If you are thinking of setting up an island in the Teen Grid then this page should be of interest to you - it explains some aspects of setting up a Teen Grid island, getting adults into the island, and bulk registering students.
Setting up Schome Park
This involved four steps:
- Buying SchomeBase and Schome Park (our islands in the Main and Teen Grids respectively)
- Developing SchomeBase (so that it looked exactly like we wanted Schome Park to look like)
- Mirroring SchomeBase onto Schome Park
- Sorting out any problems on Schome Park following the mirroring
Each of these steps is described below, along with explanations of why we adopted this approach.
Buying the islands
Initially we debated whether or not we actually wanted to have islands specifically for the schome community, or whether we would operate in a more distributed manner. Part of our thinking was that we wanted education to come to the people rather than the other way around. However, it was clear that we had no choice if we wanted to work with 13 to 17 year olds - the only way we could do this was to have our own island in the Teen Grid. So that decision was straightforward.
We then thought about the practicalities of how we were going to develop Schome Park (our island in the Teen Grid). It was clear that there was far more accessible expertise in the Main Grid than in the Teen Grid from our point of view - we hoped to encourage members of the wider Second Life® community to contribute to our build. So we decided that the way to go was to buy SchomeBase (an island in the Main Grid) which we would use to design and develop the resources that we wanted on Schome Park. Linden Lab® (in the guise of Claudia Linden) agreed that they would mirror SchomeBase onto Schome Park when the time came - ie they would create an exact copy of SchomeBase in the Teen Grid (to make Schome Park).
We obtained funding internally within the OU - and Linden Lab were very helpful in terms of being willing to invoice the University.
Part of the process of buying Schome Park involved demonstrating that PeterT (as the owner and initially the only occupant of Schome Park) had appropriate police checks in place. We explained the CRB process that operates in the UK to Linden Lab - and they agreed that these would be suitable. They also provided details of a company that would do private record checks for us if we wished - the advantage being that they could do them more rapidly than the CRB. As PeterT already had a recent enhanced CRB disclosure this was not necessary. The University provided Linden Lab with a letter confirming PeterT's clear CRB disclosure along with a scan of the disclosure - and we were all set to set up Schome Park.
SchomeBase was ordered on the 9th November 2006 and came into existence on the 13th December 2006 - see The SchomeBase bliki for more info.
Schome Park was ordered on the 6th November 2006 and came into existence on the 3rd January 2007 - see The Schome Park bliki for more info.
It is worth noting that the end of 2006 was exactly the time when the Second Life world was in the news and the numbers of people requesting islands was expanding incredibly rapdidly - which is why there was a gap of a month or more between the islands being ordered and being implemented.
Our plan was to create SchomeBase as if it were Schome Park - because it was in effect going to become Schome Park when the mirroring happened.
Initially we intended that we would provide a very minimal infrastructure - leaving most of the island undeveloped so that there was room for the community on Schome Park to develop it as they saw fit. So we started by providing:
- a reception area - with noticeboards to tell people about the island and planned activities
- the plaza - an informal meeting area which could double up as an exhibition area or for impromptu activities (eg the Christmas disco)
- the sonic ramps - a set of ramps through a no-fly zone designed to give new community members the opportunity to develop their basic in-world skills (walking, moving objects, camera controls, snapshot tool, etc.)
- the arena - a large formal presentation/meeting area
- the archaepelago - a series of smaller formal meeting areas (including Schome Henge)
- the Scho-Op - a freebie store, information hub and help station
A team was formed, consisting of the core schome group within the OU plus half a dozen PhD students who were each paid to spend 6 hours per week 'working' in the Second Life world and contributing to the development of SchomeBase. Dan (alias Woop) also became a core contributor to our activities in his spare time.
The team planned a number of projects that we intended to implement in order to generate a bit of interest on Schome Park - such as the human projector (a large tube that you can climb into, and then control to project your avatar around the island).
In early February Dan decided that we needed to provide much more in the way of infrastructure for Schome Park - and he implemented a radical new design of the island, which included:
- totally flattening the whole island
- dividing it into four quadrants, with the Scho-Op as the focal point in the middle of them.
The four quadrants were designed to be:
- a Japanese garden for the Ethics and Philosophy strand of the schome-NAGTY Pilot in the Teen Second Life® world
- an area for the Physics strand
- an area for the Archaeology strand
- a sandbox where folk could try out their building skills
Dan/Woop pretty much implemented all of this single handed - nice work Dan - and it was clear that without someone with Dan's expertise we would have been in a much weaker position in terms of our ability to develop an attractive environment that would enthuse the new inhabitants of the island (and support the areas of activity that we were hoping to develop).
We could have bought in external expertise - and we did get quotes for having the island developed by a number of consultants. However, this was pretty expensive (the highest quote we had for developing the whole island was $25,000 - yes, real US dollars). We also wanted to develop our in-world expertise - and the best way to do that seemed to us to be to get in there are do the work ourselves.
Preparing for the move
We had several discussions with folk who had been involved in previous migrations of islands from the Main to the Teen Grid to get a feel for the key issues that we would need to have anticipated - we knew from Linden Lab that this was not a straightforward process.
Our initial plan had been to use in-world groups - so that all prims on SchomeBase would be owned by an in-world group - so that when they had been moved across to Schome Park any member of that group would be able to edit them. We were going to back this up by making sure that one avatar (Schoming Pidgeon) would have copies of every prim on SchomeBase that he had modify/copy/give away rights to. However, we were informed by Fred Fuchs/Gus Plisington that groups did NOT work across the Main and Teen Grids, so we abandoned that idea, whilst retaining the use of Schoming Pidgeon as the central repository for all prims.
We realised that one area where problems might arise related to scripts that used 'location' information - so we were careful to write all our scripts using relative addressing rather than direct addressing.
We also planned to leave plenty of time once the mirroring had happened in order to sort out any problems that might have arisen.
Getting staff on to Schome Park
Linden Lab, quite rightly, have strict rules about adults accessing the Teen Grid: they must have appropriate 'police checks' (enhanced CRB discolsures in the UK) and can only operate within islands owned by the project on which the adults are working (the exception to this being for Linden Lab own staff who have to have appropriate 'police checks' but can operate anywhere within the Teen Grid).
At the very beginning of the project, back in November 06, we agreed with Linden Lab that they would move our staff avatars from the Main Grid to the Teen Grid (specifically to Schome Park). This fitted with our plan to do all the development work for Schome Park on SchomeBase (our island in the Main Grid) and then migrate it over (as explained above).
I employed a group of folk (mostly PhD students from around the Open University) on consultancy contracts (6 hours per week each) to help with the original thinking and development work on SchomeBase. This gave me the opportunity to get to know the staff and identify the most suitable folk to form the core team that would move to Schome Park. The fact that we could do all the development work and get to know each other on SchomeBase meant that we didn't have to wait for CRB disclosures to come through before starting work (and also saved money because I didn't need to pay for disclosures for staff who were not in the final team).
So, all the staff spent time searching the Main Grid for ideas and resources which we thought might help us in the Teen Grid. We meet for an hour every week in order to coordinate our activities and discuss possibilities. I deliberately adopted a pretty laissez faire approach in order to see what would evolve. This meant that lots of ideas for activities emerged. Whilst some of these turned into dead ends they helped us develop a feel for the sort of things that were possible and the kind of ethos that we wanted to encourage within the Schome Park community.
When an avatar is moved from the Main Grid to the Teen Grid it is clearly no longer on the Main Grid (and there is no way that it can move back again - except if Linden Lab move it). This raised an interesting issue, which was that the OU staff who had been working on SchomeBase had built up a network of contacts and interest within the Main Grid which they were keen to retain. The obvious solution was for each of them to have two avatars, one on the Main Grid and one on Schome Park. Not surprisingly they tended to want to keep the avatar that they had been using on SchomeBase on the Main Grid - and wanted to move their second 'new' avatar to Schome Park. This meant a fair amount of extra work in making sure that the new avatars not only had copies of all the inventory items collected by the original avatars (and in some cases these were non-transferable items which meant that they had to go and find/buy them again from the original creators) but also that any prims that they had built were owned by the new avatar rather than the original one.
There was a slight panic in January 07 when Linden Lab temporarily decided that they were not willing to migrate the staff avatars across from the Main Grid to the Teen Grid. However, this was quickly resolved. The anxiety and upset that my team felt when they heard they were not going to be able to move their avatars across was fascinating - in part it was due to the fact that they had spent a lot of time and effort collecting resources to take to Schome Park (cos when an avatar is moved from the Main to the Teen Grid it takes everything in its inventory with it). However, this seemed to be merged with a personal investment that people had made in the avatars themselves. There does seem to be something quite important about the extent to which we project ourselves into our avatar, which needs to be explored further.
