It is difficult to over state the significance to me of the experience of using Second Life for drawing and networking my learning about architecture, sustainability, and SL rendering.

The simplicity in learning the drawing tools, coupled with the ability to meet numbers of other people in the actual model who would then discuss and help me build the model was a very potent learning experience.

In this blog, I have hinted on numerous occasions my interest in architecture and spacial design. But up until now, I really haven’t found a way to delve into that interest beyond the confines of the education network I have built around me. Books and websites have always been on a level that is just beyond reach, kind of polished, finished, packed with closure, difficult to imagine myself involved in. Talking with people in the architecture and design profession has always been steeped with seeming ego, dogma and expressed limitations on what I should do and when. And following blogs as been a distant and passive affair.

About a year ago I installed Google Sketchup and started using it to bring some of my pencil drawings to perspective. I have used it a bit to plan the renovations on our house. But Sketchup was only another drawing tool, one that is looked down on by the professionals, and it wasn’t long before I was returning to pencil and paper.

What Second Life has provided me with is an easy to master drawing application, along with an instant and willing number of people who would be there for me, who would look at and discuss my drawings as I did them, and who would share with me links and other information relating to what I was doing for the simple enjoyment of sharing and helping. This has been the part missing for me in my interest to learn more about architecture and design.

Up until this point, I have been alone in my room, drawing in my sketch book, imagining the day when I would meet someone who would genuinely engage with my efforts and share with me their own ideas, and involve me in a project. But that didn’t happen, who was I kidding? If the sketchbooks did come out, it was usually in front of some poor unsuspecting person who really just wanted to finish a day’s work, or didn’t really get what I was on about. Or it was on my poor wife Sunshine, who must of by-now listened to about the 100th repeat of my wide eyed ideas spouting from my yellowing old sketch book.

It doesn’t matter if the ideas I had – or the way I was trying to express them were any good or not.. what I’m talking about is the need we all have for encouragement and motivation to improve on and further our own learning. I could have enrolled in a course and paid a teacher to give me that … attention, but even then it would have felt disingenuous and limited by what that one teacher could muster after 20 years of putting up with it.

Instead, the people in Second Life have given me that attention and motivation. From the moment I created my first ‘prim’ I had someone in there with me, offering encouragement and help. And not just Konrad and Jo either (though their help has been immensly beneficial). It includes a group of fun-loving, miss-behaving people on a Friday night when I was up late burning some midnight oil. It includes a large group of people that came to meet me and hear about my project and discuss it and ask questions. It includes a number of individuals I met and who shared their time, advice, prims, links, scripts and contacts just to see me keep going.

At the very least this all gave me a sense of belonging, or a sense of people being somewhat interested in what I was doing. It took away that feeling of being isolated in my interests – that lonely feeling (real or not) of impossibility in finding anyone local who is interested in combining sustainability, Second Life and community learning ideas, and who has the time to go with me on a project for learning’s sake.

The online network I have, they shared objects with me, gave me links I should look at, and passed on contacts of people they thought I should introduce myself to. These people didn’t know me, but that’s just what they did. I often struggle with the comparison we all have to make with our local experiences. Like the times I have tried to talk to teachers of architecture, or design, or sustainability. It doesn’t take those people long before they are looking at their watches and making a way out of my “bright eyed and bushy taled” enquiries. That common response can be very de-motivating to most people. Such is my common experience in the f2f world.. there is no shortage of people expressing that same feeling in some way or another.

Its not just in SL that I can rave about this contribution to my personal learning. It happens everywhere online, and especially in the areas where there is still a relatively small number of people, or a niche area, or an area where there are values and shared beliefs and interests. The online network around permaculture is also very welcoming and generous. The online network that works on Wikipedia and Wikibooks is often ready to share links and help each other along. Bloggers (from the long tail).. the amount of energy and motivation I can draw on from these networks is quite something. Again, how do we reconsile that with the power down in face to face and local networks?

Is this just another form of over stimulation? Are the luddites right when they dismiss online interaction as unreal or false? In some ways they are right I suppose.. no matter how much energy and imput you can gather from an online network, the effect it can have on your actual life is largely limited to online media.. unless of course your network is also geographically local. But for me, every day I log off, charged with ideas and stories of people out there doing it, I’m back in the local.. its power down time and almost everyone ready to give me a dose of reality. Is this a sensation born of over stimulation.. or is the under stimulation coming back from local networks something to address? Which direction do we take into account here and when?

Anyway, I’m ranting as usual, and am probably entirely incohesive.

This amazing project that Konrad has taken me on boils down to is this:

I have drawn a concept for a building I want to one day build, using Second Life and its communities to draw and develop the model.

I have used numerous online networks to research and inform the model, and this drawing is only one step in many for this long term plan I have. That network has given me the motivation to take it all further.

In the process I have learned a lot about sustainable building, drawing in SL, communicating with online networks beyond my normal peers, and in that I have gained new confidence.

Now I am coming to an end with the VirtualClassroomProject, having reached the limitations of the model in SL Jokaydia, and want to take it further.

I have made numerous attempts to connect with a local group who are developing sustainable building designs, but what was that I said about powering down?

I think it will turn out that I will install the model somewhere more permanently in SL and continue to tweak the model, make variations and details, do a costing analysis for a real build, develop a website for it, and continue to try and find useful contacts who I can work with and possibly take something like this further – no doubt I will find them online… I already have one lead in Melbourne!

In the end, this project has helped me to render my private and two dimensional ideas into a public and socially supportive domain. That has shown me things I might never have come to see, and has certainly given me the motivation to go further with these ideas. It is a step in my personal and professional development that has been well worth it, and I thank Konrad and Jo very much for the opportunity and support. Thanks go out also to the people in Second Life, to the people around the Permaculture network, and the people around the Wikipedia network for their role in carrying my learning. I can only hope they got at least half out of the experience as I did.