Solipsis – another online world

They’re getting to be like cockroaches: everywhere. Here’s another online world. From its own publicity:

“Solipsis is a pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world. There are no central servers at all: it only relies on end-users’ machines.

Solipsis is a public virtual territory. The world is initially empty and only users will fill it by creating and running entities. No pre-existing cities, inhabitants nor scenario to respect…

Solipsis is open-source, so everybody can enhance the protocols and the algorithms. Moreover, the system architecture clearly separates the different tasks, so that peer-to-peer hackers as well as multimedia geeks can find a good place to have fun here!

Current versions of Solipsis give the opportunity to act as pionneers in a pre-cambrian world. You only have a 2D representation of the virtual world and some basic tools devoted to communications and interactions. But it just works, so, come on and enjoy !”

Some reflection on this is provided here:

“[…]I wonder if Linden’s mad rush to open up its servers over the coming quarters towards “multiple grids by 2009″ (see my previous post) is driven at all by the accompanying mad rush of developers in all corners to open source other options. I’ll make a call to the Virtual World’s Standards Consortium to check that all these worlds will be interoperable and that we’ll have access to portable avatars per IBM’s scheme, if I can only find the number.

Final notes:
– Oh, and if anyone can slice through the acronyms and tell me whether it will support interoperability with 3D modeling I’d love to know.
– Keep an eye on the Wikipedia entry for Solipsis. It sounds like it was written by the company’s PR folks. Now that Wayne has brought attention to this (yay attention!) expect the OpenSim and Linden folks to go over and make a few corrective adjustments to the entry. )

CALL FOR PAPERS for ALT-J – Learning and Teaching in Immersive Virtual Worlds

My thanks to Eleanor for drawing my attention to the following call for papers from the Association for Learning Technology:


Learning and Teaching in Immersive Virtual Worlds

Special issue of ALT-J, Research in Learning Technology

Immersive virtual worlds (IVWs), such as Second Life, Active Worlds, Croquet and Forterra and massive multi-player games (MMPGs), such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft represent a paradigm shift in learning technology, and an important challenge to the world of education. They provide a platform with the potential to support a wide variety of activities, many of which have been adapted to learning and teaching, particularly in higher education. For some the spatial and social qualities of IVWs are exciting and attractive, for others, such as those involved in games-based learning, they can be seen as slow and troublesome. Nevertheless, interest in using IVWs and MMPGs in learning and teaching is growing rapidly.

The aim of this special issue of ALT-J is to develop and publish a timely collection of papers representing current research, developments and ideas in educational applications of IVWs and MMPGs. Of particular interest are papers that go beyond descriptions of objects and activities to build links between practice and pedagogy, and offer conceptual, methodological and analytical rigour. Example topic areas for inclusion in this special issue include, but are not necessarily confined to:

  1. Issues of embodiment
  2. Running IVWs and MMPGs cost effectively on a large scale
  3. Contexts in which use of IVWs is likely to be pedagogically effective
  4. Understandings of identity
  5. Research into learning and teaching in IVWs and MMPGs
  6. The impact of virtual quests
  7. Uses of collaborative simulation
  8. Collaborative construction
  9. The value of virtual laboratories
  10. Uses of virtual field work
  11. Group discussion in IVWs and MMPGs
  12. Problem-based learning in IVWs and MMPGs
  13. Geo-spatial representation of content
  14. The impact on learners and teachers
  15. Institutional aspects of IVWs and MMPGs
  16. How IVWs and MMPGs alter views of learning
  17. IVWs and MMPGs in schools

For queries and guidance relating to the call please contact Special Issue Editors Maggi Savin-Baden or Robert Ward.

Important dates:

Until 22 February 2008 Submission of abstracts and formal/informal response from Special Issue Editors.Submission of full papers: 31st March 2008

Types of papers:

To ensure both the quality and usefulness of the contributions a variety of papers will be considered. These might include, for example,

  1. a review of current literature practice,
  2. a paper that theorized particular aspects IVWs and MMPGs
  3. a critical stance on issues such as linking the previous studies on student learning with aspects of IVWs and MMPGs

ALT-J submission process and Timetable:
Manuscripts Papers should not exceed 5,000 words. Authors should submit their papers electronically to the ALT-J Administrator. Submissions in Microsoft Word are preferred.

