Well, last week was quite the time to be in Palm Springs. Not only was the weather absolutely perfect (I’ve spent far too many days in Palm Springs in temps over 100 degrees), the conference this year was one of the best ones yet. I ended up being involved in four separate presentations over the course of three days in the desert.
Tuesday October 9th: I gave my History of Virtual Worlds presentation in the afternoon. I’ve given this presentation several times now, and I have tweaked it a little each time. After giving it down in Palm Springs it became apparent that I need to overhaul it. While the history part is interesting, the period prior to 1997 holds little interest for most. I plan on streamlining that segment down to a few slides with some flow diagrams showing the evolution of online virtual worlds in the early days. I’m then going to expand and focus more attention on the past 10 years, specifically on educational projects. I will then have space to expand a little more on current and near future platforms. These changes should make this presentation more appealing to a wider range of educators.
I also participated in a panel discussion Tuesday late in the afternoon on Open Source software. This is an interesting topic for me, as I am an advocate of open source (especially in relation to Second Life, both the client and server software). However, I do not see open source as the solution to all of the technology challenges in education. Far too often open source is brought in through the back door by the techies of the organization, and the reasoning is that it’s “free” and “almost as good as the commercial stuff”. The argument of individual choice is often made, that with open source anyone can run anything they want and if they don’t like the way it runs they can modify the source. In larger organizations nothing could be closer to a nightmare than hundreds of different software applications running on a variety of OS’s. This argument about choice breaks down as the size of the organization grows. And if the organization imposes standards on their users’ use of open source, doesn’t that run counter to the base philosophy of the open source argument?
I believe that Web 2.0 applications are going to grab a much larger chunk of the application space, and that the success of these Web 2.0 applications are going to make the open source argument moot. Once strong alternatives are available on the Internet for basic application categories (office suite, PIM’s, graphics editors, etc.) the OS will become irrelevant as long as it can run a browser with standard extensions. People are going to want something that can run from their desktop, laptop, handheld and/or phone. The reason open source applications are never going to take over is because they rarely ever make it to version 1.0, they are always in point versions (.01, .39, .78, .97 and so on). And in the long run, those open source applications that standardize, eliminating the forking of versions (infinite modified versions) will eventually mirror the commercial applications they seek to replace. Large organizations will develop to support them, technical support plans will be offered for a fee, and they will become what the original open source movement sought to eliminate.
Wednesday October 10th: I gave my K20 Case Study presentation after lunch. This presentation was a big hit. This was the first time I had given this one at a formal conference. I will have to tune this one some more before I give it next (scheduled for a conference in late November). The people in attendance really enjoyed seeing some details behind the PacRimX project. This presentation also summarized several other projects on the Teen Grid. With all the screenshots the attendees got a glimpse inside some of these projects. For people who have never seen Second Life, or a virtual world platform, this was their first introduction. The next morning I was told by several attendees that they had spent hours the previous night in their rooms creating an avatar and exploring the main grid of Second Life. I plan on tightening this presentation up a bit before the next showing, and will have several new PacRimX activities to add by then.
Thursday October 11th: I was surprised to see that another session was scheduled for my “history of” presentation for Thursday morning. Since I really did not want to go through that one again, and many people from my K20 presentation the previous day were up bright and early for this session, I shifted gears and improvised a free form presentation. It was one part live demo of Second Life, one part Q&A on Second Life and education, and two parts video clips. I had a bunch of video clips of the various projects that I had downloaded in preparation for these presentations that I ended up not using. The attendees seemed to really enjoy watching some of these clips, so I will likely try to include more of them in future presentations.
Wrap up: It’s really great to get out and talk about our project, and to share other successful projects with other educators. Education in these virtual worlds is still so new that most people are not familiar with it at all, and they are eager to learn more about it after being introduced. Often I hear back from people who have attended one of these presentations and they are excited that they’ve since taken their first steps into these worlds to see for themselves what all the excitement is about. And that is where these presentations are different from all the others I’ve done in the past on other subjects. I’ve never had as many people follow up afterwards to share their experiences after diving in and trying what they learned from my presentation. Each new person who brings their creativity to this emerging technology enhances it, and adds their efforts to the movement towards this evolving area of education.