SLENZ Update, No 153, November 25, 2009

THE SLENZ  PROJECT:

Formal  in-world Maori Kaumatua’s

‘blessing’  for Foundation build

Is this a world first?

Historic moment: Kaumatua Matua Wati Ratana  in two places at once
– he also is in SL as  Matua (Teacher) Mistwood.*

For what is believed to be the first time in the history of Second Life,  and probably in the history of virtual worlds, a Maori Kaumatua (respected elder) has conducted a public ceremony of blessing in a virtual building with an avatar.

The ceremony was conducted by Manukau Institute of Technology Kaumatua Wati Ratana (SL: Matua Mistwood) on the Foundation Learning build on the SLENZ Project island of Kowhai. Arranged and facilitated by Manukau Institute of Technology lecturer and SLENZ Project lead educator, Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) the ceremony was attended by leading members of the SLENZ Project and other guests.

Ceremonies of this nature are part of the normal dedication  of New Zealand-Aotearoa public buildings both in New Zealand and abroad.

However, it is believed that this was the first time an event of this nature had been held in a virtual world.

The ceremony included an informal welcome, known as a whakatau, because a karanga (formal welcome to a marae) was not considered appropriate, according to Lemon.The cermemony commenced with a karakia (prayer) offered by Matua Mistwood. DaKesha Novaland (RL: Whaea Helen Rawiri) was present to support Matua Mistwood.

For the ceremony Mistwood wore a kiwi feather korowai (cloak) made especially for the occasion and donated by Second Life builder, Theo Republic, of Adelaide, Australia.

The official Maori  party with two helpers ( back to front): student helper,
Kaumatua Wati Ratana and Kuia Waea Helen Rawiri, and another helper.

The waiata (song) in support of Matua Mistwood was He aha te hau, a Ngati Whatua song, used to acknowledge the tangatawhenua (people of this place) from Manukau Institute of Technology. The responding waiata was Tutira Mai, in support of the whaikorero (formal speech),  delivered by Martin Bryers (SL: Martini Manimbo), of Northland Polytechnic (NorthTec)

After hongi (a traditional Maori greeting) were exchanged via HUDs worn by participants, Kaumatua Mistwood proceeded to enter the Foundation Learning build’s Whanau Room alone to pronounce the blessing.

He later blessed the “food” which was served in world to all guests at the conclusion of the ceremony.

“Despite  some small technical hitches, It was a really good experience,” Lemon said after the  function.  “We made history having an actual  Kaumatua come into  a Second Life build to  bless a room for students. To my knowledge it has never been done before in a virtual world.

“I really loved being able to bring a Kaumatua and a Kuia into Second Life, Their first impression was that it would be a wonderful  for the education of Maori students, particularly in Te Reo and literacy programmes.

“They even talked of building a 3d version of a full Maori marae in a virtual world like Second Life,” Lemon said.

The SLENZ Project  which has run two  pilot education programmes in Second Life is funded by the New Zealand Government’s  Tertiary Education Commission.

Kaumatua Matua Ratana greets participants with a traditional hongi.
*All pictures in this blog issue taken by Dave Snell, LTC.

SLENZ Update, No 152, November 23, 2009

A TALE OF TWO WOMEN

Can avatar appearance  have  an

effect on  your Real  Life?

University of Texas Study

Exhibit 1 – can an avatar appearance change your real life?

This is partially the tale of two women*. But it is also a story of how avatar appearance can affect one’s experience of  Second Life and  cross-over into Real Life.

I personally know a number of women, both in Second Life and in Real Life,  who have had the experience  I want to talk about.  There are many others who talk in places like  “Hey Girlfriend” about their considerable weight losses since entering Second Life. However, for reasons of anonymity I have combined some features of these women’s lives into the two women I’m discussing. They are  both in their 40s,  highly educated and have executive positions with the organisations they work with.

One, however, although her  Australian organisation is involved in  researching  business uses of virtual worlds, uses  Second Life almost exclusively for social networking, spending two to three hours a day on-line, time which she once spent as a couch potato  in front of the cable television. She now has  what she calls “real friends” from around the world in Second Life. She has been, what she would claim is ” fully immersed” in Second Life for about four years. Her experience there has run the gamut from role playing to building  and doing  most of the things she  could  and does in Real Life.  Her avatar is  slim and very attractive, although not of the barbie-doll favoured by many  users of  Second Life, and it wears high fashion clothes ranging from fairly skimpy to more conservative.  Although she obtains most of her clothing free, she has a staggering number of high-fashion, high quality items in her inventory.