Papers should be formatted as A4 size (or equivalent), double-spaced, with ample margins. In order to guarantee anonymous peer review the name(s) of the author(s) and the address where the work was carried out should only appear on a separate first page, along with the full postal address of the author who will check proofs, receive correspondence and offprints, as well as an email address. All pages should be numbered.

Each article should include an abstract/summary of 100-500 words, Footnotes to the text should be avoided as far as possible, notes should be marked with [1], [2] and should be collected at the end of the article, before the reference section.

Further details on submission (including types of papers) may be found at the Routledge Taylor Francis Group.

Until 22 February 2008 Submission of abstracts and formal/informal response from Special Issue Editors.

31 March 2008 Submission of papers.”

Open source virtual world: Croquet

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but if not, check out this post here to understand a bit more of what’s going on on the technological front concerning immersive worlds for learning… and why Croquet might be a better place to spend our time:

“The Croquet Constortium is “an open source metaverse software foundation” which has developed Croquet, a development environment/architecture for creating virtual worlds. The presentation was given by two of the founding architects of the platform: Julian Lombardi, Duke University’s assistant vice president of Academic Services and Technology Support (Julian’s blog), and Mark McCahill, also at Duke (and creator of the Gopher protocol). Their point was that the Internet was designed as a client-server model back when computing power and bandwidth were scarce, so authoritative servers were needed to provide clients with the necessary state.  But that model is no longer valid — 30 users can stress a game server using that antiquated architectural model.  And so to build new virtual environments using that schema is thus fundamentally flawed.  Their Croquet platform is peer-to-peer based, so the users retain the current state of the virtual worlds, and new users logging on get the latest version of the world from the closest node on the network.  The architecture stresses the replication of computing rather than of data — it is a coordination protocol.”

And finally, “7 ways Croquet is Better than Second Life“. I have yet to try Croquet, but it is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

SL_Archaeology (or, the virtual excavation update 4)

I recently posted a query on the Second Life Educator’s list explaining what I was up to, and, in the interests of not reinventing the wheel, whether anything similar has been done. I received a number of notes from people with suggestions of approaches to try, and examples of other archaeologically-themed sims, chief amongst them Okapi Island (read about opportunities for apprenticeships here!) and Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Crimson Island. Thank you so much!

(By the way, there is a session titled ‘Current Experiments in Interpretation‘ at this year’s World Archaeological Conference that should be of interest to readers of this blog.)

An interesting approach was suggested to me by Paula Christopher at Georgia State. Using simple box-prims layered on on top of the other displaying the ‘texture’ (picture) I want to show for each layer, she suggests putting a show/hide script in each prim. That way, the student can touch each layer, and have it ‘excavated’ away to reveal the layer below. This I think might be a ‘safer’ way of doing it than what I’ve been trying this past week:

I had noticed, inadvertently, that I could lose prims ‘underground’. I could only recover them by using the land tool to lower the ground, exposing the prim. This gave me an ‘ah ha!’ moment. I rezzed the simple cabin that comes with every avatar’s inventory on a piece of ground that I had lowered to just above the level of the ur-ocean that underlays every piece of land in SL. I then unlinked all of its component prims, and made them all ‘physical’. They collapsed according to SL’s physics engine, making a pile of beams, etc. I then made them all ‘normal’ again ie they don’t move unless you use the repositioning tool. At this point, I raised the land around the prims as unevenly as I could, making sure to make the land a bit bumpy over the long walls and so on – site formation processes in SL! Then, a few bits of grass and other bits of greenery, placed to mimic growth over an archaeological site, salt with web-linked prims to archaeological databases, and voila.

The flaw in this plan, is that in order to excavate, I would have to turn over permissions to alter the landscape to my students. Maybe that’s not an issue, but on reflection I can think of one or two ways that that could go horribly wrong. That’s why I think I’ll redo this show/hide prims rather than the actual landscape of SL.


