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In the development process, each project in the SLENZ development follows 3 steps.

1. Articulate the context in which the educational development is for

2. Design learning activities based on that context

3. Develop technical specifications for the production or educational resources for those learning designs.

In the official document that we use for this process, these 3 steps are called:

1. Develop the Conceptual Understanding (Who?, When?, Why?)
2. Develop the Learning Narrative (What?)
3. Develop and Implement the Technical Design (How?)

This post is to outline the context, or the conceptual understanding for the development of orientation resources for using Second Life educationally.


The SLENZ project is interested in developing educational experiences using Second Life, and 3 projects are being used to develop a process for such development.

1. Foundation studies – interview skills

2. Midwifery training

3. Second Life orientation

Context for Orientation

When the project team first considered second life orientation, Clare Atkins presented a list of skills that if a person had these skills they would be competent in using Second Life. (need to find a link to that original document of Clare’s)

Orientation resources are intended to be useful to people attempting to use Second Life as an education tool. People will therefore be using Second Life in a variety of settings such as computer labs or personal home computers. Some teachers will prefer to use orientation resources on an as-needed basis as support for what they are already doing, others will be looking for a place to point their students to and trust that by “going through” the resource the students will develop an understanding of how to use Second Life. Students will also be looking for a resource that meets both these needs, depending on their approach and self directedness.

Most people working from within an organisational network have restrictions on accessing and using Second Life, and so need to negotiate this access with their network administrators. Further, many people do not have computers or Internet access capable of running Second Life. All that the orientation resources can help with in regard to these issues is point to, or provide the best most usable information on how to work around these barriers.

Finally, with many of the people we might expect to use Second Life based educational resources, there is an observable barrier in the form of their motivation to use Second Life for educational purposes. Enthusiasts for Second Life can cite a number of examples and evidence of improved learning outcomes through the use of Second Life, but it may be first necessary to convince people of the learning returns they might expect for investing time and energy in this particular technology. See Open University’s Ormond Simpson and his work on student retention and return on investment for considerations about this in eLearning generally.


In short, this context has outlined 4 areas for contextual consideration that should help inform the design of learning activities and resources for orientation into using Second Life for educational purposes:

  1. The motivation of both students and teachers to want to consider and persistently engage with Second Life for long enough to recognise the returns.
  2. Access and usability in organisational networks, as well as home computers and Internet connectivity
  3. Resources that are useful in a wide variety of settings, including for teachers showing people how to use Second Life, as well as teachers and students learning how to use Second Life self directed.
  4. A list of skill competencies that the SLENZ project team thought would be useful in framing the orientation resources development.

Last week I posted a process for developing educational resources through Second Life. We are still sorting out terminology but we agree with the general direction and so can proceed – thinking about better terminology as we go.

We have 3 projects to pass through this process:

  1. Foundation interview skills
  2. Midwifery
  3. Second Life orientation

The midwifery project seems to be going first and Sarah Stewart is the lead educator for the project. The first stage is focusing on the building of a virtual birthing unit, with information resources in it, and offline resources to compliment the build. Sarah has written up a view of where the users of this development will be at mentally before they engage with this project.

Here are some excerpts from Sarah’s consideration of this context:

In relation to experience in computing and the Internet:

  • Students are familiar with programs such as Word and Powerpoint.
  • Their knowledge and use of the Internet varies considerably, and it is erroneous to make judgements about their use of the Internet according to age ie just becase they are young doesn’t mean they use the Internet for anything more than connecting with friends on sites like Facebook.
  • The younger students all have Facebook or Bebo accounts, but they do not know about or how to use tools that can help their studying, such as Delicious or RSS.
  • They would know about YouTube, but I don’t think they would think to use it for educational purposes.
  • Use of Flickr is minimal and they have never heard of Slideshare, or recognise it as an educational resource.
  • The last two groups of students have made their own class Facebook/Bebo accounts. I don’t know how they use it because they have not included lecturers in their group.
  • Very few students would have heard of Second Life, and probably none of them are gamers.

In terms of ACCESS to computing and Internet:

…students have been given a computer specs list that they must conform to… [and] will be expected to access resources from their home computer as independent learners…restrictions at the moment appear to be where students work

In terms of support:

At this stage, Second Life is not a resource that is being used outside of the SLENZ project.

