Jim gave us a description of how the software worked, went over the interface and provided navigation hints and direction. Then we began our tour of the virtual world.
The exhibit hall provided a show case for vendor products and services and if you clicked on the exhibit for information, the system could launch a web site and gather information to assist the vendor in tracking visitors. The hall is large and looks just like a conference exhibit hall. Jim admitted that many virtual world participants he's dealt with are not yet ready for the virtual conference hall and that it is not as popular as first anticipated. I think one way to make the hall a little more attractive is to change the venue, maybe to an outdoor area or within a factory or within some location relevant to the conference or exhibit. Imagine have a conference about manufacturing and the exhibit hall was set up in a factory or a medial conference set up in a hospital.
We then went to a large conference room that they use for hybrid events, with some people attending an event live and some attending virtually. Both have the ability to experience the same event through Twitter feeds and streaming video.
Next we went to a venue that seems to be taking off in virtual immersive environments, museums.
Jim indicated that museums see the creation of virtual immersive environments as a way of making their exhibits and offerings available to more people and of creating levels of immersion that might not be cost effective in the physical world. For example, one could hear the artists story of why a particular painting was created, see the artists at work on the painting and examine the painting up close all in an interactive environment. And, at times, the artist could appear at the gallery or museum and explain his or her piece to anyone who rezzed in the world.
Another interesting use of the virtual immersive environment is for small museums, such as a home of a famous historical person. The museum can create a space that can be "experienced" and not just viewed behind barriers or glass. It can also make some of the small spaces which are inaccessible to handicapped individuals accessible.
Students learned that when manipulating and avatar in small spaces, first-person view is often most effective. The subject of scale was also addressed. Jim mentioned that an issue they often deal with is whether or not to make the space 100% to scale (which can lead to the feeling of being confined when you have lots of avatars in the same space) or do you make it more avatar friendly but loose the authenticity of the original scale. Interesting dilemma for developers of authentic virtual reproductions of historical spaces.
Jim then showed the class how to conduct individual break out sessions by having private chat spaces where two or more avatars can carry on a conversation without the rest of the people in the area hearing what they are saying. You could have several such areas for group work during a session in a virtual immersive environment.
Next we visited an authentic reproduction of the home town of Lucille Ball which is Jamestown, New York. The town is a reproduction so that people can understand how to navigate the town. I think the possibilities are tremendous for this type of application. Imagine a college setting up a town so potential students can "walk downtown" of the college to see what it is like or a town's tourism bureau could have this created so you could get the "lay of the land" prior to setting foot in the town.
Finally, we visited a music festival venue where they plan to hold live concerts in a Webstock type of venue.
All in all it was a great tour of the VirtualU campus, we ended at a reproduction of the campus of an institute and learned a great deal about the potential uses of virtual worlds for museums, training organizations and others.
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