How educators can benefit from Kitely

Kitely — an OpenSim-based grid that runs its regions in the Amazon cloud — has a unique system that gives educators some interesting capabilities and advantages.

To appreciate those features that are most beneficial requires just a bit of imagination and I have drawn on my perspective of having been involved in virtual worlds as both an educator and student.

My first experience with virtual worlds was in Second Life, as part of a graduate program in new media at California State University Los Angeles (CSULA). The professor, Dr. Penelope Semrau, had written annual grants, which provided for a parcel in Second Life. The process of grant writing is never easy and awards are never guaranteed.

In explaining why she decided to discontinue teaching in Second Life, she told me, “I would have to continually write grant proposals to support the costs of the lease, which was extra work for me year after year.”

Serenity Island Sim on Kitely. (Image courtesy Lawrence Pierce.)

I not only took Dr. Semrau’s class, but became her teaching assistant a year later. I became keenly aware of the challenges the students faced as we worked together to find solutions. The students had an allotment of 35 prims each to build their projects, so it took some tremendous creativity to realize their design goals.

But cost and prim limitations weren’t the only problems Dr. Semrau had with teaching in Second Life.

“I didn’t particularly care for the concept of ‘real estate’,” she said, “Because it promotes a capitalist form of thinking on its users of buying and selling and bigger is better, which didn’t reinforce the nature and philosophy of my course about teaching and learning in a virtual world.”

CSULA coffee shop in Second Life. (Image courtesy Lawrence Pierce.)

Kitely advantages at a glance

This is where I think the hosting model of Kitely has real potential.

Kitely promotes a concept of “worlds” and identifies the acquisition of virtual space as a function of time rather than ownership. This contrasts with the terminology of “buying land” which is tied to parcel size and prim count.

Besides the idea of paying only for the services used, the hourly rate at Kitely is quite modest and offers low-cost opportunities under relevant circumstances. Kitely even has a “Free Plan” that permits a user to have access to the platform for two hours a month at no charge. This could be especially economical for users that build regions on their local computer and upload them when ready for sharing.

As for the costs of sharing, those costs can also be distributed to the visitors using the Kitely pricing mechanism. As an illustration: instead of the professor acquiring and paying $150 dollars per class for hosting and sim access, 30 students pay $5 each via Kitely credits. [Ed: Kitely $5 a month plan comes with two free regions, and up to 25 hours of monthly access.] There are also savings over breaks, summer vacations and so on, when use drops off — remember that Kitely charges primarily based on time, not space.

You also get OAR uploads and exports. Easy, self-service. Fantastic. And a detailed activity history with time, date, user and duration. This gives the educator and the student verification of activity time.

Kitely also has a directory of worlds, rather than a common entry region. One issue for educators is the new user experience, which can be troublesome in Second Life.

“When logging in as a newbie, students would be confronted by outrageous strangers on the welcome island which I found disgusting,” said Dr. Semrau.

Kitely provides a mechanism whereby worlds have descriptions and are entered directly as discrete regions. To see how this works, visit our Serenity Island region on Kitely.

Although Kitely regions don’t have dedicated servers but instead run in the Amazon cloud, they run very well. Checking for sim FPS and ping sim values as I write this, I get exactly the same values in my Kitely World as in Second Life: Sim FPS: 45; Ping sim: 39-58msec.

More land for the same price

Additional to those points listed above, Kitely allows for two further opportunities that can especially add value for the students.

In the first place, since Kitely Worlds are billed by time, each student can afford to have his or her own entire region for no more than the cost of using a single shared region. This allows for greatly expanded project opportunities and boundaries.

In many cases, students want to manipulate region settings, or spread a project out to give the proper scale, and so on. Using the appropriate Kitely billing method, the students can easily visit each other’s sims without imposing additional costs on the sim creator.

Secondly, projects can be saved, not only as downloaded OAR files, but also as files at Kitely, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice. The professor can archive the work of several classes on Kitely for future demonstrations, yet pay only ten cents per region per month, or $1.20 per year per region. Students can do this as well for their own purposes.

Finding the best fit and value

Naturally, there is no service that works best for every purpose and every user. Only time will reveal and confirm the best markets for the Kitely approach.

Still, for education, the unique features of Kitely Virtual Worlds on Demand warrant consideration by educators with little or no funding as well as those those looking for a service that offers some unique facilitation features and a highly affordable on-demand opportunity for students to maximize the value of their short-term involvements in sim-based classes.

lawrence.pierce@hypergridbusiness.com'

Lawrence Pierce

Lawrence Pierce specializes in new media design and production. He began as a computer game programmer and has been a systems consultant to corporations such as DuPont and the J. Paul Getty Art Trust, art director on the first computer game for MTV and a featured artist in the Hollywood Reporter.