The other, although she was  not press-ganged into visiting a virtual world,  chose  to become part of  Second Life as  part of her work three years ago, although skeptical of the benefits. Outside of  the “immersion”  required for her work  she seldom visits Second Life preferring to spend time  in the evenings working, sitting in front of television  with her husband. Her avatar reflects what she considers her real life; overweight and frumpy with few  attractive features.  Her clothing inventory consists  of a few  real life-style, work related but  serviceable items such as slacks and a sweaters, but nothing which could be even remotely be regarded as fashionable let alone fantasy.

Both were considerably overweight  when they started in virtual worlds.  One could say the first women perceived and still perceives her virtual life  as wish-fulfillment and fantasy, the second woman perceives her’s as  career-enhancing “drudgery.”

But the most interesting thing about these two women for me  – and this  is not a scientific study –  is that:

  • In four  years the first woman – the one with the slim, attractive avatar –  has lost about 100 lbs in weight, taken up gym three to four days a week,  started to learn  salsa and tango with her husband,  changed her wardrobe, and through her own efforts gained a number of promotion rungs at her work. Where she was  previously depressed about her future, she is now a livewire and  enthusiastic about her work. She has also long-term cut her calorie intake in half.
  • In the three years  since the  second woman entered Second Life – the one  with the overweight, unattractive avatar –  her life  has changed little. She still sits watching television most nights with her husband – he much prefers it that way – and although still ambitious feels  her career in a US academic institution  is  either  depressingly at a standstill, or at a cross roads.  Since joining  Second  Life  her  weight has ballooned – she wont disclose by how much –  she still gets little exercise and obviously has not cut her  calorie intake.
Exhibit 2 – can avatar appearance change your real life?

Of course, there may be many other reasons why these two women’s Second Life experiences may have led to vastly different Real Life  experiences but I was reminded of them by an article in  a fairly  recent issue of    ScienceDaily under the headline,  “Avatars Can Surreptitiously And Negatively Affect User In Video Games, Virtual Worlds.”

Quoting Jorge Peña, assistant professor in the College of Communication at the  University of Texas, at Austin,  the on-line magazine said that although often seen as an inconsequential feature of digital technologies, one’s self-representation, or avatar, in a virtual environment could affect a user’s thoughts. The study was co-written with Cornell University Professor Jeffrey T. Hancock and University of Texas at Austin graduate student Nicholas A. Merola.  It appeared in the December 2009 issue of Communication Research.

The study ” demonstrated that the subtext of an avatar’s appearance could simultaneously prime negative (or anti-social) thoughts and inhibit positive (or pro-social) thoughts inconsistent with the avatar’s appearance even though study participants remained unaware they had been primed,” the article said.

“In two separate experiments, research participants were randomly assigned a dark- or white-cloaked avatar, or to avatars wearing physician or Ku Klux Klan-like uniforms or a transparent avatar. The participants were assigned tasks including writing a story about a picture, or playing a video game on a virtual team and then coming to consensus on how to deal with infractions, ” Science Daily said.

“Consistently, participants represented by an avatar in a dark cloak or a KKK-like uniform demonstrated negative or anti-social behavior in team situations and in individual writing assignments.”

Previous studies, ScienceDaily said, had demonstrated these uniform types to have negative effects on people’s behaviors in face-to-face interactions. For example, Cornell researchers Mark Frank and Tom Gilovich have shown that dark uniforms influence professional sports teams to play more aggressively on the playing field and in the laboratory. Peña’s research has now demonstrated how these effects operate in desktop-based video games, and sheds light on the automatic cognitive processes that explain this effect.

“When you step into a virtual environment, you can potentially become ‘Mario’ or whatever other character you are portraying,” said Peña, who studies how humans think, behave and feel online. “Oftentimes, the connotations of our own virtual character will subtly remind us of common stereotypes, such as ‘bad guys wear black or dress up in hooded robes.’ This association may surreptitiously steer users to think and behave more antisocially, but also inhibit more pro-social thoughts and responses in a virtual environment.”