In terms of motivation:

I would say that motivation levels would not be high unless the students could see that there was something in it for them…the lecturers have mixed feelings about the Second Life project…they are stretched to capacity, especially with the development of the new program. They do not want to have to take on yet another project that is going to consume a lot of time, to both learn the skills to navigate Second Life and teach the students.

So this sets the scene for what we are developing resources for in Second Life.

Now we are in the process of devising ideas for resources and activities. The first thing Sarah has done is outline various formal and informal learning objectives. In Sarah’s first blog post that articulates an idea for learning activities for the birthing unit Sarah says:

My vision for the birth unit stage 1 is that it integrates into first year papers that look at birth from a philosophical point of view, looking at foundation knowledge and getting students to think about why things are the way they are in the birthing environment.

I also see the birth unit giving us the opportunity to demonstrate to students what research evidence is, and how and why we base our midwifery decisions on certain research. This would integrate into the first year research stream.

And then Sarah links out to a GoogleDoc where formal learning objectives are stated:

  • demonstrate an understanding of the role of the midwife in the normal childbirth process;
  • demonstrate effective evidence based, midwifery practice guided by a sound knowledge base.

At this point my question to Sarah is whether or not there are more of these formal learning objectives to base birthing unit activities around, because what Sarah sets out as informal objectives are not necessarily covered in the formal objectives. This is OK of course, but looking back at the attitudes and motivations of the students:

I would say that motivation levels would not be high unless the students could see that there was something in it for them

And so I wonder if it is the formal learning objectives that will determine that motivation. Hopefully there are more formal learning objectives we can refer to, or we need to devise an activity that has people considering the value of these extra and informal learning objectives that Sarah states (see below for one idea).

Secondly, it is quite difficult to think of how the virtual birthing unit can be used to meet these formal learning objectives. Certainly the VBU can be used to stimulate thinking along the lines of the informal. However, Sarah’s first activity may do just that:

To fulfill learning objectives

  • write a reflective piece?
  • Lead class discussion in class facebook group ?
  • Treasure hunt questionnaire is integrated into research paper ie student must summarise research evidence they found?

General Instructions:

Go to the inworld birthing unit (SLURL/landmark) & meet instructor. Instructor will then give students instructions about how to work their way around the BU.

Instructions on how to click on objects to go to external links provided eg note card?

Ok great! All good ideas I think.. And Sarah goes on to list the types of SL objects that will be needed, which really helps the developers prepare.

Sarah will need to write up brief text for each of those objects at some stage soon so that people can draw down information in SL relating to the many objects – and I’d suggest sampling Wikipedia for each of them.. and if it ain’t on Wikipedia – may as well put it there and kill two birds with one stone 🙂

Here’s an idea to add to the mix

Expressing this idea is a little difficult because of the limitations implied by the formal learning objectives, but my idea attempts to address the engagement and motivational issues. Following Sarah’s GoogleDoc lead…

Make a short video documentary about the virtual birthing unit.


To create an informative video that can be viewed on and offline, passed by email, and embedded in blogs and course management systems as a way to inform people about the project and motivate them to take a look for themselves. The video will include moving images of the building process and an audio track that includes: interviews with the researcher and architect who devised the birthing unit; the Second Life developers and their process of building it; and the lead educator and her thoughts on how the virtual unit would be used in someone’s course of study, and where the development will be heading.

Here’s an example of a short documentary that is like an infomercial for SL:

The learning activity:

The video is made available on Youtube,, Internet Archive, Polytechnic websites and learning management systems. It is also on DVD, Data CD and USB Flashdrive. An audio only, and comic strip version-for-print is also available.

Here is an example of a comic strip made from Second Life:

Creating comics with SecondLife & ComicLife By Steven Parker

Creating comics with SecondLife & ComicLife By Steven Parker

Staff and students receive and watch the video, either through email notification, through a colleagues blog, on the LMS or from the CD. Those without such access receive the print and/or audio version.

The video references orientation resources such as “how to start using Second Life” and “what sort of computer and Internet connection do I need”.

A meeting date is set for people to arrive and meet at the virtual birthing unit for an official launch and orientation. Footage from this event is recorded and later added to the video afterwards.

