School has started. What happened to the summer?!!!!!
So, besides balancing three storeys upon an aluminum ladder to scrape and paint the west side of my house, I spent some time exploring a couple of other MUVEs, Blue Mars and Friendshangout.
I had tried Blue Mars last fall but could never get in with my old laptop. However, I got a new laptop from LCC this summer that has a better graphics card (I can go up to Medium in graphics with SL and still have a decent frame rate) so I finally got in. Blue Mars is pretty, with nice shadows, and smooth avie animation. But the viewer is really stripped down and basic (though I've just installed a new version, so we'll see if that's improved). Not to mention you have to practically be a professional computer animator to build there (which makes my son, a professional computer animator, happy!).
Friendshangout gives you free land, and lots of it. But it's really alpha right now, and I haven't explored enough to figure out how to build, if you even can yet. But what I most found irritating was the landscape. You have mountains in the distance, but if you walk towards them, you never get to them! It's like a backdrop on a movie set rather than an actual virtual space that you can explore. And the camera shot always puts the URL on the photo. Of course, I could have trimmed or blotted out with Adobe Photoshop, but hey, the haze of summer is still upon me!
But the most significant event of the summer is that I've crossed over to the dark side and actually purchased for the very first time an Apple product! I picked up an iPad a couple of weeks ago. I decided to get one for a variety of reasons--smaller device to use in meetings, around the house, when travelling. And I really want to explore using the tablet for reading, to see if it's possible to grade student work with it, and if doing so is less taxing than doing so on a laptop. But the overriding reason I wanted one is because it seems to me that the device is a game changer in how we use computers, much as a laptop was compared to desktops. Or maybe even more so. It reminds me of the tablet used in Tad Williams' Otherland series, and in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
So do I think it was worth purchasing? So far, yes. The touch screen works really well, is very intuitive and makes reading, searching, viewing movies and writing (in small increments--like email or FB postings) quite enjoyable and productive. Also, the battery is long lived, and the device doesn't get hot, something I always hated with laptops in the summer.
But it really showed its mettle this last weekend when we helped my youngest daughter move to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan. We spent hours in Meijer and Target while she and her mother deliberated over every little item to purchase for the apartment. I stayed sane by propping the iPad in the shopping cart and reading!
Also, my use of the iPad reminds me of what Philip Rosedale said in his keynote message at the SLCC a couple weeks ago concerning the iPhone: it's not as good as many phones, but it's a lot more enjoyable to use. Same with the iPad--it's not as good as a laptop, in that you cannot multitask (though coming in the fall?), the glass keyboard is slow (though much faster than a phone keyboard!), and it won't run flash. But it's a lot more enjoyable than a laptop.
Which brings me back to education in a virtual world. It may not be as efficient as an LMS like Angel, especially with asynchronous discussion or submission of assignments. But it's a lot more fun.
When I first heard Rosedale's mantra for moving SL forward--"fast, easy, fun"--I thought he was being cute or trendy, and took little stock in it. But the more I think about it, the more I realize he's exactly right. Second Life, for all communities who use it, but especially for education, needs to be fast to learn, fast to use, fast to access content, needs to be easy to maneuver, easy to find stuff, easy to communicate, and needs to be fun to use, fun to play, fun to work in.
Only then will its immersiveness become more pervasive among more users. And that's the key for expansion into virtual worlds with educators, especially in distant ed.
And face it--entering SL through an iPad would be really cool!