Education Discounts in Second Life: Loss or gain?

I hate that sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach when I know something has been lost that I care about.

After my initial shock of hearing that Linden Labs was dropping education discounts, I immediately communicated with colleagues (most of whom I have never met in person) about “what will we do?” Hand wringing. Then during the day today, Maria Korolov, from Trombly International, asked me a simple question in an email — “Do you think the Lindens are doing the right thing here?” – and that question ignited a spark that I think will grow like a California brushfire.

That is simply because it was clear to me that it didn’t matter – this was no longer about Linden Lab. Yes, I am very disappointed that I will have to front-up to the University and tell them I have invested precious capital budget in a failed project. However, while we were working in Second Life, we also mounted four inexpensive servers to run OpenSim, and to experiment with our own service provision. We have migrated content – and recreated it where necessary – from SL to our OpenSim world. We have 14 sims running, with 28,000 prims on each, and we have a few very talented developers who bring textures, sculpties, and scripting into our new world. And we are not alone.

Working with the University of Otago, the University of Canterbury and other Universities and Polytechnics in New Zealand, we have established the New Zealand Virtual World Grid – a hypergrid arrangement that allows us each to run our own installations – and we subsequently connected to Montclair State University and Clemson University grid in the United States. It is that development that leads me to confidently say, “It doesn’t matter, it is no longer about Linden Lab.”

Three key drivers about Second Life

First and most important, we found in Second Life an environment where colleagues from around the globe could meet, interact, and form relationships. Anyone who has experienced this knows… it is real. It is not video conferencing; it is a tangible sense of presence, co-location, and self.

Second, we discovered a rich resource-base from which we could draw to realize creative and novel developments. Textures, objects, sculpties, scripts and landforms all summed to give us remarkable creative potential.

Thirdly, we found we could leverage the creative genius of our colleagues, bringing our students into worlds that we ourselves never imagined. A walk through the human heart, or a nightmare journey through a disturbed mind…. all safely conducted. This was an open world (mostly) that afforded us the opportunity to share.

(Image courtesy New Zealand Virtual World Grid.)

The way forward

So, if we are to be successful in migrating out of Second Life, we likely will have to meet the three needs above. If we can, we no longer need Linden Labs. We simple need each other. Here are the steps by which I think we can advance:

  1. Expand the international Virtual World Grid. This is not a dream, we have already established the base. Several universities, along with commercial grid owners such as ReactionGrid are standing by to assist. This is not difficult to do, and requires only modest resources — considerably less than the cost of Second Life. Connecting the nodes of the grid, we once again gain access to our international colleagues, students and resource bases.
  2. Migrate as many resources as possible to our OpenSim installations, and share those through Creative Commons licensing. Our education communities have some of the most creative developers in Second Life, and there is little doubt we can migrate their work to form a viable resource base of objects, textures, and scripts.
  3. Establish federated authentication and authorisation (eg Shibboleth) that will allow us to come together securely. Successful models are already in operation.

In the final analysis we will all have to tally the score, loss or gain. It is my view that the latter will prevail, and that if we simply have the will to take the next steps we can liberate our efforts for the longer term benefits of Education across the globe. Pretty lofty.

Scott Diener

Scott Diener is the Associate Director of IT Services at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

  • Ener Hax

    first – congrats on wising up about LL. okay, that was harsh and i had some other dealings that made it clear that SL was not for educators last year. my other virtual half spoke at 11 venues (including 7 conferences) about the use of SL for corporate eLearning. he was approached by the big “O” (not Oprah) about authoring a manual on how he used SL. despite having had a personal meeting at the lab and lunch with two business Lindens (including Nelson who was the author of the ed discount post), it took four months for LL to answer a simple question on attribution. their answer was outrageous with the demand to view all screenshots in their textual context . . .

    then came Pathfinder’s dismissal, etc

    then the TOS change in April. no university should display any original work in Second Life (i posted on intellectual property last week). especially since excellent alternatives now exist

    carefully choose any OpenSim host (i blogged on that tonite). i would suggest being private labelled and using hypergrid protocols which (in HG 1.5) allow for permissions, access lists, and so on

    look at personal development with the incredibly easy and effective sim on a stick installation. what a great way to work on your builds without the need for port configuration. simply export your OARs or individual builds and import into your “live” grid

    the cost for outstanding OpenSim hosting is very affordable. we pay about half an SL sims rate (and coming from 19 sims inSL, this amount is peanuts!)

    anyway, i am all wound up (pretty normal for me) and trying to say that you are making a wonderful move and that your creativity will increase in OpenSim and not be dampened

    i have not been inSL since March and don’t miss a single thing – quite a change from being inSL 20-40 hours a week every single day!

    good luck and don’t hesitate to ask questions, of me or anyone else in the OpenSim community (of course, being an author in Maria’s blog means you already know all of this!

    cheers and long live Her Majesty! *ener <3 Liz* =D