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It was a morning of sustainability information and design in Second Life this morning.

First up, I attended the opening of the Future Green Chatham Home. I was greeted by the very helpful Jojogirl Bailey who I think manages the Etopia sim that hosts the home. Interestingly the model is 1.5 times a 1:1 scale. It is a well detailed design with all features including information notes to help people interpret the design.

Our active solar (photovoltaic) array provides up to 6KWH and, with the wind turbine, reduces electricity consumption from the power grid, making it virtually a net zero user. Instant-on tankless heaters ensure boundless domestic hot water, and they are a backup to the geothermal domestic hot water system. We recycle grey water to use in the rain garden, lessening soil runoff and preserving water. Clerestory windows and skylights allow for maximum daylighting; and, by using Compact Flourescent fixtures throughout, energy usage is negligible.

While waiting for the official opening of the High Performance Home, another Etopia manager named Willie (I think) gave me a Second Life URL to Choose your energy path at Commonwealth (SLURL). It is quite a project! many examples of homes built around solar energies in one space, and then another space built around nuclear, wind, hydro and waste management. There is another space developed to represent issues of global warming and its apparent impacts on polar ice packs. The solar space is presented as the only viable option for a sustainable future and the designs within that space are interesting.

And finally, the good old Big Green Switch (SLURL) where you can obtain dozens of free things for your own SL modeling, such as a wind turbine, solar panels, compost bins, and whole buildings! Its a wonderful resource and innovative project to get information out there to the users of SL. Oh, and you can offset your SL carbon footprint through BGS.

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Jon Brouchoud runs an inspiring blog pointing to various architectural projects using Second Life to render concepts. Jon announced that there will be an opening and tour of the Future Green Chatham home project this weekend (NZST). Note the geothermal heatpump! I plan to get along to this SL event and feel out the vibes of their architects network.

SLRL. Opening in NZ time is Sat 19th at 11am.

Its been an interesting week. One minute Sunshine and I were 3 days skiing near Queenstown, the next I’m in Melbourne meeting Alan Levine and the NMC gang to talk about why Horizon.au should be Horizon.anz. And then the next I’m in Wellington to meet the team involved in a pretty significant research grant looking at educational uses of Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVES) that will focus on Second Life as a test bed and will probably carry the project name Second Life Education in New Zealand (SLENZ).

The skiing at Coronet Peak was quite fine. Ski Express sell really good deals for resort style skiing, and we used that to get our legs back into form for the season. I really hope THIS year we will get some some back country skiing in with over nights in empty huts, and lovely morning skin ups to glacier heads for an afternoon powder ski back to the hut. Perfect and a fraction of the cost of resort skiing!

Horizon.au was something I was really looking forward to. I don’t think I have ever worked with a team of American edutechs and its something I’ve been looking forward to doing, even if it was for only one day where I was one of many Austalian/NZ participants. I was especially looking forward to meeting Alan Levine, who represents to me everything that is great about American edutech.. get in there and do it, make the most of it, be super productive, experiment, enjoy it, have fun and make fun, be serious sometimes but never all the time, and always be open and friendly. Too often I think, Australian and NZ edutech can become too serious and lose site of some of the more personable reasons we like doing this.. well, speaking for myself anyway – this is certainly the case. But there I go again! Making it more serious than it needs to be. In short, Alan where’s a fine pair of boots and one day I hope to visit Arizona and buy me a pair too, and pace the desert gravel, and size up an Arizona cactus.

The NMC crew (Larry, Rachel and Alan) showed us all a way to power through a serious undertaking like primary research for a Horizon report, in a way that keeps it fun, engaging and creatively productive. I don’t think I have experienced anything like it in the Australia/NZ scene for quite a while – perhaps ever since the FLNW in NZ tour. I think it was Rachel’s hand made graphical abilities that kept me enjoying it.

On the wiki I expressed a concern with the use of the word Australasia to describe the region we were trying to represent in the report. I’m not sure that Australasia is a term that is often used outside Australia, or if the regions it encompasses even feel comfortable with being included in an area defined as Australia and Asia. Apart from that, I don’t think anyone from Papua New Guinea is on the advisory board, and on the face to face day I was the only one from New Zealand. I also expressed a little dissatisfaction with the dot au in the branding for the report, and so proposed that the report be for Australia only. Some discussion continues about this, and its probably just another indication of me getting just too serious with it all. However I do think there are significant differences between Australia, PNG and NZ when it comes to edutech, just as there are assumed differences between North America and Australia – enough to warrant a Horizon.au report anyway.

