How real is real enough?

September 29, 2011
Pic of Clyde Warren

Clyde Warren

Today’s guest blogger is Clyde Warren.  Clyde is a Professor of Chinese Consumer Behavior at the University of Stirling (Singapore) Institute for Retail Studies and at the National Chung Hsing University (in Taiwan).  Recently, Clyde implemented an Open Wonderland project for a business class in Taiwan which he talks about below.  Clyde may be reached at: clydewarden@gmail.com.

How real does a virtual environment need to be for users to feel presence?  This is a question educators have been researching in the attempt to implement virtual spaces to expand the classroom. For those of us old enough to have been playing eight bit video games and text-driven adventures, we already have a good feeling for the answer—not much reality is required. Quantifying this answer has been my research topic over the last couple years, and Open Wonderland is open road, making it possible to perform structured experimental designs educators and researchers will find most useful.

Two takeaway points:

  1. Open Wonderland’s freedom (as in free speech) allows, and even encourages, users to create worlds and tools that match exactly what is needed (in my case, a controlled experiment that incorporates existing teaching materials).
  2. Open Wonderland allows the implementation of nearly any metaphor that can reinforce underlying goals and teaching points, and those metaphors, even if somewhat abstract, raise feelings of presence among participants.

In Taiwan, where I have been an expatriate for a couple decades, my business negotiation class was the focus for an experiment using OWL. Over the past five years, I developed a pen and paper negotiation Role Playing Game (RPG) where groups of students bought and sold simulated products, negotiating details of price, quality, shipping, etc. One big problem was trying to simulate negotiations in a tiny classroom, where getting any privacy was impossible. OWL overcame this problem through virtual space, which I then used to test feelings of presence.

I measured feelings of presence among students in two different virtual environments—one high abstraction and one low abstraction. Rather than produce a realistic environment, the goal was to test a metaphorical environment. For my negotiation class, a key concept is the importance of the negotiation team, keeping core information secret, planning goals, and distributing work, while having access to members of other teams. For my class, I implemented an island metaphor, within OWL, with each team owning its own island and class lectures held in a central classroom location. This became the low abstraction environment in the experiment. If this setting produced a measurable feeling of presence, the benefit would include those feelings as well as the opportunity to use a metaphor in teaching. This setting was compared to a fully abstract environment, where students negotiated and lectures were held in an empty space that only included teaching materials, such as slides.

Low-level abstract virtual space adopted an island metaphor:

Low-level abstract space

Island Metaphor

Research results showed students had statistically higher feelings of presence in the island metaphor world compared with the totally abstract world. The RPG paper game was executed, but now with students negotiating inside OWL, alternating between the two environments (low and high abstraction). Even with a small sample size (low statistical power), results were strong. While a difference between an empty world and a non-empty world may be obvious, the important finding is that a metaphor-based world can generate feelings of presence, avoiding the need for a high fidelity simulation. Rather than having offices, desks, and chairs, the island metaphor gave students a lasting picture of a key negotiation concept that they will remember.

High abstract virtual space:

Totally Abstract Space

Totally Abstract World

The details of this work were published in the highly ranked research journal Computers & Education (Level of abstraction and feelings of presence in virtual space: Business English negotiation in Open Wonderland, Volume 57, pp. 2126-2134).

To learn more, visit http://cwarden.org/.


Wonderland Webcaster, part one

April 26, 2011

In this blog post, Christian O’Connell, a student at the University of Essex in the UK, provides a brief overview of a new module: the Wonderland Webcaster.

The uses of virtual worlds can sometimes extend beyond the need for individual interaction; users can benefit from presentations and events without actually requiring an in-world presence.

The Webcaster module integrates RTMP – Adobe’s media streaming protocol – with Open Wonderland. Based on the Xuggler libraries, the Webcaster relays in-world video footage from a camera cell to a Red5 media server; from where it can viewed anywhere with a suitable Flash or RTMP capable client.

The advantage of this functionality is the capability to bring the experience of seeing a Wonderland virtual world to a much wider audience without adding additional load to the Darkstar server; as well as making content more accessible to those who might otherwise shy away from using virtual world platforms.

A demo of the module in action can be seen below. On the left is a regular web browser using a Flash plugin, displaying a web-page that resolves to an address on the wonderland web server. On the right is a user controlling the Webcaster cell (which appears in world much like a webcam.)

