Wednesday, July 25, 2007

$25,000 Grant to Develop Courses in Virtual Worlds

The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus Blog announced this grant by Blackboard.

Blackboard Greenhouse Program

NEW: We have created a special Greenhouse Program™ grant, The Greenhouse Grant for Virtual Worlds, to foster greater educational innovation with virtual worlds such as Active Worlds, There and Second Life. Blackboard is funding a single $25,000 (USD) grant for initiatives that promote the integration of virtual worlds into teaching and learning. We seek initiatives that will:

* Enhance the student experience

* Leverage existing teaching and learning strategies and best practices

* Integrate virtual worlds and Blackboard Enterprise Software [1] through Blackboard Building Blocks™ and Blackboard PowerLinks™

* Make results/output available to the Blackboard client community

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Good and bad reasons to be in Second Life

Is it worthwhile for a library to invest time and resources in a Second Life presence? I think it's still safe to say that the majority of librarians involved in the SL libraries are doing it on their own time. But what if you are trying to make a case for SL in your library that involves actual money?

In her blog Librarians Matter, Kathryn Greenhill (Emerald Dumont in SL), a librarian at Murdoch University, has been investigating SL. She wrote a couple of great posts a few months ago;

Ten very good reasons why your librarians should be in Second Life

Six very bad reasons to have a library branch in Second Life

Among her good reasons to be there are:
  • Learning - a new interface, how to relate to your patrons into gaming, how to code
  • Collaboration and networking - on SL projects with other librarians, breaking down professional isolation, accessing people with expertise in all fields, not just SL
  • Flexibility in thought and learning
I can say that I've experienced every advantage she mentions. I have learned from librarians, archivists, and information professionals all over the world. I have learned a new interface where I am now at ease.

The thing that I find interesting is her distinction between librarians and libraries. She says:
"There are great benefits to librarians in getting a Second Life. There are limited benefits to our parent organisations and to our users - at the moment."

and that many of her reasons

"depend on creating and maintaining social networks within Second Life."
As I have watched the tremendous amount of time and energy that the Info Island librarians have invested in Second Life, I still wonder if this translates into direct services or benefits to the patrons of their real life libraries yet.

Kathryn's post about "bad reasons" includes:
  • It's where users are
  • Corporations like IBM are there
  • It's Library 2.0
  • It provides access to more people
  • It doesn't take much time or skill
  • We need a separate service just for our users
She ends with one very good reason: to provide access to Second Life to the library's patrons. The biggest obstacles to SL being a useful tool for everyone is lack of the technical resources and know-how; a workstation and connection adequate to run the program.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Virtual World Librarianship Courses in SL offered by University of Illinois at Urbana - Champaign

New Virtual World Librarianship Courses/UIUC and Alliance Library System

Starting in September the Alliance Library System and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign are offering 2 six-week classes on virtual librarianship. There are 3 sections of each course, which will be held in Second Life at Info Island.

The courses are:
Week One: Introduction to Libraries in Virtual Worlds
Week Two: Second Life 101
Week Three: Collections, Resources, and Exhibits in Virtual Environment
Week Four: Reference and Information Services in Virtual Worlds
Week Five: Managing and Working in a Virtual Library or Department
Week Six: Skills Needed by 21st Century Librarians in Virtual Worlds

Week One: Overview of Virtual Worlds Including Second Life & Others-What Libraries are Doing in Them
Week Two: Library Programs and Events in Second Life
Week Three: Introduction to Building and Scripting Items in Second Life
Week Four: Virtual World Library Services for Teens and Young Adults
Week Five: Introduction to Machinima - Creating Films in Second Life
Week Six: Immersive Learning Environments and Libraries

You can learn more at: Continuing Professional Development: Virtual World Librarianship

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Info Island this week

July 14 - 22

This week announces the opening of a new residential area; Mythica, which also is the home of the Griffin's Nest library that houses a collection of myths, legends and fairy tales.

The Lawspot has an exhibit on court cases related to virtual worlds.

Sunday July 22 - The Director of the Caledon Library, J.J. Drinkwater and Colonel Exrex Somme of the Caledon Militia will engage in a duel of compliments as a fund raiser for the benefit of Relay for Life.

Sunday July 22 - The grand opening of the Globe Theater on Renaissance island will feature fireworks, a dance and discussions by Shakespearean scholars.

Etiquette for Academia in SL

The recent hullabaloo over the deletion of Woodbury Universities island by Linden Labs illustrated how necessary it is for an organization to publish and enforce a code of behavior for its members in Second Life. Penn State's Virtual Worlds Project has published its own SLEtiquette for Penn State. Besides listing SL's own community standards, it lists a guide to interacting with other avatars.

