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This is Virtual Worlds

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Actually not, but bear with some metaphor swinging from the opposite end of the globe. I’m halfway through a round the world trip for a series of NMC meetings. In the past week, we have run two meetings related to the work of the Horizon Project’s Australia-New Zealand Editions. The 2010 version is moving into the writing phase and is due out in late October 2010.

We have come here (here being both Brisbane Australia and Wellington, New Zealand) for a different aspect of this project; not to work with the production of the report, but working with key people who we are working with to develop action plans / recommendations to put its ideas more into policy and a wider scope of implementation here. We’ve run day long meetings that result in the end of a “communique” (Australia one is in draft mode but will be public in a week).

That’s all context so what I thought was an awareness.

Here in Wellington, we held the meeting at an Executive Seminar center at Massey University. Right in the lobby were the objects pictured above- they are the products of 3D printing, specifically the RepRap 3D printer. The items represented in this display are a work entitled Ghosts in the Form of Gifts— these are replicas of artifacts once held in the Museum of New Zealand, no longer here, at a place currently part of Massey University’s College of Creative Arts.

Here is the thing. n 2004, when I was still working at the Maricopa Community Colleges, I was part of the advisroy board for the first Horizon Report, which placed 3D printing in the far (four to five year) Horizon.

At the time I was really skeptical of this one. It sounded fanciful, and also, something that seemed like it might not be used by many people. But, as the process goes for the Horizon Reports, the over all consensus rules,

So here I sit, rather wrong. Not because I have seen 3d printing here, but have also seen, in person, great uses of this technology at for studying morphology of fossils and ancient books University of Texas at Austin Digimorph lab, as a tool for 3D animation at Full Sail University, and on display last month at the Science Museum in London.

The thing is, this is a technology that has seen use in a number of fields, from rapid prototyping, to art, to animation, to science… but not a technology that is widely used across the board in education. But it is established enough to have made the mark as outlined in 2004. And pretty much on time.

So what about Virtual Worlds?

They were of bursting interest all over back in 2006, and our research at NMC got us into the middle of it before it peaked in popularity. At our own peak, we were working with over 200 educational projects that had a presence in Second Life. We have run all of our Virtual Symposia since 2006, including one later this month, in our virtual conference center. We see much more involvement, more interactivity, more “staying” in the place of this virtual venue than any of our web-based conferences.

But in many ways, Virtual Worlds have entered a “post-hype” stage. They are “not dead” (see our Spring 2010 survey), but also not are as ubiquitous as people were calling the “3D web” a few years ago (I never bought into that, but now that sounds like pious hindsight).

So I see, Virtual Worlds just like 3D Printing- they are not something used by disciplines across the board, but there are many compelling, valid, innovative uses of it still happening. It’s just not a Pangea-like technology. But it is also something not even close to “dead” (apply the Monty Python Holy Grail test).

And maybe in terms of the way we look at the time dimensions in our work on the Horizon Reports, there is another dimension of spread of a technology across fields in the land of education- just like rivers, there are narrow streams, meandering flooding rivers, and large outflows across wide deltas for how a technology moves over land.

It just seemed to ironic? synchronous? to have our Horizon Project meeting in a place today that featured a display of technologies forecasted in the 2004 report.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. Thanks for the post, love the reprap what an awesome example of disintermediation. Making one would be a fantastic school project where students would learn about cutting edge technology and participation in open networked development communities.

  2. Here, here Alan! So well said. I am often at a loss when people tell me that virtual worlds are sort of passe or, worse, dead. Now, thanks to you, I have a really good metaphor. Narrow streams, meandering rivers, flood plains and deltas….Lovely.

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