Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: Get a 20% Discount, Meet Co-Authors Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce in SL on 8/30

Ethnography virtual worlds

Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method is a new book from Princeton Press by my pal Tom Boellstorff (author of the acclaimed Coming of Age in Second Life), and three other experts in the academic study of virtual worlds: Bonnie Nardi, Celia Pearce, and T. L. Taylor. Thanks to a media partnership between Princeton and this blog, readers can get a 20% discount on the book: Click here to order it, and then enter the discount code P05169 at checkout. But wait, there's more:

On August 30, 12:30pm SLT, Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce will appear in Second Life on the Bowling Green State University virtual campus. [Click here to directly teleport to the event].

More info on the August 30th appearance below, via University of Richmond's Joe Essid, who's helping run the event with the Virtual Worlds Education Roundtable:

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Johnny Cash's Childhood Home Recreated in Second Life by Arkansas State University

Johnny Cash home in Second Life

Click here to virtually visit the place where America's most legendary and universally beloved country/Western icon was born. I'm talking about Johnny Cash, of course, and his childhood home of Dyess, Arkansas. His house has been recreated in Second Life, as has the surrounding town, built to resemble the place as it was in the early 20th century, when Cash was a child. Fittingly, this project is by Arkansas State University (lead designer known in SL as Painter Meriman), and it looks like a fitting tribute to the state's most favorite son. Read more about it on Shinigami Kayo's blog.

Link via SL's Reddit group, submitted by "SpaceCaseM". This post needs some Cash accompaniment, which I've embedded below:

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Checking Out Martian Rovers at JPL's Official Island in SL

Martian Rover Second Life

Click here to visit Explorer Island in Second Life which is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's official site in SL, where there's a large installation for JPL's Martian efforts, including this pictured probe which resembles the Curiosity rover that just successfully touched down on Mars. Unless I missed an update, Explorer Island doesn't seem to have been updated in the last few years, but it still exists in-world, and has some pretty good (if pre-mesh) virtual artifacts of JPL's efforts in Mars... and on Second Life.

If you know of any current SL events and other content based around Curiosity's active investigation in Mars, please post in Comments. I'm also asking the scientists and engineers who've done previous aerospace projects in SL, so will add updates as they come in.

Why An SL Educator Switched to Mobile Apps Instead

SL education

Educator Joe Essid has a good explanation of why he switched from being an evangelist of Second Life as a pedagogical tool to getting behind mobile apps. (Replete with an increasingly obligatory Second Life problems meme.) Sample:

Whoever gains (or in Apple's case, maintains) dominance and establishes the standard matters less to me than the fact that SL and OpenSim do not run well, if at all, on tablets. Unity 3D does for iOS and Android... Concurrent to all this churn, we are moving to tablets on our campuses for consuming media. If Moore's Law holds true, these devices will become better and better at creating content. One does not wish to be on the wrong side of history, and I think SL evangelists are clearly on the wrong side, unless they are early in their careers and have a Plan B for research and teaching.

Read the rest here, it's full of good points. However, I do think Second Life has significant advantages over tablets for many educational applications, which mysteriously, are still under-utilized. For example:

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International Spaceflight Museum Update: SL Sims Get Full Funding by Donor, Volunteers Promise Site Revamp

International Space Museum SL update

More good news for SL's International Spaceflight Museum, which was returned to the grid last meek after unpaid bills, community outcry, Linden intercession, etc. "The ISM has received a pledge of FULL ISLAND FUNDING for both Spaceport Alpha and Spaceport Bravo," longtime museum volunteer Katherine Prawl (Kat Lemieux in SL) tells me. The donor wishes to remain anonymous (for now at least), but "The funding doesn't have a termination date." So for now, it seems, the International Spaceflight Museum will again become a regular part of SL.

However, this doesn't mean the ISM will continue to look as it did in 2006-2007, when it was first created. Many have pointed out that the site, while a historical landmark in SL, is also showing its prim and script-heavy, pre-sculpty, pre-mesh age, But Kat tells me that it's starting to be revamped in the run-up to its official re-opening next month:

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International Society for Technology in Education Leaves SL for OpenSim

While community outrage and Linden intercession saved the International Spaceflight Museum in SL, other education-oriented efforts are not as lucky: On March 1st, The International Society for Technology in Education will close its in-world presence. At least in Second Life, that is, because the large organization is setting up a presence on the OpenSim-based Jokaydia Grid. Educator Joe Essid has a sad summary here.

