Photo: Non Profit Commons Meeting (2011)
While there are many universities exploring the potential of virtual worlds as adjuncts to their academic curricula with bespoke campuses and classrooms which mirror their real world presence other organisations have for many years explored educational possibilities in more innovative approaches to learning through exploration and play.
Second Life has been an incubator for many of these projects but a growing number of organisations are now exploring the possibilities, particularly of cost, of using Open Simulator to host their virtual world projects. In collaboaration with Intel Labs the Fashion Research Institute has recently announced their 2011/12 Science Sim Land Grant Program Awards to a number of organisations to allow them to set up campuses and "are awarded for a six-month period to educators, scientists, and researchers who wish to explore using OpenSim for their work, and who need the power and control of their projects that a campus provides".
Science Sim Land Grant Program Awards
The projects themeselves are indicative of new ways in which science, history and geography can be presented in an innovative educational context which merges exploration and socialisation. An award of a campus to The Abyss Observatory (http://chikyu-to-umi.com/abyss/), a virtual museum of earth science and undersea technology which presents with a sense of wonder the mysteries of Earth and it's life forms, established by mainly Japanese and US volunteers is supported by SciLands, NOAA, JAMSTEC, Open University UK and Science Circle, The Abyss has for many years had a presence in Second Life but this grant should allow a great expansion of it's simulated environments.
Similarly a campus grant to the The Cyprus University of Technology where Chrysanthos Voutounos, a doctoral student at the Department of Multimedia and Graphic Arts in Cyprus uses virtual worlds to design virtual applications that deal with the presentation and preservation of Byzantine heritage. The Byzantine heritage of Cyprus is globally known and many monuments on the island are included in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, like the monastery and the museum of St. John Lampadistis which Chrysanthos aims to design in ScienceSim as part of his research.
In a different context the award of a campus to the The EdLab Group Foundation (http: edlabgroup.org ) project 'Hypatia World' will support and expand the reach of the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) in a 3D virtual environment. Hypatia World provides a safe space for the 5.3 million girls in the NGCP network to access online activities and participate in collaborative projects. The NGCP is committed to informing and motivating girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
A grant to Preferred Family Healthcare (http://www.pfh.org) will similarly enable further development of their established ability to deliver counseling services in virtual worldspaces where PFH will continue to explore the potential for delivering mental health and substance use disorder services to clients who experience accessibility challenges due to distance, time, travel, physical handicap, social phobias and other complications.
An award to The Honor Engine (http://www.honorengine.com/) who have in Second Life previously created a customizable set of tools for quest based learning and game development in the virtual world which allows educators, content developers and game designers complete control over their content . The goals of The Honor Engine are to explore the potential uses of quest based learning in education for children and for the workforce, the allocation of a sim campus and the hugely increased land now available to them will further their endeavor of "students play to learn and learn as they play. Classrooms full of students can work together in the virtual world increasing their content knowledge, their literacy skills, and their 21st century skills, all of which will be vital to their success throughout the rest of their lives.”.
A more conceptual project The Oregon L5 Society (http://www.oregonl5.org/ ) which models in a virtual world how human activity could settle the Solar System in real life by using planetary caves as centres of human activity on the other worlds of the Solar System and The Oregon L5 Society will experiment in ScienceSim to create virtual world lunar lavatube cave bases and settlements. Also enabled by a grant to work in ScienceSim the Meta-Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA) (http://mica-vw.org/) is the first professional scientific organization based in virtual worlds. The goals of MICA are to explore the potential uses of immersive virtual reality as a scientific and scholarly platform. Already well established in Second Life, MICA is now expanding their activities into OpenSim worlds.
About Fashion Research Institute, Inc.: FRI (http://www.fashionresearchinstitute.com/) is at the forefront of developing innovative design & merchandising solutions for the apparel industry. They research and develop products and systems for the fashion industry that sweepingly address wasteful business and production practices.
Science Sim (http://www.sciencesim.com/wiki/doku.php/start) is part of an evolution toward online 3D experiences that look, act and feel real. Sometimes dubbed the “3D internet,” Intel Labs refers to this technology trend as immersive connected experiences, or ICE. ScienceSim is differentiated from most virtual world environments by its open source architecture. ScienceSim leverages open source building blocks (installation utilities, management tools, client viewers, etc.) based on OpenSimulator (OpenSim) software.