Educational aims and content

GasmeterCreating a domestic gas meter might seem like an odd project to include in this list, but it is here for a number of reasons.

First, this seems like an odd departure for Second Life. There are lots of people using Second Life to teach academic courses, but reading gas meters, and probably the remainder of the plumbing curriculum is rather strongly vocational and something that it might not occur to many of us as a strength for Second Life. The College of North West London are bucking that trend. I'm not sure what the remaining elements of training from this group will be, although I am expecting to hear about more training materials from them soon. I'm fairly sure they won't only use Second Life: teaching braising pipes for example, or tightening a U-bend is something that I rather think needs hands-on real-life experience. That said, I'm sure you can do some of the theoretical stuff in Second Life too - which sort of solder, which sort of pipe, which sort of joint etc. in a situation with basically zero on-going costs and no risk.

Second, it is a lovely example of how Second Life can strongly meet educational needs. Students need to learn, and practice, the skill of reading a meter, timing the rotation, then performing some entertaining calculations to determine the power consumption. With some painstaking coding (see below) all of these things have been achieved. The students can touch the meter to start a test, time the rotation, perform the calculations, and then give their answer and get instant feedback. After a bit of thought the feedback for a successful calculation is simply "well done", but for an unsuccessful calculation tells them both the time they were expected to measure and the answer they should have calculated. This allows them, possibly with guidance from their teacher, to identify where they are making their mistakes, and with support to rectify their mistakes.

Finally, I am an advocate for Second Life as a green option. I work, in Second Life, with people from all over the world. I think my most distant regular working partnership is the UK to Tasmania. You can, legitimately, argue that I might not have got to work with the person in Tasmania without the medium of Second Life, so it's not clear there's a strong green impact there. But it's rather hard to argue that a system which means a class full of gas engineers doesn't run a variety of gas appliances at full blast to conduct these calculations is not consuming energy and resources that might be better used elsewhere. I've not run the calculations, but I'm fairly sure we're using less energy this way, as well as keeping the system far safer since there is no risk of escaping gas causing an explosion in the Second Life scenario.

If you'd like to see the gasmeter in action, and everything else that CNWL is up to, then here's the slurl to their open access area.

Technical notes

The main note here is the fun with the rotations. There is a need for quite a bit of control, plus the ability to know when the pointer is straight up (this will move the counter on). Calls such as llTargetOmega don't give the ability to tell when the pointer is straight up, being client-side only different people will see them at different points. Similarly llTextureAnimation doesn't do the job nicely. For that reason I have ended up using llSetLocalRot for the dial. Whilst this technically does give jerky movement, the steps around are small enough (one rotation is usually between 15 and 40 seconds) that it is not really observable. Despite the way llSetLocalRot ought to work, there are problems with lag and the like, so the users are offered a way to calibrate the dial to the counter. It is not as nice as it could be, but the adjustments are simple, fast and make the whole system work nicely.

The second thing was working out how to give feedback to the students. There is a balance of ease of use, utility of the feedback and some other things. The simple "Yes that's right" or the more complex feedback when things aren't right is obviously easy to do for calculations such as those required here, but it nicely meets the educational needs, and so has to be a positive thing.

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