2009 NMC Summer Conference Proceedings

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Creating an Educational Build in Second Life

December 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment · Papers

Christopher Holden and Beth Sachtjen (NMC Virtual Worlds)

Reflections from an Advanced Second Life® Pre-Conference Session

This session was planned as an educator specific introduction to Second Life builds and projects that highlighted the specific needs of institutions as they take on virtual worlds in the classroom, as part of pedagogy, and otherwise. The session itself was divided into three sections:

  1. A tour of some current NMC Virtual Worlds development projects showing solid examples of pedagogical driven Second Life builds.
  2. An introduction to some basic elements of building and scripting, as well as an explanation of the amendments done to real world architecture in order to make it work in virtual space.
  3. An overview of Land Management tools, groups, permissions, and various other technical aspects of maintaining and creating a Second Life build.

Introduction

In a departure from our previous sessions where we focused on hands-on building skills, we decided to step back and take a look at the bigger picture this year. Many session attendees were old faces and I’m sure by now, well on their way to becoming expert builders.

The fact is that although most (if not all) of you will have a go at creating things in Second Life, you’re all representatives of educational institutions, faculties, museums, or research establishments whose needs are likely to be larger or more complex than you can accomplish by yourself.

This is where we come in, or indeed any other professional developer you might choose to hire. Even if you don’t go down this route, you’ll still have to effectively manage an in-house team to help you realize your project in the Virtual World.

That’s not to say the process then becomes a hands off experience for you. Rather your role changes and you become an integral part of that development team. The end results will only be as good as your initial ideas & concepts, the thoroughness of the brief, the abilities of the team to brainstorm, refine, specify & communicate throughout the process, and finally when it’s all done, the running and management of the project after it has been handed over to you.

We’ll start by discussing some of the basic build types most commonly commissioned, before looking at the commissioning & development process itself.

Build types

So what is an Educational build? As far as we’re concerned, anything built by or for you!

Although we’re greatly interested in the pedagogy of digital learning here at the NMC, not all of the educational builds we’re involved in will necessarily be directly related to digital learning. They may be commissioned by a variety of people ranging from an institution’s marketing department right through to individual faculty members.

‘Clocktowers’

So we’ll start with a type of build perhaps more relevant to former group for several reasons. I often refer to these as “Clocktower Builds” in a less than complimentary manner, but don’t get me wrong. They served a purpose and, in fact, still do. They’re actually some of the first educational builds to be created in SL and are still one of the most commonly commissioned types. Although not of direct interest to faculty staff, they are often the builds that initiate an organization’s entry to the virtual world, and may be the catalyst for the funding you require to develop your own project.

Anyway, word will come down from on high that you must have a presence in this virtual world called Second Life and it’s your job to make it happen, most likely with a brief put together by someone who’s never actually spent any time there, aided by the marketing department. Commercial marketing departments love their logos… and educational marketing departments love their Clock Towers.
What I really mean by clock towers, however, are iconic campus or institutional buildings, and it’s this iconic aspect that, despite my criticism, also makes them useful tools. Identity, familiarity, recognition, and orientation are all real world phenomenon which have their place in the virtual world and are served by this type of building. I even enjoy building them, and they’re certainly eye catching!

The downside is that their real world counterpoints are typically very big so the re-creations themselves are often the largest thing in the sim, which leaves us with the problem of what to do with them.

Very often we have requests for offices and classrooms, or even a re-creation of the building’s interior. I’d implore you to resist the temptation to do all of these things for a number of reasons. Big though they are, the scaling challenges of SL usually mean that the interiors are simply not suitable for modeling, resulting in unusable and difficult to navigate spaces. Additionally, although I’ve built a few, I have yet to see ANY office or classroom in SL actually used. No one does office work in SL, and experience shows there are far more suitable environments for in-world learning than a classroom.

Instead I would use these buildings at the arrival point in the sim to immediately establish your identity and, most importantly, the visitor’s location on your campus.