Specific requirements

  1. A finished build of the virtual birthing unit and the objects and information needed in it.
  2. Video footage of the building process
  3. Audio interviews with the birthing unit research and architecture team talking about their initial project and the thinking behind it; the SL developer team and how and why they decided to build the unit in SL, and the lead educators and what their ideas are for the educational uses of the SL unit.
  4. An edited 5 – 10 minute documentary combining the audio and the video into a “infomercial” for the virtual birthing unit.
  5. An audio track only version for slowband access.
  6. A comic strip print version for offline use.
  7. Links to existing “how-to” resources for access and using SL.
  8. A date for the virtual birthing unit launch.

Possible extra activities

  1. Compare and contrast the features in the virtual birthing unit with the features of an in-world hospital, or home birth location. Extend this to real world hospitals and home-birth locations.
  2. Edit the wikipedia entries for each of the objects in the birthing unit to a point where the text can be used in the build, or that the build informs the articles – such as the images from the build being used in the wikipedia articles.
  3. Staff and students take “snapshots” of their avatars in the virtual birthing unit and use those images to formulate comments and opinion in forums or on their blogs about particular aspects of the design

The next step, if Sarah agrees it is worth developing this resource and activity is to process the information here, into development specifications for the programmers and media producers. We are working on a document for that, and it is used by the developers to gather information from documents such as Sarah’s and mine here.

A process for developing and producing educational resources

A process for developing and producing educational resources - click for bigger view

I am part of a team looking at educational uses of Second Life in a NZ context. My uncomfortable title in that team is “learning designer”. A significant proportion of this project is to work with 2 subject areas (midwifery and foundation interview skills) and work out ways to use Second Life to enhance learning outcomes for those two topics. This post is an outline of a 3 phase development process we have adopted so far, and a proposed 3 stage production process for each of those 3 phases of development.

The 3 phase development process

Through the course of 18 months, the project team will meet face to face 3 times to mark the beginning and the end of each 3 phases. The 3 phases are production steps with risk management built in. The objective for each phase is to design and produce a finished package of educational resources, ready to start extending that with the next phase of development. The 3 development phases lead into one another, but at the end of each phase it is important to have a completed and usable range of resources for that phase.

Phase 1

In our first 3 day face to face meeting we held a mini conference on day 1, open to anyone with interest, just to get exposed to ideas and considerations. On the second day the team met with the objective being to come up with an over all idea of what they would do in the project. On the 3rd day the team met again to clearly and precisely articulate what the first phase of production would be, then to articulate with less precision what the second phase would look like, and finally to roughly outline what the ideal 3rd and final phase would be. These 3 directives inform production of phase 1. After that, the media designers and developers set to work producing the first phase over the weeks leading up to phase 2.

Phase 2

Production of phase one would be completed by the time the 2nd face to face meeting is held. The 2nd meeting marks the beginning of phase 2. Again, we would hold an open conference on day one, but this time to show the work, gather ideas and feedback and reflect on the process so far. On the second day we would work at refining the over all vision and make adjustments. On the 3rd day we would clearly and precisely articulate phase 2 for the producers, and roughly outline phase 3 for general direction.

Phase 3

The 3rd and final meeting marks the end of phase 2 and beginning of phase 3. We do the 3 days again, articulating a precise production plan, and then produce a finished stage 3 over the subsequent weeks.

By the end of this process we will either have a fully developed package of educational resources from all 3 phases of production, or – if something goes wrong with budget, team members, and other risks, we will have a completed package of resources from either phase 1 or 2.

That outlines the over all process with which we are developing. But what about the specific production process?

All things in life come in threes!

The 3 stage production process

Within each of the 3 development phases are these 3 production stages, and some of these stages happen simultaneously (for practical reasons) and ideally, most of these stages get done at the face to face meetings. It is also important for each team member to appreciate their roles. I find it useful to think about other production processes like house renovation. There is the house owner who envisages living in the space, their is the draftsperson who helps them turn their magazine cut outs and general ideas into plans, and there are the builders and professionals who rely on those plans to get the job done. This 3 stage production process speaks to each of those equivalent roles.

Stage 1 – context

Some people call this the user or background research.

