Immersive Learning Research Network Conference in VirBELA and AltspaceVR, June 21-25, 2020

iLRN 2020, the 6th International Conference of the Immersive Learning Research Network, is running in VirBELA and AltspaceVR from June 21st to 25th, 2020, one of many real-life conferences that have moved to social VR and virtual worlds because of the coronavirus pandemic. This year’s conference theme is Vision 20/20: Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight in XR and Immersive Learning:

Conference attendees must download and install a white-label version of VirBELA to attend most of the conference presentations and events. Here’s a look at the spawn point next to the information booth:

VirBELA is a virtual world I have written about before on this blog, which is very similar to Second Life (Here is a link to all my blogposts tagged VirBELA, including this one).

A view of the iLRN main stage in VirBELA

However, VirBELA is intended for corporate and conference use, as opposed to the more open-ended uses of SL, so it’s a good fit for the iLRN conference. (It looks as though AltspaceVR is primarily being used for social events associated with the conference through the Educators in VR group, according to the AltspaceVR Events calendar.)

The iLRN 2020 Expo Hall in VirBELA

If you’re interested, you can register for free for this conference via EventBrite (I got in free through an early-bird ticket special I wrote about here). I plan on attending a few presentations in between working from home for my university library system.

See you there!

Anthropologist Dr. Tom Boellstorff Teaches His Course on Digital Cultures Within Second Life

“We need to get away from talking about the physical world as the real world,” says anthropology professor Tom Boellstorff, who built Anteater Island. “Online sociality is a set of cultures that can be just as real as what’s in the physical world.”
Photo source: Steve Zylius / UCI

Dr. Tom Boellstorff, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine, has moved his course on digital cultures into Second Life due to the pandemic:

Before COVID-19 restrictions, Anthro 128C was set to be held in the Anteater Learning Pavilion, a campus facility that encourages collaboration. When Boellstorff learned that it would have to go online, he immediately logged into Second Life and began constructing Anteater Island, a digital culture of its own.

He finished it in about a week, ensuring that it reflected the structure of the class, which involves lectures on weekly readings and group research projects. The site includes an auditorium and meeting areas for each student team, as well as spaces where they can display their work to the public at the end of the quarter, as had been planned before the pandemic. Indeed, Anteater Island retains many of the features that the Anteater Learning Pavilion would have offered.

Although the shift was a challenge, Boellstorff was in a fortunate position. He had been conducting rigorous fieldwork on Second Life since 2004 and published Coming of Age in Second Life, a book-length ethnographic study of the virtual world, in 2008. In addition, the class, which he had taught several times before, was *about* cultures in the digital realm. Due to the sudden lockdowns, students were about to become more immersed in them than ever.

The description for this undergraduate anthropology course reads as follows:

Explores cultural and political implications of the infotech revolution and the ways new media are used around the world, new cultural practices and spaces (e.g., cybercafes), debates surrounding the meanings of these new technologies, and their implications for transforming society.

Second Life filmmaker Draxtor Despres profiled Tom and his work in a 2015 video, part of his World Makers series:

Drax also produced a full-length feature documentary Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me, about Tom’s research on disability in virtual worlds:

Thanks to Luca for the heads up!

UPDATED! Wonda VR: A Brief Introduction

Shades of Indiana Jones…

Wonda VR is an educational social VR platform that seems to be targeting the corporate and higher education markets. Here’s an example used by NYU social work students:

It would appear that most, if not all, of the use cases listed on their page of higher education examples involve 360-degree video.

An interesting use case on their enterprise page uses the platform to help train police officers on how to interact with autistic people:

While Wonda VR does offer a free, limited option, it would appear that they are steering customers toward their US$350-a-month option for up to 50 users, billed annually:

You have to submit your email, name, position and insitutional affiliation to the company to get an invitation to experience the Free level, so I sent everything off, crossed my fingers, and I’ll let you know when I do hear back. I expect a strong-armed sales pitch will be coming my way, but if Wonda VR thinks they can shake US$4,200 from my lint-filled pockets, they’ve got another think coming.

In fact, just this past Thursday, Wonda VR offered a free webinar to learn more about using XR platforms to boost collaboration and creativity, name-dropping a mix of platforms that I had already covered on this blog, and a few that I had never heard of before (time to put on my pith helmet and go exploring in the jungle again!):

I’m actually kind of sorry that I had to miss this (but last Thursday was just a crazy day for me, working for my university library system from self-isolation at home, with lots of online Zoom and Webex meetings).

If you would like to learn more about Wonda VR, you can visit their website, or follow them on social media: Twitter and LindedIn.

UPDATE April 6th, 2020: Well, today I got an email with a sign-in link (and thankfully, no sales pressure, just an invitation to contact the company if I were interested in taking it further).

I wanted to share a 3-minute getting started video they shared with me, which I think gives you a bit of the flavour of what Wonda VR can offer:

If you’re interested and you want to learn more, check out the videos on their YouTube page.

Oxford Medical Simulation: A Brief Introduction

Oxford Medical Simulation (OMS) is an educational virtual reality platform for training healthcare professionals in world-class patient management using virtual patients, without risking lives. Here’s a video that explains the concept briefly:

This is one of those environments where the virtual patients have that sort of creepy, uncanny valley aspect to them: realistic looking, but something is not quite right (to me, it’s the eyes; real eyes are slightly translucent, as I wrote about here, not opaque like billiard balls):

That’s not creepy, that’s not creepy AT ALL

Despite the off-putting uncanny valley avatars, OMS has racked up a truly impressive list of clients, including the National Health Service of the U.K. and (of course) the University of Oxford:

Oxford Medical Simulation offers not only on-site VR training, they also offer distance learning for medical professionals. In fact, the recent global coronavirus pandemic has been an unexpected opportunity for the company to promote their platform, with OMS offering free distance training to healthcare providers in three countries:

We appreciate how hard it is to deliver simulation and clinical education at the best of times, let alone during a crisis. As simulation educators, the team at OMS have experienced the chaos caused by last-minute clinical cancellations and the need to rapidly deliver simulation to fill the gap.

This same phenomenon is now happening on a global scale. In response, OMS immediately offered the OMS Distance Simulation platform free across the US, Canada and the UK as of March 16th, 2020.

Since May 16th, over 50 institutions – with over 17,000 learners between them – have signed up. Many have started utilizing the platform already and many more will start over the coming days. This is being done across all levels of medicine and nursing and for many different use cases:

Nursing programs (BSN and NP), unable to deliver clinical placements; 
Medical programs (DO and MD), fast-tracking their learners for clinical practice;
Hospitals, up-skilling clinicians moving between departments;
Health systems, rapidly bringing in new nurses and retraining clinicians returning to practice.

Aside from the generous offer of free courses for doctors and nurses, no pricing information is provided on their website for the platform, just a contact form to ask for a sales representative to contact you (and I’m quite sure that this platform is not cheap!). If you want more information on OMS, please visit their website, or follow them on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

The other thing that I cannot seem to figure out, either from the website or the promotional videos, is whether or not OMS is truly social VR. Can you share these experiences with other avatars at the same time, like a group of doctors and nurses working as a team on a virtual patient during surgery, for example? Because both Road to VR and well-known VR YouTuber Nathie both lumped Oxford Medical Simulation in with dozens of other social VR apps in their overviews (which I blogged about here), I am going to make the same assumption that they obviously did, and I will be adding OMS to my comprehensive list of social VR and virtual world platforms.