Dr. Marie Vans: 14 Reasons Why Virtual Worlds Are Still Better than Social VR Worlds for Educational Purposes

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.


Dr, Marie Vans (known as Amvans Lapis in Second Life) is a Senior Research Scientist at HP Labs in Colorado, who gave the following provocatively-titled presentation on March 19th, 2021 at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) 2021 Conference, held in SL:

Title Slide from Dr. Vans’ VWBPE Presentaion

14 Reasons Why Virtual Worlds are still better than Social VR Worlds

A year ago, VCARA started the VR Exploder’s Club wherein educators meet up once a month to determine whether and/or which Social VR Worlds we should establish a presence thereon after exploring different platforms together. Whether we used VR headsets or desktop versions of these platforms, we looked at criteria such as learning curve, real-time communication, interaction capabilities, and more. I will describe specific issues that have been resolved in VWs that still need attention in VR.

Drawing upon a number of representative social VR platforms chosen from my November 2019 spreadsheet (which I need to update!), she gave a great presentation on why she thinks that social VR platforms need to pull up their socks when it comes to supporting education, and why these newer platforms should not be so quick to dismiss older virtual world platforms such as Second Life!

Because the following YouTube video of Dr. Marie Vans’ presentation has a absolutely criminally low 56 views thus far, I have decided to write up a blogpost about it! And here it is! (I am going back on hiatus again after this.)

Here is the video of Dr. Vans’ hour-long VWBPE presentation, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. It’s well worth watching the entire thing!

Call for Papers and Proposals: The 7th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN 2021), Taking Place in VirBELA from May 17th to June 10th, 2021

I recently received the following email, containing details on the next iLRN conference, which will take place in the virtual world of VirBELA:


The 7th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN 2021) will be an innovative and interactive virtual gathering for a strengthening global network of researchers and practitioners collaborating to develop the scientific, technical, and applied potential of immersive learning. It is the premier scholarly event focusing on advances in the use of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and other extended reality (XR) technologies to support learners across the full span of learning—from K-12 through higher education to work-based, informal, and lifelong learning contexts. 

Following the success of iLRN 2020, our first fully online and in-VR conference, this year’s conference will once again be based on the iLRN Virtual Campus, powered by VirBELA, but with a range of activities taking place on various other XR simulation, gaming, and other platforms. Scholars and professionals working from informal and formal education settings as well as those representing diverse industry sectors are invited to participate in the conference, where they may share their research findings, experiences, and insights; network and establish partnerships to envision and shape the future of XR and immersive technologies for learning; and contribute to the emerging scholarly knowledge base on how these technologies can be used to create experiences that educate, engage, and excite learners.

Note: The 2020 iLRN conference drew over 3,600 attendees from across the globe, making the scheduling of sessions a challenge. In 2021, conference activities will be spread over a four-week period so as to give attendees more opportunities to participate at times that are conducive to their local time zones.

Papers and proposals may be submitted to one of 10 program tracks, the first nine of which correspond to the iLRN Houses of application, and the tenth of which is intended for papers making knowledge contributions to the learning sciences, computer science, and/or game studies that are not linked to any particular application area:

  1. Assessment and Evaluation (A&E)
  2. Early Childhood Development & Learning (ECDL)
  3. Galleries, Libraries, Archives, & Museums (GLAM)
  4. Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, & Social Justice (IDEAS)
  5. K-12 STEM Education
  6. Language, Culture, & Heritage (LCH)
  7. Medical & Healthcare Education (MHE)
  8. Nature & Environmental Sciences (NES)
  9. Workforce Development & Industry Training (WDIT)
  10. Basic Research and Theory in Immersive Learning (not linked to any particular application area)

For further information, please refer to the digital flyer or the iLRN website.

