Archive for July, 2007

Chronicle of Higher Education takes note

July 28, 2007

The US-based Chronicle of Higher Education included a brief news item about our Sexual Health SIM in Friday’s (27 July 2007) edition. See the full item at The Wired Campus blog. The Chronicle states that its Web traffic  routinely is more than 12 million pages a month, seen by more than one million unique visitors.

Also Rod Ward posted an entry about our project in Informaticopia (27 July 2007):


Catch them with your mouse if you can!

July 28, 2007

Click to enlarge.
Learning can and should be fun! Our giant and colourful, butterfly-emitting flowers are a good example of how we designed our SIM to be a truly immersive world in which reality (RL) and fantasy are seamlessly mixed in a carefully balanced way that is warmly-inviting, youthful, cheerful, enjoyable, practical and functional, and aesthetically pleasing, all at the same time (apologies for the long list of adjectives :-). We avoided the replication of a boring and often intimidating RL institutional or classroom environment in SL, but at the same time maintained solid and familiar links with RL.

Our in-world objects are not too abstract, thus reducing learners’ cognitive load — even if over-sized or presented on purpose in some other “odd” way, they remain in essence familiar RL objects that visitors can easily relate to, without being at the same time boring exact replicas of the RL objects they represent. (But faithful replicas of RL objects and buildings in SL are sometimes necessary and to be encouraged depending on context/application, e.g., virtual tourism/history and architectural modelling of RL buildings in SL for various RL planning/testing, simulation, training and marketing purposes. On the other hand, very abstract creations also have a place as forms of art in SL.) Realistic sound effects can also greatly enhance the ambience and immersiveness of educational SIMs.

But too much fun and fantasy (‘bells and whistles’ not directly reinforcing the educational message) might also negatively affect the learning process by acting as distractors. So again a good balance is needed.

We hope this approach will positively effect our young visitors’ learning experience and retention, and also encourage longer visits and more exploration of, and interaction with, our SIM’s educational objects, as well as more repeat visits and ‘teleport offers’ to friends.

These beautiful flying butterflies (pictured above) are continuously emitted by a hidden scripted object that is only one prim (bought for L$100). Catch them with your mouse if you can! (The giant flowers were created by SL:Troy McLuhan and were free to ‘Take Copy’ at another SIM, and that’s how we acquired them, a good example of how (prefab) objects can be reused unchanged or modified, remixed and repurposed in many creative ways in the immersive, vast 3D wiki that is SL, much à la Web 2.0 (subject to the object having its SL DRM properties set to allow reuse/modification).)

Related food for thought:

 —M.N.K. Boulos – 28 July 2007

Open-ended questions added at last! Thanks Eloise!

July 27, 2007

27 July 2007: Eloise Pasteur (pictured below during her visit today to our SIM) has kindly helped us add the functionality for open-ended/free-text questions to our in-world survey tool by editing the LSL script that powers our questionnaire inside the blue ball at the entrance of the glass building.

Our in-world questionnaire now features three new open-ended questions (including ‘What did you like the most?’ and ‘What did you like the least?’), which respondents can answer in free text by typing in the chat box, in addition to the original six close-ended/fixed-choice questions. (The script then e-mails all answers to the project team.)

It is also worth noting that we are already using Eloise’s scripts elsewhere in our SIM, e.g., the slide/PPT viewer in our open-air seminar area and the script powering our blue obelisk quiz game, both of which (and many more) can be bought from her in-world vendor at the ICT Library Shop. Eloise also wrote a nice article about our project for Second Life Insider (see link below). Thanks Eloise!

Latest blog entries about our project:

Our in-world questionnaire tool.
Left: Eloise Pasteur during her visit to our SIM on 27 July 2007 – Right: Our in-world questionnaire tool.

Tour of Sexual Health SIM

July 25, 2007

Machinima video date: 24-Jul-07 – Music by Medwyn Goodall 

This video provides an introduction to some of the resources currently available at the Sexual Health SIM, a snapshot of our “work in progress.”

Opinion: apples and oranges — I like them both!

