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Roundtable on Virtual Worlds and Nonprofits

I had the pleasure of representing Digital Democracy at the Global Kids’ Virtual World Capacity Building Program, a four-week intensive exposure to virtual worlds for public good institutions. At the end of the program, each of the participants gave presentations at the Global Kids-hosted Fall 09 Roundtable on Virtual Worlds and Nonprofits on MacArthur Island in Second Life (surl teleport link).  Representatives of five leading nonprofit organizations gave brief presentations on their initial explorations of Second Life and other virtual worlds, and how they are thinking of integrating these virtual tools into their organizations’ respective missions.

Specifically, the following organizations presented:

For us at Digital Democracy, new media literacy is critical to education in the 21st century. Dd partners with a variety of groups on programming, trainings and curriculum that educates people – particularly youth and students – on new media skills, focusing on communication, education and participation. It was fascinating to explore the potential of these virtual spaces and understand it as a tool, rather than a concept. Most people think of Second Life as a game or a social network, all of which it can be. To learn to use the tool, we had group conference sessions in the virtual space, utilizing voice and characters and ideas that we could project into a space. I’m a big proponent of Twitter & Video Conferencing in the workplace as ways to minimize the inevitable misunderstandings that arise via email. Second Life, with the proper bandwidth and commitment of people, could be incorporated as well. Unfortunately, I think that’s unlikely as there are constant tech problems and by the time the bandwidth issues are taken care of, especially for international group conferencing, projects like Skype or Oovoo will have cornered the market.

My full virtual presentation was covered by Betterverse: Nonprofits in the Virtual World Covering. Or you can catch the video here: [blip.tv ?posts_id=2896056&dest=-1]

Mark Belinsky of Digital Democracy (SL: Rocket Repine) presented next about their experience in virtual worlds and new media. Digital democracy empowers human rights activists around the world with technology.

I was working on the border of Thailand and Burma with youth democracy activists. There we found a correlation between internet access and self-identification of “activist.” We are interested in supporting activists like these with tools to help them do their work.

VWCB fall09 Mark Belinsky of Digital Democracy

Rocket Repine (me) presenting with Rhiannon Chatnoir

Our SL interest comes from hearing about the virtual Camp Darfur. We were interested in moving beyond an exhibition to direct connection to refugees.

In a refugee camp I worked with youth on a photo project where they chose the topic. (see Video about Digital Democracy “Project Einstein”). We created a Digital Pen Pal program between youth in schools in US and youth refugee camps. We would love to have a wall in in SL where people could post questions and messages and those could be answered by refugees.

We are working with Eyebeam to develop a virtual classroom where youth can communicate their stories to a larger world.  But in countries with minimal tech access, what is the possibility for interaction in these spaces?  Cell phones, cameras, other mobile tools.

We are creating a small space to exhibit some of their projects in SL (Teleport link .)

Some of my favorite takeaways were the places I visited during my time on Second Life.

And while Second Life is one of the most popular of these virtual worlds, new ones are popping up all the time and growing fast. Even though adults are going wild buying property and creating on SL, in worlds like WhyVille and SmallWorlds, kids are learning how to interact with one another. I want to see how to really start blurring the lines between different worlds by incorporating technologies like mobiles with GPS & compasses that allow for Augmented Reality, creating virtual spaces that mirror real spaces to allow us to develop a more hands-on understanding of places and experiences that would otherwise be inaccessible. For instance, plotting a virtual refugee camp in a US schoolyard, based on the GPS positions created by a sister school in a Bangladeshi refugee camp. Then having a more thoughtful exchange when the kids on the US side learn how far their beds are from where elephants get water. And, of course, vice versa as the youth in Bangladesh learn exactly how far it is for many children in the US to actually get to school.

For a list of non-profit people on Twitter, check out the fantastic list by @RhiannonSL.

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