Virtual Worlds vs Virtual Reality: a Comparison of Immersive Experiences

After a decade in virtual worlds and a few years of exploring virtual reality (VR), I believe I understand the difference and predict that both have purpose and potential for learning. In my view, a virtual world is a persistent “land” space and virtual reality is a disposable “bubble” experience.

Virtual Worlds are persistent spaces of land

Virtual worlds can be visited again and again. One can explore spaces, build them and watch communities grow. An example is the Community Virtual Library which has recently undergone a huge move to a new space near educational writing/publishing communities.

The Community Virtual Library (CVL) houses a main library building, a networking hub, a pier on the beach for events, a library pub, four exhibit/gallery/display areas, an art study group space, book discussion space, virtual poetry garden, book orchard, and other immersive experience locations. Library Land (on Cookie Island in Second Life) can be visited over and over just like a physical place. CVL is a real library.

Virtual Reality is an experience bubble

An example of a VR experience is my recent “walking out on a beam over the city”! It felt so real. Looking down below, my knees were shaking and then a helicopter came by right at eye level.

Other “bubble’ experiences (meaning one time experiences- then ‘pop’! it is gone) include: climbing an ancient rock structure, stabbing zombies, shooting arrows at medieval warriors, and working inside a rocket ship to troubleshoot the engine. While most developers focus on entertainment, there is obviously potential for education in virtual reality.

Teachers should use with caution as studies have not fully examined the impact on the human brain. VR can sometimes feel as real as the physical world, making it nearly impossible for young children to distinguish between virtual and physical world experiences. Reality is changing and anyone working in virtual worlds understands that they are “real” places.

One of my favorite VR experiences so far is Google Tilt Brush. It is like stepping inside an empty canvas of space to create digital art! Similar to programs like Paint, Photoshop or other applications, you choose colors, brushes, textures and tools to create and sculpt in 3D. What is amazing is that you can save your 3D work and share it with others allowing them to step inside. The ability to share work with others is unique to this VR experience and similar to the collaborative work I have experienced in virtual worlds. Most VR experiences are limited to a short period of time with little opportunities for user-generated content as developers create the space in programs like Unity or Unreal Engine.

Social VR is on the horizon with Facebook opening a VR platform on the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. This social interaction will look entirely different than the learning communities already available in virtual worlds. Most of the demonstrations I have tried focus on entertainment because developers find it too expensive and time-consuming to research educational needs for high quality accurate subject-specific content. In virtual worlds, educators and experts themselves can build and share accurate content for learning.

Augmented reality may be more useful for consumers than virtual reality as it layers information into the physical world rather than separating us from it. Augmenting of a digital space is certainly possible in virtual worlds as content is layered and embedded.

As we enter 2018, nobody can predict how virtual reality and virtual worlds will evolve. Currently, they are very separate ‘animals’ and I find the potential for collaborative (constructive) learning in virtual worlds to hold much more potential than VR. This fall, I worked with the Community Virtual Library to create a research center for the Dickens Project which centered on A Christmas Carol and the Victorian Era. Twelve research presentations were shared within a simulated “London” with live tours, events, and readings throughout the month of December. A virtual library connects the traditions of high quality literature throughout the past with technology tools available today while connecting learners across the globe in real-time. I find that more amazing than a disposable bubble.

Balancing Your Physical and Virtual Life (Tip #3): Be conscious of digital citizenship

The physical world is tangible and concrete, making it easy for us to understand the scientific rules of gravity and space.  We learn as an infant that when we fall over, it can hurt.  We also soon learn that the people around us can see our actions, so we don’t yell out in public or step in front of people in line.

The virtual world is abstract and there is a tendency to believe we are unseen or anonymous. This makes it easy to ignore people and to simply “scroll” along until we find what interests us. Consider, though, the fact that we are still unique individuals and our digital footprints follow us in ever-increasing ways.  The comments we make, the links we share, the “brand” we put online is as important as anything we do in the physical world. Perhaps it is even more important because it is often archived.

Balance Tip #3:  Be conscious of digital citizenship

Sounds super easy, doesn’t it?  What is not easy, is to keep in mind that the physical world provides a small “neighborhood” of people around us most of the time.  The virtual world is full of social media sites, apps, links and limitless connections.

When we make a mistake in the physical world, such as bumping into someone or interrupting someone, we can quickly apologize and it is over.  In the virtual world, our presence lingers in text, photos, comments, links, tweets, likes, etc.  Is it ever really “over” when we walk away?