The lead educators for each of the topic areas we are developing for should articulate the context in which their colleagues and students come to this resource. Naturally the lead educators and others will want to jump to production ideas, but its important in this first stage that we attempt to take an objective look at the “users” and come to a common understanding of the people who will be using these resources and the context in which they will be using them. The lead educator is in the best position to give us that insight.

We need to know things like:

  • What are the prevailing attitudes to computers, the Internet and if they have heard of Second Life, and what are their preconceived ideas of all that applied to their education?
  • What might their motivation levels be like?
  • What is their access to computers with the right specs going to be, and what about Internet connection?
  • Will they only be able to access from their school and so their setting will be computer labs under supervision? Or will some have access from home or outside, and want to (and/or be expected to) use the resources independently?
  • What sort’s of supports (if any) will be in place from the school?
  • What sorts of restrictions (if any) might the school have on the Internet and Second Life?
  • What else can you tell us about the context and frame of mind in which key people (especially other teachers) will be approaching these resources?

Something that informs the production team of things like this will help with the next stage where we devise a treatment.

Stage 2 – treatment

Some people call this the user narratives.

Using the context as a guide, the lead educator and the learning designer work together in articulating an approach and generating ideas, gathering examples, illustrations and other inspiration to help illustrate their ideas. We use this stage to find inspiration and express our ideas in formats we are comfortable in.

For example: Sarah, the lead educator for the midwifery development is thinking about the phase 1 development plan. She has articulated the context for this phase and is now looking for inspiration for the birthing unit build as well as the offline resources to compliment that build. Sarah finds a Youtube video of people occupying a space in Second Life that gives her ideas for the build. She embeds that video in her blog and then goes on to describe what she likes and dislikes about the video, identifying objects, spacial design and other things useful to the build of the birthing unit. She also takes photos of venues in Second Life as well as finding photos of real birthing units. All this makes for 1 or several posts that express her ideas for the build. She does the same for possible learning activities and resources. Others are welcome to contribute their ideas in similar ways, either in their own formats, or as comments to Sarah’s blog posts. The learning designer then picks up these ideas and works with the development team to produce precise plans for the production.

This information from Sarah is much like the home owner gathering their ideas for the renovations, including where the kids will play, or where the outdoor activities will take place. It is expressed in a format that Sarah is comfortable in, and it is lead by the context she knows well, and her ideas stimulated with input from others. We are not asking Sarah to fill out any matrix or template document, those documents are tools for specialists – much like a draftsperson would use a formula to interpret a home renovator’s ideas into plans for builders. This leads us to stage 3, the production.

Stage 3 – production plans

Some people call this the script or production schedule.

Designers and developers use document templates to fill in fields based on their interpretations of the treatments written by the lead educator. Clare Atkins has been working on a document that aims to capture the level of detail a developer would need to create the resources. Clare has included in that document elements of the stage 2 treatment as well, but primarily it is a document for this 3rd stage – the production plan. It is important that the lead educator not directly fill in these plans or documents, but that the designers and developers are given a chance to test their understandings from the treatment ideas and gather as much information as they can, extracting missing information from the lead educator and when needed. Ideally they would come up with a draft model in this stage – like a story board perhaps, but practicalities may mean that they simply focus on getting all the information they need so that they may proceed with production. This information and planning stage is a specialist task and results in the final and definitive document that forms the basis of the production.

These 3 stages of production preparation are repeated for each 3 phases of development.

So there you have it. This process is derived from my experience in documentary video production, and interactive learning resource production. It is an extension from the 3 general development phases the SLENZ team had established so far, and is in response to some work already done by Clare Atkins, Terry Neal, and Tod Cochrane in capturing developmental information, as well as Sarah Stewart’s efforts to provide developmental information in a birthing scenario decision making matrix. In many regards it is very similar to that work that has already started, but it is an attempt to establish an end user centered approach, taking into account a wide contextual basis around those end users and devising learning activities and resources that are in response to that context. It separates the lead educator from the specialist work of production planning, and asks them to focus on what they know and provide ideas in formats they are used to. The final production is largely in response to the lead educator, with the specialist documents not leading or framing the thoughts of the lead educator. Naturally the production team will have opportunities for input into those ideas as they are expressed by the lead educator and others.

