Winds of Change always blowing in virtual world

25 05 2011

 

Joshua is quick to extol the virtues of Booralie Island, NBCS’s experimental virtual
world. “Booralie Island is a fun and innovative way of learning,” he begins enthusiastically,
quoting what seems to be the project’s unofficial motto: The teacher who pioneered
Booralie at NBCS echoes Josh’s statement almost word for word when questioned
about the program.

But Josh is surprisingly quiet about his own part in Booralie’s
development, despite contributing so heavily to the program that his teacher
has granted him administrator privileges. He focuses instead on the team as a
whole: the original twenty with a dream and some software who started Booralie
at the school three years ago. Hundreds of students can now access the virtual
world for real-time discussions, activities and games. The dedicated team still
meets regularly to discuss, plan, share and build the site – a team that I’m
left in no doubt would welcome some new recruits in areas as diverse as script
coding, virtual decoration creation and flora arrangement. The latter turns out
to be the strange-sounding but apparently necessary task of planting virtual
trees in strategic locations across the island to improve its aesthetic
appearance.

The fact that students are giving up their lunchtimes in
order to tend fictional buildings and plant imaginary trees  begs the question of whether maintaining
Booralie is worthwhile for the students or the school. When asked about
cost-efficiency, Josh immediately discusses host server problems which can
interfere with avatar movement, giving the impression that minor interface
glitches are the extent of Booralie’s efficiency drawbacks. This reporter is
inclined to believe him, as it appears that until recently, Booralie’s major
expense was the vast annual sum paid to the software company Linden Labs for
the right to run Booralie on their Second Life software. Teachers, along with
the rest of the team of students, have recently ushered in
a transition to the free but apparently error-prone OpenSim program.

As for the future, the team is hoping to introduce and
refine the Booralie Metropolis, a virtual city that will house educational
projects, mock-commercial ventures (there is no money in Booralie) and also be
more pleasing to the eye than the previous random scattering of structures. Having
seen the enthusiasm and commitment of teachers and their student teammates, I
hope that the CGI sun never sets on Booralie Island.

 

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