Digital History Class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Scott Moore, of the history department at IUP, is beginning a class in digital history this semester. He’s blogging his experience too, providing the rest of us with perhaps a peek into the future? I’m looking forward to following this project. Scott writes:

“My Digital History class is all set to go, I think. I finished the syllabus and created a WebCT site for it this afternoon. I use WebCT mainly for lecture notes, images, threaded discussions, and record keeping. Unfortunately, WebCT was bought by Blackboard and is being phased out. IUP’s license for it expires in June 2009 and we will have to adopt different CMS software. In trying to get ready for that, I volunteered to try out Sakai with the class to see what I think of it. I also intend to try out Moodle and its connection to Sloodle with the class – ensuring that these students will be able to give me good feedback to pass on to the IT guys.

I did not order a textbook for this course, but will rely on on-line articles, databases, and websites – appropriate for a digital history class, I think.One of the main ones will be Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. The web project, Digital History, also has a nice collection of links to articles, journals, and websites.

I also finished up the pre-test and put it into WebCT. It is 30 questions and is composed of multiple choice, matching, and short answer questions. I intend to give them 50 minutes to take the test and haven’t decided whether to do it in class or let them do it on their own – each has advantages and shortcomings. I won’t probably decide until Monday morning. The questions cover information literacy, Internet topics, and  software. I will be very interested in seeing how the students perform on it. I may give it to my other classes to see if I can get better data on how a wider range of students do on it. For example, since my digital history students are taking this as an elective, doesn’t that mean that they have an interest in the topic and therefore probably will do better on it, than say a Western Civ student? Questions to ponder…..”

Excavating in Second Life (3)

Some nice feedback over at ClioAudio on my plans for a virtual excavation in Second Life –

“In my head till now Second Life has been next door to Doom, Quake and Half-Life, but not as compelling due to the lack of gore. The archaeological models I’ve seen have been painstakingly created, but they’ve always seemed unrealistic. Partly because of the limitations of technology, but also because they tend to be re-creations of monuments and artefacts in pristine condition. Between them Shawn and Eric have shown Second Life could be much more interesting if you take another approach and try and build a virtual excavation.”

Alun raises an important point when he expresses reservations about the fact that this is in Second Life.

“Really it’s the fact it’s in Second Life which is my concern. Is it possible to export the information out from Second Life and make it accessible to other programs? If not then you would seem to be at the mercy of one company. Which is why I should go back and see what you can and cannot do in Second Life.”

It is in fact possible to export information out of Second Life – the Sloodle project for instance has been working very hard to integrate the Moodle learning management system with learning activities carried out in Second Life. I’ve used some of the tools that they’ve developed to post directly from Second Life into the blog part of a Moodle course area, for instance. I can imagine recording information from the virtual excavation directly in this way… but sometimes the easiest way to export information from one system or world is to do it in your head. If I have Nabonidus and Second Life both open at the same time on a computer, I can just switch from one to the other…

People with whom I chat about things like Second Life express reservations about my project being on just the one platform, owned by a commercial company. At the current moment, there’s not much I can do about that. Part of me wants to say, ‘but do you object to writing your papers using MS Word?’. The analogy isn’t exact. Were Microsoft to go under, your copy of Word would still work. If Linden Labs goes under, Second Life might cease to exist altogether. This is a very real concern. Other virtual worlds (proper games) have gone *ppphhht* as their parent companies pull the plug (The Economist did an article, ‘The End is Virtually Nigh’ on one such). New projects, such as the Multiverse project, would allow you to set up your own world independent of a commercial company (see also this article). But really, how many of us archaeologists have the kind of skill sets necessary to get something like that up and running?

This was the initial genius of Second Life – it promised to let anybody (with a broadband connection), build their own virtual reality. Now in truth it’s not so simple, but as the first to really roll that out on a grand scale, it has been a success. I fully expect, if I am able to get this virtual excavation to work as I imagine it, that someday I’ll have to migrate it to a different world or platform. It probably won’t be a straight one-to-one transfer. But having done it once, and understanding what is involved, it’ll be much easier to do a second time.

The Virtual Via Flaminia

Looks like the Via Flaminia is getting all virtual…. note that parts of the exhibit are supposed to be uploaded into Second life:

All roads lead to Rome, even virtual ones.
A museum on Tuesday unveiled a virtual reconstruction of one of the bustling arteries that led into ancient Rome, allowing visitors to wander through rebuilt monuments and interact with the city’s political elite.