From SLENZ blog
December 15, from 9am to 5pm (New Zealand Time) (SL Time 2pm – 10 pm December 14) : New Zealand’s leading virtual world learning research group, Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ), has invited interested people to attend a free, one-day conference about Second Life in real life at Wellington Institute of Technology’s Wellington campus and in Second Life on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s island of Koru ( Registration for Wellington event essential on first-come, first-served basis as numbers limited. For registration email:

Copied From WikiEducator

This document is to explore literature relating to sustainability issues in the use of Second Life for education. What is referenced here will be submitted to a working group involved in the progression of a New Zealand research project that is investigating Multi User Virtual Environments MUVEs in education, with a focus on the Second Life platform specifically. The content of this document will be considered by that working group for inclusion in a final literature review. That review will inform later phases of the project where educational models will be developed, tested and critiqued.

Considering sustainability issues in relation to Second Life

Sustainability is a complex and ill defined set of issues in any subject area, or too broad in meaning to be of any use specifically. None-the-less, I’m attempting to find writing that considers economic, ecological and social aspects of sustainability relating to Second Life. I should note that so far as I can tell, formal literature surrounding these issues and directly relating to Second Life is virtually non existent, so I’m tending to look further afield and historically, with what time is available, to find relevant points to bring to this review. I have also relied quite a bit on journalists and bloggers, as well as spokespeople from the industries themselves, for insight on how we might consider these issues at the moment.

For purposes of structuring this review, I have taken the advice of a colleague Samuel Mann and will consider Second Life in terms of direct and indirect impacts on sustainability. I will try to use the samples of writing I have found to outline those two perspectives, and then use that to formulate something of a framework we might use when considering the use of Second Life with sustainability and education in mind.

Direct impacts on resources, waste, pollution and cost of access

The possibility of computer equipment power consumption spiraling out of control could have serious consequences for the overall affordability of computing, not to mention the overall health of the planet. (Luiz André Barroso, Google 2005)

When I log into Second Life, one of the first things I notice is the bandwidth being used just to get around and see what’s in there. The second thing I notice is the sound of my computer fan as it works harder to cool powered parts needed to keep me in there. This makes me think of the lifespan of that fan, and of my computer, the access and provision affordability, over all energy use, waste and pollutants, and ultimately the impact this has on ecosystems. For an end user to run Second Life satisfactorily requires newer and faster personal computers and Internet. For many this will mean discarding old computers, resulting in ewaste of the redundant hardware. All of this must flow down the line, compounding into an increased direct or indirect cost for a user to access the services and a likely unaccounted for impact on ecosystems.

On the provision side Second Life requires many servers and cabling, that also requires cooling and protection, all consuming energy and generally producing more polluting waste. In an attempt to get an idea of just how much energy the provision and use of Second Life is consuming, Nicolas Carr (drawing largely from the initial work of Tony Walsh and others at the time) became widely cited for his 2006 Rough Type blog post, Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians where he makes a rough calculation of how much electricity an avatar in Second Life consumes and compares that with known consumption rates of people.

…So an avatar consumes 1,752 kWh per year. By comparison, the average human, on a worldwide basis, consumes 2,436 kWh per year. So there you have it: an avatar consumes a bit less energy than a real person, though they’re in the same ballpark.
Now, if we limit the comparison to developed countries, where per-capita energy consumption is 7,702 kWh a year, the avatars appear considerably less energy hungry than the humans. But if we look at developing countries, where per-capita consumption is 1,015 kWh, we find that avatars burn through considerably more electricity than people do.
More narrowly still, the average citizen of Brazil consumes 1,884 kWh, which, given the fact that my avatar estimate was rough and conservative, means that your average Second Life avatar consumes about as much electricity as your average Brazilian.
In a comment on [Carr’s] post, Sun’s Dave Douglas takes the calculations another step, translating electricity consumption into CO2 emissions. (Carbon dioxide, he notes, “is the most prevalent greenhouse gas from the production of electricity.”) He writes: “looking at CO2 production, 1,752 kWH/year per avatar is about 1.17 tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent of driving an SUV around 2,300 miles (or a Prius around 4,000). (Carr et al 2006)

As far as I can tell, Carr’s blog post remains the most cited article on the question of energy consumption of Second Life, and it appears that as yet, no one has done the follow up on it. Tony Walsh continued to keep notes and field comments on the issues for some time on his blog Clickable Culture, and advises that former CEO of Linden Lab, Philip Rosedale maintains an interest in the ecological impact of Second Life.

