Given how much time I spend building and scripting in virtual worlds, I also spend a considerable amount thinking ’bout where this technology is going. I do not intend to indulge that obscure topic here, today. Instead, I want to mention the finely wrought underpinnings—the granularity, if you will—of what lies behind and beneath this virtual platform which has become a thoroughly engaging activity, by way of announcing a new project.
What is a virtual world? Ultimately it exists as the particular electromagnetic configuration assigned to a few gadjillion magnetic grains arranged in the surface material coating a small space of a magnetic drive.
Precisely arranged magnetic grains define the distinct magnetic regions in the surface materials of hard disks. The grains separate one magnetic zone from the others.
(Click image to open Wikipedia entry for Hard Disk Drive)
TransitionNeel image courtesy of Wikipedia
Whatever surface area on a hard disk drive platter that is needed to store what I have sketched with my “build tools”, whatever incredibly large number of magnetic grains it takes to store the binary code for the (up to) 15,000 prims, scripts, sounds and assorted textures that will make up the new virtual world region that I will “buy” today for Zero Lindens (talk about virtual); not to mention the larger patch of cobalt-based hard disk drive alloy needed to house the simulator, the incredible software engine served up and driven by design; whatever puny patch of ‘puter platter percolates with my particular predilections for prims; that can all soon be linked and located, fetched and transmitted, parsed, interpreted and rendered finally as a newly crafted, interactive, educationally motivated virtual space, one by which other netizens and reZidents might also be engaged.
In short, I am told that the “purchase” of an entire SecondLife™ region will occur today. This new project will reside in a full “sim” (or simulator); it will occupy an entire server. It seems appropriate, then, to give this project its own page in this blog…yep, there it is in the NavBar: “The Virtual Cell”.
I have been logging time for over half of a century. Hard disk drive technology is older than me. Still, considering what we are already doing this technology, imagining might come next takes a lot of my magnetic grains, too.
Among the many comments and questions, criticisms and suggestions received at the recent conference exhibit, the most striking were those occurring in complete opposition to others. An example is one user’s suggestion that more instructional notecards would be useful, where another user had observed just the day before that there were too many notecards.
Other conflicting comments (not just from the conference) have included that the activity should—and should not—address flight, media, and communicating via IM/chat.
There is also a fine line between providing sufficient directions and totally overwhelming the user with a tedious series of walk-and-stop-to-read, walk-and-read, walk-and-stop-to-read stations. Assembling a demo version of the activity for the conference provided an opportunity to experiment with this issue. Several modules were chosen for the event due to their level of completion. They happened to all have notecard or floating text giving instruction, primarily; so, a quick fix was needed to balance the forms of delivery.
A couple of new info-graphics were created just for the demo; this helped to spread instructional information across the various modes (notecards, public chat, dialog prompts and floating text, as well as infographics).
These two issues (different needs of end-users, varying the form of instructional text delivery) point to a challenge in trying to create a single tool that meets the needs of a large number of use cases. This was never part of the plan with the BSG prototype. Rather, a demonstration of the concept was pursued with a range of user interface features being addressed. The entire system is presented in a modular system that can be deployed in a variety of configurations and with any number of thematic “skins” applied.
Any out-of-the-box design would have to be compromised in too many ways for this user to find it useful. As an open source project, we are already employing many least common denominators…across the build.
I would be interested in reading your comments on this.
The new Spicy Vanilla group was granted a 24 x 24 meter plot in the Poster Session region for the recent education conference in which to display the Basic Skills Gauntlet (BSG).There was also a live presentation; but, let’s not talk about that.
Poster Plot granted for display of Basic Skills Gauntlet
The BSG project has gained momentum and the activity seemed more than a mouthful for conference goers; so, a smaller bite-size version was wedged into the 576 square meters. The configuration and components were chosen by selecting several modules that are in working order. (One attendee asked an insightful question: What do [you] consider to the basic skills? Skills addressed in the demo version at the conference included use of Inventory, Ctrl-Alt zoom and pan, and familiarity with sit targets.)
During much of the conference the BSG site—and the entire poster region—seemed quiet. This worked out, as there were plenty of bugs to chase down. At times, a brief flurry of visitors would leave evidence of folks having jumped in with both feet.
BSG Scoreboard with multiple scores displayed; a sign that visitors were having a go. Cooper Macbeth, seen in list here, had high score for the event. (The “10:64” entry, midway in list, puzzled me for hours until I realized my User Reset button – added just days before – was carving into the scores list in a bad way.)
Near the end of the final day, a number of visitors tried the activity and hung around to offer feedback, ask questions, and just chat about the conference in general.