Internally, we typically build them out to be an open plan with one, or at most two, spaces inside. Given their position in the hierarchy of the build as a whole, they are useful places to provide an introduction, whether it’s simply the history of and information about the real life university or a summary, complete with teleports, to what else is going on in the sim, faculty builds, conference facilities or whatever. You might use simple display boards and art work, dynamic displays with clickable links to website pages or, if you’ve included some kind of auditorium in the build, show a promotional video.

So whether it’s by choice or under duress, clock tower builds can still serve a useful purpose today.

Other components of non-faculty sims may include: newbie orientation, amphitheatre, art gallery, or simply a “fun” element taking advantage of the interactivity and dynamics available in Second Life: a lift up a tower into the clouds, a boat or other vehicle trip around the sim, etc. Why not simply inspire and engage visitors, staff, and students, while hopefully demonstrating some of the potential? Seemingly flippant and possibly not entirely educational or specific to your establishment, an interesting piece of interactivity or something dynamic like a ride hints at some of the potential of SL to your visitor so they’re not left with the impression that this is a lifeless static world.

These builds can also provide an “in” for staff and faculty members who may find a real use… early adopters like us. So what features are useful here?

Most importantly, beautiful though re-creations of existing campus buildings can be, they do nothing to encourage a visitor to simply stop, think, and then play and investigate the potential of what can be done in a virtual world. A sim that is fully built out remains a monument to the original commission rather than a living place that encourages its own evolution.

All the facilities discussed so far could quite happily reside in half a sim, leaving the other half free for a sandbox or future development, which, with careful sim design and planning by you and your developer, need not be an eyesore to detract from the marketing shots used in the university brochure.

Finally, there are some notable exceptions to the typical Clocktower Build: Case Admissions Program, a build that initially seemed to serve no purpose, came alive with the addition of people and a purpose. Student ambassadors met potential students and talked about Case University. The build served as a backdrop, conversation piece, and created a sense of being there together.

While there are many uses for physical builds and buildings, I think the whole land/build metaphor employed by Second Life can be misleading. It immediately implies that the most important thing about our Second Life presence is what we physically construct. But let’s step back for a minute and look at it another way: You’re renting a plot of land on one of our educational sims. Your neighbors might be a French university. With a little effort and the use of the land tools you can find out who’s responsible for their parcel, put out feelers, and establish communication with them. By some mighty feat of planning you actually manage to get a group of your students in world at the same time as a group of French students and by a stroke of luck (or not) they’re both language classes.

The fact is this empty plot of land with a handful of students on it has already achieved what would otherwise costs tens of thousands of dollars and an overseas field trip to do. You’ve got your students in a social, conversational setting with native French speaking peers. You still have to coax and cajole them into talking to each other, but you’d be doing that if you were in Paris, too! It’s a simplistic example but it serves to demonstrate that in some cases it’s nothing but people that make a successful project.

And this is the kind of project I love. Functionality and real benefits came first. In my experience, it’s these kind of projects that thrive, grow and become real successes, in a built form, too… because having established a raison d’être for even being in the world, you might now consider building or employing someone like us to build something to support your project. An environment to promote the kind of communication, language, and vocabulary you want to foster, and perhaps to fully engage the students’ interest in the (virtual) world around them: a market place, a mall; in fact any environment your students need to feel comfortable. I previously begged you not to put offices in your builds, but even an office now has a purpose if it’s carefully populated with objects designed to expand your students vocabulary. You can’t make copies on a virtual photocopier (and yes, I’ve built one in Second Life), but having your student be able to simply identify it in a foreign language is an end in itself. Throw in a little interactivity such as scripted objects that listen for their name in French and respond to the user and we’ve started to build an environment that can be used by a student on their own out of class, too.

Meetings & Conference Venues

Our next build type bridges the gap between clock tower builds and some of the more interesting examples we’ll look at later.

Obviously the principle components of this build are the venues themselves, consisting of stages, seating, amphitheatres, etc., and, after the clock tower, this is the other component we’re usually asked to include in the general builds we do. The NMC Conference Center sim serves to demonstrate why you might actually want them in the first place and how you can best implement them.