Using a concept similar to that of online virtual worlds, the project creates characters _ or avatars _ that roam the ancient Via Flaminia, exploring funerary monuments that lined the road, bridges and arches, as well as the villa of Livia, wife of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus.[…]

In addition to its educational and entertainment value, scientists can access the reconstruction and the data to study the area and its monuments, experts said.
«Besides what you see on the movie screen, which is of interest to the public, we have reams of data, scans and maps that are of help to archaeologists and historians,» said Augusto Palombini, an archaeologist who worked on the project.

Forte said the scientific data would be added over the next few months to the project’s Web site, which already hosts a presentation of the reconstruction. A section of Livia’s villa will also be uploaded in the coming weeks on the Internet-based virtual reality community called Second Life, he said.  <full article>

The full goals of the project are stated here.

Planning archaeology in Second Life (2)

Eric over at Digging Digitally commented on my plan to build a virtual excavation in Second Life, and especially my thoughts on linking to outside archaeological databases – like Open Context. XML is definitely the way forward in this regard, and he provides some links to different kinds of data in the Open Context repository:

(1) Here’s a link to XML data for all small finds from Petra that have pictures (from the faceted browse).

(2) Here’s a link to XML data for a specific sheep radius from Petra.

(3) Here’s another link to XML data for an elephant capital also from Petra.

Although there’s contextual information, the contexts don’t have very clear spatial referencing, so it’ll be hard to simply put these data into a good Second Life 3D view. Having some clear common standard for spatial referencing in 3D will be really useful, as well as clear conventions on how to visualize archaeological data when detailed spatial referencing isn’t available.

Students would use virtual planning frames to record their work (drawing them up in Paint or something simple, then emailing the plans to me)… anyway, it’s all still in flux.

I might use Nabonidus for the students to do their recording – here are some of its features (note that it’s free!):

» Nabonidus is a web application designed for Archaeological Excavation data storage, sharing, manipulation and analysis. It aims to revolutionize the way we as Archaeologists collect, analyze and interpret excavation data:

  • Simple data collection
  • — all excavation data can be stored simply and easily in the Nabonidus database which can be accessed at anytime from anywhere in the world with an internet connection.

  • Complete data privacy
  • — all data is stored securely and excavations can mark their data as public or private as they see fit.

  • Immediate results
  • — Nabonidus gives meaningful statistical feedback immediately upon entering data for your dig.

  • Cross excavation analysis
  • — Nabonidus’ powerful search engine allows easy cross excavation analysis.

  • Simple dig configuration
  • — Nabonidus allows you total control over what data your excavation needs to record and how private or public you would like that data to be.

  • It’s free
  • — Nabonidus is free to any excavation run by a University, charitable or not-for-profit organisation. Please go the Register page to sign up. You can be adding contextual data to your excavation within 5 minutes.

  • Future versions
  • — a light weight version of Nabonidus for Pocket PCs is currently in development which will enable excavators to input data in real time from their trench. We are also extending the functionality of the search engine, trying to import as much public excavation data as we can as well as adding Harris Matrix and excavation management functionality.

    Archaeology in Second Life…. Where to begin?

    emptyrwu1.jpgSo. I’m about to embark on something I’ve talked about for a while, but haven’t had the chance: an archaeological simulation in Second Life! It will form part of my introduction to archaeology class, taught using the Moodle learning management system.

    Not that I know what I’m doing – yet. RWU has obtained a piece of land from the NMC, and I’m to start making it a place where RWU’s students – who are completely online, scattered across the US – can come together for teaching and learning. It will contain the usual paraphernalia for what works best in education in this context – ‘open air’ class rooms, face-to-face meetings via distance, and simulation of things/activities otherwise impossible.

    Like a re-doable archaeological excavation.

    My initial thought is to layer prims as strata, with links to online repositories of archaeological artefact data (like Open Context) salted appropriately throughout, and to provide ‘excavation’ type animations. Then, students would arrive, map out the site, choose where to start digging, and record everything, constructing harris matrices, etc… Anyway, you can tell that this needs careful thought. Comments and suggestions welcome!

