Prof asks OpenSim viewer devs to help schools

Dear OpenSim Viewer Developer:

A new trend in learning management systems  could be a vehicle for expanding educator use of the OpenSimulator platform.

More specifically, one of the newer learning management systems – Canvas – includes an external app integration feature that allows faculty and institutions to easily integrate both subscription and non subscription third-party apps into their course sites.

Further, the viewer developers that offer or modify their viewers to be support learning management systems could realize a new income stream from the creation of custom – or institution specific – viewer homepages.

Learning management system platforms like Canvas, Blackboard, Desire-to-Learn, and Moodle are widely used in both post-secondary and K-12 education as well as in many — or even most — e-training applications.

Suggestion for a custom LMS viewer for OpenSim. (Image courtesy Kay McLennan.)

Looking specifically at the new third party app feature included in the Canvas learning management system, each Canvas course site has an “Apps” section in “Settings”, with the ability to add three different types of apps:

  • Subscription and non subscription apps installed by the institution, like SlideShare, and Collaborate
  • Any of the EduAppCenter  list of apps
  • Apps added through an “Add App” panel

Interested OpenSim viewer developers could either apply to get their viewer added to the EduAppCenter or offer their viewer as a download in the form of a “config.xml” file type.

I believe OpenSim would experience exponential growth if there is a way to integrate one or more OpenSim viewers into the learning management system platforms being used by schools and universities around the world.

Finally, my expectation is that while a free viewer app is needed to promote the increased use of OpenSim educational simulations, viewer developers could generate income from custom, institution specific, viewer homepages and skins.

Kay McLennan

Kay McLennan is a professor at Tulane University where she teaches business and economics using virtual environments. Her virtual world educational simulations were finalists in two Federal Virtual World Challenge contests. Learn more about her work at Tulane SCS Metaverse or follow her on Twitter at @kay_mclennan.

  • Nick Zwart

    Yes Please. A Moodle plug-in would be so great. And Maybe a simpler UI for students.

    • Jessica Random

      Depends on your students I guess. I work in a large UK college that has students from 14 – 99 (the 99 im guessing but we have no upper age limit). We handle level 1 students and work placement students from schools right up to masters students. In my experience it’s not the students that need a simpler UI, but the teaching staff! It may not be the same for younger students though.

  • Jessica Random

    I love the idea of using OpenSim (or SL for that matter) for education and over the years there have been some good usage made. However I have caution when recommending it…..

    I remember back in the 80s when PCs were becoming popular, so many businesses bought PCs to “help with my business”. Most of them had no idea what to do with it – had no real USE for it – but had heard it might “help with my business” so jumped on board. After a few weeks/months most of these PCs (a large amount of them Alan Sugar’s Amstrad PC1512 or PC1640) were used as door stops as most people really didnt have a clue what to do. The place I was working at the time did the same but I managed to write a labelling program in Gem Basic to produce number labels for boxes of items we made – it did at least have a purpose then even though it was not worth what the company paid for it just to print labels!

    My point is, “hey it would be great to use OpenSim for education ” is kinda the same thing. Yes, it can be great – but unless you already have detailed plans for what you want to use it for – most times it just fizzles out.

    Where I work currently I managed to get funding for a new server about 10 years ago just for OS. I made some regions, some copies of some college buildings and some new ones. Conference centres etc etc – but in the end noone really used it and it just died a death. Why? Because we really didnt have the need for it before we got it. We got it and then tried to find a use for it. It really needs to be the other way round.

    So yes, use OS for education and tie into whatever systems you like (I had ours tied into Moodle with the SLoodle toolset) but make sure there is the need first. Make sure those that would be using it are behind it and really want to put the effort in or its all just a waste of time.

    • My “plea” for a LMS-ready viewer is first, and foremost on behalf of the large number of educators that are ALREADY extensively using OpenSim (and/or SL) virtual world learning simulations. [Again, I believe the most up-to-date LMS platforms have quietly included a feature (read: a 3rd party app integration functionality) that could benefit the virtual world community AND TO DATE, this new functionality is not very well publicized.] Further, it is true I have not had much success convincing other educators to similarly create and utilize virtual world learning simulations. Still, my observations confirm how most [higher education and K-12] educators understand the worth and value of virtual world learning simulations (even if they would not ever consider investing the time needed to create and utilize their own virtual world learning simulations). Finally, rather than focus on “herding [educator] cats” into the use of virtual world learning simulations, I focus on the student-user side of the equation. More specifically, I offer up virtual world
      learning simulations in all of the college-level courses I teach and consistently one-third to one-half of the students in my courses choose to participate in these optional learning activities (and the same students believe virtual world learning simulations are highly engaging and contribute to their understanding of the course concepts).

    • Douglas Maxwell

      I agree 100%. Before selecting the correct simulation or game engine for a training task, we have a template for a scenario design document. Using this template, we document the goals and objectives of the activity. What knowledge is to be conveyed? We list actions to be performed, operational area, behaviors, entities (human and non-human), detailed interaction list, participation workflow, and more.

      With this information, we can make the determination if Open Sim or some other technology is most appropriate. With a little planning and forethought, you can potentially save yourself a lot of time and money.

