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.

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

Ready Player One: a Sci-Fi Virtual World Futuristic Novel

Cline, E. (2011). Ready player one. New York: Crown Publishers.

readyplayerone

What a romp! With tons of references to 80s culture and the historical background of videogames, Ernest Cline’s READY PLAYER ONE captures the feeling of virtual reality. Anyone who has spent time in virtual worlds as an avatar will easily envision Parzival (Wade Watts) and cheer him on his quest for Halliday’s egg through virtual and physical peril. The novel will soon be seen on the big screen, with the screenwriter for the Xmen at the helm.

Young adult readers will appreciate the theme of collaborative teamwork as Parzival’s friends outwit the corporate geeks called “the Sixers”. Some of the futuristic innovations, such as the flicksync (where a player is inside a simulation of a movie) or the simulation of specific towns and buildings may be not that far away with virtual reality applications like Oculus Rift.

Yet these same tech savvy young people may get a warning about the openness of digital life and digital footprints. When Parzival enters a high level of the game, his friends begin giving him tips for his maneuvers. He interrupts with, “How could you possibly know all this?”
“Because we can see them,” Shoto said. “Everyone logged into the OASIS right now can see them. They can see you, too.” Cline, 2011 p354

Live videofeed and live simultaneous virtual experiences are already a part of our lives. The setting for READY PLAYER ONE puts us in a future where more of life is spent in virtual space than in physical space and most people prefer it that way. The year is 2044. Only time will tell. Meanwhile, young people are rushing toward life in digital culture and some of us (even those of us with experience in virtual worlds) hope an appreciation for the beauty of this physical earth lives on. It’s enough to make me want to “go green!”

The Future was Almost Twenty Years Ago

Written back in 1995, I am finally getting around to reading Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. Or, perhaps I should say I am finally ready for it. Twenty years ago, the idea of a technology entering our minds through virtual reality worlds and nanotechnology entering our bloodstreams to alter our bodies was over my head. Today, it is no longer far-fetched science fiction. Of course, like most people who have explored virtual worlds, I read Stephenson’s novel Snowcrash and credit him for coining the term “the metaverse”. Both novels share concepts that seemed almost outrageous when released but now fade into the tech scene without raised eyebrows.

While some of the concepts in The Diamond Age are similar to innovations which have come to fruition in 2013, some evolved into different versions of his visualized world. His “MC” (Matter Compiler) can be compared to a 3D printer and his concept of “ractive”s are similar to online interactive videogames.

The “young lady’s illustrated primer” is an interactive book which drives the plot and the concept of a real human behind the facade of the avatar or the book character is critical as we now move toward a blur between our physical and digital selves.

While I am no avid science fiction aficionado, I find Stephenson’s novels compelling and prophetic. Surprisingly, The Diamond Age contains countless images of actual physical books, yet today the book is moving from print into ereaders and rapidly taking a backseat to apps. Stephenson, obviously, has an appreciation for the Gutenberg era format, stating, “But a book is different–it is not just a material possession but the pathway to an enlightened mind, and thence to a well-ordered society as the Master has stated many times. (p.163)”

Long live the book and the reader who understands and appreciates high quality literature.

diamondage
Stephenson, Neal. 1995. The Diamond Age or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer. Bantam Nooks: New York.

3D Sci-Fi Library Exhibit in Inworldz

Virtual worlds may not have taken off at the rapid pace predicted in the Gartner Report 2007, but they continue to provide creative spaces for educators and librarians to create and share content.

For example, a professor of library and information science at San Jose State University led a project in the virtual world of Inworldz to share sci-fi resources. The exhibit includes interactive sci-fi objects and experiences, such as a worm hole and spaceships.  Science fiction movies, television shows and over 50 sci-fi books inspired the content which can be explored on several levels.  Details are included on the Community Library blog.

Photos from the grand opening on May 4, 2013 can be viewed in my Animoto slideshow.

 

 

Virtual Reminiscence

What triggers the human brain to reminisce about our past experiences in life? Smells, I am told, are critical to our memories. But, this week, for the first time, I ran across an old machinima that I shot in 2008 and (believe it or not) I found myself virtually reminiscing. Physical space, such as our houses or the streets and shady parks we remember from our youth, cause us to recall personal memories.

Perhaps I am one of the first to discover a personal “pang” of reminiscence in a virtual world. The spaces we live in are moving from physical to virtual. Whether or not we have an avatar is of little consequence.

In Defense of Virtual Worlds

A colleague sent an email expressing concern over posts criticizing librarians for “still being involved in Second Life“.

I replied by email and she suggested I share.

I wrote:

“The ability to “fly” in virtual worlds? That’s nothing! A generation of video gamers now considers gaming a literary genre (and many are cinematic and well-researched). Virtual worlds are not video games- but this evolution of literacy changes everything. The argument that the majority of mainstream culture uses Facebook is ridiculous. The majority of mainstream culture also values convenience over quality, triviality over authority or accuracy, and self-absorbed “packaging” of our personal lives over anything meaningful.

This conversation is not about Second Life, but about virtual worlds….and they are not going away. My physical library is only half of what I do. We all have both physical and virtual lives (after the digital revolution and the toppling of the information hierarchy). The question is whether to spend my virtual life in a flat, narcissistic, space where popular culture and cute photos are streamed nonstop or seek out interesting, intelligent people on a global scale who can help me move toward a better future for this post-physical world. You all understand that…..and that is enough for me.”