    One other of the things I’m charged with is to try to figure out how Latin and Greek might be usefully taught in a 3d online persistent environment. What I’m thinking, is to make the language(s) manipulative, that is, a giant tetris- or lego- style place, where things only fit together according to case, mood, voice, etc…

    So I’m off to the Ivory Tower of the Primitives to figure out how to make this all work. If you’re interested in helping out, let me know…

    Establishing Virtual Learning Worlds (for Archaeology too!)

    A blog worth examining, if you are interested in the educational aspect of immersive learning in online worlds, is the aptly named ‘Virtual Learning Worlds‘ Blog. There’s a white paper there by Barton Pursel and Keith Bailey that I’m about to read, abstract below:


    Video games in today’s society have moved from a cult phenomenon to a mainstream leisure activity. One reason for this is the emergence of online gaming, where people interact, socialize, and learn in online environments. While online game populations rapidly increase, the attrition in online courses remains to be an issue. Based on the needs of today’s students, along with the level of interactivity and other traits of online game worlds, educators need to look into incorporating elements of online gaming into online learning environments, creating Virtual Learning Worlds (VLW).

    And since it seems an appropriate moment to introduce, below follows the draft of an essay that I’m writing (sorry that there are no click-throughs in the text):

    Why should archaeologists care about online worlds?

    PDQ Submission

    Something to think about:

    • Archaeology is “the science that studies human cultures through the recovery, documentation and analysis of material remains and environmental data, including architecture, artifacts, features, biofacts, and landscapes”[i]
    • Students learn to become archaeologists through a combination of lectures and hands-on training;
    • To excavate something is to destroy it.

    This last consideration guides how we teach archaeology to undergraduates (and I confine my comments for the most part to the undergraduate experience). We are loath to allow students to really get their hands on real archaeology because it is a limited resource and there isn’t the time, money, or resource to allow our students to make mistakes. There is of course more to archaeology than simply field work, but even in those cases, there is a reluctance to allow students to actually work with the materials, to make mistakes. We compensate for that by adding ever more lecture hours to a student’s course load. In some institutions, it is entirely possible to graduate with a degree in archaeology without ever having spent more than two weeks doing field work. Yet, by some estimations, the typical student only ever takes in about 10% of a lecture – a 5000 word lecture distills in the student’s notes to a mere 500 words (Oblinger and Maruyama 1996; Johnstone and Su 1994). This kind of teaching/learning has been disparaged as “One tape recorder talking to another” (Foreman et al. 2004: 53)

    So: we have a subject, about the human past, especially its material culture, that we teach not by letting our students work with that material, but by giving lectures, of which only a tiny fraction may actually sink in. This despite the broader changes in educational practice that have been taking place over the last decade or so, from what might be called ‘teacher-centric’ to ‘learner-centric’ approaches. Broadly, a learner-centred approach recognises that students learn in different styles. Some may learn perfectly well by listening to a lecture; others might find that the discipline of writing a paper makes for a better learning experience, while others again find that they need to actually be working with the material culture in question, to achieve a successful learning outcome. A learner-centred approach does not aim to transfer knowledge from the teacher to the student, but to give the student the appropriate tools to create knowledge themselves (Barr and Tagg 1995). In a Roman history class, this might translate to, instead of lecturing about the political scheming of the late Republic, to showing students how to actively criticise the source materials and construct their own interpretations of that period’s political turmoil.

    There is another significant problem that now faces us, as educators of the next generation of archaeologists. Essentially, our students think in fundamentally different pathways than previous generations. Any student under 25 years of age today can be considered a ‘digital native’, one who has grown up surrounded by, and bombarded by, computers, video games, and digital media. We their teachers on the other hand are ‘digital immigrants’, who grew up in a different land, surrounded by books (Prensky 2001a). A book requires sustained patience and attention; an argument can be built slowly on the assumption that the reader has the ability to maintain the thread. If we want to create good archaeologists, we need to recognise that how we have taught in the past might not be good enough any more simply because our students learn differently than we did (Prensky 2001b).

