My takeaway from FCVW2011

FCVW11 was a great conference for several reasons. The first was to be able to meet and talk with the IEEE VW standards group that is forming. We got to discuss at length the Sep 20/21st summit that is planned for L.A. this year. As a group we have a number of VW old hands and gurus and I am honoured to be in the loop with them all.
Another reason was to meet quite a few people in the industry that we have only met briefly physically or it was a very long time ago. That made this conference a bit of a homecoming.
The third reason was hearing so many presentations and panels by practioners, educators, military, government and alike who are busy doing some really influential and great work.
To hear about the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder helper experiences, or Bill May’s US to Cairo project showed real, tangible and positive uses of virtual worlds.
It was less comfortable to hear about the military uses, but it shows the power of training and simulation in something that in the end could save lives.
Ren Reynolds did point out when on our panel that we were having questions asked about identity and behaviour in virtual worlds, e.g. what about furries. He bravely pointed out (given we were at the National Defence University) that using virtual worlds and games to work out how to actually kill people more effectively was far more offensive than any roleplay elements or socially awkward situations.
However, the military uses can be separated out into organisational analysis or education that applies to more regular applications.
Two of the keynotes that stood out for me, mainly because of the validation or handy terminology they provided were.
MK Haley – Faculty and Associate Executive Producer at the Entertainment Technology Center, Carnegie Mellon University
Dr Chris Dede -Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Technology, Innovation, and Education Program, Harvard University

MK was a powerful and sparky presentation that talked about looking at things differently, how creative thinking is possible by everyone but that it is often beaten out of us.

Dr Dede talked (and showed) some kids education environments that were around explore an eco system at a lake. On the surface it was a lake, trees and some overlays, but there were some innovative ideas that he helpfully referred to as “magic”. This magic is where you move from a straight simulation and help with pointers or tools that would not otherwise exist. The first was a submarine that scales you down to microscopic levels to explore the environment. The other was the ability to virtually geotag a single atom and then a HUD that tells you were it is over time as it is absorbed or moved around the environment. The “magic” layers can conflict with the “real” layers but are essential in the balance of immersive environment use. Otherwise there is little extra that the place give you. As a true educator and very well respected he, and his team, are doing the work to compare the virtual experiences with traditional teaching. Though he was very clear that if you compare something to nothing it will always be better. Of it you compare something the the worst example then you are not really helping. So he is making sure in helping explore how kids develop their reasoning.
Botgirl created some great cartoons to sum up each panel, this is the Dr Chris Dede one
FCVW 2011 How Immersion in Virtual Worlds Helps Learners in the Real World
So there are even more people doing real work with the technology and the socially changing impacts of virtual worlds and related tech. It is not dead, it is not all Second Life (in fact increasingly it appears to not be Second Life for some very good reasons). However it is well on its way, and it is helping people. Kids are learning more, patients are being treated better, entertainment is more engaging. Standards and exemplars are being re-enforced and more new people are becoming evangelists. The previous generation and generations of activists in the field are also not going away but supporting everyone else too.
So I am really happy to see this become so normal, yet keen that we push it further and make it extraordinary again.
Well done all 🙂

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