Its all a problem with generalisation and where the line should be drawn. Most people agreed that Australia and New Zealand are similar enough and that the report would be worth representing those two at least. In the end, I think I was a bit on my own with this so was happy to let it slide to where ever it ends up in the final report. I can’t help wondering though, if this problem is part of a bigger problem, being the break down of our cultural diversity, facilitated by Internet technologies and economies dominated by an American cultural experience and socio political ideology… there I go again, sorry.

And if you’re wondering what technologies the group identified as ones to watch.. well – you name it, it was there! This was a primary research activity where a group of people simply used the 2008 Horizon report as a spring board to cross off or identify new technologies that are likely to have a significant impact on the way we do things in education. Big lists were captured on the wiki, and Rachel’s wall charts were used to vote on the lists. The group was diverse, and I sensed it was made up largely of Australian edtech managers. I found myself disagreeing with more things than agreeing, but I’m used to that (maybe one day I’ll get a grip). From my perspective I think the identified and voted for areas that I did agree on was a rise in the use of web apps and popular media platforms. Things like Google docs and Youtube. There’s a name for it I found out – Cloud Computing. I think utility computing and web services is something of related interest. Virtual worlds seemed to float about in the not so sure area and while many agreed things like Second LIfe have significant things to offer education, most seemed to feel that we’re still waiting for the killer app that brings MUVES into the main. I tried to insist that cheap computing brought about through One Laptop and Asus and their use of open source desktop software will have an impact, but I think what was agreed on is the idea that central campus computer labs will receed within a 3-4 year horizon, replaced by individualised and portable computers like cheap laptops. So many things were identified and discussed and I can already feel myslef projecting my own bias into the interpretation. Here’s the source.

I didn’t get to stay around for after meeting drinks in Melbourne, and instead I was on a delayed flight to Auckland where I grabed 2 hours sleep before flying onto Wellington to meet a few people involved in a project to reseach educational opportunities in MUVEs, specifically Second Life. It was a good meeting going all day, where we orientated ourselves to the project objectives and roles. There will be a project blog set up and weekly informal and formal meetings in SL. Hopefully an embedded journalist will come on and help us document our progress in an accessible and condensed form to the blog.

At the moment the project is entering its literature review stage with some interesting scope. It was agreed that we should make the lit review as wide in scope as possible and include consideration of MUVEs generally, before we focus on Second Life specifically. I was happy to see acceptance of the notion that we observe learning beyond the projects that formal education institutions have set up, and consider learning on the platform as a whole, especially the probable connected learning that may be occuring between Sims (spaces in Second Life) and other platforms or the Internet more generally. I am hoping that if we can tackle this question, we will discover and identify measurable learning (and perhaps new teaching practices) that will leverage the informal and constructivist learning hypothesized as taking place in these environments.

I’m making steady progress in building my ideal learning space in Second Life. Konrad and Jo have been wonderful in teaching me building skills, and very patient with my insistence to use real life proportions and limitations. Although it has been 2 weeks, I have only been able to give 5 hours to the project so far.

As I said I would do in my initial post about this project, I have applied permaculture design processes and principles to this project, and thought of the space in Second Life as though it was a real space in real life. I very much enjoy the permaculture design process for its holistic, even universal design ethic – and given its focus on sustainability and self sufficiency it is also very timely in todays world.

My first step in this process was to produce base and sector analysis maps to determin what I am working with in terms of the available space, and what resources are on hand. Here is one of my drawings for that first step:

Then I decided to focus on the building design, and for this I’m using discarded 20′ shipping containers as the basis of the building. Shipping containers are great to work with. They are readily available for reuse, reasonably cheap, structurally sound, transportable (obviously), durable, and come in remarkably good dimensions for proportioning an efficient living and working space.

Using containers in this way is certainly not a new idea, and I’ve been tagging all the websites I find that contain information about other people’s building with containers. From what I can tell though, my design is (or will be) unique in that it aims to retain the functional qualities of the containers. I am trying to work out how to make it so that all the materials and objects that are used in the build can be packed inside the containers, and that any modifications I make to the containers will not compromise their structural integrity, or ability to be transported.

So here’s where I’m up to:

Ideally i wouldn’t have used so many and such high piles as they are expensive and make quite an impact on the environment, but given the proximity to tidal waters, I really don’t have much choice.

