The SLENZ Update – No 82, May 15, 2009

The reality of unreality

When an avatar changes his/her appearance

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Tere Tinkel aka RL, Terry Neal

Immersed in Second Life one thing you notice, as in the real world, is when another resident changes his or her appearance – especially if they  are close to you, as in a work or social relationship.

I don’t mean just a little tweak mind you – but a real change.  These changes, often made once one gets comfortable with the technology, often mirror the reality and dreams of the personality  behind the avatar and sometimes the real appearance, if one is really confident.

But one, I would say particularly a student,  can determine the level of confidence – and competence –  behind an avatar just from one’s appearance no matter how fantasy the figure is.

This is why I believe it is important for educators to have an avatar that  builds respect, in an educational environment in virtual worlds such as Second Life, or at least an avatar which gives the appearance of being intelligent and friendly, not matter what the advocates of “stick men” and box figures argue.

Sometimes that avatar might mirror your real life physical appearance, at other times the reality  that you perceive inside yourself.  An avatar  based on Freddie Kruger from Nightmare on Elm Street or Chuckie  might  be fun and create some fear but  loses out on credibility, unless of course one is a man or woman who carries a hatchet and wants the virtual world – and one’s students to know that, even if only subliminally.

This was brought to mind recently at a SLENZ working meeting on Koru  when SLENZ project co-leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel), returned from a real life trip to India into  world as a n ordinary girl next door, rather that the blue-haired houri she has been for all the time I’ve know her in-world.

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Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker) when he is in working garb
rather than being a dragon.

It also was brought to mind when I first saw the human-like lecture room presence of SLENZ developer and Weltec lecturer Todd Cochrane (SL: Toddles Lightworker ) rather than  his more normal presence as Puff the magic dragon, or some dragon  of that ilk, who has been pictured in this blog a number of times.

This normalisation of appearance must be catching because Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer and Foundation pilot lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa – right middle) arrived  at the in-world meeting in conservative garb rather than her normal more flamboyant, and one might say more limited attire,  while Otago Polytech Midwifery pilot lead educator, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) also has changed her appearance, somewhat in the run up to the launch of that pilot.

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Merle Lemon in the form of the “conservative” SL educator Briarmelle Quintessa.
Arwenna Stardust (Clare Atkins) is in the background.

There are some who never change, however, and strangely to me in real life I have begun to recognise their avatars as being really who they are. They include joint project leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) who, for me, has almost become the  light-bathed, elfin princess with golden tresses in real life, and  lead developer, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) ,  who I see in my mind’s eye as being Isa the “good man” rather than Aaron when I speak with him in real life.

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Sarah Stewart as  SL’s Petal Stransky.

And,  of course, there is SLENZ learning developer Leigh Blackall (SL: Leroy Goalpost) who sometimes term’s himself the group contrarian, and is little changed  from his early days with SLENZ and I don’t think ever will.

For me it’s all a matter of perception  – and  immersion –  and I suppose my own superficiality when it comes to appearance both in  Second Life and real life. I am a great fan of  WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get).

The problem is we do all make subjective judgements  – no matter who we are – based on appearance, especially in learning environments in all worlds.  Our judgment depends   on who we are., and where we’ve come from. After all in both worlds beauty  (and one might say the appearance of brains) are solely in the eye of the beholder.

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The never-changing persona of Leroy Goalpost – in real life, Leigh Blackall.

Progress on Kowhai

Meanwhile, according to joint project leader, Terry Neal, on the SLENZ sim, Kowhai,  good progress has been made on on the SLENZ pilot, Foundation Stage 1,  with Griffith completing   an easily rezzable/de-rezzable  interview room, a catwalk, and the “outfit shop”. Lemon  is  currently making an introductory video and wells as planning the specific scenarios needed for Foundation Stage 2.

Midwifery Stage 1  is almost complete while the context and learning design has been completed for Midwifery Stage 2, with working beginning on animation poses.

With Orientation Stage 1 completed Cochrane and Atkins  were able to successfully use  a subset of the lesson plan developed by Cochrane and Blackall  to orient the initial batch of educators connected with  Midwifery Stage 1.

Neal said that work on Orientation Stage 2 was  focused on creating a resource package that distance students and others  could use on their own rather than in f2f environments.

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The Foundation pilot’s catwalk, like its outfitter and various interview rooms,
can be rezzed on demand.