Virtech is an experimental platform for online education, operated by the Virtual Reality Lab, which is a part of the Center for Data-Driven Discovery at Caltech. It was originally designed as an interactive, social, and private space inside the Virtual World of Second Life, designed to furnish the Caltech community with an alternative to in-person interactions during the pandemic. Through the use of avatars, participants can visit a rich virtual space furnished to enable engaging experience as well as seamless social interaction. Virtech is a safe, pleasant space to socialize, create, collaborate, and learn. It is open to all members of the Caltech community and their approved guests, as well as the members of other academic communities by a special arrangement.
To jump into Virtech simply:
Frequently Asked Questions
It is an experimental social and educational virtual space for the Caltech community. It is now also open for the approved collaborative educational activities with other groups, by a special arrangement. It is a private region based in a virtual world of Second Life, and accessible through a special browser (not the Web). You can think of it as a safe and pleasant alternative to Zoom or other standard online interaction tools, i.e., as a different social media platform. It also supports educational activities, such as lectures, discussion groups, development of virtual teaching labs, learning gamification, etc.
Safety and privacy are among our key concerns. Only the members of the Caltech community, collaborating educational groups and institutions, and approved external academic visitors can access Virtech. This is automatic for those who join through our portal, which requires the Caltech Access credentials. Others may be added to the allowed group by the Virtech Development Team, but only if approved by Prof. Djorgovski. No personal information is exposed to the world, other than what people chose to put in their member profiles (and we strongly urge everyone not to put any real life contact or other information there, and take the same precautions as they would in any other social media account).
Virtech is based on the approved proposal to the Provost's Innovation in Education fund. A number of the relevant Caltech administrative offices have been informed about it. It is there to help the students, and to explore innovative educational modalities.
Every effort was made to protect against Adult Only Content. Avatars created through our portal by a special design cannot access any adult rated sites or content in Second Life. No adult content or activities are allowed within Virtech, and the same rules and protections as on the physical Caltech campus apply here. However, we cannot control any content or activities ouside of our private region, and a common sense should apply.
Students and other members of the Caltech community can socialize, meet old friends, make new ones (who may become your real life friends), collaborate on homework, discuss things, play games, create your own 3D content, explore the many other interesting places in Second Life, or just simply relax in a pleasant virtual environment. Faculty can use Virtech for online lectures, seminars, group meetings and discussion, and experiments with other online learning modalities and technologies.
Any member of the Caltech community can join, preferably through our own account creation portal. You can also create an account at the official Second Life portal, but would need to be added to the Virtech group. Members of other select academic and educational communities or academic professionals can also access Virtech, if approved by us.
Yes, and you should. Your avatar should be as unique as you, and there are infinite possibilities. The choice of the startup avatars available when you sign up is just a first step. You can modify them, mix & match avatar components and clothes, and get new avatar components (hair, skin, eyes, etc.) and clothes. We provide many gifts to this effect in our private changing rooms, and links to other places where you can get additional, free, high quality items. Be creative.
You will need a desktop or laptop capable of handling 3d graphics, running Windows, MacOS, or Linux. Gaming machines work best as SecondLife viewers are quite graphics intensive. Ultra portable notebooks usually have little 3d graphic support, so they may not run as smoothly. We recommend that when trying it for the first time, close all other applications, and tweak the graphics settings in the SecondLife viewer to optimize your experience.
Like many high-end video games, Second Life is graphics heavy, and needs a good bandwidth. We recommend that when trying it for the first time, close all other applications, and tweak the graphics settings in the SecondLife viewer to optimize your experience. For more info info on the Graphics Settings of the official SecondLife Viewer see our Virtech Quick Tutorial.
No, but it may take an hour or two to get familiar with the interface. It helps if you have any video gaming experience. It is easier than learning to use, say, the basics of Excel, Powerpoint, Photoshop, or a similar software. It may be confusing at first, but it is worth it in the end. Check out our Virtech Quick Tutorial.
Any member of the Caltech community can join, preferably through our own account creation portal. We may invite members of other academic communities or academic professionals, by a special arrangement.