How Kids Could Benefit From Using a Safe Version of SL

Second-life-custom-version-the-tech-museum

Dennis Shiao explains why his third grader loves to play Second Life. No, not Second Life online, but a non-online version of SL that Linden Lab developed years ago for the San Jose Tech museum, specifically for kids. Dennis argues this is a great age group to introduce SL to: "Third graders have reached an age where they’ve begun to assert some independence," he writes. "They pick out their own clothes in the morning, have clear opinions on what they like and dislike and have completely developed a sense of 'self.' Selecting an avatar and outfitting it with a tricked-up outfit feeds directly into this notion of 'self' and more importantly, self expression." Totally agreed. I think it'd be great if the Lindens marketed a somewhat upgraded version of the Tech Museum SL to schools -- since it was developed in 2004-2005 (I believe), the technical requirements are much less demanding than the current version, and I can see it becoming a great educational resource many elementary schools could use. Read more about it here.

Top 20 PG-Rated Second Life Sims for October 2011 - Most Much Less Popular Than the Top Mature & Adult Regions

Courtesy Louis Platini's Metaverse Business, a Second Life/OpenSim analytics company that gathers publicly accessible in-world data for its clients, here are the top 20 PG-rated Second Life sims for October 2011:

Top 20 Second Life sims PG rating

This lists the average number of visitors in each sim. If you compare this to the list of top 50 October sims overall, you'll see some overlap. Franks Place 2, a fancy dress jazz nightclub, is consistently at or near the top of the SL charts every month. VIRTUAL GAMES, I believe, is a relatively new art/game installation. (I'm not entirely sure, because ironically, it's not showing up easily in search.) The top 50 overall, as you'll see here, spans an average of 31 to 73 visitors, so most of the top PG-rated sims are significantly less popular than the top M-rated and Adult-rated sims. (Last month, only five of the top 50 were rated PG.)

This top 20 listing of PG sims, by the way, comes after requests from folks like educator Joe Essid, who has a fairly hilarious rant on his blog about trying to tell his Dean why the school should have a presence in Second Life, when a top SL sim is called "Bukkake Bliss Island". Note to Professor Essid: Suggesting that "bukkake" might be "a new type of Sushi" only creates an even more vomitous image in my mind.

How to Teach Students to Use Second Life for Education in 30 Minutes (Which Still Seems Too Long and Too Short to Me)

SL for education

HyperGrid Business has a good post on how to teach students to use Second Life for educational purposes in 30 minutes, as opposed to the 2 hours it may usually take. Definitely handy, but even 30 minutes seems way too time-consuming in today's technology environment. You can teach someone the basics of using an iPad in under 30 seconds, and since Internet time is like dog years, 30 minutes to a student will probably feel like 3 hours. Which might be worthwhile, if SL was a software tool the student would need in other educational and real world contexts, but that's far from certain.

That said, I'd look at Second Life's high learning curve for learning in another direction: It's only worth the training time if you're teaching them to take advantage of SL's unique affordances which they can apply to real world projects. Specifically, 3D content creation for architecture, filmmaking, game development, graphics art, fashion design prototyping, and so on. Then it's much more likely worth the 30 minutes learning curve, or even the 3 hours.

Second Life's Emmy-Nominated Virtual Mine Played 5000x by a 1200+ Users, Including RL Appalachians

Virtual Mine Second Life

Click here for a direct teleport to the Virtual Mine, the SL-based educational game which just received an Emmy nomination in the "New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming". Built to complement "Deep Down", a real life documentary about coal mining in Appalachia, Virtual Mine players become coal miners who need to strip mine the mountain, then try to solve a power crisis plaguing Maytown by transitioning to green energy solutions. It was created by Sand Castle Studios, with a team consisting William Reed Seal Foss (Reed Steamroller in SL), Karl Stiefvater (Qarl Fizz in SL), and CEO Kimberly Winnington (Gianna Borgnine in SL), who just shared some interesting user stats with me:

Since opening last year, The Virtual Mine has been played over 5000 times by 1200+ unique users, including "several hundred new users [who] came in-world the first night [the documentary] aired on PBS," Ms. Winnington tells me. To be sure, those are small user numbers in comparison to a web-based educational game, but quite impressive for a complex, downloadable 3D experience, particularly SL. Interestingly, many of these new users were actually from the Appalachias:

"Many shared amazing stories of how this project personally touched them," Winnington tells me. "Some shared how their lives had been ruined by mining (death of a child, forced into selling land, etc) Some came from many generations of coal miners and argued why mining was important. We even had international visitors who saw it while [the documentary] was streaming online and we're speaking in different languages trying to share their experiences and stories as well."

In addition to these players, there were many more who came for educational purposes:

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