Konrad and I had a long discussion this morning about my emphasis on sustainable and self sufficient design and how it relates to the idea of an ideal learning space.

To my mind, nothing these days should be built or developed without careful consideration of these sustainability issues. Nothing ever should have been actually! But regarding the challenges of designing a learning space, I am thinking to use these primary sustainability considerations within a frame of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Its obvious that if people’s basic survival needs are not being met, then they are not in a very good position to be learning things beyond what it takes to survive. If they are stressed, hungry, or uncomfortable, then we are hardly in an ideal space for learning about abstract concepts or developing new skills. Or if the learning space itself is struggling to pay out money for energy, food, or waste management, then it too is in less of a position to commit to learning. And so it is with a real world sustainability and self sufficiency approach that I’m considering these needs.

Also, I don’t believe that institutions are the ideal place for learning. Actually, I think it could be proven so… Instead, I’m going for a family home.. but one that can accommodate up to 15 people if need be.

I’ve been thinking about Pacific Island, Maori and Aboriginal people and their strong family and community values. In Australia and New Zealand, State housing has been criticised for using the 3 bedroom nuclear family idea as a basis for its developments. They failed to appreciate the extended family values of some of the people who would be using those houses, and arguably contributed to the breakdown of important forms of social support for those people. Actually, I don’t think it is only Pacific, Maori and Aboriginal people that have suffered this disruption through architecture and institutionalisation. I’d say all cultures have at some stage had strong community and family values, its just that the dominant culture at the moment has institutionalised itself out of these values (and is suffering for it I believe). Ivan Illich has written extensively on this idea, so I’ll leave it with a link to the memory of his vastly superior work.

So, my design is for a family house that is large enough to host 15 or so people from time to time, but practical as a family home; that is fully self sufficient in providing for its own energy, water and food needs; that is a system that produces no waste; and that uses building materials and structures that are reused, portable and make minimal impact on the area being occupied.

There will be an open meeting on location in Second Life this Saturday and Sunday morning at 11:30am NZ time (11:30pm Friday and Saturday nights UTC).

SLurl for the Virtual Classroom parcel on jokaydia II

No sooner than Konrad Glogowski has finished his PHD (that I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of) and his into another really interesting project, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!

Jo Kay has provided a space for the Virtual Classroom Project on Jokaydia in Second Life, and Konrad will mentor me in building and programming graphics and media so that I may attempt to build my ideal learning environment.. in 1 month!

I admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea.. where do I start? do I have any ideas? what if my ideas suck? but Konrad has a nack for no fuss, getting it into dialog that helps me just forget all that and give it a go.

Here’s an audio recording I took of Konrad explaining his idea to me when we met in Second Life today – on location. Just from those few words, my mind was racing with ideas and potential.

Here’s Konrad’s official blog post that launches the project. More ideas from that to! I really enjoyed Konrad’s idea to use a hot air balloon for small group discussions. I have been on that balloon too, and I agree, it is great to watch the virtual world go by while you have a general banter with the person in the basket with you.

But personally, I am most inspired by the chance to explore ideas for building in real life. I’m aware of some criticism of using Second Life to mimic real life, mainly around the idea that Second Life can offer so much more than the physical limitations of real life.. and while that is certainly true, its precisely that limitlessness that makes me want more real life limitation.

We’ve all heard the typical response from first time critics of Second Life, “Second Life! who needs a second life!? I have a hard enough time dealing with real life!” and while that response can be frustrating to people who try to encourage people to use the platform for things, there is an element of truth in its over all dismissal.

Real life needs so much work, it is so wanting of good ideas implemented, and almost impossible to get new ideas tested! So, my design will focus mainly on innovations for real life, that include room for Second Life too.

The first thing I am going to do is deploy as much of my newly learned permaculture design methods to build a solid base for testing some ideas for sustainability.

Using a classic permaculture design process, my first step will be to draw up a base map. This outlines what is already in the space. It can be easily covered by a simple aerial photograph – such as the one we already have of the project space. As well as what the space already contains, it also include diagrams of what hidden things are present too, such as services and existing resources etc.

Second is a Sector Analysis. What are the people movement patterns on or near the space? What is the tract of the sun and other energy forms? What are the temperatures? Are there any pests and diseases or similar problems to keep in mind? Where are potential energy and resources coming from?.. things like that.. all of this can be perceived in Second Life – believe it or not.

