Medical Centre granted $3.5 million to study diabetes education in Second Life

Draxtor Despres pointed me towards Second Life shows new promise as virtual forum for diabetes education, an article written by Nidhi Subbaraman for the technical section of the Boston Globe’s on-line edition.

In it, Ms Subbaraman reports on a Boston Medical Centre trial which utilised Second Life to help diabetes sufferers better manage their condition, and which has paved the way for an even more in-depth examination of the use of virtual world environments in matters of personal healthcare.

Nidhi Subbaraman writing in the Boston Globe about Diabetes studies using Second Life
Nidhi Subbaraman writing in the Boston Globe about diabetes studies using Second Life

The trial was initiated by  2009 by Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, a family physician at Boston Medical Centre and assistant professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. The intent was to investigate whether and how virtual group sessions held in Second Life might help diabetes sufferers made changes to their eating habits and lifestyles to better manage their illness.

In particular, the trial involved African-American women, many from low-income families and / or holding down busy jobs. This demographic was specifically targeted because the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office indicates that a quarter of African-American women over age 55 have type 2 diabetes, which is a significantly high percentage.

Half of the study participants attended hospital classes to help them cope with their condition, the other half were provided with computers and modems and shown how to access Second Life and attend classes in-world. As Ms. Subbabaman notes:

Some days the virtual group “met” at the Second Life BMC classroom, but the group also took field trips into the on-line world. Once, the course leaders led a session on diet and explained how slow, mindful eating was one way to control portions and manage diet. The participants found that when their avatars sat down to eat at the cafeteria location, their utensils moved very slowly, echoing the lesson. Another time the group met at an exercise facility within Second Life, where participants could try out the treadmill or exercise bikes, or take a swim.

Not only did the trial reveal the participants attending virtual activities faired at least as well as those attending regular hospital classes, it also showed that they formed friendships and their own support network, swapping recipes, and trying to encourage friends to join them in-world as well. Most interestingly of all, the study suggested that those participating in the virtual aspect of the study reported exercising more than the group that met in class, suggesting the virtual experience might result in lasting lifestyle changes.

This isn’t the first time that activities in Second Life and virtual environments like it have been shown to have a positive impact on people’s lifestyle choices. In 2012, for example, I reported on a study led by Dr. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri which showed that people who have a strong sense of self-presence with their avatar enjoy an improved self-image and took better care of themselves health-wise, and tended to enjoy better relationships with others.

Dr. Suzanne Mitchell
Dr. Suzanne Mitchell

However, as Ms. Subbabaman reports, the work carried out by Dr. Mitchell and her colleagues has now resulted in the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) awarding them a US $3.5 million grant to finance a further 5-year study into how the use of Second Life can help people diagnosed with diabetes better manage their condition.

“We know that in order to actively participate as partners in healthcare, patients with diabetes need self-management support,” Dr. Mitchell said in a BMC press release announcing the grant and the study. “What is remarkable about this study is we’ll be educating and interacting with some of the patients, and they’ll be interacting with each other, all through group visits in a virtual world.”

As with the initial trial, participants will be placed in either the control group (classroom education) or asked to join Second Life. Those involved in the Second life element of the study will not only be monitored to see how participation in in-world group session helps them better understand their condition, but also how the relationship with their avatar in general has an impact on their self-care and willingness to undertake lifestyle changes.

In this Dr. Mitchell and her colleagues are very keen to chart what is called the “Proteus Effect”. This is a term coined by Nick Yee in his 2014 book, The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us– and How They Don’t to define the increasingly complex relationship we have with our digital Doppelgängers, and how it can have a profound and often positive effect on us (also see my article from January 2014).

The Proteus Effect was very much in evidence during the original BCM trial, and was also the effect noted by Dr. Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz’s study, so Dr. Mitchell is keen to explore how deeply it may affect and benefit people afflicted with diabetes.

Currently, it is estimated that some 387 million people globally live with diabetes, and the World Health Organisation estimates that the disease could be the 7th leading cause of death by 2030. given this, studies like the one announced by Dr. Mitchell and her colleagues could offer important new insights into the ways and means by which virtual world environments could encourage better self-management for the disease.

What’s more, it is possible the results of this study could be applicable to helping people better manage a range of long-term illnesses and conditions for themselves and alongside of medical support.  As such, it will be interesting to see how this study progresses, and I very much hope that I’ll be able to carry further updates on the study in the future.

Further Reading

Don’t forget that 2015 marks the first Team Diabetes season in Second Life, raising money in support of  the American Diabetes Association. In particular, November 2015 will see the Art in Hats event, which will lead up to World Diabetes Day. on November 14th. I’ll have up-to-date news on activities occurring throughout Art in Hats in due course.