    In recognising that our students are ‘digital natives’ there is an enormous opportunity for us as educators to deal with one of the perennial difficulties of teaching archaeology: to excavate, and/or to handle inexpertly, is to destroy our subject matter. Our digital natives that we hope to turn into archaeologists are at home in online, multi-user simulations, virtual worlds like Second Life, The Croquet Project, Multiverse Project, There, Ancient Spaces. Therein lays our opportunity. Online worlds for us ‘digital immigrants’ are for immersing our students in the material. I mean that literally. These worlds can be used to simulate ancient architecture, material culture, and/or the methodologies of field archaeology. We can use these worlds to provide immersive and engaging learning experiences that will prepare the students to be professional when they do encounter the real-world materials. The user or visitor to these worlds is embodied in an avatar, which can be fully customised to reflect the user’s persona. More importantly, being embodied in the world makes for a richer learning experience. Players of these games never say, ‘My character made it all the way to level 33!’ They say, ‘I made it to level 33’. These are rich 3D worlds, and they provide an extremely strong sensation of ‘being there’ in a way that ‘flat’ modes of educational delivery cannot match (cf Castronova 2005).

    Educators using these worlds for teaching are using them to create simulations of places (replicating real-world geography, literary places, interior places like the structure of DNA, and extra-terrestrial geography as on Mars), for prototyping (urban designers and architects are early adopters here), for understanding disease (one simulation drops the user –medical students- into the world of a schizophrenic, Yellowlees and Burrage 2005) . Artists are using the media to explore new forms of expression. Users tend to identify with their avatar to a high degree; one humanities professor has used this phenomenon to explore human-animal relationships by having her students adopt animal avatars and then see what happens to them as they wander through the world (Jeremy Kemp, Second Life Educators List April 2006).

    Part of the educational value of online worlds is that they are very game-like, and games are excellent vehicles for creating rich learning experiences.

    “Games are… the most ancient and time-honored vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We don’t see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don’t see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, ‘Can games have educational value?’ becomes absurd… Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning” (Crawford 1982).

    In the field, an archaeologist continuously has to be re-thinking her approach to the problem at hand. New laws, new stakeholders, a changing environment or changing finances continually re-make the ‘rules of the game’. An approach that was working one day may suddenly be inappropriate because the time-line for the road scheme has been accelerated. Archaeologists have to be adaptable, they have to reformulate their knowledge to adapt to circumstance: they have to be able to problematize their knowledge. This is something that games are very good at teaching. Students are often afraid to fail because a new exercise, a new problem, carries penalties for failure. Games encourage failure and learning from failure as part of a cyclical process of hypothesis (“what happens if…?”) testing (“…I’ll try this…”) and revision (“…well, that didn’t work, so…”). This cognitive disequilibrium is the process where the learners readjust their expectations in light of new information (resolution). Feedback in a game world is often immediate, allowing the cycle to begin again. “Games thrive as teaching tools when they create a continuous cycle of cognitive disequilibrium and resolution…while also allowing the player to be successful” (Van Eck 2006:20).

    Online worlds and the way games are played in them are also good models for project management, a skill that archaeologists need but are seldom formally trained in. In online games, ad-hoc teams come together for very specific purposes, with different players assuming the mantle of leadership depending on their skill sets, for the duration of the episode. Management schools in the US are beginning to see in this a model for distributed decision making and for allowing leadership to emerge to suit the task, a very different model than traditional hierarchical models (Reeves and Malone 2007:31)

    Online multi-user archaeological simulations do exist. The University of North Dakota has created a simulation of the village of Like-a-fishhook; this simulation is currently entirely text-based. In perhaps the most popular online world for educational simulations, Second Life, there are currently no explicitly archaeological simulations; but that is not to say that there are no simulations with archaeological content (Graham 2007). Of all the online worlds currently in existence, Second Life is probably the easiest one to visit and to build in, for every user has the ability to create using simple building tools, based on ‘primitives’ or simple geometric shapes. Perhaps the best example of a use that could have archaeological implications is Vassar College’s recreation of the Sistine Chapel (Taylor 2007). As it happens, users can fly in Second Life, and so a visitor to the Chapel can float up to the ceiling to study the paintings nose-to-Adam’s-nose, a point of view not really possible since Michelangelo tore down his scaffolding. There is a ‘mining’ game in Second Life that sends players into a simulated 1849 California after gold (Nugget Gulch 2007); the mechanics of this game could be adopted to develop a simulated excavation. The Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (Caraher, Moore, and Pettegrew 2007) uses Second Life as a place to organise the logistics of their excavations, while the ‘Remixing Çatalhöyük’ project (Wei 2007) uses it to understand the architectural layout of that city. And finally, I have argued elsewhere that online virtual worlds exist as the latest in a long line of virtual worlds that have been created by humans, from the Hanging Gardens to Disneyland, and so ought to be considered subjects of archaeological study in their own right (Graham 2007b, 2007c).

