Monday, 23 August 2010

Why we don't do grids or Hyperlinking

Its not a choice - Its a demand

The internet is only over a couple of decades old. So people in the top jobs likely started their careers without the use of wiki, IMing and email. So its understandable their reluctance to embrace even newer technologies like virtual worlds.

And in Education they have even greater concerns. The anonymity of the internet brings in even more problems than the solution the technology gives.

When Second Places started over 2 years ago we worked in Second Life, and had 5 or so schools operating in the teen grid. It wasn't easy to get schools to use Second Life in the first place. Kids could not use their own names, teachers had to jump through hoops to gain access and all in all it was a rather terrible space.

But it wasn't the technical problems that stopped most schools. It was the legal problems. These are actually comments made to me when promoting a virtual world to education:-

  • We need the kids to have their own name so we can see what is happening
  • We are liable if the kids use the computers to communicate with each other. Like organizing a bullying event through a communication tool like IM or Virtual World.
  • There is no way to stop them typing in swear words
  • We will never allow them to speak (voice or text) to anyone anywhere, anytime who is not approved by the school to be talking to kids.
  • We can't have kids parents in world with the ability to talk to other kids (see above)
  • We need a record of every word ever said to anyone
  • They can not change their avatar
  • They should only be able to use avatars, clothes approved by the school
The list was endless. I'm sure there is a world somewhere that kids are trusted, but more importantly the kids don't need trusting and adults see kids as innocents and would never dream doing anything to child that shouldn't be done.

However we don't live in that world. Kids will be kids, and as a parent, I would expect the school to make sure that when i hand my son over they will do EVERYTHING to make sure he's safe physically as well as emotionally.

I always pointed out that I could never see a child log into a virtual world to meet his friend (he is likely sitting beside in class) to arrange a bullying event. However I understood the problem.

Schools have a responsibility and with this anything new that could weaken their way of protecting the child was looked upon as a danger.

We understood this but as Second Life was not ours, there was nothing we could do.

Again we were saved by OpenSim.

We could answer their questions all in the affirmative.

Kids could use their own names, in fact with OpenSim we could have the kids logging in with the same username and password as they used for other in school systems. Wasn't easy for some, shibboleth became a dirty word for us here in Second Places, but it did mean a much easier access for the school.

Schools could turn off and on text and audio chat through a web interface. So if there was a teacher present in world, they could flip a switch and kids could verbally or text chat.

This allowed kids to show their parents their work and the school not worried that the parent could speak to anyone (you don't know if wee Jimmys dad is a good guy or not I guess).

We had a swear word filter, even better it was dynamic, so as a "new" word came out the school could just type it into a web page and that word would be displayed as hashes and an alarm would be sent to the school to say "Jimmy X said XYZ @ 10:52 location 123,142,30". No one around him would hear the word.

Every chat, verbal or text could be recorded and stored.

We modified the client so the kids client would not allow them to "take off" clothing, or upload images or create any clothes. So we locked down the world, but if they school wanted the kids to build and make stuff, they had access (in school only) to the normal client that did everything normally, but only used when a teacher was present.

It was done, all the worry from Schools was answered. It wasn't easy and we spent a lot of time on it. But it was a locked down, secure and customizable world that schools could be happy in the knowledge their children were as safe as possible, even safer than real world.

So the question, why we don't do grid or hyperlinking? Its all said above. For education in the UK (and I assume everywhere else) it has to be locked down, and that means cut off from the rest of the world.

But alas that is a heck of a shame. We want content to be shared. Its expensive to create content for virtual worlds and not share it (even charge back for it).

So we created the content grid, a web based virtual world island market when schools could create islands and upload them to marketplace. Sell or give them away to other schools.

These islands could be anything, Looking at the market place now we have trenches of world war 1 for GCSE English Lit., we have a working hydro dam, a replica of a radio telescope and much more, walking through a mayan temple, an art gallery, a cat walk.

Any school signed up to The Content Grid can access and upload the market place. So you can still share content, approve it before your kids can see it. And its still all locked down tight.

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