As mentioned in this previous post the long-awaited funding to research the possibility of using virtual worlds to support literacy training came through this May and as of last week work began on the project. No specific development in that first week; rather a week to focus on coalescing the numerous ideas and design concepts that have come to mind since the application was presented, to clarify the usual administrative processes required of any funded project, to test a few export/import possibilities and to make the final decision on which host to use.
Regarding the choice of platform we had always intended to use OpenSim, as portability of the development out of any grid for backups and to other grids for re-usability was always something we wanted. Which host though?
We didn’t require a present in-world community as such, as part of the design concept uses the creation of a student community (Griffiths, 2013, p. 3); in that respect lots of residents was not a requirement. In addition a singular space suited the gaming aspects that we were bringing to the project, so having sims to visit didn’t count in the decision either. What we do need however is constant, professional service and support, good server resources, the latest functionality in the in-world OpenSim version and the ability to easily backup our world. After much consideration and having heard many good reports, Kitely seemed to stack up on all fronts, with the additional feature of Facebook login access; Facebook being ubiquitous throughout the student user community marked this as an advantage for us. So this Sunday past the sim Hīnātore was created and the development begun in earnest.
Initially my early ideas had that the gaming aspects that we would bring to the learning would be carried out on the sim in full view of all participants (Griffiths, 2013, p. 4), i.e. logging into the sim would be as logging into the game. The intent had also been to create a parallel game community where the students could, as in most game forums, post on various topics, support each other in their learning and maintain their community outside of the game.
In our discussions it was apparent that the ‘sim as the game space’ idea would not work, as students could infiltrate any part of the game through the use of their camera or intercede in someone else’s playthrough. There was also a requirement that students could play as individuals as well as in small groups, enabling after hours ‘study’ if a student desired. This could not happen efficiently if, again, the sim was the game space. My work on an immersive literature discussion space for my MA provided the idea to use enclosed spaces for the game levels; spaces that would be rezzed above the sim on-demand and de-rezzed when the level had been played through. This enables multiple single players or multi-players to proceed through game levels at the same time and multiple levels to be played at once as well. This really is more akin to game processes in that the user is confined to the part of the game they have progressed to and are not able to access (or see) higher levels till they have achieved a certain proficiency, i.e. levelled up.
This approach also enables the sim, at ground level, to then be used as the game community hub; almost like the starting screen of the game, where one’s avatar can be customised, where help can be made available, where leader boards can be displayed and game tutorials etc. can be accessed. An added benefit of the integration of Facebook into Kitely is that a Facebook ‘game’ group can be set up and applied as the land parcel group. This will also provide a nice off-world/in-world tie-in for the community where ‘game’ discussions etc. can take place.
So we’re off the starter’s block and Hīnātore; in Māori this equates to enlightenment; is here. As of now it’s open to all and I’ll be around most days (New Zealand time zone though I work late) so feel free to drop in.
On my part I am finding, as all the threads of this start to come together, that I am rather excited to be developing again for a student cohort. The last two semesters have been more about fulfilling the requirements of my MA module assessments and while I am thoroughly enjoying that journey, I must say that there is a very different flavour to a development when it’s others’ learning that’s involved.
So the first steps have been taken on this particular journey and I’m hoping that sharing it will be of some benefit to those of you reading this. Time of course will always dictate how often I update on the development but I intend to post as often as I can as I do find it’s one way that I can gather my own thoughts on the process. Weekly is a definitely a possibility so if you wish be notified of posts you can to follow this blog or access its RSS Feed (see right-hand sidebar).
Griffiths, A. (2013) Lesson Plan and Critical Commentary. Available from https://fxualeducation.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/lesson-plan-and-critical-commentary.pdf [Accessed 6 August 2013].
Next in the Series: Moulding Clay