The Webcaster incorporates a modular design making it highly extensible, and can be easily adapted to include such features as recording streams and RTP. Currently available in the unstable modules directory, the webcaster requires an install of the Red5 server and the Xuggler core update. The current version does not include audio, this is still under development, so expect to see additional features in time.

Instructions:

  1. Follow the instructions for adding video support to Wonderland, this will create a new binary that can be started in the usual way, i.e. java -jar dist/Wonderland.jar my.run.properties.
  2. Deploy the webcaster module to the Wonderland server.
  3. Start a Wonderland client using webstart
  4. Insert a webcaster object, and open its HUD control panel and click the ‘Start Capture’ button
  5. Direct your browser to http://<wonderland-webserver>/webcaster/webcaster/ and connect to the server <wonderland-webserver> using the stream ‘wonderland’ (without the quotes–this should be the same stream name that you see in the HUD control panel for the webcaster). Click the start button.

You should see the video from the webcaster object rendered in the browser.


Two new Admin modules

April 13, 2011

The development of the Web-based poster module that I described in an earlier blog posting led me to consider what other kinds of cells would benefit from a similar approach.

One of the guiding principles of the MiRTLE project is that the technology does not interfere with existing teaching practice, and thus requires no additional skills of the teacher. I’ve been working with my colleagues in Virtual Learning Labs to create a pre-packaged version of MiRTLE that “just works” — with no interaction from the teacher. The MiRTLE installation consists of virtual teaching rooms each of which contain a TightVNC Viewer cell (to render the teacher’s PC into the world) and a Webcam Viewer cell (to render a view of the classroom into the world). Given that the settings for these cells are dependent on the institution in which MiRTLE is installed, we needed a way to manage them without end-user interaction: hence the creation of two new modules for use by a systems administrator — one to configure the settings of TightVNC Viewer cells and the other to configure the settings of Webcam Viewer cells.

The code for both modules is in the “unstable” directory of the wonderland-modules SVN repository and the binaries are now in the module warehouse (note that each requires its respective pre-requisite module before installing into a Wonderland server).

Screenshots of the web pages of the two modules are shown below:

Web page showing TightVNC Viewers

Web page showing Webcam viewers


Remote Usability Testing using Wonderland

February 24, 2011

Kapil Chalil Madathil and Dr. Joel Greenstein conducted an interesting study analyzing the feasibility of using Open Wonderland for synchronous remote usability testing.

Kapil is currently a doctoral student at Clemson University working with Dr. Joel S. Greenstein. Dr. Greenstein is an Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering and the Director of the Human-Computer Systems Laboratory at Clemson University.

Here they share some excerpts from their work that will be published at the CHI 2011 conference in Vancouver, Canada.

CHI 2011 Preview:  A New Perspective to Remote Usability Testing using Wonderland

The emergence of high speed internet technologies has resulted in the concept of the global village and next generation web applications addressing its needs. In such a scenario where usability evaluators, developers and prospective users are located in different countries and time zones, conducting a traditional lab usability evaluation creates challenges both from the cost and logistical perspectives. These concerns led to research on remote usability evaluation, with the user and the evaluators separated. However, remote testing lacks the immediacy and sense of “presence” desired to support a collaborative testing process. Moreover, managing inter-personal dynamics across cultural and linguistic barriers may require approaches sensitive to the cultures involved.  Three-dimensional (3D) virtual world applications may address some of these concerns.

Collaborative engineering was redefined when Open Wonderland integrated high fidelity voice-based communication, immersive audio and screen-sharing tools into virtual worlds. Such 3D virtual worlds mirror the collaboration among participants and experts when all are physically present, potentially enabling usability tests to be conducted more effectively when the facilitator and participant are located in different places.

We developed a virtual three-dimensional usability testing laboratory using the Open Wonderland toolkit.

We then conducted a study to compare the effectiveness of synchronous usability testing in a 3D virtual usability testing lab with two other synchronous usability testing methods: the traditional lab approach and WebEx, a web-based conferencing and screen sharing approach.

The study was conducted with 48 participants in total, 36 test participants and 12 test facilitators. The test participants were asked to complete 5 tasks on a simulated e-commerce website. The three methodologies were compared with respect to the following dependent variables: the time taken to complete the tasks; the usability defects identified; the severity of these usability defects; and the subjective ratings from NASA-TLX (NASA Task Load Index), presence and post-test subjective satisfaction questionnaires.

