The Midlands is set to host a major international conference looking at how online worlds such as Second Life can be put to practical use in real world businesses.
The second Serious Virtual Worlds conference, organised by Coventry’s Serious Games Institute, will take place over September 11 and 12 and will feature both real world speakers as well as speakers talking from the 3D online virtual environment Second Life.
The whole conference will be streamed in Second Life and on the web.
Serious Games Institute research director Dr Sara de Freitas said: “We are a centre for excellence in virtual worlds and in serious games, and we’re building quite a big international profile – it’s very exciting. We’ve got a lot of “visiting dignitaries” for the conference and delegates from all over the world.
“It’s about a half industry, half academic so it’s an interesting mix.” The conference will look at how virtual worlds cross boundaries, both between the real world and virtual worlds and between virtual worlds.
It will also be taking up the theme of interoperability and open standards, for example looking at how to move avatars - online graphic identities chosen by computer users – between virtual worlds.
The Midlands has forged a name for itself as a national centre for computer games in recent years and the opening of the Serious Games Institute last year, with investment from regional development Advantage West Midlands, confirms the talent present in the area.
One example of a serious game developed in the Midlands is the Virtual Case Creator, online simulation software used for training nurses.
The programme recreates scenarios online that nursing students are likely to encounter in their real-life practice and introduces the concept of “messy learning” – taking learning out of a classroom environment and putting it into a realistic situation where the student is faced with multiple decisions.
Senior academic, Learning and Teaching, Faculty of Health at Birmingham City University Nigel Wynne developed the software within the university.
“In a classroom, students tend to learn in bite-size chunks, but practice is much messier,” he said. “We are able to embed those bite-size chunks into a messy context, making it much more relevant.” It is currently used for training students within the Faculty of Health at Birmingham City University but developers say the software can be easily translated to other faculties.
“We’ve got a tool that can be used to support any vocational learning,” said Mr Wynne. “For instance we are working with the Faculty of Education developing scenarios for teachers which can be used for those who are already working in schools.
“Once it has been developed, things can be changed easily without recourse to technologists because of the content management system.
“Also, people can integrate existing material for example different NHS trusts will use different charts or have different policies.”
The university has received 130 expressions of interest from other universities interested in licensing the software from faculties all over the world, including New Zealand, the Far East and Japan and has just signed a licensing agreement with another UK university.
Dr de Freitas believes applications like the Virtual Case Creator have big commercial potential, even in the current challenging economic conditions.
“Although the serious games sector is still very young, we are hoping for a lot of growth. There is a lot of activity in this area as people still need training solutions and reports point to quite significant growth in the next five years.”