So far, responses to these direct impacts on economic and ecological sustainability come in the forms of projects like the Big Green Switch – where people can obtain carbon offset credits for their use of Second Life; and the University of Notre Dame’s project where they use heat waste from servers to maintain keep warm temperatures in horticultural greenhouses (Adam Stein 2008). The Wikipedia entry for eWaste inlcudes links to projects and legislation to manage levels of eWaste going to landfill.

Indirect impacts on culture, ideology, language and behavior

Second Life is built upon, and relies on our fundamentally familiar relationships to landscapes and social interactions that occur within them. Carolyn MacCaw 2008

Indirect impacts of Second Life on sustainability issues relate more to content and the possible influence this has on people’s awareness and appreciation of sustainability issues. On the one hand there are several content projects like the eTopia Eco Village being developed in Second Life that present models and ideas for more efficient resource use, less energy waste, less pollution, and better building design; but on the other hand there are messages implicit in all of these, and throughout the Second Life operating system itself, that arguably reinforce problematic cultural assumptions and behaviors that are fundamentally disrupting sustainability from the outset. Things such as perpetual consumerism, futurism, comodification, culturally inappropriate symbolism, and an inherent preference for human design over established ecological systems, are all prevalent in the Second Life program, including the many user generated models within it.

The model inferred here is highly colonial. Second Life is positioned as a Terra Nullius and this applies layers of colonial meaning and association. (MacCaw 2008)

This opening sentence to Colonial precedent, a section in Carolyn MacCaw’s article Art and (Second) Life: Over the hills and far away?, echoes the same sentiments held by Bowers in his book 8 years earlier Let Them Eat Data: How Computers Affect Education, Cultural Diversity, and the Prospects of Ecological Sustainability.

…the Sim series, like all other educational software, ignore other forms of cultural storage and renewal – such as elder knowledge and the need to develop symbolic forms of expression (music, dance, narrative, ceremony) that do not diminish the processes of Nature… [M]aking decisions that involve the use of modern technologies leaves the students without an understanding of the differences between ecologically appropriate technologies and those that are culturally imperialistic. (Bowers 2000: p138)

While Bowers’ book was concerned with computers in culture and ecological sustainability generally, his analysis of popular education and simulation software of the time offers us useful considerations we can apply to Second Life. Bowers wanted educators to consider a wider range of issues than simply the content designed for relatively narrow learning objectives. He wanted us to critically reflect on the whole experience that is implicit in the content and the interface, including the computer itself. His premise is that the designs and symbolism used to develop such technology and experiences represent a linguistic colonization of the present by the past, which is ultimately an ecologically unsustainable vocabulary.

Ironically, the technology that is proclaimed as revolutionizing the deepest foundations of culture is rooted in this basic misunderstanding of language. This misunderstanding partly accounts for one of the most important oversights of computer-mediated learning: the symbol systems appearing on the screen reproduce the implicit thought patterns of the software programmers. [Where the programmers themselves are evidently unaware of what they are communicating](Bowers 2000: p123)

In the case of Second Life there are the programmers of the platform itself, and then there are the users as programmers of content that is on the platform. Bowers concerns can be extended to both, and it is MacCaw who takes his critical framework to Second Life.

If land is not producing economic value then it is un- or under-utilized. Land and its use value become synonymous with ownership.
Danny Butt in his essay on Local Knowledge (2005) proposes three impassable contradictions, related to settler culture, indigenous culture and location. One of these is mapping – the most basic function of the colonial process – Butt writes, functions by turning a profoundly social relationship with the land characteristic of indigenous culture, into data.
And while the designers of Second Life created a land conveniently without indigenous people, its first owner (the Linden Corporation who establishes initial trading rights for each ‘new’ island) and the Linden inhouse building tools frame the world. I suggest that the way that we construct the formation of culture in this empty land draws upon a colonial model and precedents. The research question that follows from these initial considerations is: is it possible to have new empty land that allows for a different model of colonization, or will older models prevail? And how can we consider art in this relationship? (MacCaw 2008)

