3D Virtual Worlds: FCC and AACE GLAP!

On March 12, 2011, in Uncategorized, by DavidDeeds

Enough abbreviations in that title, do ya think, or should I try for a few more? FCC = Flat Classroom Conference (www.flatclassroomconference.com) and AACE GLAP = Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education’s Global Learn Asia Pacific Conference (www.aace.org/conf/glearn). I’m going to both wrap up my FCC discussion and provide a preview of the upcoming AACE GLAP in this post…because I don’t know if I’m going to have the bandwidth to write again before I go…two weeks from today I’ll be on a plane to Australia.

So here it is, Saturday morning, and I find myself putting PowerPoint slides together again. At the AACE conference, I’m going to try something I’ve done before…namely, put up a viewer in Second Life or OpenSim and go through the presentation from inworld. But those of you who’ve attempted demos of Second Life and OpenSim before know about THE CURSE…everything will work glitch-free for months…and then as soon as you’re in front of a live audience, something goes wrong. When I’m on the road to demo 3D virtual worlds, I always have machinima (movies made by recording what you’re doing in Second Life or OpenSim, in case you’re unfamiliar with the term), screen captures…and yes, PowerPoint slides.

Don’t laugh about THE CURSE…sooner or later it’s gonna take a big bite out of your [derriere]. At the FCC, we had Internet… sound… thanks again to the Beijing International School tech support staff, they did a fantastic job…the Second Life demo went fine…I had a coworker and students meet us on our cybercampus and I conducted mini-interviews with them. During the OpenSim demo, however, we lost the Internet connection on our (Changchun American International School — CAIS) end because of a virus (a nasty one that resets IP addresses, but don’t get me started)…you see what I mean…THE CURSE is serious business.

Virtual Changchun American International School in Second Life.

Virtual Changchun American International School in Second Life.

But I digress…I tend to do that…last time I concentrated on what our school has been doing with Second Life so I could focus on OpenSim today. First of all, forget about all age considerations…with OpenSim, everyone from Pre-K to DP students can participate…and so can teachers too, of course. As the slides I uploaded last time point out, YOU have total control over your 3D virtual world…if you want no one to come in or go out, it’s up to you. OpenSim is FREE…you can download the software, unzip it and with a viewer such as Hippo, Imprudence or Phoenix (again, see the “OpenSim 101″ slides I posted earlier) you can be ready to go with a local installation within minutes. You can only have one avatar at at time with this setup, however, so although it’s good for initial training purposes you’ll want an instance that multiple students can work in to take advantage of the teamwork, project management, etc., aspects of 3D virtual world exercises.

If you’ve got a web server with a static IP address on your LAN, you can tweak some .INI files and have a client-server setup behind your firewall. My critics contend that I make this sound easy when in fact it’s not, but if you have a network administrator inhouse s/he should be able to do this for you if the task proves formidable. Last year at CAIS we started with a hosted solution but had to fall back to client-server because of Internet access problems. We use “Big Bertha,” a Dell PowerEdge 2900 with a Xeon CPU…8 GB of RAM…midrange but powerful enough to handle at least 20 students concurrently. Actually, it might be able to accommodate more, we’ve just never had the chance to max it out. I’ve done the diagnostics…LAN speed is fine…the lag problems we experience are most likely due to the fact that we’ve been using the default SQLite database…upgrading to My SQL would help. So would beefing up our client graphics cards…we have ATI x1300-3000′s with 128 and 256 MB of video RAM…I’d like to take this up to 512. That’s something I should mention…video card/driver requirements…make sure your clients meet the standards…I’ve solved the problem before by upgrading the drivers but this won’t help if your PCs are too old. Even if you opt for a hosted solution, client video cards/drivers are a consideration.

Caisland in ReactionGrid (next to the 1939 World's Fair)!

Caisland in ReactionGrid (next to the 1939 World's Fair)!

