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Comment: The Virtual World Conference is the shape of things to come

On 15 September, the Open University, in collaboration with the Serious Games Institute, will host a 24-hour conference. Opening in Hong Kong, the focus will shift to Europe as the eastern evening meets the UK morning, handing over at our sundown for a final eight hours on the US western coast. Despite crossing many time zones during the day, conference chairs and delegates will meet at a single location, and never have to leave the comfort of their own armchairs.

The Virtual World Conference, exploring the use of virtual worlds for teaching and learning, social/collaborative work and business applications, will be held on Open University land in the virtual world Second Life. Invited speakers from academic, social and business backgrounds will be talking about exploiting the advantages of virtual worlds, using tools within the environment to share multimedia presentations with the audience. During lunch breaks and changeovers, delegates will have access to a tropical island where they network in constant sunshine.

With speakers and delegates from around the globe, the benefits of holding our conference in a virtual environment are apparent in air miles alone. Rough calculations, allowing two-thirds of delegates to be one-third of the planet away from the conference home in Milton Keynes, suggest 500,000 miles will be travelled virtually on 15 September. This reduces the environmental footprint of the conference, and saves on the time and cost of being out of the office for days either side of the main event, and the conference fees needed to fund physical facilities. Even better, for one small delegate fee, colleagues can share a single avatar, or project the conference on to a large screen for group viewing.

The Open University is a trailblazer in using virtual worlds for learning. Given the economic downturn, rising travel costs and global uncertainty, we predict the use of such environments for conferences, seminars and large meetings will continue to rise.

Anna Peachey manages the Open University presence in virtual worlds: thevirtual worldconference.org