Archive for the ‘Opinions and Reflections’ Category

Scientific discourse 2.0. Will your next poster session be in Second Life®?

June 2, 2008

EMBO reports 9, 6, 496–499 (2008)

Scientific discourse 2.0. Will your next poster session be in Second Life®?

Stephen T Huang1, Maged N Kamel Boulos2 & Robert P Dellavalle3

1 Stephen T. Huang is at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois, USA
2 Maged N. Kamel Boulos is at the University of Plymouth, UK
3 Robert P. Dellavalle is at the Denver Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center and the University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado, USA.

Full-text PDF :

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Please join the debate!

April 24, 2008

I have posted two new personal thoughts / opinion snippets at under ‘Thoughts / opinion’. Please read them and post your comments here. (Read previous comments.)

April 2008:
Why 3D?
Web conferencing: 2D vs. 3D (or both), or ‘Why conduct events and meetings in Second Life?’

Previous snippet–July 2007:
Comparing the 2D Web to 3D multi-user, immersive virtual worlds

N.B. Non-gaming 3D worlds are not just SL (better drop the ‘virtual’ between ‘3D’ and ‘worlds’, as Twinity has done)–the following videos are about Sun’s MPK20 platform (for the first three, right-click > Save Target As…):

MPK20 Demo
Demo Video Screenshot
Quicktime, 4:58
Wonderland Phone
Phone Video Screenshot
Quicktime, 2:16
MPK20 Interview Video Screenshot
MP4, 10:34
Tutorial Video Screenshot
Streaming video

Why ‘in SL and not in “any” website’?

February 13, 2008

A user on the SLHEALTH list recently wrote: > “One of the aspects that would interest me is what are the benefits of using a serious game in SL and not in “any” website“.

MNK Boulos replied: This is indeed one of the most important and challenging questions/tasks. Question: Why ‘in SL and not in “any” website’. Task: To identify the unique affordances/’raison(s) d’être’ of Second Life (and direct compatibles)*** in medical/health education, what it can do better or best (there are many things), and what it can’t do at all or well. Many simulations can still be designed and run more efficiently and effectively in Macromedia Flash, e.g., Edheads’ interactive Virtual Hip Replacement and Knee Surgery Flash also allows multi-user interactive applications/chat (in fact Metaplace is based on Flash). Other more powerful platforms also exist, e.g.,

MNK Boulos – 13 Feb 08
*** Like the new OpenLife Grid and the other OpenSim-based public grids, e.g., and
(see this message)

[Update] Another reply: “The most interesting thing about SL is the communication with many different cultures, ages, and nationalities, people with different interests and goals. Having activities in a more sterile environment is less interesting, even though the game quality could be better.  Support groups are here also, a key aspect of learning.

MNK Boulos‘ reply: I agree, but many social networking and communication sites are already doing exactly this, e.g., Sermo, Facebook, Paltalk, YouTube, etc. and also feature embedded games and videos (not just links to them), both synchronous and asynchronous discussion/chat tools, as well as vibrant ‘support groups’ for all sorts of topics/themes and communities.

More replies: [1], [2].

Featured comment on Second Life impact measurement and metrics

January 23, 2008

Virtual Psychology - Real ResearchBy Simon Bignell (SL: Milton Broome):

See also:

Interactive exhibit design in Second Life

January 19, 2008

“What makes a great interactive exhibit?  How can you turn your wild ideas into experiences that excite and inspire visitors?  How can you create virtual exhibits that translate well to the real world?

These galleries explore these questions and provide some starting points for you as you design your own exhibits:”

“Give people facts and you feed their minds for an hour. Awaken curiosity and they feed their own minds for a lifetime.” –Ian Russell

Healthcare on Web 2.0 (including Second Life)

January 8, 2008

Expert View, HIMSS EMEA Web site (8 Jan 08):

A PDF copy is also available here.

At CELDA 2007

December 11, 2007

celda2007.jpgKamel Boulos MN, Wheeler S, Toth-cohen S. Designing for learning in 3-D virtual worlds: the University of Plymouth Sexual Health SIM experience in Second Life. In Proceedings of IADIS International Conference on Cognition and Exploratory Learning in Digital Age (CELDA 2007), 7-9 December 2007, Algarve, Portugal. Edited by Kinshuk, Sampson DG, Spector JM, Isaías P. IADIS Press, 2007, pp. 401-406 (ISBN: 978-972-8924-48-5) – Full text (PDF); slides (PDF)

Wear a skin disease!

December 1, 2007

Try it out in-world now at our SIM!  (look for our new ‘AIDS-related Kaposi Sarcoma Experience’ dispenser inside the glass building)

Below is a snapshot of a very ‘quick-and-dirty’ AIDS-related Kaposi Sarcoma “skin” for use in-world (it’s actually a transparent undershirt with the lesions). People wearing it are able to see and experience on their own avatar how Kaposi Sarcoma looks/feels in AIDS patients. Of course the same principle can be expanded, refined and used to role-play patients with various skin conditions/presentations and at various stages of their disease (to show progress, worsening or healing). Such “patients” (driven by real humans behind the PCs, who should also have full patient knowledge about the conditions they are role-playing) can be used to train clinicians in-world (esp. on rare conditions and for undergraduate teaching). A kind of a virtual clinical round, you may call it, where trainee clinicians can also ask these virtual patients questions (history taking) and get intelligent answers by the patients in real time (using voice or text or both), conduct clinical examination in the usual way (avatars can take off clothes :-), ask for investigations, receive feedback, and have additional sensorial inputs in-world like streaming audio/videos (live or on-demand), photos and text, as well as links to flat Web pages and resources.