      • Hi Doug – I think the type of template you describe (to formalize and standardize the process of creating new learning simulations/games) is brilliant! I fear my early work creating simulations was more random (but my collection of survey data from the students using my early simulations was invaluable). For example, I thought students would gravitate towards the games I created (like the free trade game where each student was given their own island nation — to manage the production and economy for their island nation) but I soon learned students prefer less time consuming learning activities. In contrast, students were much more interested in the vocabulary flashcards I added to the campus — as “filler”!
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  • lmpierce

    I became interested in virtual worlds around the same time, 2008-2010. We had a graduate education course in Second Life and it was quite interesting.

    Virtual worlds largely faded from the American education scene not very long after that. I found myself enrolling in a master’s level distance learning program at the University of the West of England because interest in virtual worlds has remained much stronger in the UK over the last decade. You can read about the UWE program from on of the participants here: https://www.leighton-marjoram.online/virtual-world-education-very-much-alive-at-the-uwe-uk/ . And this is the main university page with the program listing, but it seems to be down most of the time: https://info.uwe.ac.uk/programmes/displayentry.asp?code=X19C62&rp=listEntry.asp . It’s not clear to me if the program is still active, or the listing is simply there as a legacy page…

    Honestly, using the viewer software was not the challenge. It is not more difficult to install and use a viewer for basic virtual world tasks than learning to use MS Word proficiently enough to write a high school or college level paper. It is a challenge to learn building, although in my graduate education course every student readily grasped basic building tasks as well.

    The greater challenge was motivation. Virtual worlds require significant active participation beyond typing words or reading. That is to say, writing papers is easier (and not to mention works on most any device), and websites are largely passive presentations (witness, for example, the rise of service like Lynda.com and YouTube for tutorials). Virtual worlds are multimedia environments. Usually, sophisticated educational multimedia presentations are created by multimedia professionals and subject matter experts. There was some initial rise in such content in Second Life that peaked around 2007, but since then the amount of participation has waned.

    I think the main reason for this is time. In virtual worlds, it takes more time to accomplish goals, it takes more time to do research (as a student), it takes more time to interact, it takes more time to create content, and it takes more time to learn. Our modern world puts extreme demands on individuals to be efficient and productive, whether they are students, employees or professionals. People turn to the most efficient tools for their tasks, and most tools are much more efficient than virtual worlds.

    Consequently, the paradigm of virtual worlds is encumbered by the very thing that makes it compelling: its depiction of complete semi-near-realistic environments that we must build for ourselves and move through as a real space. It’s hard to see how this approach could ever rival the Web for efficiency.

    On the other hand, I have much optimism for simulations because in certain professions and for certain subjects, the immersive experience is invaluable. Sometimes we learn complex tasks slowly because they are difficult to convey, and providing a virtual environment is just the right approach.

    I would also bet that as technology improves, and therefore the visuals and affordances become more realistic, there will be a movement back towards the use of such environments in education. But I don’t think creating a browser-based viewer would be enough on its own. It will require compelling rich content, as well as willingness to, sometimes, spend a little more time than is absolutely necessary to create and experience an environment and learn something from that immersion.

    • Impierce – Well said (!) (re: virtual worlds provide undeniable educational affordances but the catch is how proficiency with the platform requires a bit of effort on the part of the users).

  • Gunnar – Your experience (offering virtual world learning activities and spaces in a university setting) mirrors mine! More specifically, while the students that self-select themselves for the virtual world learning activities I provide [in the nine island grid I created] are wildly enthusiastic about the option, to date, none of the faculty members I have introduced to virtual world teaching have been motivated to devote the time needed to use the platform in their online courses.

    Further, like you, I still think the use of OpenSim in academia has a future (but I am less sure about what it will take to motivate more widespread use). Some of the ideas I have for motivating more widespread use include the following…

    – VIEWERS – The notion of a browser-based viewer has long been considered “the killer app” for OpenSim. Still, every time I have occasion to use a browser-based viewer (e.g., in the Space grid and High Fidelity grid) I am disappointed by how “flat” all the objects appear. In other words, the standard OpenSim viewers (like Firestorm, Singularity, Kokua, Alchemy, etc.) provide a much better 3D experience. Accordingly (and as I wrote in the “open letter”), I want to see one or more of the traditional OpenSim viewers offered in the “config.xml” format needed to integrate into Canvas and other LMS platforms.

    – CRITICAL MASS – Is it possible we just need to reach a “tipping point” where enough educators will be using 3D virtual world learning simulations in their courses (so, in turn, most educators will want to use 3D virtual world learning simulations in their courses) (?).

    – ADMINISTRATOR CHAMPIONS – Is it possible an administrator champion (that has retention and promotion authority) could motivate more widespread use (?).

    – READY-MADE LEARNING SIMULATIONS – Students are on tight schedules and ONLY want to be exposed to 3D virtual world learning simulations that are DIRECTLY RELATED to course learning outcomes. Accordingly, it seems likely to me that the creation of more critical mass in the virtual world learning space will require textbook publishers to include simulations in their textbook ancillary materials.

    What am I missing?
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