July 24, 2007

Comparing the 2D Web to 3D multi-user, immersive virtual worlds can be tricky, and some might consider it like comparing apples with oranges or comparing the experience of reading an online health information leaflet to that of having a face-to-face meeting with a clinician. The affordances of both media are different; they are also not mutually exclusive or a substitute for one another, but rather very complementary and synergistic in many ways.

The sea of our SIM in SL. Click to enlarge.

We need to especially identify and focus/capitalise on what 3D virtual worlds are best at–those (useful) things/scenarios that can only be effectively carried out in virtual worlds and not via any other ‘e’ medium (as effectively), and also determine the optimal formulae for blended approaches that combine 2D and 3D media.

Eloise Pasteur.

Online leaflets and static information materials have no social component–even those materials offering single-user interactivity or asynchronous, multi-user (predominantly textual) interactivity remain seriously lacking in this respect. Second Life, on the other hand, is about 3D social networking par excellence; it has this unique ‘human touch’ and is instantaneous, something not found (in a similar way) in 2D social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook or in instant messaging/voice chatting services like Paltalk. Second Life is closer in many respects to face-to-face/social encounters, but also adds to them many exciting new dimensions, fantasy, and virtually endless possibilities–you name it. And let’s not forget that Second Life is a collaborative 3D wiki and an immersive audio-visual spatial experience that users can edit, experiment with, and see the changes in real time!

People also have different tastes/preferences and currently the audiences of the 2D Web and the 3D Web/Second Life are overlapping but still different (read the US CDC arguments about this: “going where people are… yet another opportunity to learn and teach about public health”). Furthermore, and in support of the above mentioned potential complementarity and synergy between both media, we are starting to see the 2D and 3D Webs gradually converge and merge; see, for example, the Flux project, this blog article and this application.

So 3D virtual worlds are here to stay and eventually become one with/tightly and seamlessly integrated with the 2D Web over the coming months and years (rather than replace the 2D Web). Indeed, a recent futuristic/visionary American report entitled VISIONS 2020–Transforming Education and Training Through Advanced Technologies suggests that by 2020 (or before) we will see new jobs like “simulation and virtual environments engineers who build and maintain the components for synthetic environments, including specialised scientific software, e.g., a digital human that can be used for a variety of learning situations; specialists in building the components of simulated towns, instruments, landscapes, biological systems, or physical phenomena”.

M.N.K. Boulos – 24 July 2007

Environmental sound effects: turn your speakers on and enjoy!

July 24, 2007

24 July 2007: We now have some excellent 3D spatialised ambient environmental sound effects in our SIM for the ultimate immersive edutainment experience! Our new refreshing and relaxing sounds include gentle waves at seashore, birds in the trees and water flowing (for the fountain we have in the corner). The sounds are subtle and non-intrusive, and become practically imperceptible when voice or music are played in-world. Click the sunset screenshot below to listen to a recorded MP3 sample of our new ambient sounds.

Click to listen.SexualHealthSIM_Ambience.mp3
Click the image above to listen to a sample of our new ambient sounds.

Related SL function:

Free (virtual) male condoms for every visitor!

July 23, 2007

23 July 2007: We now have a Free Condom Dispenser inside the glass building, offering visitors free (virtual) male condoms and practical information (pictured below – only one prim)! We hope this will prove to be a useful ‘raising awareness’ edutainment artefact.

We have also added a virtual bookshelf (beside the mock laptop, again inside the glass building), which visitors can interact with to browse a collection of 22 PowerPoint FLIPCHARTS and other documents from the World Health Organization that together make an excellent decision-making and how-to tool for family planning and sexual health.

Finally, we have contacted the UK Family Planning Association (fpa) for possible collaboration with them, and added an in-world link to their homepage to our blue Web URL Cycler/Launcher cube by the fountain.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
Our Free (virtual) Condom Dispenser: dispenses two 3D male condom objects to user’s inventory, plus an information notecard on how to use a (real) male condom. Maged built the dispenser using only one prim, and textured it using two uploaded images (at L$10 each), one for the front of the machine and the other for the remaining sides. The virtual condom objects (do not count as simulator prims) and information notecard are stored inside the dispenser object (as ‘Content’), together with a script to offer (copies of) them to the user upon clicking on the machine (try it now in-world).