    The point, then, of online worlds is that they provide us with the opportunity to transform our teaching and learning to better serve our students and ultimately our profession.

    Ancient Spaces

    BARR, R. B. and J. Tagg, “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,” Change, vol. 27, no. 6 (November/December 1995): 12–25. online at

    CARAHER, W., R.S. Moore, and D. Pettegrew. 2007. “The Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project Internet Edition – Multimedia”

    CASTRONOVA, E. 2005. Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    CRAWFORD, C. 1982. The Art of Computer Game Design. Electronic Version 1997, Washington State University Vancouver. [February 26, 2007]

    FOREMAN, J., James Paul Gee, J.C. Herz, Randy Hinrichs, Mark Prensky, Ben Sawyer. 2004. ‘Game-Based Learning: How to Delight and Instruct in the 21st Century’ EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 39, no. 5 (September/October 2004): 50–66.

    GRAHAM, S. 2007. ‘Electric Archaeology: Digital Media for Learning and Research’

    GRAHAM, S. 2007b. ‘Of Second Lives and Past Lives: Archaeological Thoughts on the Metaverse’

    GRAHAM, S. 2007c. ‘Archaeological Clutter and Dumpster Diving’

    JOHNSTONE, A. H. and W. Y. Su. 1994. ‘Lectures: A Learning Experience?’ Education in Chemistry, vol. 31, no. 3: 75–79.

    KEMP, J. transcript of Wednesday April 12 ‘Teacher’s Lounge, Jen Doolittle’s The Human Animal’

    Nugget Gulch

    OBLINGER, D., and Mark K. Maruyama.1996. ‘Distributed Learning’, CAUSE Professional Paper Series, #14

    PRENSKY, M. 2001a ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon. 9.5 October 2001. online at – Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Part1.pdf

    PRENSKY, M. 2001b ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part II: Do They Really Think Differently?’ On the Horizon 9.6 December 2001. online at – Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants – Part2.pdf

    REEVES, B. and T. Malone. 2007. Leadership in Games and at Work: Implications for the Enterprise of Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games.

    Second Life. 2003-7 Linden Research.

    TAYLOR, S. ‘Sistine Chapel’ SLURL:

    The Croquet Project. 2001-7

    The Multiverse Project. 2004-7

    There. 1998-2007 Makena Technologies

    VAN ECK, R. ‘Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless’. EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 41, no. 2 (March/April 2006): 16–30.

    WEI, Daniel 2007. ‘Constructing Knowledge & Virtual Places’.

    YELLOWLEES, P. and K. Burrage. 2005 ‘Virtual Hallucinations’. SLURL:

    [i] Wikipedia definition, as it stood on November 14th 2007. Since online worlds depend so much on user-created content, it seemed only fitting to begin with a definition posted on one of the most famous sites of user-created content.

    Some Academic Online Worlds

    Edward Castronova and his team, of the Synthetic Worlds Initiative at Indiana UniversityIndiana University, have released their MMO game, ‘Arden: The World of William Shakespeare’. The game is freely available, and may be modified. Well worth a look! But is it a successful world for teaching Shakespeare? Castronova writes:

    “In short, lots of Shakespeare. It’s also rather boring, as I’ve said before. We failed to design a gripping game experience. As several of our playtesters said, Where are the monsters? — a good question to ask of any serious-games initiative. We do have monsters, Shakespearean ones even, but they are out in the woods somewhere, not part of the main game experience.
    No monsters is a big problem for our larger goal, which is to use virtual worlds to run experiments. No monsters means no fun, no fun means no people, and no people means no experiment. Back to the drawing board. We are taking our experience with Arden I and putting it into “Arden II: London’s Burning,” conceived entirely as a game. In Arden II, we are not trying to put Shakespeare in front of anyone, nor are we seeking historical or textual accuracy in any way. We are making a game; monsters everywhere. The Bard is there too, but this time, he is not getting in the way of the monsters. We expect a decent population in Arden II, and when we get it, we will run experiments. Results will be presented at the International Communications Association meetings in May 2008.