  • Lawrence —

    A couple of points I’d like to add. First, Kitely just rolled out Vivox voice last month, which is the same voice system used by Second Life. Some educators were holding off on using Kitely because they had to use a second voice system, like Skype — that’s not an issue any more. Instead, voice works exactly the same as in SL — speech indications, private chats, directional voice, lip synching. Everything except the voice morphing.

    Second, Kitely runs the latest version of OpenSim. So if you’ve been avoiding OpenSim because you’ve heard that it doesn’t have mesh or media-on-a-prim, that might be the case for a couple of grid running dated software, but not here. Educators on Kitely can pull in Web sites and other Web-based media, collaborate on Google docs in-world, and upload and see mesh (if they use the Second Life viewer).

    Third, some folks are avoiding OpenSim because it’s a pain in the butt to get started. You have to add your grid to the grid manager, or edit the shortcut file path, just to get to the login screen. Kitely avoids all that — it has a plugin that automatically configures and launches your preferred viewer, and takes you right to the region you want. 

    Finally, if lack of content has been a stumbling block, I suggest that folks check out the free OAR files from LindaKellie.com — http://www.lindakellie.com/myoars.htm — great landscaping, buildings, and a very wide and complete selection of freebie avatars, clothes, accessories, animations, etc… 

    If you don’t want to pay the 10 cents a month it would cost to keep one of these regions in your Kitely account, many other people have uploaded them, and you can visit and outfit your avatar there for free — http://www.kitely.com/#!search — click on the “Shopping” tab.

    • Oh, and some downsides:

      Kitely doesn’t have hypergrid yet, or in-world commerce, or direct region-to-region teleports, or megaregions (yet — all are in the works).

      And OAR exports are filtered, so if you plan to download your regions, keep an eye on the permissions. The filtering isn’t as strict as in Second Life — you don’t have to be the creator of everything — but you do need to have copy and transfer permissions. Details here: http://blog.kitely.com/2011/08/28/copy-world-respects-permissions/

      Another issue, which may or may not be a problem for people, is that you’ve got no neighbors. Each region is an island floating all by itself. So, right now, you can’t build a large contiguous campus of many regions, as you can in Second Life or other OpenSim grids. Having megaregions will help address this to some extent, and maybe in the future they’ll come out with some kind of “neighbor” feature but meanwhile, everyone is on their own.

      On the plus side, since each region gets its own Amazon cloud engine (or whatever the cloud insides are called), you won’t get lag on your region because the one next door is having a party.

    • I also want to add that Kitely service has been excellent.  They respond very quickly to all support issues, even if they do not have an immediate solution.  This level of professionalism is exactly what educators and other professionals look for in a service. 

       

  • I look forward to trying Kitely when they get their alternative billing arrangements settled. It would be interesting to know what kind of class sizes can be accommodated. It also remains to be seen what is involved in terms of viewer installation on our network.

    Clearly the absence of inworld trans-region or hypergrid movement gives it more of a rooms-based than world-based feel but I’m not sure how often that would be an issue.

    To be fair to SL, it has been possible for n00bs to bypass Welcome Island for some years.

    • Hi graymills,

      If there are no unexpected surprises, we’ll be adding email/password
      based account registrations in a few weeks (we did some work on our
      backend already to support it). This won’t have the full benefit of
      integration with Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. (which will come later), but it
      should make it possible for you to start using Kitely without having to
      connect it to a Facebook account (which may be an issue for some schools).

      We intend to roll that out with a solution for logging into
      Kitely without having to use our plugin (the plugin will become optional). This will free people from being limited in their choice of viewers or operating systems when using Kitely. Together these two features should enable anyone wanting to start using Kitely to do so without further delay.

      The lack of direct teleporting between worlds is something we will start working on after we deploy the aforementioned accessibility upgrade. For the time being you can move between worlds by using their world pages on our website (which, unfortunately, still requires closing the viewer in the process – this too will be addressed in the future).

      Our billing system is already deployed (and people have already signed up for monthly plans :-)) so you can start testing Kitely right now if you wish.

      Regarding class size, we use powerful servers (multicore, 7.5GB memory, 1Gbps network) and our system automatically allocates more server resources to simulators that have a high user concurrency. You should be able to conduct crowded lessons. Performance will be effected by the number of scripts people use, the complexity of the world, user actions, etc. just as it is on SL.

      • Thanks, Ilan. I’ll keep watching this space 🙂

  • Thank you for the endorsement Lawrence.

    Just one small correction: our $5 plan actually includes up to 25 hours of use per month, not the 15 you had mentioned 🙂