Friday, January 08, 2010

Virtual Architecture Course in OpenSim

I've been teaching a week-long class on virtual architecture with nine 10-12th grade girls at my school using one region of our school sandbox 4x4 megaregion. It's been one of the most enjoyable teaching experiences I've had. They've taken to the project of building homes on the mountainous terrain I've provided with so much care and attention, placing some furniture I provided just so, and yet they clearly delight in the ability to defy gravity by building in mid-air or jutting over a sheer cliff. There's a general thing for circular houses, one of the most impractical shapes you could have in real life. One student made a diving board off her 20-meter-high pool only to find that she landed on the ground when she walked her avatar off it. So she moved the diving board to the other side of the pool and happily flailed her way down to the water. They've been having fun visiting each others' houses and pushing each other around when they feel too cramped in houses they wish they had made bigger. One student has been working very hard on a more thoughtfully planned spacious house and it turns out she is interested in studying architecture in college. I mentioned that the architecture departments of many colleges have land for their students to work with in Second Life. I had to tell her to stick to campuses, though, with the wild west atmosphere of so much of "mature" SL.

Possibly the most exciting event was the sim crashing. At one point everyone reported losing control of their avatars. I logged in to the server to see a big alert and lots of red errors on the console. They all logged out and as I restarted one student mentioned a warning message she had gotten when linking the prims in her house that the limit for linked objects was 255. She had the craziest staircase with dozens of irregularly placed steps that turn out to be really easy for avatars to ascend and descend. So she crashed the sim trying to link them all with her house. Once it was back up they logged in to find that half of their work was gone. They were so upset and old enough to laugh at how upset they were. Fortunately I had seen this before and knew that the sim probably needed a second restart after crashing to put things back in order, which turned out to be the case.

Virtual building is an amazing creative medium for teaching. The students learned the tools fairly quickly and in just a few classes have applied them to developing such unique visions for their spaces. I'm interested to see how they want to wrap up the class. I'll leave them the option of working on their creations when they have time after this week but this will end our collaborative effort. I plan on trying to corral their avatars in one place long enough to snap a photo at least.

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