Luxembourg 1867: exploring virtual history in Second Life

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrThe Virtual Pfaffenthal, July 2015 (Flickr) – click any image for full size

Currently featured in the Editor’s Picks section of the Destination Guide, The Virtual Pfaffenthal is interesting mix of role-play environment and historical project which crosses over into the real world.

The project – run by the 1867 group founded by Hauptmann Weydert (Weydert), comprises 8 regions, with Pfaffenthal Vauban and Kirchberg being the most developed, although there is much evidence of construction work going on in the other regions. Kirchberg is actually the home of Fort Thüngen, which has been in operation in SL since 2012, and as such may be familiar to some SL residents.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrThe Virtual Pfaffenthal, July 2015 (Flickr)

Eventually, the regions will offer a reproduction of the fortress city of Luxembourg as it appeared in the 19th Century, offering a period role-play focused on a specific point in the city’s history, as the introductory note card explains:

In spring 1867, Luxembourg is a complex military fortress, the ultimate result of a construction that took hundreds of years, a city occupied by a Prussian garrison. The Grand Duchy is an ‘autonomous’ country  and member of the Zollverein, the customs union established by Prussia. The attempt of  Napoleon III to buy the land from the Grand Duke King William the first, creates tensions among the population, trouble spreads throughout  the capital  and the country. The great nations send their secret agents and mobilize their troops, Bismarck intervenes …

However, there is another purpose to the project, as I alluded to in the opening paragraph of this article: it forms an interactive exhibit at the Luxembourg City History Museum, where visitors can come in-world and explore the virtual Luxembourg of 1867 using the Oculus Rift.

At the museum, PCs have been set-up which can be used, with guidance from staff, to directly access The Virtual Pfaffenthal. “We have two PCs set-up right now,” Weydert informed me when we met in-world to discuss the project as he prepared to host a group of visitors at the museum. “One has an Oculus HMD, the other uses a big screen. A further  Oculus Rift set up is to follow shortly.”

Visitors use prepared avatars, complete with period dress, to explore the city, guided by a young boy, Steft who tells them the history of the City from both his perspective and that of 1867.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrVisitors at the City History Museum, Luxembourg, can enter The Virtual Pfaffenthal using prepared avatars such as Jang and Ammy Ecker, above, enjoying a dance on the street, to music by Steft, the virtual guide, in the background

“This has actually be quite a challenge,” Weydert confides in me as we chatted and strolled along the cobbled streets. “We didn’t want people finding themselves accidentally undressing the avatars or teleporting themselves off somewhere, so we’ve had to turn off a number of functions in the viewer.”

Not only are visitors able to time-travel in this way, and witness how Second Life can be used as an immersive experience, Weydert also offers museum visitors the museum the opportunity to learn more about Second Life itself. “I run open workshops on certain days,” he explains, “where folks can learn to create their own avatar, find out more about SL, and then continue their explorations and involvement from home. We also encourage School classes to register for the workshops, so they can learn more about Luxembourg’s history interactively.”

This aspect of the project is something of an extension of activities started at Fort Thüngen. For the last few years, this has been the focal point for workshops on virtual environments  involving the general public and schools, with sessions hosted at the Fortress Museum in Luxembourg in association with the Luxembourg National Museum of History and Art.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrFort Thüngen, Kirchberg, has been in operation since 2012 as a workshop for virtual activities since 2012, and is now a part of the wider regions making up the 1867 project

The educational element of the project is of keen interest to the team, which they’d like to expand. “We want to include schools and other institutions,” Weydert told me, after a slight distraction as he assisted a visitor at the museum. “Such as classes having avatars their students can use to participate [in-world] the whole term.”

So far, the 1867 group has been run on a closed basis, but with the museum element now running, Weydert and his team are keen to open out the venture to include other residents, and grow it as an ongoing venture in Second Life.

“1867 invites residents, artists, 3D builders and graphic artists, scripters, animators, educators and other social actors to come and join us,” he says. “We want to build a community where people can come, enjoy themselves, and in the process learn from history and contribute to our growth.”

The Virtual Pfaffenthal; Inara Pey, July 2015, on FlickrThe Virtual Pfaffenthal, July 2015 (Flickr)

Those that do engage with the community are offered free housing within the project – although they are obviously asked to keep to the period. Those interested are invited to explore the regions and  contact Hauptmann Weydert if they’d like to become a part of the group.

Beyond this, the 1867 group are also considering some pretty far-reaching plans, such as a series filmed entirely in-world within the project spaces together with a supporting comic book, in what Weydert refers to as a transmedia project aimed at engaging students and those interested in history and in discovering more about virtual worlds.

The Virtual Pfaffenthal, July 2015 (Flickr)

For my part, I spent a pleasant afternoon wandering the streets of Pfaffenthal, feeling at home in a free period costume provided to visitors from SL, and encountering a number of the residents along the way. It would be intriguing and interesting to experience The Virtual Pfaffenthal via a HMD, but I’ll content myself with future visits to see how things progress.