First off, if you think these spaces are going to be used principally by the staff or students at your own organization, forget it. They can all meet face to face in the real world, without the technological hassle and limitations of mediating the experience through a virtual world.

The key feature of conferences, such as those NMC hosts, are that they draw both audiences and speakers from all around the world.
After teaching and research, conferences are the bread & butter of educational institutions. Real life conferences are very expensive for attendees, particularly in today’s economic climate. Virtual conferences offer most of the benefits, like the global participation, the social interaction, for a fraction of the cost. They have proven, as in the case of the NMC’s own conferences, to generate revenue for the hosting organization.

While most of you won’t be developing an entire conference sim, if you’ve a mind to effectively implement a meeting space, there’s a lot to learn from our conference sim.

Experience has shown us that open air venues are most popular and that traditional classroom spaces remain largely unused.

Additionally different types of venue are more suitable for promoting different types of audience participation, for example traditional front facing auditoria work well for formal presentations while venues in the round, such as the amphitheatre, promote audience participation and work well for more practical demonstrations.

As well as formal venues, it is also important to consider supporting spaces for breakout sessions, or simply to help structure informal social interaction in and around the conference.

Finally, organizing conferences and events requires much more than the physical venue. The NMC employs considerable human support and mediation for events which, together with orientation areas, help desks, and clear, event-specific signage all contribute to giving attendees a smooth and trouble free experience.

The conference sim is also a good example to introduce the RegAPI, a complicated term for something quite simple, best illustrated with this weblink: http://sl.nmc.org/join.

Many of our conference attendees are surprisingly not actually SL natives, which, while it demonstrates that using SL for events isn’t simply a means unto itself, presents some problems. Most of you will know what it was like entering SL for the first time, navigating LL’s own website, before being kicked out on your own into a world of strangers and chaos. Exhilarating for the bold explorer of the virtual world but frankly a confusing annoyance for someone who’s goal is simply to attend a conference. Having your developer implement the RegAPI for you means that you can control, direct, and assist new users entering your world. You can provide relevant instruction to them on the website, have them arrive directly in your sim or venue, and even be there to meet and greet them when they arrive.

It’s also useful for other types of build. Barnfield College supports students of a widely varied age range, and as a result built two identical sims, one on the main grid, one on the teen grid. By implementing the Reg API for them on their own website, they can control the sign up process, directing students to the appropriate grid and, as far as possible, keep the whole experience in-house.

Other Build Types

Having covered general purpose sims and spaces designed for conferences and meetings we move onto more specialized types of build. The diversity of such builds are best illustrated by case studies, such as those found at http://virtualworlds.nmc.org/portfolio/.

However, there are a few worthwhile points to be made. Simulations are another widely commissioned build type in Second Life, but it’s important to consider what Second Life is and isn’t good at simulating. SL can simulate environments quite effectively, and it’s possible to give a pretty good sense of actually being in a factory, the heart of a nuclear power plant, or anywhere else you can conceive. The fact is, there’s not even a great deal of fancy scripted interactivity required; it simply relies on good research to accurately recreate the environment and the use of some sound and environmental effects to give it atmosphere. Embedded, clickable links can even provide more information from a supporting website, without needing to import or recreate existing material in Second Life.

Other kinds of simulation are more problematic, however. On more than one occasion I’ve had to discuss the difficulties of simulating a medical operation procedure in SL with a client. As great as it is in so many ways, any of us who have spent any time here know our avatars can walk (or waddle like a duck if we haven’t discovered the joys of AO’s), talk, and at the height of sophistication,sit on poseballs. The fact is that simulation of specialized human activity is currently not a viable possibility.

The one human activity that is possible however is interaction with each other, which leads me to another kind of simulation, that of roleplay. From a build point of view this is relatively easy to facilitate, what you need is a supporting environment to promote immersion in the scenario. Additionally, and this is something worth considering when you’re choosing a developer for your projects, you may want to consider custom avatars, outfits, and clothing to further add realism to your scenarios.Not all developers will offer this service, and, while it’s an aspect that’s often overlooked, it soon becomes apparent that the scenario requires them to function.
While this type of build is relatively easy to commission and create, it’s effectiveness relies on the fact that it’s a human mediated experience, and that means more work on your part: planning the classes, having supporting staff to play certain roles, etc.

