The frontier of education: Web 3D

a simulpost with TechLearning
As I read about the evolution of the Web, I just feel that many of the experts are missing it! (Perhaps the 3D web is part of the "intelligent agent" idea, but I'm not so sure.)

Yes, I think the semantic web is important (see the W3c specs) and inherently part of the future of the web, but I think there is one overarching evolution happening right now under our feet that is inexorably enmeshed with the semantic web.

It is there amidst the video games and "fun things" that most educators refuse to recognize. With "Web 2.0" barely taking a "bit" part in most of today's classrooms, the next evolution of the web, I predict, is not Web 3.0. I think it will be Web 3D.

The 3D web!

Lest one think I have come up with this, visionaries have been discussing this for around 15 years. The 3D web has really been around since the Sims went online and allowed people to virtually live next to each other. However, things like Second Life, Xbox live, Google Earth and World of Warcraft, are just beginning to show the power of networks and engagement of the 3D web. Now things like Moove and Kaneva are cropping up. The MetaVerse roadmap first met last year to discuss the "pathway to the 3D web." On their website, they state:

"Among social virtual worlds, the 2.5D world Habbo Hotel now has 7 million youth users in 18 countries. The leading open-ended 3D virtual world platform, Second Life, doubled from 160,000 to 330,000 accounts in four months (March to July 2006) and has recently been doubling every two months, to 2.5 million by Jan 2007, when they announced they would take their viewer open source. The global market for asset trading, object creation, and services rendered in virtual worlds is estimated at anywhere from $700 million to $2 billion per year (mostly undocumented and untaxed at present). In Japan, social networking sites like GaiaX entice their users into online games and virtual worlds as just one of many social options. Early location-based games are emerging in Asia.

In the simulation space, virtual humans are being explored for their online educational ability. Virtual prototyping software is making great strides in industry, bringing us closer to an era of Fab Lab prototyping and product hacking/customization. 3D navigation systems are emerging in the automotive market in Japan and Europe. Local-positioning systems, like 3M's RFID Tracking Solution, and modeling advances like ArcGIS, Google Earth, and SketchUp are allowing us to create "mirror world" versions of physical space like never before..."

But, lest you think web3d is only happening in the company atmosphere, scientists have been hard at work on standards to make web 3d available everywhere. In 1992, VRML (rhymes with thermal) was created, and after some discussion about the 3D web and work on standards by the W3C the X3D consortium has been created and X3d has officially replaced VRML.

A picture is worth a thousand words, why are we still talking about words?

So, we've got all of these 3-D worlds cropping up. You go in each one and you have to design your avatar. (My SL avatar is to the left.) You have passwords to remember everywhere. In some cases, you have to install the software.

I think the next big browser will allow you to interact in 3D with any website. (Yes, Second Life is open source, but the environment is not!) Why should you have to "join?" Shouldn't there be protocols and filters and standards for a 3D web browsing experience just like we have with a 2D experience of words and static photographs?

Do we realize that Linden dollars (the money in Second Life) may perhaps be our first truly global currency? (It is 250L$ to every $1 of US currency.)

Second Life is OK, but its not ready for prime time in education. I've been spending some time in there lately with some educators I trust. There are educators doing great things in Second Life. However, remember, that many experts believe that a lot of money laundering is now going through Linden Dollars. (I have this on good authority from an Internet safety expert and it is beginning to crop up in some news sources and even the Second Life Herald (the newspaper of Second Life.))

So what is the 3D web like?

So, before you tune out and think I'm crazy, I'd like to take you on a quick tour of Second Life as an example of the 3D web. (Many people cannot run it on their computer because it requires a newer computer.)

I spent last Saturday in Second life with Beth Ritter-Guth. (See her Second Life Blog) Beth is working to use second life in a positive way to teach her college classes -- she shuns the seedy areas and works with the positives.

She has "set up shop" in London and has found a place that is free of a lot of the bad things that go on elsewhere in second life. So, I like what she's doing and where she's heading.

My fellow teacher, Sharon Peters, in Canada, spent time learning Shakespeare in there last week. In her post, Second Life, It's not a game, she says:

"A few days ago, I was sent an invitation to attend a group meeting of English Second Language Teachers who were meeting in Second Life to discuss an initiative of Language and Culture Education in SL. I decided to drop in on the meeting to see what it was about.

I fumbled and bumbled my way in and joined the skypecast conversation that was taking place between the members as they were in SL. More than a dozen avatars were present, representing real-life teachers from countries such as Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Spain, the UK, and the US. A few were high school teachers, but most were college teachers or teachers of adult learners. We discussed how we would like to create a database of lesson plans that could be used by educators who wanted to use SL as an environment to augment the teaching of language and culture."

