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August, 2011:

The Particle Laboratory

Particle Lab_001

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Teal/201/47/301

Learn how to script particle physics! Every facet of particle creation for SL is covered in this in-depth tutorial. Particles function as prims on microscopic scale whereby you can add a significant number of particles to your prim to create a variety of visual effects. Just as with prims particles can be added scripts to give the particles behaviours and actions however these are somewhat limited compared to regular scripts. You have to tour each section in set order or else what you are learning is liable to be confusing.

Now this is a particular point I want to focus on. If imagine for a moment that the information about creating particles was distilled into book form and you were reading this text book With a textbook in the real world you start at the front read left to right to the bottom of the page and turn the page when you have finished each page. When the information is dispersed across a virtual landscape such as this, the designer needs to construct an environment that clearly guides the user and their avatar through the information in relevant order.  With the particle laboratory this has been largely well realised, each “chapter” is clearly marked with sub headings and the relevant information is sequential arranged so that you can clearly see the logical connection between one “page” and the next. There is even a sandbox in the middle of the location for testing out your new techniques.

IBM’s Almaden Sim

IBM almaden_001

SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Almaden/68/127/26

For the computer enthusiast, this site makes excellent use of sign posting and layout; the sky pod in particular highlights some interesting features. It focus on some of the sponsored research projects being led by IBM’s investment in new computer and biosciences research. There are a few displays listing some PowerPoint slides detailing IBM research projects globally, one helpfully depicting a world map.

Tox Town Virtual NLM

"The entire town from a birds eye view"

"The entire town from a birds eye view"

SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Virtual%20NLM/129/138/25

A virtual slice of small town America, providing examinations for environmental health students, which highlights one of the main advantages of SL: that it can provide a 3D immersive environment where a real environment would be too dangerous, impractical or expensive for students to use.

This is an excellent use of a virtual environment, but beyond teaching students, this type of simulation doesn’t appear to have much research potential. One possibility might be to use it as an information-gathering tool responding to how people interact with virtual threats as opposed to real ones, since it includes dangers that are often overlooked by members of the public. Primarily however this is a teaching tool, there is a significant level of detail as to enable students to observe a number of different potential hazards.

Illnois State University, North-eastern Territory Geo-Island

geology island_001

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Geo%20Island/178/180/502

A teaching site dedicated to modules on geophysics, geology and even disaster management; disabled flight scripts mean the most you can do is hover over the ground; this provides a much needed level of realism for their disaster management simulations.  This again shows the variety of teaching and research possibilities of SL, given enough patience and imagination.

The University of South Australia

University of Australia_001

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/IEEE%202/212/121/27

A site dedicated to cybernetics and modern cyber technologies, including the University’s own commitment to exploring the future of virtual worlds and their use in SL. There’s a large open sandbox capable of supporting a entire class of new students who want to learn how to create and script objects in Secondlife. There’s a consistent motif to the location, with the roof of each structure being design in the shape of a golf hole, with a flag just for seemly comic value.

There is also a wide collection of conference rooms, lecture spaces and exhibition locations. It has a genuine campus feel to the entire environment that demonstrates the importance of attention to detail. There is even an incorporation of twitter feeds into a lecture screen providing updates on ongoing events across the virtual campus and key figures. There is also space for a number of different academic societies, convenient for students of said studies to meet up virtual and discuss their work.

Genome Island

Genome island_001

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Genome/114/121/88

A huge amount of resources here, providing a useful introduction to the study of genetics, genome sequences and a large amount of detail, highlighting how complex scientific concepts can be demonstrated effectively in SL. Although the genome tower must have been time consuming to construct, as a learning resource it is top notch.

East Japan Earthquake Project

east japan post fukushami_001_001

SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/DHSL01/47/30/23

This project demonstrates the speed at which SL environments can be produced to reflect real world events. This is a geographical model of the east coast of Japan post the March 11th earthquake and the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear plant. It covers 1 /1250 scale in 3D with a Google maps browser link displaying aerial photos of Tokyo. What’s really remarkable about this location is how quickly the site was developed: within a few weeks of the disaster, capturing global attention with a publicly-accessible virtual model of the disaster.

On a practical level this is the upper limit of what Second Life can produce in terms of landscape with a draw rate of 512m even an Intel (R) Core (TM) 5 with 4GB RAM and Nvidia 9000 series there is still a great deal of lag if I attempt to use the ultra settings on the graphics preference.

I would suggest always to keep your draw rate below 512M, unless of course you have an incredibly powerful graphics card.

Potential Landscapes, Case study: RIT Island

SLURL: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/RIT/62/209/36

Now here is a demonstration of what a SL structure can look like.

We have meeting space, a discussion and presentation area all merged into one structure. We can recognise this by the position of the each individual area in relation to each other. We have a large seating area beanbag chairs, (not practical in real life or perhaps giving the wrong playful impression, let’s not forget for whatever the avatar is seating in, the flesh and blood being is at a computer…possible in a beanbag chair.)

The meeting space atop the spiral staircase is a more traditional round table affair with a screen for presentations and powerpoints at one side. Obviously avatars don’t get neck strain so it’s possible for this screen to be anyway, but it is practical placed in relation to the seating arrangement of the table. The ties into an important aspect when designing learning spaces within second life, there’s certainly a lot to awe at in second life, here’s a list of some highly creative ventures. But for educational purposes it is important to remember that whatever your experiences and ability with second life might be, you have to assume that your audience, your learners and researchers will have none. They are expecting to walk and possible fight dragons in the forms of tests (gamification!), when you first introduce new classes to second life it is important to ensure a sense of familiarity to the real world. To tie together the individuals sense of place, if a virtual classroom looks like a piece of conceptual art, that’s probably what your newcomer is going to think it is, it might have a desk and display area but it needs to resemble a classroom.

The above example manages to incorporate the right signifiers of what a learning and collaborative space should look like but  combines this with a display of the creative potential for secondlife, you don’t need a roof, or even all the walls, you can create an open plan space without the physical and practical constraints of the real world.

University of Hertfordshire: Research Exhibits

SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Uni%20of%20Herts/118/73/26

A smorgasbord of innovation and resources and my first experience of a ‘holodeck’: an easily reprogrammable virtual environment within a virtual environment that lets you quickly ‘rez’/load a number of pre-set environments; very handy! There is certainly a lot in this multidisciplinary environment, with great swathes of the University’s disciplines represented. However, everything feels quite piece meal and overcrowded. Then again they have a holodeck; why would they need much else when it was not in use?

Second Physics

SLURL: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Second%20Physics/173/79/21

Second Physics is a teaching resource that covers a range of science-based subjects. Some of the exhibits are in Italian and although there is a SL translation project, it is managed by volunteers.

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