The Process from Commissioning to Completion

In the second session we talked about the process of actually realizing your build.

Familiarize yourself and your colleagues with the world

Before you do anything, familiarize yourself with Second Life. Chances are, most of you here are already old hands, but many clients aren’t. Additionally, since you won’t be doing this on your own, familiarize other staff members with the world – you may be seeding ideas in the minds of faculty members who may contribute down the road by helping to set and manage the expectations of your boss or the marketing department, or initiating a small student group to be the pioneers or test subjects for your project. At this stage no one need be an expert, they might have had only an hour in-world, but that one hour will make a huge difference to both their expectations and their enthusiasm for the project.

Outline your concept; try to define your goals & outcomes rather than a list of buildings.

Before you even approach a development company you need to establish the nature of your project, the goals and concepts. As I’ve said many times already today, a successful build or project in Second Life is far more than a collection of virtual buildings; even if it’s a clocktower build in the first instance, try to be clear about what you hope to achieve.

As an example, I’ve had briefs from clients that looked like nothing more than a shopping list of buildings: a mall, a school with offices and classrooms, sports fields, a music room, and so on.

Well, this list probably came down from on high and, in fact, they probably had no idea what these buildings would actually achieve for them in Second Life. It was left to me to try and make sense of them in the context of Second Life.

So the mall became a place for making free resources, clothes, avatars, building tools available to students, as well as a potential venue for students to make their own work available to others, with vendors set up, ready to accept and then give out what was dropped in them. However, this functionality came from me, not the client, so although I made them aware of what I had in mind, they were never used, because they simply didn’t have a plan in mind for any kind of use after the build was completed. It’s far better coming from you in the first place.

Finding a developer

It’s possible that some of you will actually build it yourself, though if your project is of any size or complexity you’ll be working with a team, in which case the process of clearly defining your goals and developing a brief, which we’ll look at shortly, will still apply.

We’re going to start with the assumption that you’ll be seeking the help of a professional developer, such as ourselves, but I will point out, in the interests of fairness, that although we welcome your work, NMC Virtual Worlds is just one of over 250 developers recognized by Linden Lab in their Solution Provider Program.

You can find a full List of developers at http://solutionproviders.secondlife.com/, complete with information about them and links to their websites.

Check their credentials, portfolios, references, and areas of specialty. Compile a short list, don’t settle on one yet.

Also bear in mind that complex projects in SL require different disciplines:

  • building is just the start, and most obvious
  • scripting, for interactivity
  • animations
  • avatars & clothing, particularly for role playing and simulation
  • backend services, from media streaming to Reg API & databases
  • event management

Initial Meetings should be more of an interview process than anything, because, hopefully, you shortlisted several developers. Armed with your initial concept, it’ll serve to get you budget prices for comparison, to determine if the developer has the skills and ideas to make your project a reality, and perhaps, most importantly, ascertain whether you can enjoy a good working relationship, because between this point and completion, the success of the project will rely to a great extent on the communication and level of understand between you and your developer. You’re not simply going to hand over your sketch and expect to come back in a month a find a fully completed build! There’ll be a lot more talking and negotiating before you get there.

You should also bear in mind that at this stage, depending on the size of the company, you’ll most likely be dealing with a CEO or manager of some kind, who‘s principle job is to sell their services to you rather than actually build it out.

If your initial list of goals or concept includes the implementation of real-life training procedures in the virtual world(medicine or dentistry serves as a good examples), you may well be shown immaculately detailed operating theatres in second life and sold the wonderful concept of virtual training, leaving you with a vision of teams of students conducting virtual heart bypass operations on virtual patients. The truth is, if you’ve spent just enough time in SL yourself to have clumsily hopped on to a poseball for a dance, you’ll know how unlikely this outcome really is.

The better educated you are about the nature, potential, and limitations of Second Life, the less disappointed you’ll be with the result and the better prepared you’ll be for the next step, which will be to constructively develop a brief and specifications with achievable and practical goals.

