BrainBoard Training Modules

May 3, 2009

In preparation for the upcoming release of the BrainBoard V1, I prepared 3 videos to help people get the most out of their use of the tool.

The user orientation is under 3 minutes and will prepare users to fully collaborate on the board.

The two owner/moderator orientations are roughly 2 minutes each, and cover how to import/export, adding a 2nd board, Collaboration vs. Moderator Modes, and a few other basics.


I also posted a text reference sheet covering the basics in one page.

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Terminology Tossed Salad (3DTLC pt 1)

April 25, 2009

Hands down, no doubt, the best conference I’ve attended.  Since there were so many stimulating talks, questions, & conversations, I will attempt to synthesize my observations topically in the next few postings.

Terminology Tossed Salad:  What do we call this technology?  Is it Virtual Reality, Virtual Worlds, Immersive Internet, Immersive Technology, 3D Virtual Environments, Multiple User Virtual Environments?  Keynote Joe Little (BP), prefers 3D Virtual Environment (3DVE), the ThinkBalm team prefers “Immersive Internet“, although most individuals’ default is still virtual worlds.  I have a problem with the terms “virtual worlds,” “virtual reality,” and “virtual” for that matter.  All have baggage that cloud the clear perception and potential of the technology.

First, the “virtual”.  I’m a huge sci-fi fan (but was humbled at the ThinkBalm Innovation Community meetup by the sci-fi prowess of Mark Oehlert & Sam Driver…I am in awe).  Sci-fi is a double-edged sword to immersive technology.  It sparks the imagination and feeds the possible, but it brings with it the entire genre.  It’s entertainment, it’s accessible only by those with advanced technological skills, it’s speculative & not practical, it’s not real.  Basically, it’s niche entertainment for nerds.  To some, the term “virtual” brings images of “Tron” or “Lawnmower Man” or any number of low budget 80’s alien or mind-control films.  A collection of entertainments that reinforce the “unrealness” of the virtual.  Link that term with any other, and you still bring the associated baggage.

As far as “reality” goes, isn’t it all real?  We don’t call talking on the phone “virtual” or “simulated” interaction.

I choose to use the term “immersive”.  It brings with it a sense of presence, space, of surrounding oneself in something.  You can immerse yourself in a sport, in a hobby, in work, in an environment.  It’s focuses on the person experiencing and the potential for the subject being experienced to impact that person.  The degree of immersion is important, since the greater the sense of presence, the greater the engagement in the subject becomes.  Immersive technology is thus any technology utilized that incorporates the 3 dimentional in creating an experience of presence.


Best Laid Plans for 3DTLC

April 18, 2009

I’m incredibly excited to be attending the 3D Training, Learning and Collaboration (3D TLC) conference in Washington, D.C. April 20-21st.  As a self-proclaimed conference nerd, I’ve set several specific objectives to accomplish:

To learn…

I like the logical progression of the agenda topics.   Seems to quite completely cover the spectrum of topics an organization will need to explore and progress through in implementing an immersive technology.  I hope to learn from each stage specific mistakes to avoid, successes to replicate, and best practices to emulate.

I admit, I rely too heavily on too few platforms (Open Sim & Second Life).  I hope to learn current and future developments of many other platforms, specifically through the lens of which are most promising (applicability to education, training, and collaboration).  I need to identify which few I should target to invest my limited learning time.

To scout out partners…

My and my University’s vision for immersive technologies cannot be accomplished without some additional human & organizational partners.  I’ll be on the lookout for individuals and groups that are the missing puzzle pieces to complete our plans.  What are those plans, you might ask?  Well, without giving too much away, OUCPM (my employer) will soon be pursuing several federal grants geared towards the utilization of immersive technology in future workforce development & in enhancing innovation.  For my personal immersive projects, I need a partner to help lighten the tool deployment load, so I can focus more on the R&D.

To capture inspiration…

Virtual environments need collaboration tools!  There are not enough of them, and many that do exist are user-unfriendly.  I’ve found my best tool ideas come from those user moments that start with, “I wish we could…”  I hope that through the multitude of comments and conversations, that I can synthesize several concepts for cool & useful tools to develop.

To earn clients…

This is not a sales trip for me, but I do intend to remain open and receptive to opportunities.  So, if you have any of the following needs, shoot me a tweet ( @JeffLowe ) and we can talk shop:

  • Turn-key video production for broadcast or web distribution (utilizing live and machinima footage )
  • Virtual and physical event management (from public lectures to 1000+ participant national conferences)
  • Virtual, physical, and online training development & management
  • Virtual collaboration tool development (see my Virtual Toolkit for examples)

To strengthen connections…

I’m absolutely pumpped to finally physically meet many of my virtual contacts, especially several members of the ThinkBalm Innovation Community.  Many of these people I’ve conducted business with, yet have only met via an avatar and voice/text chat.

Finally, for those not attending, if time permits, I will post a few post-conference observations and analysis.  You can also keep up with us real-time by following the Twitter hashtag #3DTLC.


