Advanced Projects in Active Worlds

written August 2001 being revised May 2006

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1   Introduction

Active worlds is an important, perhaps a paramount, vehicle in which to learn and do exercises in a very wide variety of disciplines. In particular building objects requires a good knowledge of mathematics and trigonometry in particular. This presumes a reasonable ability with algebra and geometry from the outset.

Active Worlds also provides a new medium for communication using 3-D environments. This relates not only to architecture, but also also to organise simple spaces for meetings, to direct pedestrian traffic, attract attention and so on. These are important social skills for holding meetings, gatherings, hui and conferences. The way that space is organised determines the good functioning of activities performed in that space. Knowing how to lay out space is as important as knowing how to lay out a page of information.

Active Worlds allows us to learn how to use texture in our environment. To design textile patterns and see them in use in an environment. This is a useful way to learn how to "dress" space and make it interesting for its users without it being cluttered, claustrophobic, or too barren. This is specially important in instituional situations such as schools which are usually deserts of interior design that make students feel as though school is an alien environment. Students can learn in virtual reality, the elements of design which they can use to make their home and work environment pleasant using simple resources.

Active Worlds provides a medium to explore ideas in sculpture without the expense of using real materials.

Historical arenas can be explored that may already exist - or they may be designed and built.

Active Worlds is itself an entertainment medium which may well develop to be the major entertainment medium of the 21st century. This entertainment medium will require a large number of people with special skills, similar to what we call the movie industry today. Y12-13 students can learn the basic principles of how these environments work:

Senior students may then wish to pursue some of these aspects in detail.

These are just a few of the obvious ways that Active Worlds can be used in a learning context. More will develop as the medium develops. Learning the concepts of Active Worlds is a tough learning curve and should be approached in a slow steady and rigorous manner from as early as is practical. Simply learning to navigate in 3 dimensions is a skill that requires some learning to start with. Here is a suggested lesson plan for learning about Active Worlds. The first items in the list including textures and animations are covered in the introduction to Active Worlds.

  1. Introduction 1 (Y9)- download the browser - install and explore awgate.

    Explain the following terms - avatar, object, facer, coordinate system in AW, navigation skills, walking, flying, passing thru walls, chatting in public and private, etiquette.

  2. Introduction 2 (Y5) - explore aw - look at the way buildings are constructed, at the way object commands are used, note structures and effects that are interesting and others that do not work well.
  3. Building 1 (Y7) - visit awgate - look at object yards - build simple objects in the play fields
  4. Design and Build (Y10) - design and build a structure or environment in a special building world. By this stage schools should be able to provide a world for students to play in. It is inexpensive and parents will probably willingly fund a world for a school to run on the school's server.
  5. Create textures and animations (Y10)
  6. Special Design and Build Project (Y11) - design a special project which uses the web, chat and VR together.
  7. Creating a world - Develop the previous project or start a new one. Develop idea, style, function and construct. This is a major class project and could be done for (Y11). An example may be set design.
  8. Building objects (Y11-12)- this is where mathematics comes into play. Tcl or other scripting languages will be required to create the object structures so prerequisites are Y11 trigonometry, Tcl, algebra, geometry.
  9. Building avatars (Y12)- requires the use of specialist programs, knowledge of anatomy, makeup, posture and expression. It also includes textile and clothing design.
  10. Sequencing avatars (Y12-13) - requires knowledge of movement associated with theatre and dance, posture and expression. This requires the use of specialised software.
There are a number of scenarios for projects using AW. These scenarios mirror the exercises and projects described in the Intermediate section for webpages: individual, class, and school based webpages. However the amount of work required to do these exercises is of an order of 10 times what is required for a webpage project. However if the medium is used with effective restraint the rewards can be good.

One problem with building in AW is the problem of ownership. Dreamland Park allows you to build in the Tourist world for nothing. If you reserve your space properly this is an OK solution. You can supply warp address (similar to a URL) which takes anyone directly to your spot in VR space. You can reserve quite a chunk of space in the Tourist world so that you dont have to rub elbows with neighbours and you can feel like you have a whole world to yourself. Tourist is not a huge world (P40) but has plenty of space where you can build and not see your neighbours. The problem here is managing cleaningup. Only the tourist (name,password) who creates objects can delete them. Allowing kids free acces to the Tourist world could create a huge rubbish zone of mess in Tourist world and Dreamland Park may not be impressed.

The second way is for the school to pay for a citizenship. The school can then issue secondary passwords to students so they can build in their own space. This process is called "Shared Privileges". The school or teacher then has the power to "renovate" its space when those students have finished whatever they were doing in that space. This is in a sense a better solution as it does not pollute the Tourist world, with buildings created by kids on a whim who cannot be relied on to go back and clean up their mess. Annual membership costs $40 US per year. As a citizen working with shared privileges, all building will be done under one authority code, and so someone can go through and clean up the mess. It is possible parents may provide citizenship to their children as presents if the children show sufficient interest in this medium. It is quite as fascinating as any game.