“By manipulating the appearance of the avatar, you can augment the probability of people thinking and behaving in predictable ways without raising suspicion,” said Peña. “Thus, you can automatically make a virtual encounter more competitive or cooperative by simply changing the connotations of one’s avatar.”

Reading this I wondered about the two women I referred to above.    Has one, the American, inadvertently reinforced the depressingly, negative  image she has of herself by making her avatar appearance worse than  she actually appears in Real Life? And has the other, the Australian,  done the reverse to achieve striking Real Life benefits?

It’s obviously another question for virtual world scientists.
But on the other hand, in my experience,  it doesn’t have quite the same effect on some males.  I haven’t become the 6ft 7in  All American Don Juan that my avatar suggests I  could be and my wishful thinking suggests I should be. My real life  personna and appearance  has remained. I’m still just a little nerd who is boringly ordinary.

I, however, don’t doubt there are men in Second Life who have lost weight too.

* Some details have been altered to protect their identities.

SLENZ Update, No 151, November 20, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT: Useful lessons

Team debriefed on  unit tour,

presentation techniques …

Learning lesson: part of the Gronstedt ‘Train for Success Group’s tour.

It’s very easy to be wise with hindsight.

That is  not to take anything away from the  outstanding performance of  Otago Polytech tutor and SLENZ Project’s lead educator (Midwifery) Sarah Stewart’s (SL: Petal Stransky) before what she admits now was an unexpectedly large crowd of “experts” for  her early morning (NZ time) presentation and tour of the project’s birthing unit on the SLENZ Project island of Kowhai last week.

Your’s truely, also admits he was a little unprepared as a “helper” being  “invited” to demonstrate his “incompetence” (grin) in the early New Zealand morning after a self-inflicted heavy night of Second Life roleplaying.

Stewart also must be forgiven for her late notice of the Gronstedt ‘Train for Success Group’s tour, because it  had been moved up a week on short notice, following the postponement of another planned presentation. It did not help that  Stewart understandably did not realise the group’s  importance – in an education sense in the world of Second Life – until a few  hours before the meeting, and that she had previously only presented “virtually” to very small groups.

Stewart herself  has commented  usefully on the experience on her blog under the heading,  Learning a few painful lesson about presenting in Second Life

The debriefing at the normal Monday  SLENZ team meeting, however, raised some other important points – albeit many probably not new – which may be useful to others presenting their projects to  tour groups, particularly those composed of  virtual world  aficionados.

The highlights of the debriefing, including additional thoughts I have had since:

  • One must qualify “tour parties” before presentations so that one has an understanding of who they are and what their needs and desires are.
  • At least two people are normally needed for a  successful presentation of this nature  – on voice and monitoring chat, and in an IM link between presenter and helper.  The helper/facilitator should have enough knowledge of the project and the site to be able to answer questions, in text chat if necessary, rather than interrupting the flow of the presenter. It would help if  the helper is given a copy of the briefing paper before the event.
  • The TP area or meetup/holding area where the major voice briefing is being held should be far enough away from the  unit to be toured to prevent contention between  voice  – the tour leader presenting and the helper answering questions –  when the  audience is split into  smaller groups to tour a facility.  If there is a potential for conflict the helper should only answer questions in text chat. If there are two or more parties being shown the facility at the same time, all tour leader briefing should be done in text chat. If there is contention this can cause problems for video/audio recording  and is distracting for the presenter.
  • In facilities  where  the tour has to be conducted in  “tight spaces”  the roof should be able to be lifted off the facility so all the tour members can cam in, especially if they cannot fit inside the space without difficulty.  The  SLENZ birthing unit has this facility  but neither the presenter nor the  helper knew how to activate it.  On tight sites, with   the audience split into a number of tour groups it is also  potentially  worthwhile having the ability to rez a duplicate facility (if the prims are available) so that simultaneous tours out of  voice range of each other can take place.
  • There is a need for an agreed presentation format which both the presenter and the helper/faciliator are able to refer to during the presentation as well as  succinct presentation briefing notecards the audience can pick up  from a notecard-giver on the site and which the presenter alerts them to.
  • If the presentation is to be in voice rather than text the presenter or helper must ask everyone to use headsets or to turn off their talk button because of  feedback echo problems from  both that and from the use of  computer speakers.  The presenter should also use a headset for voice.
  • The presenter and  the helper  involved in the presentation should check voice levels immediately before the event and also make sure they are linked in a private IM window … so they can text to each other privately during the presentation if necessary. (Practice with this  in  presentation mode might be necessary so that the presenter is not distracted by the text). The helper should IM anyone generating echo  and ask them politely to turn off their talk button.
  • The helper must have both sim knowledge and sim land  rights to ensure he  or she can  deal with griefers – this tour attracted one –  and other sim problems which might arise, without disturbing the presenter.