We’ll assume you’ve selected your developer and agreed on a price. The next stage is to develop the final brief and specifications.
In the case of hands-off clients, this will typically happen in-house and then be presented along with a final cost, but in the best cases, it will be the result of a dialog or series of meetings between the developer and the client. Typically, the developer’s representative at this point will be someone more practically grounded in the process of building in SL, if not the lead builder, rather than the project manager who works with them on a daily basis.

Brainstorming -> brief & spec

I can best illustrate the difference between your initial concept and a specification with something I find myself saying a lot when I’m working. ‘I’m just a humble builder’, in effect, I have to put a prim here and a prim here and texture that and so on…. You might have asked for a Hospital or a Paper Mill but this really doesn’t inform what I have to do here and now on the ground.

So the development of a brief and specification is essentially the process of Translation & Itemization.

By translation, I mean turning some of those initial concepts into a workable realization, and most often these will be the interactive experiences. Going back to the medical example, we just can’t facilitate a virtual operation, so at this point a period of brainstorming will be required to find a happy medium between what you want to achieve and what the builder can actually create.

In this case, experience in this field has informed us that case-based learning can work well. Simply delivering the information required for a student to make a diagnosis in the form of images and reports in an immersive and appropriate environment has been shown to make the exercise more compelling and engaging to the student. Through a discussion with the client we will hopefully arrive at an effective implementation of what will be the KEY interactive element of the build.

By itemization, I simply mean the listing of every component of the build, each building, each room, each piece of interactivity and prop, be it a clothing outfit or a custom animation. This is essentially a specification, a document I became intimately familiar with as an architect, where no matter how large a building was, every last component down the screws used to hang the doors were listed and expected to be present in the completed build.

Well, one of the things I love about my job now is that a build in SL does away with most of those tedious components and I can focus on the bigger things. But a full sim build is a large and complex entity, comprising potentially 15,000 prims, many hundreds or even thousands of objects which don’t just magically happen, but have to be deliberately built and put there.

The specification does several things: it informs the builders on the ground exactly what they’re expected to create, and, as part of a legally binding contract, ensures you get exactly what you want. The former is invaluable because the better described a project is, the easier it is for a builder to simply get on with it, without delay, without time wasted either trying to work out for themselves what they’re supposed to be building, or waiting for a reply from someone who does know.

Because a specification deals with the detail of a project, this a good time to introduce another of your jobs as the client: the provision of both source material and content – ideally shown as action items in the brief–to remind everyone that certain things can’t happen until you’ve done your bit.

Again, often this is overlooked, but in the first instance if you come from a faculty background and are bringing a highly specialized build into a Virtual World, not only will you likely be the foremost expert in your field, but additionally, with the best will in the world and even prior experience, your builder will be largely ignorant of the subject matter, or more importantly what aspect of the subject matter is most important to you.

All builds in SL are impressions at the end of the day. An operating theatre resembles one in the real world but can never contain every last detail of the real thing. For a builder to create an environment like this he requires good source material – lots of photographs for instance, a sketch if you can manage it; but beyond that they need to know what about it is important to you. Which machines and details have to be modeled accurately and be present in the final build? Give a builder a picture of an operating theatre and tell them to build it with no further instruction and several months later you’ll find they’re still laboring away, having used nearly an entire sim’s resources of prims building the operating table alone.

Prepare source material and content in advance for timely delivery

I also mentioned content and, hopefully, having sat this far through the session, you’ve come to appreciate the importance of functionality and its associated content. The timely delivery of this will also aid the building process. If you’ve attended these sessions before or done any building in SL you’ll appreciate how fine grained the work of a builder is. A prim used to create a simple display board needs to be sized and correctly proportioned to properly display the texture that is to be placed on it. Even if your content is only a display describing the history of your University to be located in the clock tower building – perhaps derived from an existing publicity document, the sooner the builder has it and knows how it’s to be used, the better able they’ll be to display to its best advantage. Sure, we can create generic displays for you to populate later, but by their nature they will be a compromise. If you’re implanting case studies, their media and format may well inform how a scripter will choose to deliver them within the interactive experience.

