Today’s guest blog post is from Roland Sassen, a principal researcher at his company, THINSIA, which focuses on server-based computing technologies, cardio-biometrics, consciousness, and WonderSchool. Roland is an avid Oracle/Sun Ray evangelist. Together with Els van Tol, a teacher of Informatics, they promote the Carnegie Mellon University educational computing environment called “Alice” in the Netherlands and Germany.
Open Wonderland and Collaboration using Alice
WonderSchool, a startup formed by Els van Tol and myself, is a portal for schools where they can build their own virtual world, or use an existing one, and give their users access to software programs. Today, WonderSchool offers live Alice workshops for teachers in the Netherlands and Germany.
Alice is a program designed to make animations and games with just a few clicks of the mouse, while at the same time teach the basics of computer programming in a playful manner.
Girls and women around the globe have been using Alice to learn about technical professions like programming, animation and game-making and how it can be a creative, challenging and inspiring profession. But girls and women are not the only ones taking advantage of the Alice teaching tool. Approximately 2,700 schools and universities use Alice today to teach the basics of programming.
You can make an animation or game, and load your project in NetBeans, proceed with your animation development by programming in Java, and save your project back in the Alice format, and play your animation or game. (To install the NetBeans Plugin for Alice 3, see: http://vimeo.com/5939727 )
Collaboration in a Virtual World
Collaboration is made possible by using the Alice application inside an Open Wonderland virtual world. Users can take control of the Alice application, make changes, release control, and the next user can take control and add or change the Alice content. All users see what is happening in real-time.
In this way, it is possible for groups of users who are in the same school or who live thousands of miles apart, to make animations and games together. Users can also communicate by talking to each other, or by typing in a chat box, by showing content in a pdf viewer, or by using any program they want.
Also, users can join contests worldwide and create animations about real-world problems. Through this type of rich collaboration and interaction, students learn that different users have different attitudes, skills, and views, and will learn to anticipate the wonderful diversity of our real world.
The Technical Details
To get the Alice application running inside Wonderland, we used the VNC Viewer module from the Wonderland module warehouse, which requires a TightVNC server. Our VNC Viewer is connected (for the time being) to a Windows 2008 R2 server running TightVNC with the CMU Alice version 188.8.131.52.3.
To get the Alice animations themselves running inside Wonderland, we used the cmu-module from the wonderland-modules source code repository with ant deploy. You could instead install the CMU Module from the Wonderland Module Warehouse. Since this module includes a server-side component, be sure to read the associated README file carefully, as it takes some system administration skills to install this feature.
Once in Wonderland, you can use the Content Browser to import your Alice animation into the world. For licensing reasons, the Sim characters can’t be imported, so start, for example, with pets!
Our Business model
WonderSchool charges a yearly fee per user or per school for access to the WonderSchool servers. The fee is 75€ per student per year. Other education programs may be added to the WonderSchool portfolio.
The task of WonderSchool is to develop a cloud platform so that the Alice in WonderSchool user can work with any simple end-device. This includes the off-loading of any rendering from app servers and clients to dedicated graphical servers. In this way, bandwidth-consumption and load-time will be minimized, improving the user-experience.
Looking for Wonderland Worlds …
We’re always looking for great examples of Wonderland worlds with Alice animations so people can see what they can use these combined technologies for. For example, if someone has a zoo made in Wonderland, I could import an Alice animation with moving animals and let people walk in this world. By the same token, if someone has made a beautiful Alice animation and would like to show her/his work to a group of people by walking within the animation, we can import it in a Wonderland world.
WonderSchool (http://www.wonderschool.org) is a startup formed by Els van Tol and myself, Roland Sassen. The WonderSchool website is a portal for schools where they can build their own virtual world, or use an existing one, and give their users access to software programs.
As mentioned earlier, WonderSchool offers live Alice workshops for teachers in the Netherlands and Germany. Schools can obtain an annual subscription for WonderSchool to allow their children /students access to Alice in WonderSchool.
WonderSchool, a THINSIA project, will investigate the integration possibilities of virtual desktop infrastructure software, such as Oracle/Sun Ray software, so that the end-user can work from a simple and cheap device.