The other day I had an opportunity to catch up with Randy Hinrichs and ask him a few questions about the state of 3D virtual world software and about his new book. We had a great and long discussion so I have broken the interview into two postings.
Also, he has just finished a book about 3D virtual worlds that you should really check out.
First, a little bit about Randy.
Randy Hinrichs is CEO of 2b3d, a company dedicated to building Internet based strategies and solutions employing usability methods to drive metrics based transformation. Prior to founding 2b3d, Randy formed the Learning Science and Technology Group in Microsoft Research, served in Advanced Strategies and Policy in Microsoft in eScience and ePublishing, and marshalled in Web based learning at Sun Microsystems producing transformative books on web page design and multimedia. He holds several patents in internet based education, large-scale information collection and mining and Internet based medical record systems. Randy is also faculty at the University of Washington, where he developed and teaches the Certificate in Virtual Worlds in the iSchool. You will likely find Randy in a number of virtual and augmented worlds, usually as an avatar surrounded by a community.
Kapp: You just completed co-editing a new book called “Transforming Virtual World Learning” and you teach about virtual worlds and run a company that helps organizations with virtual world implementations so you are heavily invested in this space and understand a great deal about the accordances and capabilities of virtual worlds. So can you spend a moment and describe what you think is the current state of virtual worlds. We’ve heard stories that they are no longer used, they were a fad, technology is not ready, what is your take?
Hinrichs: Virtual Worlds are a state of mind, Karl, that is to say, they are the embodiment of the 3D Internet. Virtual Worlds was a great name to separate 2D technology from 3D technology. The moment that we started to think about avatars, presence, immersion, synchronous interaction, we started thinking about virtual worlds and a new way of working on the Internet. So, it’s all advancing no matter what terms we use to describe it. Augmented reality is part of the virtual world. Gaming techniques and serious object interaction with Google Sketchup, COLLADA based objects, integration with HTML5 and video on the walls of an immersive virtual worlds are part of the state of mind. The mobile phone adds a wonderful connecting dimension to the sense of immersion, so we can access data and information anywhere in our virtual world – in short always on, always connected, always immersed, and in 2D as in the Web, or 3D as in the highly visualized spaces traditionally called virtual worlds.
Sometimes the interface will be 3D, in which the objects have dimension, and sometimes the dimension will be the collection in our inner eye. To note, DirectTV is beginning a 3D station. The X-Box has created a new form of input interaction with hand gesturing and voice controls, all of these advancing our notions of 3D technologies aka – Virtual Worlds. So, the objective for this change of mind is to evolve the definition and focus of the immersive capabilities of the software that is allowing distance to disappear altogether in the way we work, learn and play over the Internet.
Kapp: So what do you see as the future of virtual worlds for learning? Where are we headed with all this?
Hinrichs: Virtual worlds for learning is economical. Why wouldn’t you do it? Especially since the lecture model as you and Tony have pointed out is the de facto standard for learning over the Internet still. Well, that being the case, why not take on video conferencing software in which you have a camera pointing at a person, and an interaction interface surrounding you and just make it that much better by making the camera a tool in the environment as well. If you can pan, orbit and tilt, doesn’t that give you far more access to the environment you’re meeting in? If you can use avatars to change the way you look and create social dynamics based on the look of your avatar, wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that? If you can assemble and disassemble 3D objects, would you not want to do that with 3D objects in a virtual world so you could teach better? Laying down an object that “shows” what you mean is a lot different from trying to describing it in chat, or in a wiki.
I’ve been teaching in the University now for four years. My students from all four years all communicate with each other on our Avalumni island, because the experience they received by what I call residency (staying in a virtual world and acculturating to it), has increased their relationships, their ability to work together, their use of virtual worlds in their work worlds. It’s pretty amazing to see people showing up on our islands both in my company and in the classroom, to do all those things we’d love to do if we were in the same place at the same time. The key is fluency. If users engage their avatars with each other, attention management increases, question and answer doubles, cybergogy becomes a practice, students follow each other and build on each other’s knowledge creating reusable assets. Learning is the low hanging fruit, and as budgets decrease, travel allotments disappear, tolls appear on bridges, and overhead mounts in maintaining buildings, the virtual world is an inevitable place to take the learning experience. For a long time now, I have been saying hurry up and get in here and learn how it works, or be left behind.
Look for more great stuff in the next installment…