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May, 2011:

Energy@Exeter recap

The 11th May saw the successful Energy@Exeter discussion group. The agenda highlighted a number of ongoing energy research projects across the subjects of biology, politics, engineering and many more. One of the goals of this discussion was to highlight the importance of interdisciplinary research and discussion, on the theme of energy.

The implications for any academic research into the future of energy management are global. Research whether into renewal energy sources or the psychology of energy consumption is needed to combat the effects of climate change. With this goal in mind, the 40 academics and administrative staff attended the meeting to hear and discuss the future of energy research at Exeter.

You can follow and contribute to the ongoing discussion either on the bridging the gaps wiki.

Or alternatively you can enjoy a quick overview of the day’s events on the Bridging the gaps web page.

Note you will need a valid University of Exeter log in to access both of these resources.

Entering the virtual world…

Sam Fowler explains his involvement in Bridging the Gaps and how Second life is much more than a game.

When I was first asked to participate in the Bridging the Gaps project as part of my Graduate business placement at the university, I thought “Fantastic I am going to get to play a video game for work! I will be the envy of my fellow gamers everywhere!” Of course, what I learned was that virtual worlds have as much to do with video games as primary schools do with higher education!

The first lesson I learned is the problem with the word “game”, as defined by that infamous knowledgebase:

“…A game is a structured activity usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool…components of games are goals, rules, challenges and interaction”

The idea of a virtual world is not one based on challenges and goals, but rather on exploring the possibilities without the same rules and limitation as real life. What we are endeavouring to create is an environment that academics, students and support staff can use for initiating and developing innovative cross-disciplinary research projects; far more important than a game!

One of our chosen platforms to trial is ‘Second Life’. Although known more for its social uses, Second Life, boasts a significant education and research community and is used by, academic across the world for a variety of purposes; from teaching students in virtual classrooms, to providing simulations of impractical environments that have educational value.

Here are just a few links to have look at if you have a moment spare.

If you have a free hour, I would recommend this video on the subject.

Perhaps most importantly, many use it to exchange knowledge and expand their professional network.

As with other new software, the learning curve is steep but not insurmountable. Second Life offers an immersive 3D environment complete with its own economy based on a complex virtual market, where the limit really does seem to be the human imagination. It does take some time to grow accustomed to the oddities of this world, but this investment of time is repaid by the opportunities to work collaboratively across disciplines and institutions.

So at the University of Exeter it is not the challenge of playing a “game” or learning about new software that is of interest, but rather asking ourselves “what can we do with a virtual world?” So in the coming months I will discuss issues regarding the role of virtual worlds in cross disciplinary education, research and provide regular updates on the Bridging the gaps project.

Also here’s a spreadsheet with a few places of educational interest in Second Life! I will be adding more to it when I have some time!

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