The third and probably best way to manage this is to buy a small world. The most important factor here is the number of people it will have in it at the same time. You can theoretically have a whole school class together in virtual reality together. Each student would have to be on a computer and connected. If this is something you want to be able to do then you need a world that permits that many people in it at a time. At Dreamland Park the CX1 Commercial is probably the best option. At $320 US for the first year and $128 US each following year, it is a comparative package but with more flexibility that the DLP20 - 20 user Personal World Server which costs 70+190+40=$300 US for the first year and 190+40=$230 US each following year. The $40 extra for the personal makes up the difference between the two offerrings of a free citizenship. CX1 provides 2 while DLP20 provides 1. 2 citizenships are required to manage a world where there are many active users. One citizenship is reserved for secure activities, the other is shared out to people who want to build.

Management of a World is simpler than managing in someone else's world because you have the power to wipe the whole world and start again from any position you wish. A world can be saved and wiped and restored later. So there could be a number of worlds built and held on your computer. You can load a particular build of the world into it for whatever specific purpose is required.

However owning and managing a world is a big investment in time and energy. The monetary cost of the world is negligable by comparison.

1.1   Student AW Site

The simplest exercise is for students to build their own place and compare results. There is no way that you can assess the result except to detrermine that the student knows how to go through the motions, which is a small challenge in itself. In the medium of AW, small is beautiful. There is a limit to how far you can see in a world, roughly about 40 m. Objects which are conceptually larger than this simply cant be seen in their entireity. Also there is a limit to how densely you can pack space with objects. A class could establish a space, build a few streets and allocate plots to build on of a reasonably small size, say 40 m square. Ask them to build something that uses at least 40 and no more than 100 objects. Assessment could be simply that this request has been performed, without any judgement whatsoever on what the student has built. This is an exercise in virtual Lego, very like a game. Students can wander around other worlds and get their own ideas for what kind of place to build. When describing the exercise do not use any words that might prejudice or influence the students as to the kind of structure that they might build. Home, house, building, structure are all words that should not be used. In fact the less said on this subject the better.

Extra marks could be given if the student works out how to create a sign that takes you to the students own homepage or elsewhere, and for implementing other AW "animation" features which make the project more integrated and active.

1.2   Class or Project AW Site

A more advanced project is for the class to create its own place. This could be used as the gateway to sets of webpages which the class has produced as projects through the year. The place could be used as the Gateway to an ongoing project which the School is working on, a Healthy Community Project, or Arts and Sporting Events.

1.3   School or School Project World

The next step is for a school to create its presence in AW. It may wish to do this simply by occupying a space in one of the major Worlds, or it may wish to buy an AW server and create its own world. This last step would be a big investment in time and energy and require a major project to justify such a hi-tech front-end. It is a project which the school would have to be dedicated to permanently, or pass on to another school after a few years. It would also have to be a project which needed to employ all the features that AW offers, social congregation, imaginative creative artistic and unique qualities, integrating with many websites, and possibly exploring new techniques in VR design.

Because AW has a social component, there comes a need to create gatherings, meetings or events. Such events take time and care to organise. A large amount of time can be spent in this activity. The activity may be worth it and be very rewarding or it may be a rod for some trachers back. Examine the pros and cons of event oriented projects in AW very carefully in the earliest planning stages.

1.4   Mathematical Applications in AW

Perhaps the most compelling reason get an Active World is that it allows you to create your own objects and place them in your world. Creating objects requires a good familiarity with three dimensional coordinate geometry and trigonometry at the very least, that is to just understand the basics. If you want to start creating interesting objects you will soon find yourself delving into multivariable calculus, parametric functions, differentiation and integration. Much of this is University level mathematics, but Active Worlds makes the application of this material so accessable that school students are going to discover it for themsleves in any case.

After discovering and using the basic kinds of 3D objects such as blocks, columns, cones and spheres students will move on to try to build objects made from combinations of these objects. To do this the various components must be related to each other in space, turned and positioned and grouped. This is exactly the problem that vector spaces and linear algebra was created to deal with. With AW a rather dry mathematical theory comes to life.

The next step will be to describe extended objects such as a column which changes its diameter along its length. Another kind of object is the extrusion of a cross section around a circular path or arc. These objects require some indepth practical application of trigonometry.

A generalisation of these structures is to take a path which may or may not be closed and extrude it along a path in 1 dimension, which is a generalisation of the extruded column example. Or to extrude it in a path described over 2 dimensions, which is a generalistion of the arc example. And finally extrude the object over a path in 3 dimensions. This is the area of multivariable calculus. The length of a path is its integral, the differential of the path in each direction describes its angular change in space and the length of the segments required to model it.

You need to have your own world in order to put into it new objects which other visitors can then see.

Creating a library of Tcl functions which perform these tasks is a worthwhile exercise for mathematical high-achievers.
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