The three methodologies agreed closely in terms of the total number of defects identified, the number of high severity defects identified and the time taken to complete the tasks. However, there was a significant difference in the workload experienced by the test participants and facilitators, with the traditional lab condition imposing the least and the virtual lab and the WebEx conditions imposing similar levels. It was also found that the test participants experienced greater involvement and a more immersive experience in the virtual world condition than in the WebEx condition. The ratings for the virtual world condition were not significantly different from those in the traditional lab condition.  The results of this study suggest that participants were productive and enjoyed the virtual lab condition, indicating the potential of a virtual world based approach as an alternative to conventional approaches for synchronous usability testing.

We will be presenting the full details of our study at CHI 2011 in Vancouver, Canada.

Hope to see you there!!

Kapil Chalil Madathil and Dr. Joel S. Greenstein


Thanksgiving wishes from Open Wonderland

November 25, 2010

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xb2zh9Eb268]

Nicole Yankelovich

Nicole

Although Thanksgiving is a US-centric holiday, the idea of giving thanks certainly crosses all cultures. In that spirit, I asked representatives of the Open Wonderland Foundation (OWF) board of directors as well as our most active Open Wonderland Forum community members to contribute a line or two about what they are thankful for in relationship to Open Wonderland and our open source community.

I personally have a tremendous amount to be thankful for. To think that in February of this year we were inundated with press coverage about the demise of Wonderland:

“Sun’s 3D virtual environment, Project Wonderland, follows Metaplace to the great virtual world burial ground”

“Project Wonderland (open src alt to Second Life) has been killed”

“Another virtual world-related causality of the acquisition will be Sun’s Project Wonderland”

“All the virtual world platforms will suffer as a result of the loss of Project Wonderland”

A huge amount of credit goes to the community for standing up against this flood, rather than being swept away with the tide and abandoning the project. I am thankful to Maria Korolov from Hypergrid Business, the *only* reporter who actually took the time to contact me, for her fair-minded story which helped to turn the tide of doom and gloom coverage to a more positive note (“Project Wonderland developers say they will continue working on the virtual world platform, despite being laid off“).

As I’m fond of telling anyone who asks, the Wonderland community today is far stronger than it ever was before “the liberation.” We now have a Facebook presence, a Twitter feed, a community wiki, a wikipedia page, and far more community code and Module Warehouse contributions than we did under Sun’s reign. We also have our community-run Wonderland Wednesday sessions which are a way of “eating our own dog food” and using Wonderland to collaborate in real-time on brainstorming, discussions, and coding projects.

So thank you to all the members of the OWF board of directors who believed in Open Wonderland and in me, and to everyone who has contributed to our open source community. The positive, helpful, welcoming tenor of conversation on our forum and in the Wonderland Wednesday sessions is both inspirational and motivating.

Lastly, Jonathan Kaplan, our Wonderland Architect, says, “Thanks to the Open Wonderland community for being just that, a community — one that is fun, supportive, helpful, and welcoming to new users and old friends alike.” On behalf of the community, Jon, I want to thank you for your extraordinary efforts in keeping Open Wonderland alive. Your dedication, good humor, patience, and exceptional technical abilities have made it possible for all of us to continue working on this promising technology which, I feel sure, will have a significant impact on the computing environment of the future.

Nicole Yankelovich
Executive Director
Open Wonderland Foundation

I am thankful that the magic of common purpose inspired by good ideas
and powerful visions was able to rescue a project from an untimely
end, even when the rest of the world thought it was doomed to
obscurity at the hands of corporate myopia.

Maggie Leber
Matrisync Engineering

I am grateful for the memory of being a part of a great team at Sun that created Project Wonderland. I’m also grateful for the selection of the open source model that will allow Open Wonderland to continue to fulfill its promise of being a vibrant and engaging medium for learning and collaboration. It is truly a privilege to be a member of the Open Wonderland Foundation Board as we embark on that journey.

Kevin Roebuck
Director, Content and Tools Alliances
Oracle Student Learning, Oracle Corporation

Open Wonderland has now become fully usable in real world customer projects. The ongoing support of its open source community is really outstanding.

Michel DENIS
Président, Internet 3 Solutions SAS

WonderSchool thanks the Open Wonderland Foundation for their open-mindedness:
the combination of OWL and the CMU program Alice enables you to spread out your creativity
and to enjoy the power of your online collaboration.

