The SLENZ Update – No 54, March 10, 2009

Body language in

Virtual Worlds?

bodylanguage_0011Does body language matter in virtual worlds?

I often find it interesting how real world etiquette and sometimes body language carries across into virtual worlds, such as Second Life, from the real world.

I believe one can determine another person’s/avatar’s  sense of immersion or commitment to a virtual world by watching his or her behaviour in  a virtual world.

Because I feel my avatar “lives” in virtual worlds his use of  etiquette and body language, as limited as that may be, often follows  that of his real life master – the person  sitting in real life behind the keyboard. I would not say that is true of all my avatars but it is at least true of my main avatar. Some of my “alts” are just plain contrary.

I listen to voice in SL from the point-of-view of my avatar rather than my SL camera but I still focus on who is talking in a meeting. I look at people in the meeting, as I would in real life,  rather than gazing around the venue or using my camera to search the surrounding countryside, rooms or buildings. It is as though I  am in the meeting with  those other avatars and pay attention to them in the same way as I would in real life.

In fact, if an avatar in a meeting of avatars, or for that matter in a virtual world classroom situation,  is not “paying attention” to the class – in other words “lurking” – I would suspect that he or she is not fully immersed in the learning programme, and probably should really be teaching face-to-face, or via a telephone hookup, videolink,  groups text messaging or another non virtual world technique, such as snail mail.

This was brought to mind for me recently  when a lead avatar who  normally makes a lot of sense in world, walked into a meeting and then stood for the whole meeting with his back to the other participants who were sitting down, despite the fact that he was talking and had important material to convey to the meeting. He is a person who “speaks” about being fully immersed in the virtual world among other things.

For me his body language spoke more loudly – and gave the lie to his claim of full immersion in virtual worlds. Of course, it may have not been the same for other participants. And it might have been that his computer was not up to the job of “moving” his avatar into a sit position.

But if it wasn’t important that the other avatars could see that he was talking to them what was the necessity for holding the meeting/class virtually. fleep-tuque

Its all about the thing others have defined as “presence”. It’s that thing we call “presence” that theoretically makes MUVEs valuable for both the conference and the learning environment. It’s “presence” that researchers and educators claim makes the difference in learning outcomes – the presence of both the educators/facilitators and the students and the sense of really being there. Few claim that anyone  gets that sense of being there in videolinks or phone hookups, or instant messaging.

To me, rightly or wrongly,  it seemed that that  the person behind the screen of that avatar who was turned away from his fellow participants in the meeting I attended had no sense of immersion in the process, no sense of being the avatar, and so no sense of  being there. Being in the virtual world served no additional purpose for him – and it was probably unnecessary for him to be there, virtually. He could have just as easily got his point across in an MSN group text message or any other text-based channel, such as a blog.

The opposite problem is created by students/participants who turn up at a class or meeting “naked”,  or turn somersaults/jump around and generally carry on  while others are attempting to learn or hold a discussion in world. Then their “presence” becomes very apparent and also is disruptive for both the facilitator and the rest of  SL group.

This is especially so if the teacher/facilitator/educator does not have the SL/RL skills to  curb the disruptor.

These are often educators who  say they “believe” in virtual worlds, but who don’t bother to get fully trained and comfortable with the medium, don’t have avatars and clothing that show they care about the medium, and  don’t have equipment and  headsets that work effectively in virtual worlds. Show me an educator or educational institution that  doesn’t have these prerequisites for “living” in-world and I will show  you an educator or educational institution that doesn’t really believe in virtual worlds as a learning tool and is setting out to prove that they will fail to have any learning benefits.

The question is, if  you are an education researcher or soon-to- be educator in virtual worlds, besides having adequate and effective equipment, are you ready to take on the commitment  of being a “real” avatar or do you want to just play around the edges for the sake of the money, the self agrandisment or because its the vogue thing to do?

Whether body language matters or not, with readiness for virtual education in mind Chris Collins, pictured (SL: Fleep Tuque) (collicn@ucmail.uc.edu) (http://fleeep.net/blog/ ) has created a quick  “self-assessment” quiz to help University of Cincinnati  faculty members determine if they’re ready to take students into a virtual world s uch as Second Life  (http://www.quibblo.com/quiz/7–PShe/Are-you-ready-to-teach-in-Second-Life)
Collins,  Project Manager, UC Second Life,  Second Life Ambassador, Ohio Learning Network,  UCit Instructional & Research Computing,  University of Cincinnati, notes that the quiz is a first draft, and would appreciate feedback. “It’s not meant to be an exhaustive test of competency,  of course, but more in the spirit of those “personality  tests” that give you a sense of where you fall on a spectrum,” she said.
Colllins is a big fan of the Global Kids Second Life Curriculum  (and Jeremy Kemp who hosts it on Simteach.com), which she told SLED listers,  she used as a guide to make the quiz.

“It’s (Simteach.com) a good place to start for faculty who want to increase their own skill level or plan exercises for students ( http://simteach.com/wiki/index.php?title=GKCx/Table_of_Contents)” she concluded.

3 Responses

  1. When it comes to being ready to teach in Second Life, I would have thought that being a flexible competent teacher would be very high on the list. My gut feeling is also that a positive, work enhancing attitude, rather than absolute technical skill is a prerequisite. No I did n’t take the quiz, this is a gut reaction.

  2. Todd,
    I feel that competence and flexibility is a given for any teacher/learning facilitator working in any field although God knows there are many in the profession who are or have become bitter time servers rather than having a positive, enhancing attitude. towards what once was a vocation. Bill Gates, I believe, said it well in his TED lecture (http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates_unplugged.html) where after discussing malaria eradication, he asked “how do you make a teacher great?” Based on research he concluded that having “great teachers” was the key to education success. It’s worth watching even though nothing really new.
    However, even top teachers wont succeed in Second Life if they cannot use the tools of SL “living” competently. .
    Cheers John Waugh/Johnnie Wendt.

  3. Thanks for interesting & challenging post, John – has got me thinking, along with cultural messages a teacher may be giving out by dress. cheers Sarah

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