Perhaps we still have much to learn about how the Internet has affected our lives.  Toward that end, a current project I am working on will share Digital Citizenship at a virtual world exhibit at The Community Virtual Library in Second Life.  Some of the topics might include digital footprints, “over-sharing”, privacy, cybersecurity, online ethics, respect for intellectual property and the current barrage of “fake news”.  These elements of digital citizenship have become absolutely critical for us all- from age 2 to 102.

Photo at https://www.flickr.com/photos/democracychronicles/15378138833

 

 

Imagine! Balancing Your Physical and Virtual Life (Tip #2)

I wonder….
What the world will be like in ten years?
What does it feel like to fly like a bird?

 We have a changing relationship with “wonderment” (my daughter recently told me).  Not long ago, we used to start a sentence with, “I wonder…” while we just sat not knowing and wondered for awhile.  Now, we start a sentence that way and seconds later, we ask Google.  Are we losing our ability to wonder?  To sit and ponder in awe?

 Einstein said, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge”; yet, in today’s age of information, we expect instant access to answers.  We hand out Ipads to kindergarteners in the hope that they can learn and create better than ever, yet perhaps we are robbing them of wonder and creativity by providing creative apps and instant answers.

 

BALANCE TIP #2 Spend time imagining

Deep thought requires wonder- not answers. Doesn’t critical inquiry drive knowledge toward wisdom much more than a list of facts?  Voltaire said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers”.   If we lose the ability to “hold on” to a question and only value having answers…

 I wonder what will become of us?

Imagine image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/glynlowe/15015843722

Balancing Your Physical and Virtual Life (Tip #1)

Da-ding, Da-ding!  Is that your phone notification of something incoming?  Hadn’t you better check it?

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Over the past few years, as more people utilize smart phones for instant access to information and communication, I keep running into the same concerns.  Time and time again, a new smart phone owner will tell me “It has changed my life!”  Then, I observe them exit our physical reality to enter the “other places” that await us on mobile devices: news sites, social media, photos, memes, content creation tools, curation applications and innovation entertainment activities- just to name a few.

We all see it everywhere we look….people staring into screens.  Yet, what do we reach for the moment we awaken each day?  Our phones.  How do we feel when we forget our phone at home?  I have heard people say they feel everything from vulnerability to actual fear.  

Just where IS everyone heading?  I took this picture on the bus because everyone near me was on a mobile device.  Nobody was “on the bus” with me!

Eric Pickersgill, an artist who photographs digital culture, shares some haunting images at Removed.  We all see people “removed from our world” every day.  I have heard jokes about the zombies around us- people who are not really with us.

My daughter, a tech savvy creative and intelligent young woman, recently suggested I write a blog post with tips on balancing physical and virtual life!  She had not heard of FOMO and realized she had personally felt that sensation (FOMO= fear of missing out) that her phone was beckoning her to a world beyond….a world where important things were happening.  The world beyond our physical surroundings, on our digital devices, takes us to a place where boredom no longer exists and where we can be both active and passive with no rules or constrictions.  Yet, deep in our souls, we feel a slight discomfort (if not horror) knowing that we can never master keeping up with the incoming and never really exit the small reality of our tiny individual life.

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Which leads me to BALANCE TIP #1 Intentional Disconnection Time

Find a time to leave your device and do not touch it!  Schedule yourself a PHYSICAL WORLD ONLY time, if only an hour a day.  During that time, focus on physical reality:  deep breaths, trees, textures, hot tea, smiles, and your five senses.

You could add prayer, yoga, meditation, or a walk outdoors, or even housework!  But, the idea here is to be consciously disconnected.  While connecting with others across distance is an amazing new opportunity, it can overtake and overwhelm us unless we can find a balance between the physical and the virtual world.

Contemplate your disconnection time.  This may seem too obvious or too easy.  But it really isn’t when you think about it.  Our phones are always with us and it takes intentional effort to disconnect for a period of time.

More tips to come!

 

Stories and Art in 3D: Wander the Watercolours

Artists and writers have new media opportunities to explore with digital tools.  For example, artist CK (Creakay Ballyhoo in the virtual world of Second Life) created watercolour (spelled that way in her part of the world!) paintings in 3D to illustrate a story presented in a virtual world.  Read the story of a little girl on a watercolour wander.

A group of educators, the Virtual Pioneers, take virtual field trips to simulations in Second Life.  A recent trip allowed the pioneers to wander through CK’s story paintings.  This machinima shows the educators inside A Watercolour Wander.

The Virtual Pioneers  are an open group, welcoming others to come along on virtual adventures.  Through collaboration with groups like this, the Community Virtual Library strives to connect virtual communities with high quality simulations.  This machinima illustrates how the future of libraries and the future of education may include mixed reality and amazing new ways to enter art, history, and all subjects for all learners.  Learning will never be the same.

