Military explores Second Life and Virtual Worlds

•December 29, 2009 • 4 Comments

The military has been exploring the uses of virtual worlds such as Second Life.  There are many  military applications that come readily to mind such as training.  The U.S. has a global force which must attend regular required courses such an Non-Commissioned Officer Academy in which attendance is required for the Air Force upon making the rank E-7.  This requires airman to, yet once again, leave their families and travel to a temporary duty location for an intense six weeks of courses – all at the expense of the Air Force.  Virtual worlds offer an economical alternative that does not require the airman to leave their duty location, and yet he will still have an interactive, immersive training experience with other airmen stationed around the world.

Perhaps one area in which the Army has suprised me is by asking the public for their help.  Betterverse blogs about a project titled Federal Virtual World Challenge in which the U.S. Army “solicit proposals from the general public on how to best use virtual worlds for training and data analysis.”  The deadline for submission has passed, and winners will be announced in March 2010 at the Defence User’s Game Tech Conference in Orlando, Florida.  I am not sure which is cooler, the Army asking the public for help or the fact that there is a Defence User’s Game Tech Conference.  I wish that I had enough travel funds to attend.

While not yet implemented, the project that I find the most impressive is the Amputee Virtual Environment Support Space (AVESS) blogged about by Dusan Writer, one of the project coordinators. The project will actually take place on a stand alone version of Second Life provided by Linden Labs rather than the public version.  The post does not explain why.  This project will target a new demographic for virtual worlds, and the benefits cannot be overstated.  The project will explore the unique needs of veteran amputees who may also be suffering from PTSD among other ailments.  Much like the NCO Academy students, the amputees will have the opportunity to connect to other veteran amputees around the world in an immersive environment.  The project is a partnership between ADL Company Inc. (ADL) and Virtual Ability, Inc. (VAI), and it is funded by Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center (TATRC) of the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command (USAMRMC).  It will certainly bear watching for interesting developments.

Can military veterans benefit from Second Life?

•December 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

New Mexico State University prides itself on being a military friendly school.  We decided, as managers of Aggie Island in Second Life, to create on our island an area for our active duty and veteran students.  It is attached to the Information Commons as we, or should I say the two librarians in the group, are viewing it as a special collections with resources for our veterans.

Second Life can provide the same benefits to veterans and military that it provides to other users.  Mainly that of creating a sense of shared intellectual space while allowing them to maintain a separation between themselves and their avatar.  This separation creates a comfort zone in which the library user feels more comfortable asking questions and seeking help.

As we build this area, we struggle with the question “What do resources do veterans/military need, and how can we provide that for them?”  What are we hoping to achieve with this area?”  In partial answer to the later question, military and veterans tend to have some unique needs.  Unlike other students, the military does not have the luxury to put their schooling first.  They must put their duty ahead of everything else, including their families.  As a spouse of a veteran, I am all too aware of that.  Also, combat veterans view the world very differently than most of us.  Have you noticed that student that is in the back of the classroom where all points of entry are within view an they are alert and aware?  That student may very well be a combat veteran.  By having a separate area, we can tailor it to meet their needs.

What are your thoughts on the matter?  Do you have suggestions for resources or tailoring a space?  Are you a military student or veteran?  What are your needs?  Visit us at http://slurl.com/secondlife/NMSU%20Aggie%20Island/45/3/22.

Survey

•December 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

We are conducting a survey to explore how people are using Second Life to access information and learning and how libraries can support this process. This research is part of a grant sponsored by Amigos Library Systems to explore how virtual worlds will affect information. The survey should take no more than fifteen minutes to complete. The survey will close out December 19, 2009 at midnight. We thank you for your time.

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XF7DHRD Feel free to pass it on!

Defining a Library

•November 5, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I have been thinking lately about the direction to take our research in Second Life. Our general goal is to discover how information changes or not change in Second Life, and how these changes affect libraries. Before we can know how it changes a library we must understand what a library is.

The question then is how do you define a library? Is a library a sum of its collections? Is it the services offered? If we take away the brick and mortar aspect of the library, what is left? If a library is not a place, what is it? How do we still bring what is the essence of a library to a virtual world, and what is no longer necessary, or what is something new that we must add?