SLENZ Update, No 150, November 17, 2009

The potential: “Daddy, Miss America wont share her toys.”

Obama vision could be crippled

by rich, greedy US institutions

… and commercial interests who want an arm  and two legs.

Birthunitdemo131109_0021. Sharing knowledge – The Gronstedt Group begins tour  of the SLENZ birthing unit.

The more time I spend in Second Life and  other virtual worlds the more I become convinced  that  SLENZ  joint leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) is right: Collaboration and sharing is the key to success in  world education in virtual worlds.

But its not just collaboration within the United States, or New Zealand. It’s collaboration around the world.

The rich, big universities of North America and Europe might be able to afford to go  it alone, but for the smaller and the often poorer tertiary institutions of  the United States,  countries like  New Zealand, and Third World countries – if they even have reliable, affordable Broadband services – don’t have the luxury of NOT collaborating and sharing,  both at an institutional level and at an academic level.

The creation of complex builds, huds, animations and all the other paraphernalia of teaching successfully in a virtual  world, as well as aquiring the skills/knowhow to use them  can cost megabucks: to not share them under OpenSource and Creative Commons license with institutions and academics around the world would seem to be me to be both profligate and selfish. It also could regarded by some , particularly when sold at a high price or with an exorbitant  license fee attached, as both  neo-colonialist and  greedy capitalism of the kind that brought about the most recent crash of world markets.

Second Life behind the firewall

The collaboration thoughts, although first ennunciated  for me by  Dr  Atkins, were brought to mind more recently by  five things: the move by the Lindens, admitted an avowedly commercial organisation,  to  promote Second Life behind the firewall, previously Nebraska, to  commercial, Government and educational institutions at US$55,000 a pop, a princely sum for many cash-strapped institutions around the world;  President Obama’s Cairo vision, proclaimed in June;  a visit by the KiwiEd group to the University of Western Australia, Second  Life site; a Train for Success Gronstedt Group  35-avatar tour of the SLENZ Project’s virtual birthing unit on the Second Life island of Kowhai; and  finally, but not least,  the one-hour keynote address on copyright  by  Harvard University  Professor of Law Lawrence Lessig to  EDUCAUSE09 in Denver earlier this month.

Lessig-certificate-of-entitlement-700x524

2. Sharing the knowledge: Lessig’s certificate of entitlement.

Obama told  the world,  “We will match promising Muslim students with internships in America and create a new online network … ” something  which  Second Life arguably has been  doing for sometime with  the collaboration already  occurring between individual academics and many smaller institutions creating an “online network, facilitating collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.”

The problem with his vision is that  US commercial – and often Government –  interests  have almost always  worked against  facilitating collaboration and sharing across geographic  and cultural boundaries. Look at Microsoft software. Look at Apple and ITunes licensing. Look at software regionalisation. Look at the record industry. Look at the book industry, where rich English language publishers in the UK and the US split the world into at least two markets.  Look at the way copyright law has moved into  education – and science.

But its not a new phenomenon. Look at banana republics, created out of Boston,  as a rather ironical and destructive facilitation of collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries.

Triumphs of reason

On the other hand there are triumphs of reason over idiocy. Look at the rise of the ubiquitous PC, compared to the Apple computer, even though using a proprietary Operating System  the rise from the “underground” of  Moodle, compared to say Blackboard; the slow advance of bilateral free trade agreements, even if not the much desired mutilateral  free trade agreements, instead of the trade siege mentality,  which  affected most of the world in the 1930s (and still threatens); the growing popularity of Linux compared to proprietary Operating Systems; and finally the astounding growth of  Wikipedia compared to Encarta or Britannia.

Despite my misgivings I have been heartened over the years by the surprising degree of co-operation and collaboration that has been happening in virtual worlds. That is despite the actions of  those  few Scrooge McDuck-like educational institutions which have purely commercial interests at heart and appear to run closed shop operations, sharing with none.

I was even more cheered recently by a visit to the University of Western Australia when I found that  university, which is in the forefront  of Australian virtual world education, was entering into bi-lateral  virtual “free trade” and/or “free exchange”  agreements with  the likes of Stanford University and others. This mirrors the agreements put in place  by  Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga) at the University of Auckland with the University of Boise; and Judy Cockeram (SL: Judy-Arx Scribe) and  her work with architects around the world;  and those “handshake”   agreements  or informal sharing arrangements put in place by a myriad of other relatively smaller institutions who have already recognised the benefits of world-wide collaboration.

3.Sharing the knowledge – KiwiEd group tours University of Wester Australia site.

And then there is the SLENZ Project, which 18 months ago adopted as its ruling credo,  complete transparency, with OpenSource under Creative Commons license for all its virtual educational products, developments and knowledge in the hope that others would be able to build on the team’s work. Even though the adoption of this credo was probably due more to the persistence and bloody-mindedness of a then non-Second Life “immersed” and relatively sceptical SLENZ Learning Designer Leigh Blackall than anything else, it has worked and is working.

One has to  agree now that Blackall was right, even though  there is obviously a place for fair payment to commercial (virtual world creators, builders, developers etc) interests, something Linden Labs has recognised  with its protection of its own virtual world product lines (and  unfortunately those created and developed by its residents, even if Creative Commons, full permissions and OpenSource) behind  the walls of Second Life.

Linden Labs is not alone, however, in usurping user/creator rights.  The way  they have covered the issue in their rather draconian and very American Terms of Service is little different from other major US on-line social networking services: if you put it up on their service, they own it.

Virtual World Free Trade/Exchange Pact?

This is despite, or perhaps in spite of “renegades” like the  onetime Arcadia Asylum, making all her magnificent “builds” available to “anyone to use anywhere,  how they like, even blowing it up.”

Like  the tyrants behind the old Iron Curtain the Lindens realise that keeping  control of their residents’ creations inside  their world (and keeping them there), guarantees that they will have to stay there unless they want to pour their creativity, time and work down the drain and start a new virtual life elsewhere.

This leads  me to the thought that President Obama, although paying lip service to “collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries,” needs to put his Government’s money  where his mouth is and promote a world-wide free trade/exchange agreement for  virtual world education if not for virtual worlds themselves, guaranteeing rights of both personal ownership of  individual products when created or bought in a real world sense,  but also opening up US educational institution virtual knowledge and creativity for the rest of the world to freely add to, and build on.

The President  has the vision  for a better on-line world – which could lead to greater understanding between peoples through education.

If he does nothing except talk. Nothing will happen.

And, I believe, we will find the major educational institutions moving more behind their Ivy Walls – if they are not already there – and American educational institutions (and others in UK, Germany, Brazil etc) adopting  a siege mentality   even though  virtual worlds (all virtual worlds, whether emanating out of the US or China or anywhere else) will only fulfill their true potential of levelling the playing field for all educationally if they are free and open to all.

That is something America can do for the world – all worlds.

SLENZ Update, No 149, November 7, 2009

ATKINS ADVICE TO POLYTECHS/UNIVERSITIES

Collaboration is key to making

virtual education work in NZ

Nurse educators  ‘convinced’ of value –

the question is, how best to use it.

IMG_1151NZ nurse educators at the Wellington SLENZ meeting.

Collaboration between tertiary educational institutions in the implementation  of  virtual world education scenarios is the key to making them economic, effective and successful in a country as small as New Zealand.

This is the view of  of the joint leader of the SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins,  who has worked for 16 months on three education pilot education projects funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand to determine the benefits or otherwise of education in virtual worlds and how the benefits, if any, can be harnessed successfully by New Zealand educators.

Dr Atkins expressed her view at a meeting attended by eight leading nurse educators from a number of polytechs  in Wellington last week.

“It makes sense  to collaborate,” Atkins said. “It would be crazy to try to do things separately when you can share  and collaborate.”

