Sunday, April 03, 2011

Bugs galore

Classes are going smoothly. My creative writing class meets weekly on Angel Learning Isle, and they all have mastered the basics of SL so that chatting, text and voice, watching web pages/assignments on the shared media board, and even getting into groups, teleporting to a sky platform and working together, reading drafts, planning an SL excursion to a writerly event, or jotting down notes onto a Google Doc comes easily to them.

And all three sections handle effectively meeting together for chats without my presence.

All good news. Though some new developments in SL have come about that need some planning in the fall, when I will have four sections to meet with inworld.

First off, Michigan Community College Association Virtual Learning Collaborative (MCCVLC) has purchased a region in SL. Anyone who has online classes in Michigan community colleges can have access and use the island. Only a handful of us have met with the director, Ronda Edwards, and I've gotten land management permissions, so I've been able to play for the first time with manipulating land. I've made an island, added the the plateau, and put an initial building with some trees just to show the director, who's very new the virtual world, what is possible.

So I have access to this region, along with Angel Learning Isle, for the fall. I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do there, but I expect to spend some time this summer increasing my building skills (at present very minimal) and hopefully hold some classes on the island, as least as a back up.

Second, Linden Lab has sprung a new version of viewer 2 (2.6x) that defaults to a basic browser for brand new users. This version is very stripped down, with no inventory, snapshots, notecards and such. It means that orientation sims are really going to need to rethink how they design their first hour experience, the second time in two years. Users can switch relatively easily to the Advanced viewer, though the number of steps to do so is unfortunate. But I'm really going to have to keep an eye on what happens with Virtual Ability Orientation Island to see if it will be viable for the fall. (Since I've started this blog entry, I've learned that students are discovering after installing an update that they are running the basic viewer, so I've had to send an email out to everyone warning of the possibility and how to get back to advanced. Fun times.)

So, that's frustrating: Linden Lab continues to exhibit their sterling communication skills with user groups, especially nonprofits and education. Many such institutions and individuals working for such are exploring open sims such as ReactionGrid and JokaydiaGrid, which is good, and I imagine such grids will be a significant part of the future in using virtual worlds in education.

However, they are still alpha, and rife with bugs. As an example: I tried to get into 3rd Rock Grid and VWER grid today. I hadn't been to 3rd Rock since last May when VWER had a meeting there. I remember liking the freebies I got for my avatar, so I wanted to return, get my avatar, and try hypergridding to VWER grid, or at least somewhere else.

Well, when I rezzed, I had been ruthed, completely stripped of everything I had, from my silver locks to my cool quiver. And I couldn't move.

I closed out, tried to go back in with a different viewer (from Hippo to Imprudence) and no change. I tried to add a male avie I had in my inventory. It only half loaded. I tried to move. Couldn't, until I logged out and in a third time. I set out to find some more freebies to dress less ruthily, and ended up looking like some demonic creature with glowing white eyes! Maybe a good look for me!

So, I gave up, decided to try VWER grid. I was not allowed to my home site, the 512m plot of land I call home, and couldn't get to it. Then when I tried to log out and back in, nothing, just a hung up viewer, both with Hippo and Imprudence.

So, again, open sims are a great promise, but the stability of SL, especially when dealing with three sections of students, cannot be discounted. I ran across a blog entry citing one VW developer who has seen an "uptick in corporate interest in the use of Second Life." James Neville (the blogger) and Bill Prensky (the VW developer) speculate why, and one reason they mention is that
Linden Lab seems to have gotten Second Life technology done right. That is, with the appropriate balance of performance versus resource demand necessary to run the product on a normal computer and be connected in a 24.7 “cloud” world. Competitors have yet to develop a working alternative that comes close to the Second Life server engine and thin client technology combination. And, lord knows, competitors are trying.
There is no way that I will commit to the usage of any virtual world outside of Second Life until I see much stabler operation. It's heavy lifting enough herding dozens of online students through the first hours of SL. I'd have mass revolt if I tried to do so with the open sims I've tried to date.