So, what's the big deal?

See Second Life Second Hand

If you're afraid to "go in" (I was) or just don't have the time, I've scoured youtube for some videos that I think are pretty informative. So you can see "second hand" (pardon the pun) what second life is about. I think you'll begin to see the potential of educational 3D environments.

The leaders

Suffern Middle School is in Second Life and conducted an interesting court case two weeks a go in there based on the novel Of Mice and Men. They have posted their transcripts and proceedings on their blog, so judge for yourself.

The New Media Consortium Second Life Campus has had exciting news last week as a real life (RL) blogger covering the Scooter Libby trial in Washington DC discussed live blogging the trial on campus.

So, take a look at NMC's promo video from Youtube to look at the campus.

You can follow what they are doing in second life at

Ohio University

Great promo video posted two weeks a go!

Harvard Law School's Professor tells us about his fall 2006 class in SL

I've heard a lot about this Cyberlaw class, here the Professor talks about what they are doing and gives a tour of the facility.

How the 3D web could benefit education

  • You can go places that cannot be visited today.

    Take a look at this tour of ancient Rome and see how much you learn.

    We show videos about the background of the times of history because we know that pictures and videos can teach in 30 minutes what we can spend weeks telling our students. The impact of video.

    Well, let me ask you. What if the students could interact with such things? What if they could go to ancient Rome and what if we could go there as well? What if we could see some ways that some of the pyramids could have been built or visit an Aztec village and be part of the crowd when Montezuma arrives? What if we can experience the American revolution and be with the troops in Valley Forge? How much would we learn if we can go there virtually? How much can we teach the students.

    If experience is the greatest teacher, what if we could give our students a SAFE way to experience such things! Think of the potential!

  • You can overcome stereotypes

    The creation of an avatar can allow students to escape the stereotypes of their daily lives. We could ask them to be certain things to experience how it feels. We could take role play to a much higher level than ever before but we can also help students who are struggling break out of what others "think" they should be based upon what type of tennis shoes they wear to class and let them just be.

    I know that a "utopian wonderland of no stereotypes" will not be possible as long as humans are humans, however, I would relish the opportunity to have such a level playing field between my students and students in other classes.

  • Student Collaboration

    I would have loved having an "Oscar-like" presentation in Second Life at the conclusion of the Flat Classroom project where we screened the videos and discussed them with people around the world.

    Students can come together in unique, fascinating ways. They can look at common websites, work on common electronic objects of any kind (even wikis), discuss, talk, connect, and chat. But even more, they can fly. They can transport to multiple 3D worlds instantaneously. Just think!

  • Authentic Assessment / Project Based Learning Possibilities

    We look at project based learning. What if students had to research and create a village as it did in the time of Shakespeare. Even further, what if a whole school district or schools around the world created this. How much would they learn?

  • Role Playing
    Our students can role play and become what we want to teach. Court cases (like the one shown above), decision making, character development, plot, metaphors, and so many things can be taught in such an environment.

  • Potential for group synergies
    We as educators spend so much time "reinventing wheels." What if we can share these resources and build on the work of one another? What if we can truly create common curricular environments with the standards built in? What if these places are exciting tools that will help the classroom teacher?

  • Storage, Legacy, and Global Audience
    So, my child created a great project about the ecosystem of a swamp. It took us weeks. We did it last November and just threw it away last weekend amidst tears from both of us. It was a great project. It had an audience of her class and that is it. Why did that project that so many could have learned from have to disappear into our local landfill? Why?

    Well, in 3D environments, she could literally create an ecosystem of a swamp that other kids could tour. The other kids could have dove under water and spent hours looking at the under swamp life. They could have flown overhead and seen morning fog rise from the still waters. They could see an alligator basking in the sun, an a frog catching a fly with his long tongue. And it could remain for the next class to add upon. Nothing to throw away. A legacy to leave behind. Perhaps that swamp could have remained and evolved for her children to "play in" when they got into elementary school!

  • Scenario Simulation
    We first tell our kids in chemistry not to mix the chemicals. There are online experiments, but what if we could go to a virtual science lab. Mix it all! Drink it. Throw it in your own eyes. See what happens. Learn from it. You cannot die. Do experiments.

    Then, go offline into your real science lab and do the correct experiment and see how it works. These online experiments exist today but what if they were in one place. You could conduct high level scientific experiments that a high school could not afford. (Splitting atoms anyone? Open up the brain?)