Marking a Digital Decade

Ten years ago in April, I posted on my blog for the very first time. What a significant decade… a transformation not only for me but for all of us, as we moved from primarily being physical world citizens in local communities to become digital citizens on a global scale.

Highlights of my Digital Decade

Exploring virtual worlds

Shortly after starting my blog, I entered virtual worlds for use as a library and information science professional. Life in networked culture became the main focus of my blog and virtual worlds (for education) became my research focus. I earned my PhD in Library Science in 2012. DrHillatGraduation

At first, I found virtual worlds a unique and almost unbelievable experience. After meeting the librarians in Second Life, I used the experience to enhance my academic journey and my dissertation was “Factors Contributing to the Adoption of Virtual Worlds by Librarians”.

Observing students in my school library, as well as individuals everywhere on digital devices in coffee shops and on streets, I began to realize we all live in virtual worlds– whether or not we enter them with an avatar.

Building a PLN

Even the brilliant experts of computer science and metadata are struggling with concepts of cybersecurity, privacy and digital citizenship.  Currently, the FBI is working on how to get through encryption to fight crime, parents are concerned about the future for children in a world that is dependent upon digital information, and the tools we use are constantly changing.

The benefits of networked society are huge but so too are the problems it presents.  A PLN (Profession or Personal Learning Network) has become imperative to understanding life in digital culture.  I wonder, though, if we put too much emphasis on following our PLN blindly.  When I click “agree” to the lengthy TOS (terms of service) on apps, I justify my lack of knowledge about the legalese and shrug it off thinking, “I know Mr. X, Ms. Q, and Mrs. K Teacher all use this app so it must be okay.”

I have found most people are generous, helpful, and willing to share knowledge and information.  Twenty years ago, my learning community was a small local group but today it is gigantic and spreads across the globe. Do we really understand the enormity of this?  I don’t think it is possible to realize the consequences of toppling of the information hierarchy which happened so abruptly at the close of the Gutenberg Parenthesis.

The Power of Twitter

Currently, Twitter exemplifies the power of connectivity in digital culture. Everyone has a voice.  Through key words (hashtags) those voices can be heard instantly across the planet.  Very few people have had any training at all in using the power of Twitter and (IMHO) most of the content is trivial, disposable media, such as humorous memes, gifs, and witticisms.  The potential to utilize the power of networked culture for high quality deep learning and edification is buried under millions of tweets. Digital citizens are challenged to dig for buried treasure.

What will the next decade bring?

Sometimes, when I discuss digital citizenship, I see fear in the faces of parents or learners who see themselves becoming “addicted to screens”.  It is certainly too late to put the Internet cat back in the bag!  Networked connectivity happened without providing a training.

My tips for coping with “the online sea of chaos” over the next decade:

  1. Take digital citizenship seriously
  2. Strive to share only positive meaningful information
  3. Continue building a PLN both for learning and teaching
  4. Recognize the need for time to unplug, reflect and appreciate the physical world
  5. Seek solutions that always provide hope and reduce fear

Here’s to the next decade: Less fear- More hope! 

fear

https://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2013/10/21/08/10/fear-198933_960_720.jpg

 
hope

http://www.picserver.org/images/highway/phrases/hope.jpg

When Did You First Enter a Virtual World?

A twitter chat question asks “When did you first start using virtual worlds and what subject do you teach with it?”
As school librarian, teaching information literacy, I heard about the virtual world of Second Life over ten years ago and signed up in 2006. My “rez” day (the day we first came into a virtual world) is June 9, 2006. Almost ten years! Continue reading

What’s the big deal with Information Literacy?

We all love the convenience of looking for answers immediately and having “google” in our pockets. My dad, in his eighties, said, “People don’t really need to know anything anymore because they can just google it.” What a wise statement from a pre-Internet veteran. We have digital assistants on our devices to help us remember important things and manage our time. We are free of the burdon of having to remember small things and instead access and share information nonstop on a global scale.

A generation of citizens is emerging who have never known life without a networked mobile device with instant access to information. With that convenience comes the sacrifice of time to reflect and the guarantee of accuracy and quality of the hits we receive.

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An information literacy colleague, Esther Grassian, advocates the need for Information Literacy and explains why it is a big deal. Information literacy is not simply an academic term– it is an understanding of our current culture in networked society.

A friend posted an insightful quote on Facebook which I noticed had been liked and shared by many but without any attribution to a creator. I asked if she knew the source and she replied, “People share these things all the time now and nobody ever really knows where they came from.” I find it perplexing that this smart and tech-savvy young woman would simply shrug off intellectual property with a “Who knows? Who cares?” attitude.