Inquiries regarding the iLRN 2021 conference should be directed to the Conference Secretariat at conference@immersivelrn.org. General inquiries about iLRN may be sent to info@immersivelrn.org

The iLRN 2020 conference was amazing, and I hope to see you at iLRN 2021!

iLRN Is Hosting the 19th IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR 2020) in VirBELA, November 9th to 13th, 2020

The IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR) is the premier conference for Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR). ISMAR explores the advances in commercial and research activities related to AR and MR and Virtual Reality (VR) by continuing the expansion of its scope over the past several years. The symposium is organized and supported by the IEEE Computer Society, IEEE VGTC and ACM SIGGRAPH.

Here are the virtual conference details from an email I received:


The Immersive Learning Research Network (iLRN) is proud to be hosting the 19th IEEE International Symposium on Mixed and Augmented Reality (ISMAR 2020) on our iLRN Virtual Campus, powered by VirBELA, and to be supporting the conference as a Gold Sponsor. ISMAR is the premier technical and scientific research conference on AR and MR technologies. There is still time to register for this exciting conference!

Come along to learn from and interact with researchers from all over the world, who will be sharing the latest advances in the field. In addition, through an immersive experience, you will have the opportunity to enjoy Brazilian cultural attractions in a unique and unforgettable way!

Note: The iLRN Virtual Campus is accessible either (a) in desktop mode on a PC or Mac; or (b) using a tethered PC VR headset (HTC Vive, Windows Mixed Reality, Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest with Link Cable). Sessions will also be streamed on YouTube Live.

Here’s a link to the official conference website with all the details.

The cost to attend this virtual conference is only US$50 for IEEE members, and US$60 for non-members. Here is registration information for the conference.

UPDATED! Gen Con Comes to Second Life July 30th to August 2nd, 2020: Pictures from the First Day of the Virtual Tabletop Gaming Conference (Plus a Visit to the Freebie Village at the Helping Haven Gateway)

Yes, hmmm… well, all my regular readers know by now just how bad I am at keeping my vows to take a self-imposed vacation from this blog... *sigh*… nevertheless, I still intend to largely step away from blogging for the entire month of August, except for sponsored blogposts, so I can focus on other work that I need to attend to. See you in September!

I am *SUPPOSED* to be on holidays from the blog, DAMMIT!!! Stop pulling me back!!!

However, this is a major event that warranted a proper write-up.

Gen Con is the largest tabletop gaming conference in North America, bringing together fans of traditional pen-and-paper, board, and card games, including role-playing games, miniatures war games, live action role-playing games, collectible card games, and strategy games. In 2019, the annual conference brought nearly 70,000 people to Indianapolis, the traditional home of the event.

However, this year, like so many other events, Gen Con was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. So the conference organizers decided to move Gen Con 2020 to a fully online version, including holding a number of events (including tabletop gameplay) taking place in the virtual world of Second Life!

According to the firm organizing the SL portion of Gen Con 2020, VRazeTheBar:

VRazeTheBar has partnered with Gen Con – the largest and longest running gaming convention in North America – to provide an awesome interactive social gaming experience built on Linden Lab’s Enterprise/Education version of Second Life, the world’s largest user-created virtual world of its kind enjoyed by millions of people around the globe. Be the first to join our proof of concept in a virtual world created by gamers for gamers.

Now because I am supposed to be on a self-imposed vacation from the blog (and apparently, I have been living under a rock, to boot), I did not even know that Gen Con was happening in Second Life until one of the organizers contacted me on Discord late last night. So I got up to speed in a hurry, and I decided to pay a visit on their opening day, and take a few pictures to share with you.


Gen Con 2020 is taking place in Second Life on four sims, which have been extensively designed with four levels each—there’s plenty of space, and lots to see and do!

The bottom level is an auditorium, where the short opening ceremony was held today. I was very kindly issued a media pass to roam around the event, so I came early and grabbed a seat next to Strawberry Linden, who was hard at work livestreaming the ceremony (I know it doesn’t look like she was busy in this picture, but trust me, she was!):

Strawberry Linden (left) and Ryan Schultz (a.k.a. Vanity Fair)

Patch Linden gave a short speech, the ceremonial Dungeons & Dragons die was rolled, and Gen Con was officially declared open!