Yes, I also read Roy Tennant’s blogpost when ALA closed an island in Second Life. I did not reply, mainly out of respect for this esteemed colleague. I have credited Roy Tennant as the first library professional that I heard state that in our information world today, “convenience trumps quality”. His statement was a turning point for me. I began to see a different kind of information-seeking behavior in my physical library. I began to actively explore digital literacy and changing formats.

I understand that SL is not the “be all end all” of education or libraries. Virtual worlds are just one piece of information literacy. I am humbled by the amazing colleagues I have worked with in virtual worlds and I am proud of the huge amount of effort it took to earn a PhD on the topic (not to boast because I understand I am just one small person contributing one tiny piece of the research on the future of information literacy). I have worked very hard to understand how to separate my “personal” perspective from my professional contribution to my field. My experience includes organizing five virtual world exhibits, numerous presentations, discussions, learning machinima, and networking on a global scale. I could not have accomplished any of those experiences in my physical library- even through using webinars and other distance learning tools (of which I am familiar). Second Life is only one company, which happened to provide a great array of tools for early adopters of virtual worlds. Having explored many other virtual worlds, for many other purposes (business, military, medicine, and so on), I certainly am not attached to one in particular. Slamming Second Life is not offensive to me, but putting down librarians?! Whew…don’t get me started.

For more information on my dissertation topic, I will be presenting an overview on Nov. 18th in Second Life. For information on other virtual worlds, contact me. Meanwhile, I return to my awesome physical library where I struggle to teach critical inquiry to students who want to play apps and interact on mobile devices.

Flying Through Media Formats with ACRL Librarians

When I organized the gridhop between two virtual worlds, I had this thought in the back of my mind that perhaps only a couple of participants would actually attend because of the difficult level of technology skills involved.  I was wrong!  An amazing group of librarians and educators from around the globe met the challenge and interacted in Jokaydia, an Australian based educational virtual world using the open-source code of Second Life.

As fifteen avatars began to gather in this new frontier, Barbara Janson (a doctoral student in library and information science) gave a tour of a 3D virtual world library she created.  Watch as these amazing technological pioneers “fly” through this library and demonstrate that information and media formats have been revolutionized and librarians are in the forefront of transliteracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging Tech Trends and the “Trough of Disillusionment”!

Learning to maneuver in a virtual world is a daunting task for many people and the “steep learning curve” has been touted numerous times.  I am honored and humbled to be in the company of high-tech cutting edge librarians- who not only conquered this “steep learning curve” in one virtual world, but are gridhopping between worlds!

Jokaydia Lifelong Learning Library 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ALA Association of College and Research Librarians Virtual World Interest Group organized an event on Jokaydia Grid, which is a virtual world based on open-source code (similar to Second Life).  Jokay, the owner of Jokaydia, graciously agreed to help our group and Barbara Janson, builder of the Lifelong Learning Library in 3D, led a virtual world tour.  Fifteen brave pioneers attended– juggling three worlds (the physical world on computers, Second Life as a starting point, and Jokaydia as a destination).

With current trends in social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, the rise in mobile apps, and an interest in augmented reality, keeping up with technology can be quite a challenge.  Virtual worlds, according to the Gartner Hype Cycle, are emerging from the trough of disillusionment!  Librarians were some of the earliest adopters and have persevered through that trough while juggling other emerging trends that impact information professions. 

 

ACRL Virtual World Interest Group Event Invitation

The ALA Association of College & Research Libraries Virtual World Interest Group is sponsoring a gridhop. You are invited to join us! You may pass this invitation to other interested individuals.

ACRL gridhop to Jokaydia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WIIFM: “What’s in it for me?”

You may be familiar with the current discussion of virtual worlds beyond Second Life. Educators and librarians are exploring numerous virtual worlds as a platform for information delivery, immersive learning, global collaboration and professional development. Attending this event may help you expand your knowledge and skills in virtual worlds as well as network with other professionals. The goal of the ACLR Virtual World Interest Group is to explore and share virtual worlds with professionals in libraries, education, and other fields.

Here are the details…..

You are invited to our monthly ACRL Virtual Worlds Interest Group meeting which will be a gridhopping event to a different virtual world. Library builder, Barbara Janson (Avatar: Barbarathelibrarian Magic), will lead our tour.

Name of Event: GridHop to Lifelong Learning Library in Jokaydia ( a virtual world library visit)

Lifelong Learning Library in a virtual world

Date: Sunday, Sept. 23 11am SLT

Where: Meet at the Community Virtual Library in Second Life
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Info%20Island/13/84/24

Before the meeting, it is suggested that you download the Imprudence Viewer to use for our trip to Jokaydia at
http://wiki.kokuaviewer.org/wiki/Imprudence:Downloads

You could also sign up and create your JokaydiaGrid avatar at

http://www.jokaydiagrid.com/

You may want to use the same name as your Second Life avatar, so you will be recognized! Further instructions accessing the grid in Imprudences are as follows:

Click on Grid Manager and choose “jokaydiagrid”.

(You can click on Add New Grid if needed.)
Grid info should look like the following: