Grokking Virtual Worlds

On Edudemic‘s site I read about a new tool called instaGrok – a search engine targeted at education – that I decided to try out.

About instaGrok

Start “grokking”

You can start “grokking” immediately, but to be able to use the features properly, you need to log in, and so I decided to log in and do a search on Virtual Worlds;

Search for Virtual Worlds

  1. You can adjust the level of difficulty/detail via the slider
  2. The users’ search history is saved
  3. Search results are shown as Key Facts, Websites, Videos, Images, Quizzes, and Concepts. Key Facts and Quizzes enable clicks on “more” information leading to original sources. Results can be pinned and will show on the graph, in the journal, and under the visited tab.
  4. There are 3 displays to choose from
  5. You can share by e-mail or Twitter (currently there seems to be a bug though; my tweet showed a dead link). Sharing is apparently limited to the original query – not the one you’ve pinned?
Click on the nodes to increase the search
Journal display
Edudemic highlights the quizzes, but I have to admit that I’m not a fan of quizzes – not here, not in general. The questions generated from the search seem to result in some rather strange questions that test the user’s grammatical skills, rather that his/her general knowledge of the topic;

Examples of quizzes

Apart from the quiz section, I think it’s a rather nice tool. I like the fact that you can visualize your queries and the journal feature could also be very useful. Edudemic predicts that Google will buy instaGrok, and that seems very plausible. I think the tool has the potential to evolve into something very useful. Some of the improvements I’d like to see would be:

  • View History without having to do a search first – make available the History tab once the user logs in
  • A “save” tab – it saves instantly, but for the UX I think a tab would seem reassuring (he, but that could be just me ;-)
  • Ability to download the different displays
  • Ability to share pinned queries
  • Ability to co-create
  • More image examples
  • Some sort of ” summarized result” for the quizzes to increase the gamification element
  • Improved search results – i.e. the first pin/example under Key Facts in my search is a wikipedia article on Virtual world language learning …

Anyways, I think instaGrok is a tool to keep an eye on :-) Follow here on twitter.


Mariis – Liking and linking #Thinglink

Whenever I run courses in SL the participants naturally always ask for interesting places to visit, and every time I start a new course I spend a lot of time creating/updating notecards. I’ve long been considering creating a wiki or the like, but must admit I never really had the energy. Through twitter I recently heard of a new tool, Thinglink that enables you to tag/put several links on photos. I’ve only been exploring it for a couple of days, but was so impressed with it that I decided to make use of it to solve my “SL place problem”, and voila my new blog:

When you hover over the pictures little rings with links will appear.

For now I’ve just posted a few places, and only in SL, but I’m hoping the blog will grow in time. I really appreciate the ability to link – something which I think will be a time saver – especially because you don’t have to log in to the blog to edit/remove links, you just need to be logged into Thinglink. Thinglink is really, really easy to use – my only problem was that WP only allows the plugin on self hosted WP-blogs, so I had to create a new place and chose Blogger after trying a few other options. Evidently, Thinglink can be used for anything and the tool has already caught the attention of educators – see for instance @AuntyTech‘s Educate with Thinglink :-) W00T!


Great field trip to Pathfinder’s Jibe world

One of the classes I’ve been teaching this spring has been dealing with interpersonal CMC, and as part of this I have of course been talking about avatar-based communication. Based on my experience with bringing newbies into SL, I knew that I had to find another example of a 3D Virtual World to use with this particular class that had 89 students. During the 5th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education Conference  (March 15-17, 2012), I ran into John “Pathfinder “Lester, and I was reminded of the Jibe platform created by ReactionGrid .

Pathfinder is currently Chief Learning Officer at ReactionGrid Inc., but worked for LL/SL for five years where he led the development of education and healthcare, and I’ve actually met Pathfinder a couple of times in RL too – even here in Denmark :-) I’ve been following Pathfinder’s work with alternate Grids/worlds since he left LL, and I consider him a true innovator and visionary within the field of 3D Virtual Worlds.

So on March 19th, I decided to try to bring my class into Pathfinder’s Jibe world. Being used to many technical obstacles with SL, I did not know exactly what to expect. As it turned out only a few of the students had any experience with 3D Virtual Worlds (and only from WoW and The Sims), so I was admittedly a bit worried. However, from a technical point of view things went very well – I was really impressed with just how easy it was for the students to start using Jibe! Some of the students had to install a Unity3d plugin (the player), but that didn’t cause any problems and within minutes from showing the students the url, they were in-world gaining their first experiences with navigating a 3D-avatar. I have rarely heard students laugh this much in class!

All the students on laptops managed to get into Jibe without any problems, but a few of the students use iPads, and sadly Jibe/Unity3d doesn’t work on those yet. I did try to see if I could access Jibe via Chrome in the AlwaysOn PC app, but no ;-) In user forums on Unity3d I’ve read about attempts to jailbreak the iOS and work around the plugin need, but this is not a solution I’m going to pursue or even recommend to my students, so for now we’ll have to settle for using laptops, and that’s ok.

These 2. semester students had a very limited knowledge of 3D Virtual Worlds, and even though I did demonstrate SL, being able to access and play around on their own in such a world really enhanced their understanding. They did find the whole idea of using 3D Virtual Worlds for serious purposes quite exotic, and it will take much more time (and practice) to convince them of the virtues of such communication media. However, based on this very positive (especially from a technical point of view) experience, I will try to learn more about Jibe and consider if I can somehow use it in my future classes. Compared to SL, Jibe has three very important features that makes it an interesting platform in relation to my (often times very large) on-campus classes:

  • The platform easily holds 100+ participants
  • The platform is browser based
  • The platform is very user friendly – at least in terms of initial UX

For demonstration and first hand experience of avatars and 3D virtual environments, this makes Jibe very interesting. Further, Jibe supports industry standard 3D modeling programs and scripting, and that could also make it an interesting tool to use for some of the more advanced classes where our students have to learn this, and perhaps this could mean that more colleagues would take an interest in this type of technology. As much as I love SL, I really think that the future of 3D Virtual Worlds will be browser based, and to further enhance interoperability standards are a must, so Jibe really seems to be heading in the right direction.

Here’s a short introduction by Pathfinder, and be sure to follow his blog, if you want to learn more :-)

On ReactionGrid’s own blog there were some interesting news today;

  1. An open source version of Jibe is underway officially today.  LearnNC & ReactionGrid are partnering to allow teachers and students to qualify for no cost editions of Jibe.
  2. Jibe-Enterprise is now available for corporate training, meetings, collaboration and more.
  3. Jibe-Blend is also underway.  Jibe-Blend is a real-time shared collaborative building system which allows users to model in Blender and stream their work live into a Jibe/Unity3D world.