on Graphics course from October to February (5 month run)
5. Just do OpenSim standalone induction and name game, then set free in SL.
6. Make them collaborate.
7. Redefine collaboration,
8. Ditch SL/OpenSim and use Wonderland instead.
9. Use Wonderland for Philosophy/project meeting (Mac issue - project buys us Bootcamp/Windows)
10. Run cross institution competiton.
11. Run cross discipline/Leeds Met based competition.
12. Explore immersionist angle - no RL bits - no blended bits (Apart from seperate OpenSim induction.)
13. Only use experienced avatars.
14. Open up beyond institutions.
15. Run a grid wide competition.
16. Set up an OpenSim grid with free entry and see what happens.
17. Create fertile ground for rhizomatic collaboration.
18. Make a tool that glues avatars together into collaborative thing.
19. Engineer collaborations through human management.
20. Think global.
21. Be a magnet for diverse talent.
22. Apply all we know about learning in our art & design world to global virtual collaboration.
23. Create a standardised, free, assessable 15 credit point, 150 learning hours elective module that anyone in LeedsMet/UK/the world can study.
24. Harness and validate informal learning.
25. Create a structure for assessing informal learning through regular formative feedback and dialogue.
26. Do everything in-world. No web 2.0 crutches.
27. Structure learning through broad learning outcomes.
28. Motivate not through prize money, but through assessment, marks and credit points.
29. Develop a model for sub-letting learning.
30. Link SL with a course length programme of personal development.
31. Link SL with coaching. Leeds Met has just become a center for coaching excellence. There is massive potential to obtain resources and support for a coaching focussed approach.
32. Create a structure for placing coaching at the center of learning, using SL and web 2.0 tools to support a mentoring approach.
33. SL is not a game, but could the underlying principals of sport be used to provide scaffolding for learning activities?
34. Look at the sports team (i.e. a football team) as a model for collaboration.
35. The tutor as coach - he/she picks the team, based on strengths identified in training, decides on the game strategy, but the players play the game.
36. Explore competitive games. Team playing against team following set rules.
37. Organise cross institutional tournaments. E.G. LeedsMet, coached by Kisa Naumova, take on Leeds College of Art, coached by AngryBeth Shortbread in a game of art. Half a sim each. May the best team win.
38. Explore the role of branding in team building - i.e. the brand of Manchester United, the pride of the player working for the club. The loyalty of the fans.
39. Evaluators are pundits. Steven W is Alan Hansen. Margarita is Alan Shearer.
40. Organise weekly training sessions at the training ground. Structured activities to develop the skills.
41. Devise individual fitness programmes fro each student. They have to but in the effort though.
42. Make sure the training ground and pitch are suitable and well maintained. makes sure relevant equipment is available.
43. The project manager is the Chairman of the board.
44. Look at the theories of life coaching. (stripping away the voices of others to reveal your personal values etc.)
45. Invent design sport.
46. Design sport could be a way of structuring collaborative learning with a focus on problem solving? Link with Maggi's PBL work.
47. The job of the coach-educator is to make up new games, explain the rules, and train the player-students. The job of the player-student is to understand and play by the rules, exercise and compete in the games.
48. Invent some design team games.
49. Test out the games with experienced avatars.
50. Publicise the games and rules amongst art educators worldwide, and coordinate a tournament.