A reader's guide to virtual world technology

Links to articles and resources for feds looking to learn more about Second Life and other virtual world technology

Virtual training done right
Source: Workforce Management

When considering virtual-training applications, first think in terms of interaction.

Experts say that too often, training managers develop 3-D worlds that look impressive but do not enable participants to interact with one another or the environment in a meaningful way, according to freelance writer Sarah Fister Gale’s article in Workforce Management magazine.

Virtual training should enable users to act and see the results of their actions, or there's no real benefit to having a 3-D environment. Users should also be able to see what other participants are doing and interact with them through gestures and other visual or verbal cues.

That kind of interaction will keep users engaged in a way that classroom instruction never can, experts say. Without it, users will quickly lose interest.

Virtual training at DOD: An analysis
Congressional Research Service

An April 2008 article from the archives of the Federation of American Scientists provides a useful overview of the policy implications of virtual training at the Defense Department and in the intelligence community.

Congressional researchers outline the benefits of virtual training for DOD, which include the lack of wear and tear on real equipment and related costs. The technology also makes it possible to train with first responders and others, which is a logistical challenge in the real world.

But the report also notes that more research is needed to gauge the effectiveness of virtual training. For example, such training usually takes place in comfortable, air-conditioned environments, “so the operators never get tired from running with a large backpack, or wet and cold, or otherwise physically stressed as they would in a real-world training exercise,” the report states.

A running commentary on virtual worlds
Source: Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds

Last month, the Federal Consortium for Virtual Worlds asked a handful of bloggers to provide a blow-by-blow report on its conference in Washington, D.C. As is usually the case with live blogging, the posts lack details and analysis. But the bloggers did a good job of capturing insightful comments and intriguing questions, and they provide a curious source of ideas and commentary on government agencies’ use of virtual worlds.

For example, traditional online communities of practice tend to be asynchronous, meaning users do not need to be online at the same time to interact. But virtual worlds are built around synchronous, or real-time, collaboration. One speaker wondered how a hybrid approach might work.

Second Life tutorials
Source: Kansas State University

Kansas State University has provided a lifeline for those who find themselves baffled by Second Life, as has been known to happen even to technology-savvy editors and reporters.

The university’s Communications Department has assembled a good collection of how-to resources. The first three documents are intended for folks looking to get started: They cover how to create avatars; how to drive, pilot or fly virtual vehicles; and basic tips, tricks and hints.

The site also includes links to tutorials in Second Life, a list of related development tools, and pointers to other sites that offer tutorials, tips and tools.

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