A radio tuner in the form of a Coca-Cola can

Some have argued that you cannot use an SL virtual condom in RL sex, but you also cannot drink a Coca-Cola radio! It is the message that matters in both cases (‘remember to use a condom’; ‘drink Coca-Cola’)!

‘Preserving Fertility’ materials added

July 21, 2007

21 July 2007: Our group is now collaborating with RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, a US based non-profit, to help educate residents of Second Life about  lifestyle choices that may preserve fertility. A continuous slide show of Preserving Your Fertility, excerpted from a 2004 brochure published by RESOLVE, is now live. RESOLVE’s mission is to “provide timely, compassionate support and information for people experiencing infertility and to increase awareness of infertility issues through public education and advocacy. ” 

Click to enlarge.
Our new multi-slide information display about ‘Preserving Fertility’ (slides used by permission).

Our project is covered in Eduserv’s July 2007 snapshot of UK HE and FE developments in SL

July 20, 2007

20 July 2007: We have just received an e-mail from John Kirriemuir (SL: Silversprite Helsinki) saying that the report he was collecting information for is now published online:


If you are reading this, then you sent me a good reply to the request for information about your Second Life development. To which: thanks very much. The report is finished, and online at:


Thanks John!

Other updates:

  • Added new/more questions to our in-world survey tool;
  • Added new right/wrong textures and an additional prize (prizes are given by the game at random) to our Big Quiz Game; and
  • Increased size of our video screen (inside the glass building).

The Big Quiz Game!

July 18, 2007

18 July 2007: Touch the obelisk (pictured below) and test your knowledge. You could win a surprise prize!

Click to enlarge.
The Big Quiz Game – an interactive graphical ‘Contraception and STDs’ quiz with a prize to win if your answer is correct (the prize is delivered to your inventory in-world). The four photo tiles change position randomly each time the game is played.

We also have another new gadget to show you today:
Click to enlarge.
Our new Web URL Cycler/Launcher featuring a hand-picked collection of Online Sexual Health Resources from NHS Direct and Mayo Clinic.

The latest Sexual Health news for our in-world visitors

July 17, 2007

17 July 2007: We now have a newsstand displaying the latest Sexual Health news from Yahoo! (pictured below – bought for L$350 from the ICT Library shop in-world, then customised to parse the Yahoo! News RSS feed for the phrase ‘Sexual Health’). The gadget does not use a proxy server. The included script parses the XML directly! The newsstand will refresh every 10 minutes, and will display the top two Sexual Health headlines on Yahoo! News in hover text. If you click on the newsstand, it will load the top story in a Web browser.

Click to enlarge.
Our newsstand displaying the latest Sexual Health news from Yahoo! News.

A new open-air seminar area

July 15, 2007

15 July 2007: Susan has been very active today using her creative talent to experiment with various designs for our open-air seminar area. The current design at time of writing is pictured below. Thanks Susan.

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
Our new open-air seminar area.

Welcome ChaCha!

July 14, 2007

14 July 2007: ChaCha Biedermann (pictured below) has agreed to join our project and build a new interactive AIDS/HIV/STD information kiosk on our land. She has many exciting low-prim plans and ideas, including making the kiosk read content aloud using pre-recorded voice files. You can also find ChaCha’s Second Life group for supporting HIV-positives in-world, if you search for Groups and type in “AIDS”. Her group is named “AIDS and HIV HELP”.

Click to enlarge.
ChaCha Biedermann visiting our Sexual Health SIM land (14 July 2007).

Privacy in the skies!

July 13, 2007

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.
13 July 2007: We now have our own very low-prim, private skybox high in the sky above our land. Skyboxes can be used (instead of/in addition to private IM) to ensure privacy for realistic one-to-one visitor-advisor/counsellor voice and text consultations. It is noteworthy that the ‘Health and Wellness Center’ at HealthInfo Island, which was developed to bring patient advocacy to Second Life, uses skyboxes, so that support groups or smaller consultations are ensured privacy.