My only real disappointment in visiting was seeing the number of people who simply could not be bothered to read – or disregarded  – the request that they wear period costumes prior to leaving the arrival area. Considering perfectly good free outfits are clearly and readily available (you have to walk past them to reach the doors), this struck me as a shame.

SLurl and Additional Links

High Fidelity launches US$15,000 STEM VR Challenge

HF-logoFew people involved in VR and augmented reality are unconvinced that these emerging technologies will have a profound effect on education and teaching. As has been seen in both Second Life and Open Simulator, even without immersive VR, virtual environments offer a huge opportunity to education.

Now High Fidelity is joining in, and is doing so in a novel but enticing way: by offering up to three US$5,000 grants to teams or individuals who want to build educational content within High Fidelity.

The new of the opportunity, which the HiFi team is calling the “STEM VR Challenge” (STEM being the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in education), was made via a blog post on the High Fidelity website from Ryan Karpf. In it, Ryan says:

High Fidelity recently had the pleasure of showing off our open source virtual reality platform to educators and technical integrators at the ISTE conference in Philadelphia.

To demonstrate one way educators can use our platform, High Fidelity worked with DynamoidApps to develop an interactive model of an animal cell that can be explored on one’s own or with an entire class. The vast alien looking environment goes beyond just showing the parts of the cell, also showing some of the processes taking place. Travelling around with your classmates and teacher allows for real time question and answers and sharing of ideas.

If you want to visit this animal cell, login and go to cellscience/start, and fly towards any cell you see to begin your journey. Hitch a ride on a motor protein and jump off at one of the huge mitochondria along the way!

The interactive model of an animal cell created by High Fidelity, working with DynamoidApps (image courtesy of High Fidelity)

The model itself, in keeping with High Fidelity’s open-source approach to their platform, is being offered free to any who wishes to modify it, with the companying hoping it will become the first of a catalogue of educational units created within High Fidelity.

To further kick-start things, High Fidelity are inviting educators, be they individuals or groups, to take up the STEM VR Challenge, to submit proposals for educational content in High Fidelity which meets the criteria set-out in the Challenge website, namely that the content is:

  • HMD (e.g. Oculus Rift) featured
  • High school age appropriate
  • STEM focused
  • Social (can be experienced by >3 people together)

Proposals meeting these criteria and abiding by the rules and are eligible to enter the Challenge, should be submitted via e-mail to On offer are up to three grants of US$5,000 apiece to help further develop the selected ideas. In addition, awardees will have direct access to High Fidelity’s technical support, and have their content hosted by High Fidelity. To find out more, follow the links to the High Fidelity blog and the STEM VR website.

Related Links

With thanks to Indigo Mertel for the pointer.

SJSU iSchool VCARA conference 2015

VCARA 2015Tuesday, April 21st will see the 2015 VCARA (Virtual Centre for Archives & Records Administration) Conference, organised ans hosted by the San José State University’s School of Information, take place in Second Life.

The title for the conference, which is now in its sixth year, is Within Our Grasp: Exploring Reality – Virtually, and speakers explore the means by which virtual environments and activities have meaning and impact in the physical world.

The conference will take place between 18:00 and 20:00 SLT on April 21st, at the SJSU iSchool Island. The main event will be followed by steampunk themed party and a tour of US Revolutionary War space.

Keynote speakers for the event are JJ. Drinkwater from Caledon Library and Caledonia Skytower from Seanchai Library, who will each be presenting two 30-minutes papers. Following the keynote addresses there will be a series of 10-minute mini-presentations.

The published schedule reads thus (all times SLT):


  • 18:00 – 18:30:  JJ. Drinkwater – Sideways Into the Past, or, What Does the Flying Clockwork Under-Footman’s Aerostatic Tea-Tray Have to Tell Us?
  • 18:30 – 19:00: Caledonia Skytower (Judith Cullen) – If You Build it . . . it is Still Just Stuff


  • 19:00 – 19:10: Sere Timeless (Kathryn Spoehr) — Exploring (Historical) Reality Virtually: The Rocca Sorrentina
  • 19:10 – 19:20: jsweatt (Jeni Crummey) — Building a Business in Second Life
  • 19:20 – 19:30: Valibrarian Gregg (Dr. Valerie Hill) — Minecraft and Information Literacy
  • 19:30 – 19:40: Jane Awesome (Kerri Keil) — Exploring Virtual Museums,Archives, and Libraries
  • 19:40 – 19:50: Snow Scarmon (Chris Nelson) – Avatar Personalization Through Social Interaction
  • 19:50 – 20:00: Amvans Lapis (Marie Vans) — VWBPE 2015: Recapping A Great Virtual Worlds Education Conference
  • 20:00 – 20:10: Cori (Jennifer Christensen) — Use of Virtual Worlds in the Treatment of PTSD
  • 20:10 – 20:20: Amza Hydraconis — My Renaissance Experience
  • 20:20 – 20:30: Cali Libby (Lori Harris) — Using Second Life as a Creative Approach to YA Library Collaboration,Design, and Study, followed by a tour of the YA Space.