Designing in 2D for 3D Adoption

April 7, 2009

Sounds confusing and counter-intuitive, but sometimes designing virtual collaboration tools in 2D can lead more to 3D thinking & adoption.  Hear me out…

A few months back, I worked with multiple clients to run a brainstorming event within Second Life® using the Ideaographer mindmapping tool.  When we demoed it for them, they just didn’t “get it”.  They asked if we could flatten it so they could see it better.  They wanted something familiar, like a whiteboard they use in physical world sessions.

My lesson…never underestimate how overwhelming a virtual environment can be for a new user.  Sometimes having a bit of familiarity in the environment and the tools can breed comfort and ease acceptance.  These new users couldn’t effectively navigate the space, they couldn’t ALT+Click to control their point of views, and they were relatively unfamiliar with the client interface.  They lacked the skills necessary to benefit from the use of the 3D tool.

Please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that to be new-user friendly, tools must always be 2D.  But for broader adoption and ease of acceptance among new users, I’ve found using a somewhat familiar 2D approach is effective.   (However, never allow your design to be limited by the 2D.  Always identify the core need and working outward from that, pushing the envelope of the expected and commonplace.)


3 Virtual Brainstorming Best Practices

March 1, 2009

I recently moderated a brainstorming session with two large clients in Second Life.  It seems like everytime I attend or conduct a virtual event, I always learn something new.  To share some lessons, here are 3 best practices to consider before conducting your next in-world brainstorming session:

1. Conduct A Participant Orientation

If you are planning a virtual event, particularly one involving high levels of interaction, you must insure all participants know the basics of the virtual environment.  By basics, I mean how to move their avatar, how to participate in open chat conversations, how to send a private IM, how to adjust their camera angle, and effective voice management techniques (like don’t leave your Talk button engaged & move your speakers away from your mic to reduce echoes).  Never underestimate the knowlege and skill needed by those new to virtual environments and the time it will take to convey it to them.  The most successful approach I’ve found is to have a separate participant orientation session, well before the day of the event, to insure all can successfully operate their virtual environment interface.

2. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse

Broadway performances require numerous rehearsals to insure consistent, expected outcomes…same applies to virtual events.  Sure, this takes more time for the clients and all parties involved, but it is essential in clarifying expectations and identifying potential problems before they happen.  At minimum, you should walk through the entire agenda as if you were actually conducting the event.  Use the tools, display the information, and travel to the locations planned for the event…and look for potential problems so you can proactively address.

For example, we conducted 3 separate rehearsals for the recent client brainstorming event.  Since I was the moderator capturing and inputting discussion points into the BrainBoard while a facilitator guided the voice conversation, it was vital for us to coordinate effectively.  The facilitator had to know the capabilities/limitations of the virtual tools being used & how the information discussed would be displayed.  And I needed a clear sense of the agenda flow, what elements of the discussion were vital to display at what times, and when to engage certain features.  A rehearsal allowed us to fine-tune our approach to the event and even develop outlines used to pre-populate the boards.

3. Increase Engagement With Distributed Collaborative Input

Whenever possible, use tools and techniques that allow participant contribution and interactivity.  The death of many virtual meetings (and physical meetings for that matter) begin with a talking head presentation and a powerpoint show.  Sure, there may be small segments (like a quick Industry Overview) that a power point-like slide show would be appropriate, but keep those to a minimum!  For brainstorming, it’s all about the interaction.  Our clients chose for voice to be the nearly sole vehicle for discussion, and for a single moderator to input the discussion information into the BrainBoard.  While this allowed participants to focus solely on the voice discussion, I believe it limited their engagement in the discussion and thus resulted in less than optimal results.  True, they saw their ideas eventually appear on the board, but it was based on what I heard via their voice discussion and what I typed.  Allowing participants during brainstorming events to input their own ideas/suggestions, edit theirs/others, & rearrange/reorganize contributions helps to engage more of their senses, to utilize more of their reasoning centers, and to feel that their contribution is valid and appreciated.


January 19, 2009

brainboard v0.2Greetings, all.

I’ve made significant progress on the BrainBoard, my newest virtual collaborative tool.  The tool, being close to release and sale, is already fully operational in both Second Life and Open Sim (successfully tested on ReactionGrid).

What is it?

Think sticky notes on a whiteboard, and you have the basic concept.

What can it do?

In collaboration mode, multiple users can create new notes for the board, add and edit the text of the note, change the text color to classify, and rearrange the notes into whatever order on the board is desired.  While in moderator mode, only the moderator or owner can operate the board.  The export feature outputs the work in text outline form, allowing you to capture and store the meeting’s work.  A voting mode allows participants to vote on notes, enabling more collaborative sorting.  See the current Instruction Sheet for more detailed operation instructions.

There are some export/import, real-time web syncing, and instant 2D to 3D display conversion features on the horizon that are truely exciting.  I will post the most updated information on the tool here as the project develops…so stay tuned.


New Product Announcement: The Facilitator’s Virtual Toolbox

January 4, 2009

I’ve made loads of progress in the past month on a variety of virtual environment tools for individuals and organizations.  After much encouragement from friends and associates (you know who you are…thank you), I now plan to make these tools available for purchase.

I have included information on the first of several tools in the Facilitator’s Toolbox section.  The Attitudometer is now available for purchase via PayPal transfer.  I will soon add other tools, such as the 2D Brainboard (see flickr pics here).

I will also post my thoughts on the process of developing & testing these tools soon.