The virtual world environment, which we have chosen or our portal, is the most exciting format for the task we are addressing here. But it is also the most challenging. In becoming avatars, students are virtually situated in the educational forum we are designing. Eventually, both teachers and students will become full members and owners of LabradorLife, which means that they can continue to create, introduce, and select the teaching and learning strategies they want. Using a virtual world environment struck us as being the most promising environment for Education 2.0 and beyond.
However, much has still to be developed in using this format for the purpose of education. Some of these challenges are immediately apparent, while others begin to show themselves as we proceed. One of the first concerns we encountered was security. Another was cost. Educators using virtual worlds have by and large elected to work within SecondLife. While SecondLife is one of the most sophisticated, richly developed and flexible virtual world environments in existence, it is also an open and relatively uncontrolled environment. Members of SecondLife are free to build any virtual environment and to explore all the realms its members create. We felt that such an open virtual environment was not the most suitable for students. A virtual world developed for educational purposes needs to have some controls in order to provide protection and security for its young users. In addition, although it has plenty of materials ready developed, some of which are freely available, SecondLife can rapidly become costly.
OpenSimulation is an open source (available at no cost) version of SecondLife in which members exchange ideas and share artifacts they have developed freely with other members. OpenSimulation is one of the creative engines for SecondLife, where ideas are explored and developed openly among users and members. OpenSimulation is not a commercial product with membership fees like SecondLife, but in almost all other respects, it is very much like SecondLife..
Our decision to opt for developing Labradorlife using the OpenSimulation platform was first driven by concerns over security. OpenSim allows us access to sections of virtual world where we are solely responsible for building the environment as we need. Students entering LabradorLife will only gain access to the parts of the virtual world we have built for them. Furthermore, the objects and environments we create and develop are free for members to explore: there are no fees to pay or purchases that need to be made. We have since found that the open source environment of OpenSim fits very well with our overall objective in developing LabradorLife as an Education 2.0 environment since the impetus for open source is sharing and collaborative development. In addition there is close and continued collaboration and co-operation between SecondLife and OpenSim. Far from viewing OpenSim as a competitor, SecondLife encourages the developments in this open source version of itself because it also benefits from the avid development that occurs in OpenSim. So, in opting to use OpenSim, we benefit from open source ware and have the chance to part of a growing and dedicated community of teachers and learners who are intent of sharing their knowledge and ideas. Given this pedigree, it is easy to see why we decided to call our virtual realm LabradorLife
However, that very openness has created significant problems for us. One of these is that we have to develop all the artifacts we need, especially if we want a Labrador-esqu environment for our target users, the students and teachers of Southern Labrador. A second is the issue of hosting. Both issues will be covered below.