Eduserv Foundation Symposium

I was in London yesterday for The Eduserv Foundation Symposium 2007. The symposium was run in the Congress Center in London, but also being streamed into Second Life. In fact, in 3 different sims: the Virtual Congress Centre on Eduserv Island (controlled access), the auditorium on Cybrary City, and the outdoor teaching space on NMC’s Teaching 2 island.

Eduserv Foundation Symposium 2007 Eduserv Foundation Symposium 2007 Stephen Downes - Eduserv

As it started, there were over 50 people logged in from across the three locations. The streaming seemed to go fairly smoothly, despite an initial glitch in which the screen appeared upside down for some people. There were several large screens in the room, showing the virtual portion of the event (regularly switching between Eduserv island and Cybrary city), which helped the two sides of the conference feel more closely connected. I would have liked to see more of the attendees opening laptops and dipping into the virtual world too, to aid the mingling and the back channel discussion, but we were asked not to because the wireless access at the conference center might not have coped. <sigh />

The speakers:

  1. First up, Jim Purbrick (Linden Lab) with a keynote in which he shared that simply being an active resident inside a virtual world like Second Life teaches a resident many skills, including building, texturing, audio, animation, scripting, economics, branding (and marketing), press (and promotion), events (and planning), and more. Plus, it’s more than just business too. Jim gave examples of where SL has been used for AI research, live performances and charity events, and several examples of formal education already happening.
  2. Second slot: Roo Reynolds (IBM). Yep, I had the second slot. It’s quite intimidating to stand in front of a crowd of thinkers and educators when my biggest exposure to the world of education was graduating with a computer science degree 7 years ago. The short story is I shared how and why IBM got involved in virtual worlds, as well as introducing some of the current activities going on within virtual worlds (including the new news about the internal metaverse being put together inside IBM). I have put my slides online at SlideShare.
  3. Next up, Hamish MacLeod (Edinburgh University). Hamish introduced us to ‘Holyrood Park: a virtual campus for Edinburgh’. They tried various platforms, and settled on SL. I liked the example of scripting a skydiving experience as a good way of for learning programming. It’s sequential, and it’s obvious if you miss a step.
  4. After lunch, Joanna Scott (Nature). Joanna showed us some of the cool projects hosted and supported in Nature’s ‘Second Nature‘ sim, including the M4 molecule maker (but can it do rhodopsin?) and more. Great quote: “I don’t think anybody really knows what they’re doing in Second Life”.
  5. Next: Gilly Salmon (University of Leicester) on the SEAL project, including a nice quote from Professor David Rhind: “They [students] live their lives in a different space and time”. Clearly, continuing to reach students (and educators!) in a compelling and relevant way is an important part of this project.
  6. Finally, Stephen Downes (National Research Council Canada) putting ‘Virtual Worlds in Context’, with a fairly provocative presentation. Some of it I strongly agreed with “it’s just a MUD”, and “why do we allow and encourage virtual world events with exactly resemble real life?” while other things I found myself wanting to defend: “This is so not web 2.0”. Other points were interesting discussion starters, including “the future for VR should be exactly what SL isn’t: distributed hardware and ownership, open source, not proprietary, noncommercial, diverse and democratic”.

This lead us nicely into the panel, in which Jim inevitably ended up defending Linden Lab a little, though the audience (both in the room and remotely) were largely more positive about the place of virtual worlds in education than Stephen had been.

The speakers were all invited to summarise and close the panel with a pithy conclusion. My own effort (a brief ramble about the sense of high expectations and entitlement being an indication that virtual worlds are already accepted; people are no longer arguing about whether they’re useful, but how they should be run) did not match up to Hamish’s conclusion (which I hope I have transcribed accurately), “you can tell a skeptic by whether they leave the room via the door or a via a window”.

All in all, I thought it was a pretty good event. I certainly enjoyed meeting people in a completely different sphere to my usual work, and I found I was constantly meeting interesting people with interesting ideas during the day. Thank you to the Eduserv team for setting it up and inviting me along.

Update: video of my presentation is available from Eduserv’s site
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