A hosted solution will make your life a lot easier, assuming you’ve got the bandwidth to have kids connected via the Internet. Keeping the server up and running is service you pay for rather than do! And if you use a company such as ReactionGrid (www.reactiongrid.com), as we do, then it’ll be a SQL Server database on the backend. Speaking of which, you won’t be entirely free of administrator duties…via a Remote Desktop Connection you’ll still be doing command-line work such as creating users…but this is minimal compared to having to maintain your own hardware. You can get a four-region private grid for $75 a month after the setup fee. For a one-time $50 charge, you can enable “hypergridding,” meaning that your kids can “teleport” from your private world to the public ReactionGrid, which is guaranteed “PG” or kid safe. This is where the virtual field trips come in…next week, for example, we’ll be taking our kids to see the ReactionGrid recreation of the 1939 World’s Fair. More on this later.

You'll still be doing some command-line administrative work.

You'll still be doing some command-line administrative work.

I don’t want to make this post a book, so now that I’ve covered some of the geeky basics that I know fellow nerds love (need!) to know I can move on to the lesson plans! I’ve already mentioned project management…a topic our munchkins neither understood nor appreciated until we started building our creations in OpenSim. At CAIS we use OpenSim to teach Computer-Aided Design, using the built-in modeling tools. You see the Virtual CAIS campus in Second Life? That was built by professionals, but the tools used are the exact same ones your kids have access to in OpenSim! Our students are creating AMAZING stuff and yes, I’ll post examples of all this later. Perhaps one of the most important considerations for CAIS is that not all our students are equally fluent in English…OpenSim work gives the struggling kids an opportunity to succeed…and the native speakers the opportunity to do their own thing…creates/maintains the ultimate differentiated classroom. And, of course, there’s programming instruction…OpenSim uses Linden Scripting Language (LSL) just as Second Life does…featuring instant payoff! If you’ve tried to teach kids programming before, you know you can’t spend months on theory…munchkins need to see their code DO something! And with OpenSim it’s immediate…you can even use Scratch For Second Life (http://web.mit.edu/~eric_r/Public/S4SL/) so that kids can snap their code blocks together…convert to LSL…and boom…their doors/windows open…their cars move…etc.

Sold? You should be. Now…at the FCC I had the chance to meet fellow nerds at Beijing International School and the Western Academy of Beijing…we are planning on creating an OpenSim grid. Finances are a consideration, as always, but the worst-case scenario is that I can designate our ReactionGrid region as “Chinese International Schools Inworld” or something like that…ReactionGrid accounts are free so the other schools can join in for no cost. I can create “sandboxes,” or places where people can build over and over again…you can back up everything on an OpenSim region via creating an .OAR (Opensim ARchive) file. If your school is interested in getting in on the grid, please let me know. The ultimate goal will be to create an IBO Grid…picture 3,000 schools being able to connect, communicate and collaborate! If your school’s not IBO, contact me anyway. We might start with a “generic” International School Grid and designate the IBO as a separate part of it later as we achieve critical mass. That’s where we left off at the FCC…after the upcoming AACE Conference CAIS is going to produce a proposal to the IBO re: forming the grid. So keep this in mind…the 2011 FCC is going to be renowned forever as where the International School (and/or IBO!) Grid started. We can add this to the Great Moments in History…the invention of the printing press…man walks on the moon…and now, the International School Grid. ;)

Most of my fellow nerds at the AACE GLAP will be from colleges/universities…and I’m hoping to get some financial, technical and/or other assistance in getting international schools on board. It’s absolutely amazing who you meet at an AACE conference…I mean I might think I’m a genius, but these people really are…and I can’t wait to pick their brains about how we’re going to get this global grid going. We need to start training people…administrators, teachers and students…I’m hoping we’ll use a vendor but if a decision is made to take everything behind a proprietary firewall we’ll need infrastructure for that… etc. I’ll write again soon, probably during or after the AACE GLAP. My topic is: “Establishing 3D Virtual World Presences for the International Baccalaureate Organization’s Teachers, Administrators and Students.” That reminds me…I need to work on shortening my titles!

INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL GRID! Let’s go! ;)

 
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