At the heart of it, I think a library is a gateway to information. If you look at this very broadly, everything that happens at a library is tied to information. It could be information at the research level or information such as provided by the children’s book “I Stink” about a garbage truck. Cultural and community programs at the library provide information. Fiction books and fiction movies provide information. It goes without saying that computers at a library provide information. It is a librarian’s job to help their patrons find information whether that is with direct help such as reference or self-help through discovery aids or something as simple as browsing.

This still does not answer my research dilemma. It is so broad! What is the most important aspect with which to focus, or is there one? I have to admit that I want to do it all! Some additional questions that occurs to are: Should we look as some non-traditional ways to provide the information? We have provided a structure in Second Life that is very traditional, do we need to rethink our structure? Do we need to focus on collection management? What type of services should we provide?

In the end, I think collection management is a good place to start. How does Second Life changes what information people want access to? How do they want to access it? Do they want it available via webmons? Streaming video? Streaming audio? Are they actually going to do research inside Second Life? Is this a good medium for distance education classes to come together and use library resources?

I hope one day soon to post answers to all these questions.

Is the Objective Identity?

•November 3, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I just finished reading the article “The Electric Self: Doing Virtual Research for Real in Second Life” by Julie Rak, . She claims that the objective of Second Life is identity. Is it? For those who use Second Life for socialization, I would accept that as a valid assertion. However, what about those who use SL for business or educational reasons? Have I developed an identity for my avatar? Yes, I will agree with that, however, I am not sure that it was my main purpose. My main purpose was to research the possibilities of virtual worlds. I will admit, to do so I had to develop an identity.

Rak also called it representational reality and later used the word fiction. I admit this one ruffled my feathers. Fiction? Representational? I beg your pardon! Yet when I examine my avatar she is certainly a representation of myself and not actually myself. I refer to her in the third person, and I certainly do not look like she does. She has a Barbiezed body and a sultry walk. I find it amusing.

I will concede that there is some representational aspects and some fiction. I am not comfortable with that wording as I have enough troubles convincing my colleagues that SL is not a game. Or is it?

Copyright Infringement

•October 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The Metaverse Journal posted an article about a class action lawsuit against Linden Labs for failure to enforce copyright infringement. What repercussion will the suit have if it is successful or even what repercussions will there be if it is unsuccessful?

Defining Virtual Worlds

•June 29, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I am reading Tom Boellstrof’s Coming of Age in Second Life. He states that virtuality is not new and that it dates back to the cave man with their cave paintings.  That imagination or imagining one’s self in another place is virtual.  One of the oldest notions of a virtual world is in Plato’s Republic in his ‘allegory of a cave.’ In allegory of a cave a group of prisoners spend their lives chained to a wall where they can see nothing but shadows which becomes their reality.

While virtual worlds may not be new, it is experiencing a resurgence as a perceptual concept.  I maintain that it has great potential for impacting how people perceive information much as the internet has done.  Is it really possible to predict those changes?  Maybe.  Is it possible as librarians to impact those changes?  Again, maybe.  We certainly will not affect anything if we are sitting on the sidelines watching it go by.

Another interesting point from the book (I am only on chapter 3) is that as a part of an anthropologist ethnographic study, it is important for Tom to not know if the sex and age of the avatar matches the sex and age of the player.  As he conducted the ethnographic study in Second Life, he is only looking at how they present themselves in the virtual world.

As we as users interact with other users, we are cognizance of the fact that their virtual representation may or may not resemble their real life representation (most of the time).  As librarians when we conduct user studies in the Second Life, should we also be ignorant of their ‘real life’ persona?  Is this a chance to overcome some of the barriers that we still face due to race, sex, and age?  Granted most of the user studies that I have seen do not focus on any of these categories other than age, so it may be a moot point.

One last point, Tom also mentions that most residents who are in Second Life have never or will never meet in real life.  Does this hold true for those who use Second Life for professional networking?  I was just at a serials conference earlier this month, and I was surprised at the number of people who commented that they knew me through the listservs.  I believe also that ALA may have a group of people who use Second Life informally meeting.  It will be one of the questions that I will pose on the survey.  More subjects to ponder.

 
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