    I am releasing Arden I to the public now for two reasons. First, there continues to be tremendous interest in the basic idea of building a virtual world at a university for the purpose of research and education. Arden I splashes lovingly cold water on the face of anyone who dreams about that. The research and education part is easy, as you can see here. You can also see that fun is not so easy. The second reason to release is to encourage other people to build on what we started. If you want to take a traditionally-conceived Shakespeare world and make it fun, please do. I think it would be cool to see where others would go with it. <Full Post @ Terranova>

    So he seems rather despondent about the project, but he shouldn’t be. After all, as someone else commented on the original blog post, game designers have had many years to get the knack of building these things; why should academics be expected to build World-of-Warcraft on their first outing? I expect that once people start playing with the game, and begin to modify it, interesting & amazing things will emerge. After all, as I’ve argued before, the meta-game is at least as important as the game itself.

    An alternative approach to building an entire world for educational purposes is presented by The New Nexus Project. They build ‘modules’ for Neverwinter Nights 2 that are explicitly designed to teach particular goals. Their first ‘proof of concept’ features a module to teach bronze smithing for a high school chemistry class! Note to Intro to Archaeology teachers: buy the game, download the module, and get your students playing this module! Some actual student feedback:

    Typical student feedback after a week of work with this module:

      I’m in Mr. Spence’s chemistry class, and I really enjoyed spending a few days playing this game. First of all, it allowed for a change from the usual schedule and let us learn some chemistry (and history too) in a way that’s much different from the listen-and-take-notes norm. Since all of our classes have us repeatedly scribbling notes day in and day out, it’s really nice to have such a significant change in teaching method for a few days.As for the game itself, I think it is well thought out and well built, and it definitely does have margin for learning about chemistry, what’s involved in the smelting of ores, and crafting of weapons using these metals. Sure, we could have learned the same basic things in the classroom, but the game kept us interested and helped to put ratios and development into perspective. I also liked how there was a specific goal to the game – to craft a bronze sword – because it made me feel like I was actually playing to accomplish something rather than simply throwing some virtual rocks and experimental amounts of charcoal into a forge just to complete a worksheet.It think it would be interesting if some “mini quests” were added – some other goals other than just creating the sword. These quests should probably be linked to chemistry in some way since that is the purpose of the game. Mini-quests would make it feel less linear and keep it interesting. Also, just for efficiency’s sake, it would be nice if some of the items weren’t so heavy so there isn’t so much unecessary teleporting to the place where you’ve dropped all the rocks (or even just to shut the voice up!)I think my entire class has learned a lot about chemistry from this game and I would definitely support doing something like this again.

      -Lauren R., 10th grade”


    The Nexus Project’s ultimate aim is to create a tool kit that will enable the easy creation of multiple teaching modules. They summarized the project for the TerraNova Blog:

    “The goal of the New Nexus is to see the creation of a software tool set for creating 3D virtual world experiences for learning. This “Dream Kit” should be:

    1) free to the public to use or modify

    2) easy to use (well, as easy as possible)

    3) powerful, flexible and adaptable

    4) suited to multiple operating systems (or in different OS flavors)

    If and when the Dream Kit is created, educators around the world will be able to use it to create Learning Modules. (My conservative ballpark guess is that a reasonable tool would only be useable by 1%-2% of primary and secondary teachers; at its most user-friendly, it’d still require some tech savvy.) Each new module can be shared on the web and available for free download so that the storehouse of available, ever-improving materials will always be growing. (Alternately, it may be wise to allow some users/organizations to create works for commercial sales, since the incentive to recover costs would allow for more time and energy to be put into a module.)”

    I look forward to seeing what happens with this project.