And thirdly, the design. Based around zoning and elements. Elements being the buildings and objects in the space (also designed in a permacultural way), and zoning bing the interrelation of elements, resources, people and the inputs and outputs. Zone 0 is the living space, 1 is the first line or production and needing the most amount of tending, 2 is the second line and needing a little less, and so on.

Now, Permaculture design is typically applied to practices of subsistence and market gardening and farming, but I’m interested in exploring its application in all production processes and living spaces. So here goes with applying it to a learning process and space that will include production and living of course.

As for a learning space, I want to put some thought into what would be feasible in a local community today.. I’m not sure if it will be a space for an Institution yet. But I’m looking for efficient use of space and resources; space design that is conducive to inquiry learning and skills training; and with every single aspect serving some form of opportunity for learning.

In the next 3 days, I am aiming to have at least the first 2 drawings done, and possibly some of the design. I will draw up the base map and sector  analysis, and possibly make a start on design ideas. I will then load the drawings into the space as giant blue prints to walk over and talk about with Konrad. Konrad will help me locate or build the resources I need and help to document the process.

I’m really looking forward to this, and is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Many thanks to Konrad for offering me the mentorship, and to Jo Kay for the use of Jokaydia and no doubt a lot of her time too.

lego.jpgIn this project a three dimensional virtual world is constructed with the use of a LEGO camera and a set of LEGO blocks. The goal is to design a construction method that is simple enough for middle school-aged children to use and at the same time is able to produce quality models for higher end users. The method was developed using RoboLab and involves a one-camera view of Lego blocks that are arranged in a certain pattern to represent a building and its contents. When the pattern is placed in the view of the camera, the software identifies the pieces by their position and colour and builds a 3D model in OpenGL. This 3D model is displayed on the screen with the specified characteristics. The user can then modify these objects to further refine the model.

Research uncovered by: NZResearch.org.nz

Jeeez-us! Is this for real! If it is, then it leaves all virtual worlds and shooter games for dead… Bring on the Vanilla Skies…

Youtube permalink

Explanation from one of the project leaders

Te Reo o Otakou is the first in series of videos from SimPa. We’re working with local runaka to help them retell stories of people and landscape in new and engaging ways. Fronted by runaka chair Tahu Pokiti this video introduces the concept – it is aimed to reconnect and engage – both in the finished product and the production: it is a collaboration at every level between Otago Polytechnic and members of the runaka.

Barbara Deu rounded up the troops to support her presentation to the Merlot Conference in New Orleens last night. She had the main conference wired in with a SecondLife conference and a Webheads VOIP and chat conference all at the same time. There must have been 40 or so people online joining in the conference.

Barb gave nice talk on networked learning – slides and audio – and then handed the mic around to a variety of people coming in from all over the world to give a brief sentence or two on networked learning.

Finding my way into the webhead channels was too hard for me – something to do with that olden style free ranging that Webheads do, and being 1 in the morning for me I just needed something easy. So SecondLife it was, and my first go at the new voice feature.

It was really something actually. Jeff from WorldBridges did a great job relaying the audio from the Merlot and Webheads conference through to SecondLife via his Avatar’s voice. We in SecondLife all sat around Nick Noakes’ famous campfire and listened in on Barbs talk while we chatted amongst ourselves.

I was really impressed with the quality of the sound and the usefulness of the effects (surround sound with close and distant effects) how engaging it was to be in there supporting Barb as one of many. SO much better that Elluminate, and successfully bridged between the haves and the have nots. I could feel Barbs nerves though! I was nervous! but it all went well, topped of by a nice little Banjo playing (I could have heard more though 🙂

So, hats off to you Barb, not only did you give a great talk, you successfully brought your network in with you and gave something tangible to the conference goers to see what it is you are talking about with networked learning.

It just occurred to me that Second Life is a bit like playing Barbie Dolls… admit it! you played and dressed up Barbie just as much as your little sister!

Not much in that really – replace Barbie with lego, or Gi Jo or any other little extension of your mind’s space if you’re a little sensitive to the connotations of Barbie. I suspect it has already been talked about at length already.. I haven’t looked yet, just logging it here for now…

This is not intended as a put down to SL – exactly the opposite actually. Must look into the possible connection and what playing through such objects has to offer our ideas about learning… clearly, playing with dolls offers a lot for kids, and more and more I wonder just how different adult education is or isn’t..