Roland Sassen
enjoy and learn
wonderschool.org

I am thankful for the technology that facilitates and drives such a diverse and active online community. Furthermore, I am thankful for the rich opportunities the community provides to grow as a developer as well as advance technology.

Ryan Babiuch (JagWire)
Software Developer – iSocial Project

Open Wonderland is the first open-source project that I am “actively” following — not as a programmer, but as the coordinator of the ShanghAI Lectures, where we use Wonderland to enable participants from all around the globe to work and study together. We are thankful for the great work and support from the community, without which this project would not be possible.

Nathan Labhart
Project manager of the “ShanghAI Lectures”
AI Lab, Department of Informatics, University of Zurich, Switzerland

It is appropriate at this time of year to reflect on what we have accomplished and hopefully help improve the quality of life for others. Wonderland is indeed just
one example of how people across the globe, through the use of this technology, can improve communication, increase universal understanding and exchange
ideas. I am proud to be associated with Open Wonderland Foundation and its members who are are committed to this technology and its advancement in our society.
The coming months will see new opportunities and challenges arise, but I am thankful for a group of people from various disciplines that want to carry out this dream.

Ken Miller
Chairman, Open Wonderland Foundation Board of Directors

Here at the University of Essex we are very thankful for the help and support of the Open Wonderland community. We are using Wonderland on a range of projects including extending the Mixed Reality Teaching and Learning Environment (MiRTLE) project with new capabilities, and trials planned with students from around the world. We are also using Wonderland as a rich environment for foreign students to carry out virtual tasks with one another and improve their English at the same time. The open and extensible nature of Wonderland makes it ideal for how we need to use it, whilst also allowing us to easily integrate it with the other University systems on campus. We wish every one involved in the Open Wonderland community the best of luck for the coming year.

Michael Gardner
University of Essex

In the context of the ShanghAI Lectures project, a global lecture series on natural and artificial intelligence, we are using Wonderland for group exercises with students from different continents and interactive Q&A session with tutors and lecturers every other week. We are thankful that we have the opportunity to experiment with this leading-edge software which may turn out to be an essential component in how we will communicate and run projects in the future in business, academia, and public organizations. There is a lot of skepticism in companies about the utility of this kind of software but if we don’t do the experiments, we will never know. I am thankful that with Wonderland we have the great opportunity to be part of this exciting endeavor.

Rolf Pfeifer
ShangAI Lectures, University of Zurich

The iSocial team is thankful for the opportunity to work with “wonderful” colleagues and engage in creative, innovative and fun work to build the iSocial system. It is also uppermost in our thoughts that if we can be successful we can impact and improve the lives of children and families with great needs. Finally, we are truly thankful to all those, especially Nicole, Jon and those working with the OWF Board, who work to continue and extend OWF as an environment for advancing our capabilities to harness advanced  technology in the service of education and human needs.

Jim Laffey
iSocial, University of Missouri

As a relative newcomer to Wonderland, it seems that Wonderland *is* all about giving… giving opportunity, a new way to interact and learn, a new way to meet people. Even at a higher level, the community, board members, and developers – they are all contributing. There is *giving* on so many levels. I am grateful for Wonderland, the community, particularly Nicole Yankelovich, for all you have done and for providing an opportunity to be part of this. By coincidence, this article recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ)   Thank You. No, Thank You: Grateful People Are Happier, Healthier Long After the Leftovers Are Gobbled Up.

Elizabeth Kim
Wonderland Enthusiast


Amphisoft Training and Education Projects

November 19, 2010

Today’s guest blogger is Pradeep Duraisamy. Pradeep completed his B.Tech (Bachelor in Technology) in 2006 and currently works as a Project Associate in a service-based organization. He has 4+ years of work experience in Java, Java EE, and open-source frameworks like struts, springs, and hibernate. In this post, Pradeep talks about development work he performed with Amphisoft Technologies.  Thanks Pradeep!

Pradeep D

Pradeep D

“I have been associated with Amphisoft Technologies, a firm dedicated to providing educational and training services, from its earlier stage work where efforts were focused on achieving a vision of bringing high quality education to students and pioneering new pathways in education, training and other related areas.  My personal interests are in enterprise application development, identifying performance bottlenecks and solutions, SOA, enterprise application integration, ESB and Apache Hadoop.”