She suggested that New Zealand’s Polytechs and/or Universities could band together inexpensively to increase New Zealand’s educational usage of  and presence in Second Life, around the  virtual island “archipelago” already created by the Nelson-Marlborough Insitute of Technology (NMIT), the SLENZ Project, and The University of Auckland. Virtual land for education could be made available economically within this hub area, she said.Jacoby, Jean

Atkins noted  that whereas a Second Life build from scratch, such as that of  the SLENZ Project’s midwifery pilot could cost up to NZ$30,000, collaboration by institutions both in New Zealand and overseas – and the sharing of already created facilities – could reduce on-ground, virtual world costs for individual collaborating  institutions to several hundred dollars a year, if enough were involved.

“There is no point to reinventing the wheel,” she said. “Second Life is  notable for the way educators share and collaborate.”

The one-day meeting,   sponsored by the SLENZ Project followed expressions of  interest from nurse educators who had viewed or attended presentations on the SLENZ Project’s Midwifery and Foundation Learning pilot programmes.  The nurse educators attending represented  among others, UCOL, Manukau Institute of Technology, NMIT and Whitireia Community Polytechnic. The  national co-ordinator of  nursing education in the tertiary sector, Kathryn Holloway, also attended.

Besides Atkins, the meeting also included presenations by other SLENZ Project members,  and a Second Life nursing training presentation by Second Life’s Gladys Wybrow, of  The University of Auckland.

The meeting, less than a week later,  has led to the establishment of a  “collaborative” New Zealand Polytech nurse educator project to explore and develop the potential of Second Life in Nurse Education.

The project,  Nurse Education in Second Life NZ,  based on a ning created by Jean Jacoby (pictured), an instructional designer, at the UCOL School of Nursing Palmerston North, already has  20 members.

Jacoby, who has taken on a co-ordinating role, said in a dispatch after the meeting,  “It seemed to me that none of us needs to be convinced of the value of exploring Second Life; rather we are looking for practical ways to do so.

Two main approaches

“There seemed to be two main approaches identified at the meeting,” she added. “Looking for existing builds that we can adapt or use as they are”  and/or “Identifying a small, practical project to build from scratch, for which we could potentially get funding.”

The nursing group is currently in the early stages of discussing a proposal to set up a verbal health assessment scenario, with the nurse getting the information from the patient.

According to Susie le Page, also of UCOL,  this suggested Second Life application could be applied across a number of nursing areas, including midwifery, mental health and the medical/ surgical community.

Meanwhile commenting on the meeting the SLENZ Project’s lead educator for Otago Polytech’s Midwifery pilot on Kowhai in Second Life, Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) offered advice, based on her Second Life experience, to the  nurse educators.

Stewart said nurse educators contemplating using Second Life should:  find a Second Life mentor and learn as much as you can about how Second Life works; network with other nurse and health professionals using SL using online communication tools such as blogs, YouTube, Slideshare and of course, Second Life; develop learning activities in Second Life that require little or no development to keep things as inexpensive and easy as possible; work alongside your educational institution to ensure you have full access to Second Life; collaborate with each other using virtual tools such as wiki, Google Docs, Skype and Second Life.

At the same time as the nurse educator meeting SLENZ Project joint leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel) and  Foundation Learning pilot lead educator, MIT’s Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) briefed representatives of the Open Polytechnic, UCOL, CPIT and Wairakei Polytech at another venue, delivering  a similar message to that of Atkins.

EVENT -Kiwi educators

Sunday 8 November 7 pm (NZ Time) – meet on Koru shortly before  7pm: This week Kiwi Educators have been invited to tour the University of Western Australia sim. Our guide will be Jayjay Zifanwe, owner of the UWA sim. Highlights of the tour will be the main landing area, Sunken Gardens, Sky Theatre, Square Kilometer Array, Visualisation Research & the 3D Art & Design Challenge. This amazing SL campus is a pefect combination of realism and fantasy and well worth a visit. – Briarmelle Quintessa.

SLENZ Update, No 148, November 4, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT – final F2F

SLENZERs celebrate ‘completion’

of virtual world  work …

now  team awaits official evaluation

IMG_1116The SLENZ Project team … final face-to-face meeting and debriefing.

The SLENZ Project team celebrated its successes last week at a real life face-to-face meeting in Wellington, New Zealand.

The meeting, which  included a warts-and-all debriefing of all team members, was marked by an unanimity of views on project outcomes in a team which  has occasionally been rift by  differences of nuance and interpretation over the  16 months of its scheduled 18-month life span.