New screenshots – 12 July 2007

July 12, 2007
Open-air seminar area with presentation/video screen (still under construction)
Our glass building entrance – Video screen playing/streaming a programme about AIDS/HIV
Note our new water fountain (to the right)!
Nice flowers!
Laptop displaying a page from Contraception Education – clicking the laptop in-world will launch the corresponding Web page
Taking a visitor survey in-world – user feedback is then sent via e-mail to the project team
Teleport station to the new AIDS/HIV/STD display at HealthInfo Island – click cube (in-world) for teleport landmark (night view)
Our new in-world noticeboard – click in-world to visit
As at 12 July 2007 noon our traffic value has increased to 215 (up from 54 in above screenshot taken on 11 July 2007)! (This is a daily value that flactuates up and down.)

Click to enlarge.
Our new interactive EZ-Note Message Board (bought for L$100) – visitors can click in-world to leave a note. We also have a ‘visitor counter’ installed beside it to monitor land traffic.

Click to enlarge.
Another view of the glass building – when the video is playing it makes nice reflections on the glass walls.

Initial construction work and networking began

July 11, 2007

10-11 July 2007: Some initial construction work has been carried out, with new functionality added to the land, e.g., an ‘info notecard/landmark giver’ and test audio/video streams. The land is also now listed in Second Life Search (pictured below – costs L$30/week). Maged contacted (in-world) Karen Ngowe (SL: Wuzzadiva Iddinja) who manages the US CDC presence in Second Life and Carol Perryman (SL: Carolina Keats) who oversees HealthInfo Island, a project funded by the US NIH/NLM. Wuzzadiva warmly welcomed the news about the new project and said she will relay the info to her CDC colleagues working on sexually transmitted infections. Carolina expressed her willingness to help promote the project, and asked for a poster or display about the project (which I sent to her this morning) to have a copy of it at HealthInfo Island. She also mentioned that they have a display on AIDS/HIV and that she is working with a student who is creating an interactive STD display. She said that one of the co-creators of the AIDS/HIV display is a young person who is HIV positive, who had really wanted to begin an AIDS/HIV support group. This has not been successful, but the person is still active in SL, and we hope to invite them to contribute to our project. We will also definitely explore further opportunities and possibilities to collaborate with Karen and Carol/the CDC and HealthInfo Island, and exchange relevant in-world objects/materials and expertise with them over the course of the project.

Elizabeth Grigg, Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing at the University of Plymouth (Taunton site), is an expert in sexual health and might also help us in this project–maybe as one of our invited speakers in future in-world events. Another potential speaker is Barbara Hastings-Asatourian from Salford University; she is the inventor of the very successful Contraception Board Game.

Click to enlarge.
Our Sexual Health SIM is now listed in Second Life Search (costs L$30/week).

New project land granted on 9 July 2007 until 31 July 2008!

July 10, 2007

Welcome to! Yesterday (9-Jul-07) we heard the great news that our grant application to was successful! They granted us a 1760 m2 land in Second Life (pictured below – SLurl), plus other in-world goodies and this Web site. The land is very nicely sized with a 402 prim quota, and we very much like its waterfront location.

The University of Plymouth team (in collaboration with Thomas Jefferson University, USA) will design and implement a sexual health education programme targeting young adults in Second Life that focuses on:

  • Prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STI’s);
  • Prevention of unintended pregnancy;
  • Promotion of equitable sexual relationships;
  • Developing methods for systematic data gathering on users’sexual health concerns and response to programming in Mutli-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs); 
  • Identifying best practices for delivery of health education programmes in Second Life and other MUVEs; and
  • Developing recommendations for ways that MUVEs can contribute to comprehensive health education programmes that include multiple educational venues.

You can learn about our project in detail and what we are planning to do over the coming year by downloading and reading our winning proposal: A ‘Sexual Health’ Public Education and Outreach SIM in Second Life.

Maged N Kamel Boulos, Faculty of Health and Social Work, University of Plymouth, UK
Susan Toth-Cohen, Jefferson College of Health Professions, Thomas Jefferson University, USA

Our new presence in Second Life! Nothing built yet (10-Jul-07).
Our new presence in Second Life! Nothing built yet (10-Jul-07).