Appoint a liaison or be prepared to answer subject specific questions during the build

A written document can’t be expected to answer every question as it arises, particularly within a specialized academic build, and I appreciate that as a commissioning client you’re likely a very busy person. We have found particularly useful in past projects the assignment of a post graduate student to the project, whose role is to liaise with the team as questions of a technical nature about the subject material arise. Their role is not to manage the build, but to contribute their specialized knowledge where it’s needed.

Establish milestones as checkpoints throughout the build, but don’t interfere

By this point your build should be underway, guided by an accurate and complete brief. The builders should know what they’re doing and will most likely have their heads down working hard to complete it on time. For a hands-on client it can be very difficult at this stage to take a step back, but the implications of trying to micromanage the build at this point can be disastrous. Consider the building team as laborers; distracting them for an hour every day can seriously set them back, particularly if you start making changes, having them undo what they’ve worked on, spend time devising new solutions, or adding new components to the build.

Be aware that if you’ve hired an outside developer, at this point you’ll be subject to delays and—worse still– additional costs. The original brief is part of a binding legal contract to deliver what is specified. Variance from that makes you liable and at the mercy of the developer to re-price the work and reassess the schedule. Just as with a real building, if you’re half way through the build, it’s very difficult to say no to his demands.

This is why properly developing the brief in the first place is crucial. As part of that brief you should specify milestones which allow you to check the work and sign off on it if it is to your satisfaction.

The truth is, though, that most developers are not out to make your life difficult. It’s in our interests to make sure you’re happy with the result. Furthermore, given the new territory we’re exploring and the evolving nature of the platform, we simply have to be flexible enough to allow for some experimentation and reassessment of the brief during the build, so use those milestones as the time to make necessary changes.

Blocking out: Some developers will construct models so you can see how the sim or build will be arranged. We’ve found a better solution is to block the build out full size. In this way the terraforming, key buildings, components, landscaping, and pathways can be established in a day or two, allowing you to walk through your entire sim and get a real sense of how it will feel when completed. At this stage the buildings will be nothing but solid blocks of an appropriate scale and proportion, and likely everything in the sim will be white and un-textured, so it requires a degree of imagination, but it’s sufficient to tell whether, for example, the arrival point is correctly located, the key buildings or experiences have the right relationship to each other, and so on.
Essentially, this enables you to sign off on the overall planning of the sim or build.

Buildings and internal spaces: If your build comprises traditional building forms they will quickly take shape as the solid blocks are replaced by walls and roofs. Although likely un-textured at this point, when completed are the internal arrangements correct? For example, does the foyer link to the right rooms? This is particularly important if we’re trying to recreate specific environments for simulations.

Content & Interactive experiences: Interactive and scripted experiences are the trickiest things to get right in SL. Not only are we fighting with the limitations of the platform, but we enter the realm of usability and interface design. When the developer has had a chance to implement a piece of interactivity, it’s often useful to have a run through with the client so it can be fine-tuned for maximum effect, from the point of view of providing clear instructions, to tweaking the parameters of the scripts which will allow sufficient time for an exercise to be completed. You needn’t be versed in the intricacies of the script itself, but if it takes you ten minutes to complete an interactive experience where the programmer imagined it would take only five, he’ll know what needs to be changed to ensure it’ll run smoothly under real-world conditions.

Final walk throughs: Eager to sign off and be paid, the developer won’t be shy about telling you the project is complete, but I would anticipate at least two walkthroughs. If you can walk through with the developer, discuss potential issues and point out anything that might clearly be missing or incorrect.

Before delivering a punch list of items needing attention however, try to do a walk through on your own. It’s one thing to be guided round by the person who built and intimately understands every part of the build, but quite another to find yourself alone, with only your wits to guide you through an unfamiliar environment – and after the developer has left, you will be!

This is a good opportunity to spend more time thoroughly checking items off the specification; actually testing the usability of the space from the perspective of a user: Are things clearly signed? Is it obvious where to go and what to do? Do things function as they should?