The NZ$500,000 Second Life/Real Life project, which was funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand, has been designed  to determine  whether and how multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) can benefit New Zealand education and, and if they are of benefit,  how the benefits can best be harvested.

Despite the fact the  formal evaluation  has not been completed  team members appeared in no doubt that most, if not all, of the  objectives of the three pilot programmes – Midwifery, Foundation (Bridging) Learning and Orientation – had been met.IMG_1127

The lead evaluator, Michael Winter (pictured right), of CORE Education,  who attended the meeting – although not pre-empting his formal evaluation, due before year end  –  seemed upbeat about  the project and said he  had been impressed with communication skills displayed by the team.  .

“I was really impressed with the level of communication and  the way people were working together,” he said. “It was a pretty tight ship in terms  of communication.

He added, however, that the project might have been somewhat hindered by a number of technical issues, including  bandwidth (Ed note: Possibly perculiar to New Zealand); institutional technology and firewall issues. He  added that there had been some resistance to what was perceived as “gaming” by some students;  and that there was a necessity for designing the e-learning experiences properly to  increase engagement. He also cautioned about an underlying concern about the “sleezier side of Second Life” which  the press has focused on.

Summing up her feelings about the project, joint project leader Dr Clare Atkins said, she was “incredibly proud of what we have done.

IMG_1121“I’ve learned some amazing lessons how not to do many things,” she said to laughter.

Despite the barriers to adoption of MUVEs for education in New Zealand,  Atkins said, she now  “absolutely believed”  that “the use of these types of environments and kinds of education are  going to change  the way everyone teaches, how they teach  and the way we think about teaching within 20 years.

“I believe its really important  not only to look for the next project,” she added, ” but also to offer everything (that we have learned) we can to others in education.”

In the debriefing team members  agreed the staged approach to the SLENZ Project had been one of the major keys to the success of the project.

“In fact,” Atkins said, ” I would recommend next time that we should go for even shorter stages – each with its own discrete documentation. For example we could perhaps have broken Midwifery Stage 1 down further into a) the build of the Birth Unit b) the ‘fitting out’ of the birth unit with information.”

Other things that  had worked well had included  the regular team meetings with voice in  Second Life and the face-to-face meetings for getting acquainted and determining agendas for further Project Stages.

Barriers or obstacles to development of the pilot programmes chosen for implementation, included, according to a list compiled from the discussions by  joint project leader, Terry Neal (pictured lower left):

  • Communication: Not having a one-stop shop for all documents from the start of the project. This was implemented when problems arose  after the project  had been launched.
  • Immersion: A lack of pre-project immersion by some tutors, team members. It was felt by some team members that for education to succeed in virtual worlds it is essential that promoters/champions/teachers and tutors be “immersed” in virtual worlds rather than just being “active” before launching into  educating students. This was coupled with a the lack of educator release time for immersion in world.
  • Learning Designer: The need for a Learning Designer or Educator  to be fully  “immersed” so that he/she could specify exactly what was needed based on their own knowledge.
  • Roleplaying Experience:  At launch a lack of MUVE roleplaying experience on the part of tutors, preventing them from having a complete understanding of what could and could not be done in a virtual environment.
  • Clarity: More clarity was needed around the setting of pilot  objectives/initial learning design specifications and the expected/required outcomes.

Things that were seen as an aid to project development included:

  • The use of “immersed” mentors/helpers for new tutors and students.
  • The employment of a professional MUVE builder/scripter rather than attempting to get teachers/tutors up to speed in this area. It was observed that teaching  should be left to teachers/facilitators, and building and facility development to MUVE building/scripting professionals.

Summing up the consensus feeling and her feelings at the debriefing, Neal said, she  thought the team could have done a lot worse, but it could have done a better job too.
Team members were all given a Taonga ( treasure) at the end of the session.

SLENZ Update, No 147, November 2, 2009

Kiwi ‘speaks on ‘  Obama world vision panel

Machinima role recognises

Cockeram’s  SL/RL  standing …

The University of Auckland’s Judy Cockeram (SL: Judy-Arx Scribe) (picture, right)  has been recognised  as a leader in  virtual world architecture  by being selected  as one of  four real world architects – from the US, New Zealand and Egypt –  to “star” in a US State Department  machinima discussing  the Obama vision enunciated in Cairo and how it is already being implemented in  Second Life.