The next level up from the auditorium is a surprisingly detailed virtual recreation of downtown Indianapolis, including the convention centre itself, and the food-truck-lined Georgia Street block party for which Gen Con is noted.

You can even pick up some free T-shirts!

This level also features a small Gen Con Museum, outlining the history of the convention since its start back in 1968:

Costumes are also a big part of Gen Con, so I do expect to see a lot of amazingly-outfitted avatars in my travels!

Yet another Gen Con 2020 level features medieval, renaissance, steampunk, fantasy, and futuristic game-playing regions, where attendees will meet up and play various table-top games within Second Life:

A table set up for a game of One Night Ultimate Werewolf
A table set up for “A Home for the Green” (Dungeons & Dragons 3.5)
Renaissance Road
Steampunk Junction
A tabletop game in progress in the medieval area (avatars dressed in 1970’s fashion notwithstanding)
I have no idea what this game is, but it looks rather ominous…

The topmost level features a post-apocalyptic urban scene, complete with roaming bands of hungry zombies! If you wish, you can even ride a fire-breathing dragon around the landscape (because why not?).

Strawberry Singh devoted a recent episode of Lab Gab to Gen Con 2020, interviewing the team of organizers behind the event. it turns out they pulled all this together in SL in just two months! That’s impressive!


Gen Con 2020 is free to attend, but you must first register for a (free) badge and then purchase (free) e-tickets for each of the events, including those being held in Second Life. Here is the Gen Con Online portal where you can register for a badge and select which sessions and events you wish to attend. This is presumably to avoid overbooking; many of the Gen Con sessions are already fully booked, but there are still spots available at daily Open Gaming Meet and Greet events taking place in Second Life as follows (remember, you still have to register!):

  • Thursday, July 30th, 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time (EDT)
  • Friday, July 31st, 8:00 p.m. to Midnight EDT
  • Saturday, August 1st, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EDT
  • Sunday, August 2nd, 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. EDT

There’s also a Saturday night dance on August 1st, running from 8:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. EDT, which you can also register for online. See you there!


Now sometimes, when conferences are held in Second Life, the organizers will attempt to make some free clothes, shoes, and hair available, to give conference attendees the opportunity to change out of their starter SL avatar looks and avoid that cookie-cutter “newbie” look.

However, in the case of Gen Con 2020, the conference organizers very sensibly decided to refer people to the Freebie Village at the Helping Haven Gateway instead. So, I dropped in for a quick visit, just to see what was new, and I was extremely pleased to see that there has been a recent, extensive update to both the men’s and women’s collections of free apparel. There are now many new, high-quality mesh outfits, plus various kinds of footwear and jewelry, plus skins, hair, AOs, etc.

There are even free mesh bodies: the freebie versions of the Tommy and Estephania full-body mesh avatars from Altamura, plus the free eBody Classic and Curvy bodies, and a couple of other free “Ruth” women’s mesh bodies, such as the Bento, Bakes on Mesh-compatible RuthTooRC3 (which I review here). There’s also a nice-looking non-Bento (static) female mesh head. In short, the Helping Haven Gateway’s Freebie Village now ranks among the best freebie stores on the grid, in my opinion.

Here Vanity Fair models a couple of fabulous retro freebies she picked up from the womenswear building at Helping Haven: a multicolour debutante dress with a gathered waist (which comes in a pack of 13 different patterns, Maitreya Lara size only), plus a fully-adjustable, flowered pink straw hat (which is also tintable; I made it a slightly lighter shade of pink to match the rest of my outfit):

(The vintage pink pearl jewelry is a truly ancient Dark Mouse freebie, dragged from the murky depths of Vanity’s messy inventory, and the shoes are the versatile Wales pumps, a fatpack of which is the current monthly group gift from Essenz—but time is running out, so don’t wait to get these! The Essenz group costs L$350 to join, and this wonderful group gift alone is worth that much.)

Happy freebie shopping! See you at Gen Con!

UPDATE July 31st, 2020: Inara Pey has written a blogpost about Gen Con here.