Sunday, September 25, 2011

Brave New Grid

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
The Tempest Shakespeare
If you're tired of SL prices and poseurs, and looking for somewhere new to hang your hat, here's a thought, what about New World Grid? Never heard of it?
Well, they are trying to put that right by having a fab  Open Day on Saturday 1 October.
Of course, the grid's already open, so be smart, go get an avie now, this is the URI: opensim:// ...OK read to the end of this post, and then go. I'm nothing if not bossy.

I gots my avie, and on rezzing at sim Welcome - look who was there already! Vadrouille Zepp, famous creator of the multi-grid communicator, the Radionne. He has a new version, the - upgrade, people!
NWG is non profit and offers cheapish land, good services, lots of nice educational builds; plus it's on European time, all factors that appealed to Graham Mills, aka Peter Miller, a professor at the University of Liverpool.

 Graham and I were both there when the HGAC visited Aime Socrates' fun sim Physics one wet weekend, just as the Education discount in SL was coming to an end. The giant lab is a fun place to play, and
makes you think about the Greenies, sigh, and all those other Rezzable goodies.
Aime is a boy's name, by the bye. coff.

Graham Mills: There's just under 600 sims, with about 60 are core sims run by the Newmans. The rest are on remote PCs - the grid provides a very simple software package of OpenSim for home users. They have a nice 'community build' thing going; lots of the best builds are team efforts, like Zephyr, the beautiful Venetian build. I'm a minnow here, my French colleagues are very well organised. Those builds don't build themselves, after all.
Thirza Ember: Have you found that inspiring?
Graham Mills: um, I think I have a lot to learn... the time zone is good for me as well and I really should improve my French anyways. Follow moi!
 We went to the Mount Grace Priory first. This super archeological/architectural build is made to scale, taking 1 ye olde foote in the real world to mean one virtual foot. That's why the landing point is on a sky platform, where you can resize your towering torso down to something more feasible for visiting in the little monk's rooms. Here's a data-rich vid about it, but it's prettier in person.

Graham Mills: We cheated by jumping here -- you're supposed to undertake a journey discovering all about the context as you go. This is a reconstruction of a real monastery in Yorkshire in the UK. Pretty much everything is to scale so you get a good impression of how the monks lived.
I could have sworn I saw this place in SL, years and years ago. Here, it resides in  three glorious sims, the creation of Christi Maeterlinck and friends.

As we looked around the green and pleasant land, I asked Graham: OK, Admittedly I'm allergic to students, and SLanguages has me running for the hills, but seriously, how can virtual worlds work as classrooms? Your average semester is 15 weeks, times two or three lessons per week, say 5 hours at most... how can anyone find time to teach students how to 'be' in a virtual world, as well as dealing with technical issues, on top of the actual stuff they're there to learn? I have visions of herding kittens - flying, wig-changing, tattoo-emblazoned kittens who still expect an A- in December. How is it done?
Graham Mills:  Some get very taken with appearance or flight, but it tends not to last over long. I use it as a performance space. Students do analyses on the 2D web and bring the results inworld to share. Visualization is going to play an important role in the future, both in terms of making sense of the glut of data and in terms of building models. I had a great student last year spent her vacation in an AIDS orphanage in Africa, and came back all fired up. She built two orphanages, in 3D - one as they are, and one as she felt they should be, and there was a serious science aspect as she was tasked with showing how TB transmission could be reduced. She's going onto do MSc Humanitarian Studies. She really got a lot from the project. It shows you can take the enthusiasm of the student and help them channel it creatively.

Graham Mills: So this is a newer build Pic du Midi, an astronomical observatory on a mountain top in the South of France. It's by Aime Socrates and a load of other avatars the same that did Physics and CERN. The texturing here is by Cendres Magic, Claudius Utopy and Lolly iFrog. Just like saying that name!  It's for virtual field trips - you can actually play with the telescopes! A clone of this build, on a private grid, is being used with Aime's high-school class.

Kids, school-age or undergrads - are surprisingly resistant to what we oldies embrace as exciting new ways to learn. If they have to share a computer, or work with a slow one, they soon get bored. Many just don't want to know on principle. They see what we see, but with different, often indifferent eyes. I wondered if Graham had come up against that with his students. Are undergrads resistant to the grid?
Graham Mills: I think you have to make a strong case, and there's a group of students who dislike (i) computers, (ii) virtual worlds.  I think young people value f2f higher. They find avatars a little spooky -- well, some do. I have 3rd year and MSc students - a maximum of 20, to avoid lag - and I work on the basis that 25% love it, 25% hate it and the rest are OK with it.
Then there's the question of all those hours spent building. Is it worth it, from the teacher's point of view?
Graham Mills: I think the best results are obtained from team teaching. Robin Heyden in SL is a prime example. She and Chimera Cosmos teach mainly in-service training for medics at the moment, I think; they run well-engineered events with clear objectives, good training, and they can split the work between them.
Ever the gentleman, Graham refrained from offering to show me his giant genome, on Biozone - but I snuck over there late one night and took this photo of it, together with this molecule of a chemotherapy drug. There's loads to see here, and stories to follow. Everything is clean and clear, and you don't have to be a biologist to enjoy the fascinating stuff.
On New World Grid, I ran into numerous avatars, both working and exploring. It's a great place. This, for example, is New World Grid's brand new build Amon Ra, a build reaching back through the mists of time, and about to be launched as their newest attraction. The lag is minimal, except perhaps at Mount Grace, and the builds are both thoughtfully made and purposeful. So even if you're not planning on swapping out SL for pastures new, this is still a great place to visit, and the Open Day will be a wonderful opportunity to learn something about the builders, and make new friends.

The NWG Open Day  starts at 8 am UK time (that's midnight SLT) October 1, with a talk about science in cyberspace by e-Science City feline Tiger Lechat, and after many more chats and demonstrations on different sims, will come to a triumphant, yet mellow, conclusion with a ambiant music concert by Torben Asp at 7.30pm.

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