And I would suggest that we think about this not just in terms of art. It seems to me that any occupation that is concerned with forms of communication, interpretation and learning should take these thoughts into account as well. Quoting Bowers again:

Storybook Weaver not only encourages the student to make decisions about the storyline, but also about the geographical features on which the story will be situated, as well as the animals, plants and types of buildings that will be part of the visual background… The 650 images and 450 scenery combinations that the program makes available to the student provide for a wide range of imaginative possibilities, and this is where the real problem arises.
What the creators of Storybook Weaver view as the expression of students’ creative imagination can also be viewed as extreme anthropocentrism. Rather than a knowledge of specific ecosystems and cultural traditions (architectural styles, clothes, technologies, and so on) the student’s subjective experience is the basis of learning. (Bowers 2000: p130)

A framework for developing sustainable education using Second Life

Here is a suggested framework to assess possible aspects of sustainability education using Second Life, and inform a process of design and development for education for sustainability.

3 guiding questions from Bowers:

  1. How do we educate teachers and educational software programmers to become more conscious of the cultural assumptions and values reinforced in computer-mediated educational experiences?
  2. Can the software be designed to clarify how certain cultural assumptions and values undermine the convivial and morrally reciprical patterns that characterise more self-reliant communities?
  3. What do students need to understand about the cultural non-neutrality of technology and the difference between imperialistic, environmentally destructive technologies versus those that support local knowledge of environmental possibilities and limits? (Bowers 2000: p139)

While there are several well known projects in Second Life that treat some of the issues mentioned here to do with sustainability, I am yet to find one that attempts to address the full range of issues included in this review (although a combination of some would go close). An educational development using Second Life might consider Bower’s questions and use them as a basis to critique existing content in Second Life, taking what is useful and noting what is evidently missing or counter productive, and then devise an educational experience from that.

Projects in Second Life relating to sustainability issues


I have bookmarked to all writings referenced in this review with the tag word SLENZSUSTAINABILITY

I haven’t read a book in ages!

Don’t get me wrong, I used to work in a book shop and spent all those quiet hours reading history, culture, art, design… instead of dusting. I lasted there for a few years too. Good job that was… Anyway, Samuel Mann has recommended a book to me. One to help with this literature review I’m trying to do for sustainability issues relating to the Second Life Education in New Zealand project.

Let Them Eat Data looks to be an excellent read that will be a significant reference to the general question of sustainability relating to computing and the Internet. Take a look at the 2 page 1st Chapter in the Amazon preview!

The specific question relating to Sustainability of Second Life in terms of energy consumption has been opened by Tony Walsh in his Clickable Culture posts such as ‘Second Life’ Avatars Energy-Suckers? and Nicholas Carr in his post: Avatars consume as much electricity as Brazilians. I have found very little on how Second Life’s hardware requirements may be contributing to eWaste, but I think this could be covered again generally, specifics would be good to find though.

Regarding Sustainability projects in Second Life, there are a number of inspiring projects. I covered a few projects in my July post Sustainability design with Second Life as a modeling tool. Since that post I have discovered the Etopia Eco Village project that, “ a showcase for individuals, organizations and businesses who want to offer goods and services which promote a socially and environmentally sustainable world”.

In the end, I am so far thin in terms of a literature review. I have this book, some in depth blog posts, and some project examples without reviews. If anyone has links I can add to my slenzsustainability tag, I’d greatly appreciate it.

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.

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 should be 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! 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 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.

Konrad has put together a charming video of my drawing in Second Life. It really motivates me to want to finish it more. There are lots of little details that need to be added, not to mention interior design, info signage and life sized avatars to ‘wear’ before entering. (I really want to create an avatar for Ivan Illach and Jean Pain). But my SL building skills aren’t very efficient and we’ve run out of ‘prims’ to draw with.

The video captures the general concepts and I had a thought that perhaps the next resident might be willing to approach the interior design? Detail the actual learning spaces following the general stuff I’ve set down, such as it being primarily a family living space that can be used for group learning for all ages, and following permaculture design principles.

Take a look at the video, see if it inspires YOU.

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.


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