A good developer will thoroughly test interactive experiences and scripted objects, but, in truth, it’s not possible to account for the way that inexperienced users might mistakenly try and use them. If you can, get a group of people to help you. I’d recommend you give them a good hammering, and deliberately misuse them to breaking point!

Whatever issues this process raises, do try and thoroughly document them in as much detail as possible so the developer can quickly find the underlying problem.

For the many other, potentially less serious issues, such as spelling mistakes, mis-textured prims and so on, ensure each one is itemized in a simple checklist so the builder can go back and attend to each one.

A final walkthrough should confirm that these items have been done and everything works as it should.

Set aside a portion of time or budget for changes and training at the end

Whilst it’s reasonable to expect a developer to correct their errors within the scope and budget of the brief, it’s possible, particularly if you’re bringing a new and challenging idea to SL, that some aspects of the finished build may not fulfill your original vision. Not because the developer built them incorrectly, but because the concept simply didn’t live up to expectations. I’ve said we, as developers, have to be flexible in this environment, but for projects of this type I recommend actively specifying a portion of the build time or budget, up to as much as 25%, for tweaks, changes and, if necessary, redesign at the end.

Even if this is not the case, and you’ve commissioned the simplest of clock tower builds with minimal interactivity, I would suggest a couple of hours for training at the end, simply to ensure you understand how to configure elements, such as media streams, note card givers, objects with clickable weblinks, and so on.

Finally, DO try and maintain good relations with your developer! During the process, encouragement and constructive feedback will yield far better results than unhelpful and negative criticism. In most cases the developer genuinely wants to make you happy, and if something goes wrong, it’s most likely the result of a misunderstanding or miscommunication. The sooner everyone is on the same page the better.

Almost certainly, you’ll want your developer to come back, too. The complexity of a large build is such that it’s impossible to catch every snag at the end, so when you discover something a few weeks later, after the developer has been paid, it is nice to think that a request will be met positively and in a timely manner. Speaking personally, professional pride is sufficient to get me back to fix something, even if we’ve had the final payment.

All that remains is to wish you the best of luck with your endeavors in Second Life. If you follow the guide here you shouldn’t go wrong. If we have the pleasure of working with you in the future, we look forward to it!

Land management

When discussing Land Management and its relation to educational Second Life builds, we wanted to give educators a no-nonsense, straightforward look at how to best create a build that would take as little time as possible away from their busy schedules. We suggested many things that we have learned from our experience in working with educators in Second Life through NMC Virtual Worlds, as well as many technical aspects of Second Life as a platform that can enhance or hinder an educator’s goals for his/her project.

An underlying theme that we wished to stress to all of the attending educators is something that we have seen and dealt with enormously: the nature of a growing, living project after the build has been completed. We wanted to show attendees how projects can blossom and evolve with help and support from students and faculty and become richer experiences because of that involvement. We highlighted that the most successful projects in Second Life have made creating community a major goal.

Continuing on our theme of developer/educator relationships, we talked about Second Life technical settings and how it was important to have a method of transfer or sharing decided upon before the project has even begun. While Second Life is a rich, adaptable world that is at its very core a place of community, it is also a place where intellectual property is guarded in a somewhat automatic fashion; a careless developer could neglect to account for an educator’s true need for open source and adaptable content.
As of this session, our current suggestion for best handling the land-object permission conundrum in Second Life is to use the group method for deeding land and setting/sharing objects. We believe this method allows the maximum amount of participation between educators, faculty, students, and developer. This method is actually preferable over total ownership of Second Life objects by the educator because it allows for the developers to continue to make changes and provide support in the future. This is yet another opportunity to stress the extreme importance of choosing a reputable developer who will continue to work with your institution and support a growing, successful project.

We also pointed out the impact of this arrangement on other types of land management and technical restrictions. Since land will ideally be set or deeded to a group, media screens will need to match the land set-up. We pointed out that the most common issue we have seen when providing support for in-world media screens is a mismatched ownership level on the media screens themselves. Media screens need to be owned by the same avatar or group who owns the land, as well as “Shared with Group.”