Amphisoft Technologies
Moodle in Open Wonderland

By Pradeep Duraisamy

Amphisoft Technologies is a private organization founded by a group of “learning” science researchers who developed a thorough understanding of academics, corporate training and technocrat pioneers in enterprise application development, open-source frameworks and tools. Amphisoft’s products are intelligent systems built on five important aspects of learning – Knowledge Creation, Knowledge Management, Knowledge Measurement, Knowledge Harvesting and Knowledge Patterns.

Clients use Amphisoft products and services to help streamline training and education, deliver quality education, yet also offer compatibility with existing tools and frameworks for a seamless, integrated user experience. We are using Open Wonderland as a platform upon which we will offer training, hold scheduled meetings and more. We are still in a preliminary state and continue to explore different types of services which we would like to offer through Wonderland. Below are some of the developments we’ve worked on so far.

Integrating Moodle with Open Wonderland

We integrated Moodle with Open Wonderland to revolutionize learning and training. Moodle is a Learning Management System that is a free web application used by many of our clients and institutions worldwide. Currently, there are over a million users registered on Moodle.org. At first we wanted to enable Moodle users to login to Wonderland using their existing username and password. For that, we created a new authentication module which communicates with the RESTful webservice to authenticate users. The web service, in turn, authenticates the user against the username and password stored in the Moodle database. It also sends all the groups associated with the user. By using this group information, we are able to provide a new security mechanism in Wonderland.

User course selection and collaboration

Our Wonderland server contains many islands which are separated by a long distance. Each island is used for a given course. When a user walks onto an island, a nice capability delivered by another module is that they are able to view all the resources available in that course which displays in a separate HUD (heads up display) window. Users can select a particular resource from that list to load in-world to enable a collaborative learning experience. Users can also be easily transported from one island to another using the portal capabilities and move on to their next course.

Below is a screen shot from the course island with the resource module on the right hand side.

Amphisoft - Course inland snapshot

Course island snapshot

We are exploring many other opportunities for using virtual learning in education and training.

Improvements we would like to see in future releases of Wonderland include:

  1. Reducing the initial client startup time.
  2. A light-weight client with very minimal modules and functions. It would be nice if all the required modules or functionality in the client are configurable.
  3. Accommodation of many more live users in Wonderland.
  4. Load balancing or creation of a Wonderland server cluster for improved response times.
  5. Easy creation of a custom client  (Just like subclassing a class and implementing some methods :) )

The Open Wonderland community is doing great work and the forum is very active. We received a lot of support from the community when we faced difficulties while developing our modules. We are very thankful to all the people involved in the community who keep moving the project along even after the company withdrew sponsorship.


Curl in to RESTful posters

November 16, 2010

Continuing with the theme of integrating Wonderland into the wider web, I recently added a RESTful interface to the Web-based Poster Manager module in the modules warehouse. Now, instead of editing the posters from the web admin interface, authenticated users can also use curl (or wget) to view, edit and delete posters.

In the video below, I provide a brief demo of using the RESTful interface using curl.

The curl commands used are as follows (ignore the line breaks):

To authenticate, and store the cookie (assuming a user name and password of ‘admin’, and a server running on localhost):

curl --cookie-jar cookies.txt --data "username=admin&password=admin"
'http://localhost:8080/security-session-auth/security-session-auth/login?action=login'

To view the list of posters as HTML:

curl --cookie cookies.txt --header "Accept: text/html"
http://localhost:8080/postercontrol/postercontrol/
resources/posters/

To view the list of posters as XML:

curl --cookie cookies.txt --header "Accept: application/xml"
http://localhost:8080/postercontrol/postercontrol/
resources/posters/

To view the first (zero-th) poster as XML:

curl --cookie cookies.txt --header "Accept: application/xml"
http://localhost:8080/postercontrol/postercontrol/
resources/posters/0

To change the contents of the first (zero-th) poster:

curl -X PUT --cookie cookies.txt --header "Accept: application/xml" --header "Content-type:text/plain"
--data "Updated Poster"
http://localhost:8080/postercontrol/postercontrol/
resources/posters/0

To delete the first (zero-th) poster:

curl -X DELETE --cookie cookies.txt --header
"Accept: application/xml" http://localhost:8080/postercontrol/postercontrol/
resources/posters/0

Many thanks to Jon Kaplan for his guidance on authentication.


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