In BEYOND THE BLOGOSPHERE by Aaron Barlow, we are given the image of the Internet as a “book of sand” in which nobody knows the origin of ideas. They are washed out to sea and scattered along the beach.

If we really don’t care about information literacy in the future, there will be a high price to pay. Idiocracy might be a concept too difficult for the citizens of the future to comprehend. The fear of artificial intelligence evolving into consciousness pales in comparison to the glimpse of human beings shrugging off any desire to acquire knowledge simply because easy access and quick apps have made it irrelevant.

Give Immersive Learning a Try! Don’t Just Read about It

Gamification and learning through immersive virtual experiences is the talk of the town in education fields. Virtual reality is expanding with systems like Oculus Rift and Microsoft Hololens. And one of the most popular (if not THE most popular) videogame virtual worlds across the planet is Minecraft. Young children can build with virtual building blocks and learn about math, science and many other subjects through immersion.

But how many teachers have actually experienced immersive learning themselves? Here’s your chance!

Medieval Quest is coming to the Community Virtual Library in Second Life.

Medieval Quest Coming Soon

A beautiful Medieval village, complete with King Arthur’s Court, was built by Brant Knutzen at the University of Hong Kong. Through collaboration with the Community Virtual Library, plans are underway to provide live tours with a role-play quest. All participants can choose parts to role-play and participate at any level desired.

Sound like fun? Here are the initial planning session times (Second Life Time- SLT- Pacific Time zone). More information about the role-play dates will be forthcoming.

Monday Jan 25th 6pm SLT Medieval Quest Planning Meeting (Share roles and overview)
Saturday Jan 30th 7am SLT (Continue sharing roles and training) Prepare Press Release to send for publicity

Meet at the Community Virtual Library Exhibit area

I am tentatively choosing the role of “The Lady of Shalott”. There are numerous places to find free historical clothes for your avatar. The Medieval Quest is based on the concept of bringing literature to life through role-play and simulation.

Lady_of_Shalott_001

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This project is a demonstration of how learning has changed and is changing. Don’t just read about it….come give it a try!

Post PostModernism & the Power of the MEME

I am not much of a football fan but because I moved to Seattle, I rooted for the Seahawks in Super Bowl 49 (2015). The Seahawks were very close to winning the game when there was a call which caused tons of controversy and criticism. Those of you who know football could explain it better than me, but apparently a big player who was great at “running the ball in for a touchdown” (Marshawn Lynch) could have scored or could have given them more time. But, the coach decided to let the quarterback try for a throw which was intercepted. Seahawks lost abruptly and left everyone with a “What just happened!!?” moment of disbelief.

Now- Superbowls are known for the high quality commercials which I have always looked forward to more than the game! There was another crazy moment of disbelief during Super Bowl 49 when Nationwide aired an extremely sad (and some say distasteful) commercial about a young boy who died in the bathtub. The commercial was suppose to create awareness of childhood accidents, the number one cause of death for youngsters. I was scrolling through twitter during the game and saw tons of people saying “OMG! Did you see that? What were they thinking?” etc.

At the end of the game, within seconds of the loss, I witnessed something on twitter which exemplifies the power of the meme. The two moments of disbelief- the dead child and the crazy loss of a superbowl- were entwined by a witty tweet by Jared Smith.

seahawksMEME

This merge of two moments, shared by thousands of people, somehow relates to my understanding of post postmodernism. We live in an era where everything is a reference to something else. Modernism is essentially an art term (so too are post and post-post), but for me it is a philosophical concept because I have no formal art training. I have yet to find anyone who can explain this to me but here’s my take:

Our great great grandparents lived each day struggling to plant the crops, harvest them, can them, cook them and survive. There was little time to think about other things beyond survival, yet they were grateful. Modern conveniences (picture the 1950’s Westinghouse ads with Betty Furness) gave our grandparents time to relax and enjoy “leisure time”. Purchasing these shiny contraptions (cookers, grinders, mixers, warmers) gave them the good life.

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photo from https://envisioningtheamericandream.files.wordpress.com/2014/12/xmas-kitchen-westinghouse-betty-furness-swscan08163.jpg

A movement to simplify life and get rid of clutter has risen in my lifetime. I personally have witnessed the move from physical collection of objects to life in the digital and virtual world. I have witnessed the move from physical books, as a librarian, to the digitization of everything. So too, I have felt the shift from a mindset of the physical to a mindset of the virtual. Most of the jobs pursued by young college graduates are connected to the digital tech industry in some way. Every field, from medicine to mechanics, is impacted by computers.

So, how can I explain post postmodernism? The words escape me. But I know that the power of the meme I saw, live on twitter within seconds of that Superbowl 2015, is somehow an example and I knew it the second it appeared.