We also explained how ownership and permissions issues are important for inhabiting the space as educators, faculty, students, and community. Eventually, educators often wish to have faculty and students come into the space, facilitate within it, or modify and add to the space in order to make it the institution’s own. This is yet another reason why group permissions become exceedingly useful. We explained that by deeding objects to a group and having your developer set the objects to the group, everyone is providing access to any additional members of your team who you wish to use the space.

Because we really do realize that educators often have many aspects to their job that do not relate to Second Life, we wanted to highlight some of the ways that one can automate a bit of the land management process and cut down on time needed to maintain an existing project. We know that the more folks you involve in your project and encourage to participate, the greater need one will find for autoreturn. “Autoreturn” is a setting that returns prims to their owners (if they are not in the correct group) after a defined period of time. We also explained a method of using autoreturn in the development process that may differ from the land maintenance period of a Second Life project. During development, developers may set “Autoreturn” for one minute, which is the lowest possible time. This is because a developer might need to frequently switch groups for revolving projects; having autoreturn set to a low number minimizes the work that a developer can do with the wrong group or “tag” activated. When development has finished, this number can be changed to whatever seems appropriates. An area that is reserved for a sandbox, for instance, may require an “Autoreturn” time of several hours to a full day, while an area used for a classroom might be best set for a few hours. We also explained that autoreturn only works for prims that are set to different groups than the land.

We explained various types of situations in which we have seen portions of a build or entire projects unintentionally returned. We explained that it is best to contact the developer to survey the damage and see if it is manually fixable. We also explained that if the situation is not possibly remedied manually, it is possible to request a “Rollback” from Linden Lab. This will restore the sim to an approximate previous time.

We discussed Groups, Permissions, and Parcels beyond the basic set-up that one might find themselves using for an educational build in Second Life. When projects organically evolve over time, as we have suggested as a goal, educators will often find a need to change some of the initial plan. One of the most important facets of making changes will be the group used for the project. When land is deeded to a group, managing the group becomes another important task. The default set-up for groups allows a specific set of permissions that many do not find a need to change, but the option is there, should you choose to do so.

We explained that it is best for an educator to create the group himself/herself rather than have his/her developer handle this task. This will ensure that the educator can take full control of the group once the developer has finished. When developers are added to the group, they will likely need to be owners in order to access all of the needed settings. We suggested that educators talk to their developers about using this group for social purposes afterwards. While it may be possible, it is important to know which prims are set to a group, because those invited to this group in the future might have access to more than one would want. A large cause of prim return accidents are caused by well meaning group “Officers”, who simply clicked “return” on the pie menu without knowing they had the power to return objects.

We also talked about Parcels and their places in a Second Life educational build, as well as how to make them, and how to adjust the settings for specific needs. Parcels are useful in two ways: to define ownership of a certain section of land to a faculty member or student, and to provide multiple locations for media. In some instances, it might be necessary to section of a small piece of the sim to provide ownership to another faculty member, student, or a group. Parcels are also sometimes used to create a set-up for multiple media. Currently, Second Life defines media in the “About Land” tab of a parcel. In order to have multiple instances of videos on different screens on the sim, one needs to have more than one parcel. The media can then be assigned to an individual screen or location on the same sim. We also suggested that educators ask their developer to show any parcels on the space and explain the reason they are there.

As a last step in discussing successful Second Life projects, we talked about promoting the project and using it to create community. We explained that the most successful projects are those that are dynamic living organisms that change and grow organically over time. We feel that just like any living thing, if interest is not taken and new opportunities are not explored for a Second Life project, one runs the risk of the project dying or not fulfilling its potential. We suggested that involving other faculty members and identifying evangelists in staff and faculty will assist greatly in opportunities to learn new uses for the space. Students can also be a large driving force to a successful Second Life educational project, whether it be by directly contributing or outlining new uses, reframing new possibilities for existing functionalities, etc. The more individuals that become involved and take an interest in a project’s success, the more changes and opportunities that can be discovered. Second Life lends itself to experimentation and is by no means a hands-off world.

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