One can easily zoom into the lesions, and high-resolution is possible. One can wear a skin and take it off/wear another one in almost no time (but it takes considerable skill and time to develop these skins–thanks to SL:Bailey Yifu for the AIDS-related Kaposi Sarcoma one). This can help demonstrating the progress of a lesion/response to treatment (e.g., depending on trainee clinician’s answers in-world, the person role-playing the patient can switch to/show the appropriate corresponding or matching skin, so that the trainee doctor is also able to see the effect of their diagnosis and treatment).

See also: IBM uses 3D imaging to visualise patient records (E-Health Insider – 27 September 2007)

–M.N.K. Boulos – 30 Nov 07

[Published] When mirror and virtual worlds converge…

December 1, 2007

Web GIS in practice V: 3-D interactive and real-time mapping in Second Life
Maged N Kamel Boulos, David Burden
International Journal of Health Geographics 2007, 6:51


The paper covers is the convergence potentials of mirror worlds and virtual worlds, which together with lifelogging and augmented reality, will create the full 3-D Internet/Metaverse in a decade or so from now.

Second Life impact measurement and metrics

November 18, 2007

Second Life impact measurement and metricsI recently received the following query via e-mail:

How can (if it can) the “impact” of using SL for educational purposes such as an in-world seminar or tutorial, over not using SL, be “measured” or quantified?

Following is my quick reply (copied from two separate e-mail replies of mine):

e-mail 1: SL has its parcel traffic metrics/user tracking tools like any other more conventional Web-based system. You would measure the impact (depending on specific contexts/subject matters) like you would do for any more conventional Web-based or digital (e.g., CD/DVD-ROM) system; surveys, focus groups and interviews are among the tools + the more quantitative automatic usage metrics (see my second e-mail below).

e-mail 2: “Measuring” the “impact” is very tied to the subject you are using SL for, AND the way you are using SL to serve this subject, plus other factors like audience profiles, etc. Hence I would avoid saying that one would be measuring the impact of SL in education in general, or comparing SL with the flat Web. A bad production or movie should not be taken as an evidence that the motion picture/cinema has no impact or is all bad, just because some producer doesn’t know how to use it properly. Also in addition to the points mentioned in my first reply to you concerning this question, I would also include analysis of chat logs/session recordings, course outcomes/exam results and effect on drop-out rates (esp. in distance learning courses) among the evaluation tools/metrics. But everything should be interpreted with a grain of salt (you might be measuring ‘production quality’ or ‘fitness for purpose’ of the specific instance at hand, rather than SL (or the flat Web) as a tool). And quantitative metrics alone are not a very useful measure; a popular site is not necessarily one that users have found (later, after visiting) useful, or one that has resulted (again, later after the visits have been counted) in a positive change in their knowledge, attitude and behaviour! (Behaviour is the most difficult of the three, (knowledge, attitude and behaviour–in this order), to change/measure.) For some SL metrics tools, check out:

[N.B.: In SL, users can frequently zoom into some object and even fully interact with it at a distance (Client menu > untick ‘Limit Select Distance’ and tick ‘Disable Camera Constraints’). In such cases a parcel’s visitor counter/sensor would be useless, as it would fail to count this type of usage/interaction with content on the parcel. But individual objects on the parcel can be designed to have their own scripts for logging such interactions that involve touching or clicking the object at a distance (but still not simple ‘zooms into’ the object).]

M.N.K. Boulos – 13, 18 Nov 07

Just published

November 15, 2007

HIR cover.Article title: Second Life: an overview of the potential of 3-D virtual worlds in medical and health education

Authors: Maged N. Kamel Boulos, Lee Hetherington & Steve Wheeler

Volume 24, Issue 4, Pages 233-245, Cover Date December 2007

Journal Name: Health Information and Libraries Journal

Click here to go to the abstract of this article in Blackwell Synergy:  [PubMed/MEDLINE]

Knowledge is the enemy of (sexually transmitted) disease

September 7, 2007

The goal of our SIM is to help young adults make well informed choices of their own. We provide strong messages and education about sexually transmitted infections and the dangers of unprotected sex. Our in-world objects provide information about both condoms and abstinence, so our presentation is not biased towards one camp or the other, nor imposing any particular direction/method on our visitors.

Watch two related videos…

More Sexual Health/Sex Education videos from
Sexual Health/Sex Education videos

Creative Archive Licence Group Logo

Live meetings in 3-D virtual worlds vs. conventional interactive webcasting / Web videoconferencing

August 24, 2007

For those attending in-world, 3-D virtual worlds like Second Life add emotion / pseudo-body language communication (thanks to sophisticated avatars — closer to face-to-face contacts, but less “threatening” / with more “protection” for those needing this) and a shared pseudo-physical 3-D space. These features are lost when watching a live Second Life broadcast on SLCN–Second Life Cable Network or via Mogulus (if you don’t already know this, Mogulus can be used to broadcast / stream in-world events live to the Web, when combined with tools like ManyCam, which can be set to directly stream a user’s Windows Desktop/Second Life client instead of a webcam–Windows Vista users having difficulty capturing / streaming sound can additionally use SoundTap). (To do the reverse, e.g., stream a RL surgical operation live in Second Life, you will need a service that outputs in QuickTime like Veodia.)

Click to enlarge.
M.N.K. Boulos‘ comment on above slide from IBM (click to enlarge): A 3-D virtual world offers a shared virtual space, enabling students and tutors to feel more naturally, closely and strongly together because of the shared spatial dimension, which can also have other educational uses during a voice conferencing session, including scenarios involving avatars and various in-world objects. You don’t get the same shared pseudo-physical spatial dimension in conventional flat text (and emoticons) / voice / video conferencing and chatting over the Web.
(To see the above slide in-world, visit Info Island (54, 95, 36).)

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

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