In early Feb 07 the staff avatars started to be moved over into Schome Park. They were moved in small batches because:
- this helped spread the workload for Linden Lab
- the CRB disclosures were ready at different times (depending upon when folk applied for them and whether or not they had ever had a disclosure done before)
- it provided us the security of knowing that if we had forgotten to bring any resource with us from the Main Grid we could get one of the avatars who were being moved over later on to bring it with them
The migration of the staff avatars went very smoothly. We sent Linden Lab the necessary info about the member of staff (name, organisation they worked for, role in project, avatar name, CRB info) and they moved the avatars over (normally within a day or two). Once an avatar had been moved then all that the member of staff had to do was login (using the same client software) and they found themself in Schome Park.
Getting students on to Schome Park
NAGTY had a specific view about the groups of students that they wanted to be involved in the project - these included their widening participation cohort (who they refer to as GOAL) as well as students from existing groups focussed on archaeology, ethics & philosophy, and physics). NAGTY told these groups of potential participants about the project via their existing forums and face to face meetings, and students were asked to express an interest in taking part. The aim was to have 200 students in total.
Just over 250 students expressed an interest in taking part initially. NAGTY wrote letters to these students' parents and schools to tell them about the Pilot. Students and parents were asked to sign informed consent forms, which gave permission for the students to take part and for data to be collected and used for research purposes. These letters and consent forms were approved by the OU Ethics Committee - and conformed to the BERA Guidelines on Educational Research.
Just under 150 students returned the consent forms by the deadline. They were then sent an email by the OU team, asking them to visit a website where they could choose a username and password.
We had hoped originally that each student would be able to have total freedom of choice about their avatar name (in as much as anyone signing up for a Second Life account has 'free choice') - because one of the things that seemed very important to us was the whole issue of identity, and names seemed to be an important aspect of that. Certainly members of our own team had spent a lot of time thinking about the avatar name they wanted as well as what they wanted their avatar to look like. However, it soon became clear that this would not be possible because it would mean each student having to register individually via the normal Linden Lab registration system (which in the case of Teens requires that you provide a credit card number). We thus agreed that we would use a bulk registration system, and that each of the students would have the same second name. We agreed with Linden Lab that this second name would be Schomer. Thus when students visited our website to select their username they were told that the second name would be Schomer and that they could choose what first name they wanted. The system ensured that the firstname they chose was unique and that the username and password conformed with various technical requirements (eg did not contain 'illegal' characters). The system automatically emailed the student confirmation of their username and password and further information about what they should do next. It also notified a member of the OU team about the username that had been selected, so that we could make a manual check to ensure that the name was appropriate. Around 90 of the students whose consent forms had been returned visited the website and selected a username. Five of these were subsequently asked to change their name because it was felt to be inappropriate (eg it was too similar to their real name).
In order to allow for students who were late in selecting their own username we allocated usernames to the remaining students so that we could keep to the agreed schedule for the batch registration process. We had agreed with Fred Fuchs/Gus Plisington that his company would do the bulk registration (for a fee). They required the following data as an asci file with one record per line and using spaces to delimit the fields:
Real_name Avatar_1st_name Avatar_2nd_name email_address date_of_birth
The email addresses each had to be unique and valid. To cope with this whilst protecting the identify of the children and ensuring that they couldn't subsequently add credit card details to their accounts we used a catchall email account (eg @whateverwecalledit.co.uk) that we created. This allowed each child to be allocated an email address of the form Avatar_1st_name@whateverwecalledit.co.uk (no matter what appeared before the @ the message was sent to the same account).
The batch registration seemed to go very smoothly - but when the students tried to log in they were not able to do so. It transpired that there was a problem at Linden Lab end - which was resolved after a couple of days (the problem became apparent on the Friday and was resolved on the Monday). I suspect that this was a one-off problem and that we were the first and last batch of people to experience it (but I am not certain).
Other preparatory work
We set up in-world groups in preparation for staff and students arriving on Schome Park. What we hadn't realised is that for a group to exist it must have at least two members, otherwise it gets deleted by Linden Lab. You have about five days from when you create a group during which time at least two members must belong to it, otherwise it gets deleted.