Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Gas makes a splash in 3D worlds

I spent about 15 minutes this morning with Tim Allen, Head of Technology for Crompco Corporation. I wasn’t in his office, I wasn’t on the phone with him, our time together wasn't even a series of email exchanges – it was in a 3-dimensional virtual world: Second Life!

With about 150 staff members and 65 trucks in its fleet, Crompco services gas stations from Maine to Florida on the I-95 corridor. Tim and his staff identified a “learning gap” when they were training junior technicians on the underground layout of gas stations. This underground layout isn’t visible if you visit a local gas station… it is underneath the asphalt. Previously, technician trainees at Crompco learned about the underground layout by using illustrations on a white board or other 2-dimensional learning aids in a classroom setting. Learning about a 3-D construction layout in a 2-dimensional diagram wasn’t perfect for students so sometimes they were lucky enough to find a gas station in construction where they could do a site visit. Unfortunately, there were times when finding a gas station under construction wasn't possible. That’s when Tim and his staff had a great idea: let’s do the learning in a 3-D virtual environment!

Enter Second life. Tim and his staff have created a virtual gas station in Second Life. One where the asphalt can be removed and the major aspects of the underground layout can be observed directly. In Second life, with your avatar, you walk right beside the underground tanks. One is displayed in cross section showing the gasoline inside.

The pipes are all clearly marked showing those carrying different grades of gasoline to the pumps. The recovery ventilation system is also shown. In addition to this 3-D model that students can actually walk through and examine from several angles, some slide shows are also hosted at the station, which explain related training activities and safety procedures. Tim informed me that part of the training activities also involve the driving of a fuel tanker truck onto the virtual premises to simulate filling of the underground tanks.

Are you in Second Life? Do you want to go see this Virtual Gas Station yourself? If so, you can send a message to Tim’s avatar named ‘Crompco Mecanique’, who frequently staffs the station called directly in Second Life. Alternatively you can try to find it yourself. Search for ‘Peregrin Salon’ and teleport there. The Crompco Virtual Gas Station is about 600 meters in the air above the salon. Note that you need a Second life Flight Assist Add-On to flight that high. Yikes! (*smile*)

Overall I was quite impressed. Clearly, this virtual training space met a need for Crompco in the formation of their technicians. Kudos to Tim and his staff for taking the leap to Second Life in order to meet their specific training needs. A local NBC affiliate even featured them in a story they broadcast in March 2008.

If you know of any other examples of companies using Second Life for training purposes, feel free to share them with us by clicking the comments button below.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Is YouTube changing how we live?

I learned through my twitter feeds that Micheal Wesch has another video (see posts on his previous videos here and here). This time it is a recording of an academic presentation he made to the Library of Congress on June 23rd, 2008. It's just under an hour long and it provides an excellent overview of the impact some Web 2.0 technologies from an Athropological perspective. In particular, the presentation examines in detail the concepts of YouTube and of user-generated media/filtering/commentary. I found the talk to be very interesting and despite the fact that I am in the field of educational technology, this talk opened my eyes to a few broad scope issues that I have never considered. There's something in this talk for everyone. Check it out and let me know what you think.

The video's YouTube page can be found here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Recording Virtual Field Trips

Two colleagues of mine, Susan and Christine, had a great idea! They wanted to do a virtual field trip in Second Life for students in a graduate course they are designing. However, they didn’t want students to have to get their own Second Life account in order to experience the field trip. So they wondered if they could ‘record’ the instructor experiencing the field trip and simply show the recording to the students.

Answer: YES!

We developed a proof of concept for this solution to show to the instructor. It is a short, less than a minute, video showing a virtual field trip in Second Life to the American Chemical Society. We've hosted on YouTube.

You might be wondering how I did it? Well, I used a four step process.
  1. Capture the video in FRAPS while in Second Life. FRAPS does a full screen capture of what you see in Second Life. It even captures streaming video clips with audio that are playing in world. The full version of FRAPS is only $37. The free version allows you to make video capture clips up to 30 seconds in length.

  2. I recorded some audio to overlay on top of the video capture. I used Audacity. It’s a free audio recording software.

  3. I then used Windows Movie Maker to put the video, the audio and a couple of title slides together into the final movie. Windows movie Maker is free and is pre-installed with Windows XP and VISTA. Look for it under Start -> All Programs.

  4. I uploaded the final movie to YouTube.

All told it took me about 2 hours to make this video and write this blog posting. Not bad for a proof of concept. Have you used these types of techniques successfully in your distance courses? If so, let us know about it.