So I downloaded OpenSimulator, which in case you didn’t know, let’s you build virtual 3d worlds, much like Second Life.  You can view these virtual worlds using the open source Hippo Viewer, which basically acts as a way to view the data in 3D from an OpenSimulator server.

Installation is relatively straight forward if you follow this tutorial or just download the installers from the sites above.  I had to play around with some of the configuration settings, which involves some Googling and a willingness to open up a file and make some small changes.  It wasn’t too hard, but it’s considered Alpha software so you get what you paid for in this respect.  It took me about 45 minutes or so to get it set up and running once I had it downloaded.

Here’s a brief video example of what it looks like:

So having installed this, some ideas immediately sprang into my head as to how it could be used.

  1. Students could learn about perspective (in Art or Math) by building 3D models and examining what the view of the models look like from different camera directions.
  2. If you set up a multiuser version (known as a Grid) instead of the standalone version, students can edit terrain together.  They could rebuild a historical landmark together in Social Studies, or view existing models by importing them into the server.
  3. Students can edit the basic 3D shapes and learn about transformations of objects.
  4. The entire world is built on a 3D coordinate system so as students build their world, they will learn about mapping in 3D Cartesian coordinates.
  5. Students could learn about architectural design
  6. There is a plugin for Scratch which lets students create scripts to control animations in the Hippo Viewer (which unfortunately I can’t find anymore).

The first advantage I can see to using this system over Second Life (which admittedly is much easier to install) is that you can control exactly who uses the system.  It can be your class, a student, each student is on their own server, whatever, but you have complete control.  The second advantage I see is that it is much cheaper to build and create things, rather than having to spend money on land in your virtual world.

A disadvantage I see is that the server which runs a world for a classroom of students is going to have to be pretty decent.  This could definitely be a problem for schools which don’t have their own infrastructure.  On my own computer the server runs absolutely fine with multiple other programs open, but I have 4G of RAM and only 1 person using the server (me).  I’m not sure exactly how much memory each client uses when they connect, but I can imagine it’s not small.

Anyway, this is definitely something to consider.  I may use it when we look at perspective, but I’ll have to see if I can install (and run) the standalone version of the program on one of the school’s desktop computers successfully…

Update:  Oh and one classroom management thing. You might want to create a rule about the clothing of the avatars as I have yet to figure out how to disable their removal by the students…although see this post about removing the problem all together.