President Obama recently promised in his Cairo speech  an online network, facilitating collaboration across geographic and cultural boundaries, something that Draxtor Despres (RL: Bernard Drax), a real life winner of the international ” Every Human Has Rights” media award in France in 2008 and director/producer of the machinima, “Cross Cultural Collaboration In Second Life”,  argues SL has been  doing for some time.Cockeram,Judy1

The quotes by the four architects, along with  excerpts of their Second Life work,  were taken from a recent panel discussion in Second Life on Architectural Design and International Collaboration in a Virtual World (CNN Report).  The event was hosted by the US Department of State on Public Diplomacy Island.  Besides Cockeram, the panelists were:   Amr Attia (SL: Archi Vita) (picture left), architect, Urban Planner and professor of architecture and urban planning at Ain Shams University in Cairo, Egypt; Jon Brouchoud (SL: Keystone Bouchard) (picture, lower right), owner, The ARCH Network and Founder of Studio Wikitecture, based in Madison, Wisconsin; and David Denton (SL: DB Bailey), Architect and Urban Planner located in Marina del Rey, Los Angeles, California.

Cockeram, a senior tutor in architecture, with the School of Architecture and Planning, at the University of Auckland, was speaking  from experience when she told the  Second Life audience drawn from more than  12 countries, that working and learning together in a virtual world “generates empathy” across cultures.Amr Attia

Cockeram first entered Second Life after hearing a presentation by The University of Auckland’s Dr Scott Diener in November last year, which “rang true” for her because  of her experience of having students entering university with good modeling  and drawing skills but little hands-on digital experience, even though members of the so-called “digital native” generation.

The first project Cockeram and her students engaged with  involved support from the US-based  virtual community of practice for nonprofits to explore the opportunities and benefits of Second Life, the  NPC  ( Non- Profit Commons) organisation.

“Right from the start the experience of Second life has been about reaching out and getting away from the introspective, ego-driven architect, ”  Cockeram explained. “The work done in that first project looked at virtual office space and proposed things that were understandable but were not four walls and a flat ceiling.

“When you are building a wall together, rubbing shoulders with another’s  avatar it changes your decision-making. We tend to realise our similarities but we can observe differences and it generates an empathy for each other.”

“Working with such things as sculpties,” she added, “gives them a  different way of thinking about the surface of architecture.”

Second Life also led to  a big change to Cockeram’s  teaching methods.

“Previously I had always insisted on working with computers in the rich environment of  the studio,” she said. “With Second Life the much richer environment for students to respond to means that anywhere is a studio. Second life has led to them understand design decision-making from contextual information.

Today Cockeram has  more than 120 plus students from her classes participating in Second Life on The University of Auckland Second Life islands of Putahi and Kaiako.

And, although her Second Life student body is already cross-cultural with 45 percent Asian, 40 percent Pakeha (New Zealand-born Europeans) and Europeans,  and five percent Maori and Polynesian, Cockeram intends to continue extending the exchanges her students have to include more students and clients from Pakistan to America.

“I believe we are seeing an improvement in the quality of a students ability to lead with design rather than react because of what is easy in a computer package,” she said. ” The virtual world has not interfered with their design decision-making in the way some of the more complex design packages do for early learners in the field.

BrouchardJon

“Cutting edge … design”

Problems she has  overcome include  inappropriate student behaviour in-world  – a number “went absolutely nuts, with no idea how their behaviour was impacting on the rest of the class” at an initial  class with a guest lecturer;   identifying that a student’s work is his or hers, and that the student  in Second Life is the authentic student; and the problem of students leaving “unlabeled objects” littering the landscape. The first problem had been solved, she said,  by establishing  a similar ettiquette in-world to that prevailing on a real life campus, the second had been solved through  use of oral testing, and the third, through policing the issue and stressing the need for labeling in all worlds.

The “unlabeled object” problem has also led her to plan the creation of  an “unlabelled object” finder, which she hopes to include in a Toolbox she will be creating over the southern summer vacation.

Cockeram says that she does not think  that virtual worlds such as Second Life  should be seen only as developing early learner skills.

“Part of my summer  will be spent developing a collection of scripts so we can spend time developing some of the cutting edge of architectural design as well, ” she said.

Next year Cockeram plans  to take 10 to 12 fourth year students, 115  first years, and 115  second years  into Second Life.