Learning in virtual worlds: Future or fad?

Educators now have several years of conducting classes in 3D virtual classrooms behind them and are beginning to publish more and more good material on this environment. One publication devoted to this environment is the journal eLearn Magazine. A recent feature article
Another Life: Virtual Worlds as Tools for Learning discusses the special qualities of the avatarian experience in Second Life, and answers the question, "are virtual worlds a breakthrough technology that will forever reshape learning and business? Or are they this season's over-hyped fad?"
The article asks us to look at the technology with fresh eyes, and look for what are the special sensibilities and opportunities of the virtual environment. The article identifies five "sensibilities" special to the Second Life environment:
  • The Sense of Self
  • The Death of Distance
  • The Power of Presence, Sense of Space and the Capacity to Co-create
  • The Pervasiveness of Practice
  • The Enrichment of Experience
The article is well worth the time it takes to read. Or you can view a video by one of the article authors discussing the same concepts; Virtual Social Worlds and the Future of Learning

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Michigan Library Consortium's Grand Opening in Second Life

"MLC invites you to the grand opening of our new virtual building in the 3-D virtual reality, Second Life (Cybrary City II 167,51,21)! The celebration is on Thursday, July 12, 2007 from 4:00-6:00pm SL time (NOTE! That’s 7:00pm-9:00pm EDT). Please join us in Second Life for virtual music, dancing and refreshments!" (the rest)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Woodbury University Island Deleted by Linden Labs

On Saturday, Woodbury University's Second Life campus was vaporized. Not by mis-behaving Second Lifers, not by technical difficulties or incompetence, but by Linden Labs as a disciplinary action for Terms of Service (TOS) violations. In March Dr. Edward Clift paid Linden Labs for a six month lease and built Woodbury Island. In early April the region was suspended for 3 days for various abuses. Later in April Linden Labs contacted him by telephone to warn him that the island would be discontinued if the problems continued. According to Dr. Clift, that was the last communication he received from Linden Labs. "There was never any communication from Linden until the disconnection as to whether they thought we were doing a good job or not and certainly no chance to take corrective measures in any kind of cooperative fashion."

The island was yanked on July 1 with no further warning. From the Linden Labs notice:
Many members of the Woodbury University group (which controls the region) have been detected before and after that date causing severe problems in Second Life, in violation of the terms of service. These problems include incidents of grid attacks, racism and intolerance, persistent harassment of other residents, and crashing the Woodbury University region itself while testing their abusive scripts. Due to the ongoing problems, Linden Lab has no option but to immediately close the Woodbury University region.
The main events have been covered by the Second Life tabloid The Second Life Herald, and has now been picked up by The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Herald's article comments are full of the bickering back and forth between the (ir)responsible parties, and illustrate what can happen if an organization does not take a firm hand in policing itself.

After reading the articles, interviews and comments, I gather that Woodbury U. was naive and negligent in monitoring the island it provided, and that Linden Labs is very bad at communicating to its customers about problems. Anyone who has land where avatars are allowed to build or script could face the same situation, including the Info Islands, Cybrary Cities, EduIslands, or Harvard. An educational sim designed to expose its students to the tools of Second Life must allow its members to build and script, but that also makes it a magnet for SL jokesters and griefers. You may not like it, but those are the facts. It appears that Woodbury U took a hands-off approach to management of their sim. It appears that the lack of communication by LL led them to believe the problem was under control. And it appears that LL has no clear protocol or progressive process in place to warn its institutional customers about terminal violations.

There are at least 150 colleges and universities with a presence in SL, many with their own islands. Perhaps they have assumed that their status as educational and non-profit institutions gives them a protected status and more latitude for students who are pushing the limits. Evidently they are wrong. I would suggest that there are some steps each institution should take if they want to protect their SL assets:
  • Restrict building and scripting to their own groups
  • Restrict the groups to their own students, and require that student accounts be verified
  • Require anyone who joins their group to agree to a code of ethics and behavior
  • Have an administrator available at all times to enforce the code
  • Form an association of SL educational institutions and demand from Linden Labs a protocol for communicating about and resolving problems
Griefer U (April 22, 2007) The Second Life Herald
Woodbury University Island Destroyed (July 1, 2007) The Second Life Herald
Interview with Woodbury University's Edward Clift (July 6, 2007)
The Death of a Virtual Campus Illustrates How Real-World Problems Can Disrupt Online Islands (July 6, 2007) The Chronicle of Higher Education