The steampunk party will start at 20:40,  and will run for as long as people remain. Guests are invited to addend in costume, although freebie will be provided if required. For those unfamiliar with steampunk, the conference offers the following guidelines:

“Steampunk is an inspired movement of creativity and imagination. With a backdrop of either Victorian England or America’s Wild West at hand, modern technologies are re-imagined and realized as elaborate works of art, fashion, and mechanics … How can we apply this in the 21st century?  Think modern technology–iPads, computers, robotics, air travel–all powered by steam and set in the 1800’s. Think about a world where creativity and ingenuity are limitless!”

USMP’s 3rd Introduction to Second Life for Spanish educators

Monday, April 13th marks the commencement of the 3rd Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) designed to help Spanish-speaking educators in the use of Second Life as a starting point in their interaction with emerging and innovative environments that can be used for education.

Professor Max Ugaz, UMSP
Professor Max Ugaz, UMSP

Developed by the Universidad de San Martín de Porres (USMP), located in Santa Anita, Lima, Perú, the course was first run in April 2014, and as I reported at the time, was promoted by the Lab as a part of their re-engagement with the educational sector.

An updated version of the course, developed by the university’s Project Director or Virtual Worlds, Professor Max Ugaz, was again run in September, 2014, which also met with success.

“The purpose is to train educators, researchers, academics and interested public speaking, in creating a virtual identity, accessing and using the virtual world Second Life,” the University’s promotional material for the course states, before continuing, “This version is enriched with the latest version of our platform, which allows us to streamline the process of teaching and keeping better track of participants. ”

As with the previous iterations of the course, which is presented in Spanish, activities will extend over three weeks, with an average workload of 5 or 6 hours a week. Those completing the course will be entitled to a Digital Certificate (Certificate of Participation), awarded by the USMP.

Details on the course, together with a registration form for interested parties, are available on the course web pages, and the activities will take place at one of the USMP’s teaching areas in Second Life, commencing on Monday, April 13th, as noted.

l Proyecto en Mundos Virtuales de la Universidad de San Martín de Porres de Perú, inicia este 13 de Abril la tercera edición del curso en la modalidad MOOC (Curso Masivo Abierto En línea) titulado “Introducción a Second Life para Educadores 3da. Ed.”. El curso es gratuito y está diseñado para capacitar a educadores y público en general de habla hispana en el uso del mundo virtual Second Life, a fin de ofrecer conocimiento que permita desempeñarse en este entorno y aprovechar su potencial, especialmente en el ámbito educativo.

 Si tú o alguien que tú conoces pueden beneficiarse de un curso como éste, pueden acceder al vídeo de introducción y registrarse en la página web. Inicio: 13 de Abril.

Lab asks educators to share their success stories

secondlifeLinden Lab has issued a blog post and started a discussion thread in the forums on the subject of educational success stories in Second Life.

In particular, they are keen to hear of success stories within the educational sector and by those who have been using the platform for educational purposes (outside of teaching new residents how to use Second Life, An area in which the Lab already knows there are in-world organisations at work in that area as well).

The blog post reads in full:

Are you an educator seeing positive results from using Second Life? We’d love to hear from you! Please join us in this Education Forum thread to share your answers to the following questions:

  1. What educational organization do you represent?
  2. How do you use SL in your educational endeavours?
  3. Most importantly, what positive results have you seen from using SL?

From direct conversations, press coverage, and the like, we’ve heard of a number of organizations seeing positive results using Second Life for education, but we’re always eager to hear more and we hope you’ll add your voice to the thread.


Commenting on the post and requires, Peter Gray, the Lab’s Director of Global Communications told me, “We kicked off this thread because having a current collection of shared success stories is certainly helpful to our PR efforts, helps further our understanding of that community, and can also be a useful resource for people who may be interested in using SL in similar ways. We’ve spoken directly with a number of educators active in SL and certainly keep an eye out for these kinds of stories in the press as well, but we’re always eager to hear more.”

And it is not only educators and educational institutions the Lab wished to hear from, as Peter went on to state, “While we’re particularly interested in success stories from educators affiliated with educational institutions, we’d also be happy to hear from anyone who’s seen positive results using SL in their educational endeavours.”

So, if you do have a story of educational success and Second Life to tell, please be sure to join the conversation.