Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nuts and Bolts

My Advanced Robotics students have made a lot of progress this year. They are so proud of what they've accomplished; autonomous NXT critters, a choreographed dance with TETRIX robots, and just now a joystick-controlled mobile robotic arm. TETRIX parts require a lot of tools and these girls were not used to attaching things with screws, nuts, bolts, allen wrenches, and screwdrivers. I noticed something interesting during one of our classes this week. They were completing their construction of the robotic arms when one student said, "No, put the screw on that side and the back on this side." She referred to the kep nut as a "back" again later. I couldn't imagine why she would call a nut a back. It finally occurred to me she was talking about earrings and when I asked her if that's what she was referring to she smiled, knowing it wasn't 'correct' but it worked for them. One thing they've gotten out of their experience this year is a way to relate to making robots from their own perspectives, nuts, bolts, and all.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Virtual Drama Project in OpenSim

The 8th grade drama teacher and I are in the third cycle of our virtual drama project. The last two groups showed inconsistent engagement in the project, which has been surprising considering they get to act with an avatar and design their own stage sets. With the first group I can understand the lower engagement as they had to weather the bumps of the first run--disappearing prims (after a sim crash) finding the optimal hardware, few pre-made prims, and our lack of knowledge of what might provide a good experience. One improvement we've made is facilitating the students' taking ownership of their performance stages. They really don’t have time in a trimester to learn to build their own props but I’m finding that at least encouraging them to modify what I build for them is resulting in much more engagement. The stage for a scene from Alice in Wonderland is becoming truly surreal and the others are really working to make their sets as convincing as they can. One innovation from a couple groups last trimester was for them to find an image for their stage backdrop and they are all doing that now.We are so pressed for time in the few classes we have for each run of the project (about 10) that we’ve been stingy about letting them edit their props and appearances. Unsurprisingly it turns out this is what makes them want to make it good in the end.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Creating Spatial Voice for Opensim Projects With Teamspeak

I'm currently on the third go-round with an 8th grade drama project on our LAN-based sim. As you could imagine the requirements for voice capabilities are pretty specific in a virtual drama project and after trying several options I've finally found the perfect solution--Teamspeak. Teamspeak is easy to set up, allows up to 32 slots on the free version, and uses a cross-platform codec, Speex, so I can have students on Macs and PCs in the same session. Client configuration is easy as well, allowing for settings I pre-configure, like the server IP, to be global, applying to all users, so students don't have to set anything up. All they do is open the client, type their own name in the connect dialog, and since it has the host IP already in the global settings they can ignore that part. I've set up channels for the students to be able to rehearse in groups and not have to hear the other groups, 6 channels in all.

What I tried before is the Opensim's onboard voice module, FreeSWITCH, which is fine but not spatial. That was a deal breaker because students couldn't practice using voice in simultaneous rehearsals. I heard that Vivox was being integrated as a new voice module and is spatial but after looking into that I found that it costs thousands to get a license to host it. Then I tried Ventrilo, often used by World of Warcraft players, and it worked until I got more that 8 students on the server. Only 8 slots unless you rent server hosting! So I ran two Ventrilo servers on two different computers and had to go around connecting students to different IPs, making sure they were with their group partners. Much hassle.

So until Vivox offers an affordable package for use with Opensim Teamspeak will be the best option for this project. Which is a project I should describe in more detail. Will do, soon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Who's Afraid of Copyright Infringement?

If you saw this on your computer would you think you'd done something wrong? Probably, because most of us have copied something or other without permission. It's pretty scary looking, too. I took this picture of a student's screen after she got this crazy alert. But I wonder how effective this is. Are people really afraid of getting caught illegally downloading music, movies, or TV shows? A small percentage must click the "settle and avoid court proceedings" button; enough for them to make money off the hoax.