A happy little project was born of the event, itself. On day two of the conference, I noticed my own lack of consistency in describing the activity to visitors. There was also the fact that I was not hanging ’round 24/7. Wanting to provide a user with an effective tour—introduce the activity and some of the principles addressed—I decided to cobble together a widget that does the job, automatically.
And the Guided Tour Chair was rezzed. ESCape camera control, then sit, and the object moves camera position and focus while loading a narration via sound file. Also whittled away at a HUD version of this interaction. There seems to be more flexibility for designing instruction with the HUD, but it also requires more of the user; get it, find it, and wear it, as opposed to the simple sit-n-learn.
A project-site-specific version of the Guided Tour Chairs Site Preview HUD can be found by following this link with this SLURL. And, if you are curious and the tour chairs just don’t do it…
The Basic Skills Gauntlet (BSG; described in previous post) project occupies an entire skybox, and—along with web docs, spurious announcements and notecards in world, and this blog—it all may seemed disjointed. This post is an attempt to connect the dots in the collaborative design process.
On arrival at the landing point at the project site, one finds seemingly-scattered objects resembling a yard sale (see image).
Each of the green boxes in world is labeled with a floating “module number” corresponding to a line in the spreadsheet (green box there, too; see next image). In world, each module contains various prims and scripted widgets designed to “teach” the basic skill assigned to that module. On visiting any module in world, it helps to consider the discussion in the spreadsheet.Once you find the skill in the spreadsheet, and locate the design module in world, you can examine (maybe even try out) the design. If you have a question or a comment—and it is expected that you will—you can simply wear your Spicy Vanilla group tag and touch the GroupNotePrim* to submit feedback via chat.
* The GroupNotePrim (see image) allows a user to submit a comment via chat. Those comments are sent to a Google application where an automated display of ALL COMMENTS can be viewed online, just as they are seen in world. (Developed by SL: Omei Turnbull.)
If you have a Gmail account, and would like to add 2¢ to the spreadsheet, please contact Azwaldo in world.
So, to summarize:
- Visit the project site and find the module design area.
- Scan the spreadsheet for accompanying discussion.
- Touch the GroupNotePrim to submit a comment or question. (And contact Azwaldo for Google doc access.)
Several modules exist in world merely as partial proposals in prims. Other modules are nearing completion…in that they provide a complete user experience. This does not necessarily mean that the overall design is satisfactory.
You may find that one or two of the “modules” interest you the most, (That’s how it is for me!) If so, please jump in and help see that module through to completion.
Your feedback could prove essential, at this point. And, with three weeks left for designing the prototype, it is time to get to work.
The first collaborative design has officially begun with its first meeting to discuss the project. (Please see previous two posts for more about project, group.)
Four group members have been active in early discussions about the first collaborative design; all were able to make time to attend…very encouraging. Two members have similar professional roles in common, two have been long acquainted, in world. All share a sincere interest in effective instructional design in the virtual world.
It seemed to be a productive session. I was pleased to find discussions moving rapidly; but, hoping to finish within one hour meant cutting in once or twice, to move along in the proposed agenda. I hope that the polite avatar showed up…the one who decided to interrupt the others.
I have been passing out a notecard with the following:
Group Mission: 1. To design a series of projects that deliver effective educational content while providing the best user experience we can muster. 2. "Learn from the pros." To observe the design principles and techniques of professional content creators in SecondLife™ and share that knowledge.
In this post I begin to try to live up to that last bit: sharing the knowledge. I hope to make regular—if not frequent—entries in this blog to record observations, describe the circumstances encountered by the group, and generally report on the process.
One aspect of this will involve fielding surveys to solicit input. Many educators are familiar with this; attend a curriculum development seminar and expect to fill out a survey or three.
Hopefully, those group surveys will stir up collaborative juices, and open a dialog among educators and expert content creators, as well as provide helpful feedback to inform the process. I return to writing the pre-workshop surveys right after posting this.
One priority for me in the meeting, as acting “team leader”, was to emphasize the need for each of us to find effective ways to communicate; with each other, as well as within the group. Studio Wikitecture taught this lesson clearly; effective design collaboration follows efficient communication.
Studio Wikitecture has served as my model for creating a dynamic mix of creative folks. However, without using the Wiki-Tree (image above, YouTube video), sharing of content (objects, scripts, textures) becomes an issue that must be resolved; the topic already emerged at the meeting. A Google Group forum has been created, but will need to prove itself as a useful tool among the team members as the custom forum did with Wikitecture.
We might find the combination of commenting and change-notifications with Google Drive spreadsheets provides enough of a “forum”. And lastly, without use of a wiki and Reddit-style voting for ideas, we have not even begun to approach the layers of communication used in the Wikitecture projects.
But, the project is only officially one day old.