    Or, how about observing the cycles of change. Watching the life cycle of a frog in a shorter time. You can look at it, pick it up, measure it at each point. You can handle it without killing it. You can do an animal a day in the span of 30 minutes. Watch it grow. Forward it and go backwards. What if you could go inside the frog and dissect it at each point. Put it back together and watch it grow a little more.

    How about the exploration of inhospitable environments? Wouldn't you like to take your kids to Mars or the moon? How about the North Pole? Or how about a weather station deep in the Antarctic? What about the wreckage of the Titanic? Critical points in history?

  • Digital Storytelling
    Machinima is the act of making real movies in virtual worlds. Your students can role play, you can film and share it and critique it. The possibilities are unlimited!

    Unlimited possibilities! What potential we have with this!
So, what are we to do?

Note: I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO GO SET UP YOUR CLASS IN SECOND LIFE. It is not ready yet for classes! And the adult grid is just that -- adult! But like the internet, there are good and bad places. And I've been visiting the good and shunning the bad.

Just because I shun the bad places, doesn't mean that they're not there! Bottom line is that we need a 3-D web for educational purposes.

Why the teen grid may not work for you.
The teen grid is the only place now for high schoolers and there are limitations on getting educators in. Then, even if you have the several thousand dollars to
buy a private island and the couple of hundred dollars a month (you are buying server space!), if you're on the teen grid, your teens can leave you and go anywhere on the teen grid and you CANNOT leave the island to go with them.

They have a stringent background check for educators to get on the teen grid and when you do, you can only go on the teen island where you have permission to work. However, your students can leave and go other places without you. Only "PG" but still other places outside of your supervision. I'm not comfortable with that. Period. I'm also not sure what happens when the avatar you've worked on turns 18 -- does it move into the adult side and do you take your scripts with you? I also have some seniors who are 18 and some who are 17, so I'm not sure how that would work!

Also, they cannot go to the adult areas (for good reason) but the adult areas is where the incredible simulated environments like the tour of Rome shown above are being built.

Lying is not an option for me and it shouldn't be for you. (In other words, don't go pretend you are a teen.) If you're caught, you're banned from Second Life for all of your real life!

We have some work as educators that we need to do! If you want to know about Second Life and working with kids 13-17, you can read the Educators working with Teens in Second Life wiki. It gives you the facts as they stand now. None that are palatable to me yet. As much as I'd love to convene a flat classroom project in there, with what I know, I'm not going in with a class yet.

Additionally, Second Life does take some bandwidth!

Not yet ready for prime time

You'll see that right now, we don't have great solutions for high schoolers YET.

However, I think it is a given that your students will end up experiencing Second Life in a college class, so it is worth teachers going in there and understanding the environment. And remember, it is a video game, and Linden Labs is in there to make money. I haven't spent any and if you find "friends" they will teach you and will give you free things like shirts and the "prims" (the building blocks of things in Second Life) that you can use to teach.

3D is coming, and we can't even handle 2.0

Change is accelerating. Meanwhile, many educators haven't even come to grips with the social web, Web 2.0. We also must remember that there is no such thing as second hand learning -- second life learning is first person learning.

Likewise 3D learning is real learning.

If second life is not there yet, we as educators need to join in the discussions, consortiums, and groups that are figuring out what needs to happen. So, although I'm not taking a class into second life yet, I am spending a couple of hours a month participating in second life exploration, discussions, and learning.

Also, we need to advocate the work being done by researchers and let people know what we think could be! We need to encourage the development of easy to use, safe, classroom environments that can be controlled by the teacher but also allow students to enter 3D virtual environments. If we do not develop alternatives to second life, we will have to use second life. If we do not advocate for effective classroom measures in second life, we will have to take it as it is. Linden Labs (the developers of second life) will quite literally control our future.

Meanwhile, encourage educators to understand change and become a part. Help them to see that the very future of the children they teach is dependent upon their ability to change, adapt, and understand such new environments and to operate in them safely. Our children have an unknown future that will be full of change. Are you preparing them for that?

I am not an expert on the 3D web, but I know enough to believe that this is indeed the next evolution of the Web.

How it will look and what it will be will largely be determined by the pioneers and visionaries who are moving into the new frontier: the 3D web.

What do you think?

(Tag it Web3D and education so those of us interested can track the conversation.)

Friends, I'm still learning about this fascinating new frontier. I hope that you will share your thoughts on this area so that I may learn from you, your resources, and your connections.

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