The SLENZ Update – No 44, February 4, 2009

Strangers: off to the world

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UK-born Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime),  a senior lecturer in the Degree in Arts and Media programme in the School of Arts and Media at Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, NZ-Aotearoa, has had papers on his Masters project accepted for three national and international conferences in February and June.

The papers will be delivered at intercreateSCANZ Symposium, at New Plymouth, in Taranaki, New Zealand, PSI15 Performance Studies International Conference, in Zagreb, Croatia, and the SDHS Society of Dance History Scholars: Topographies: Sites, Bodies, Technologies, at Stanford University, USA. He has  also been named to an international panel to deliver/discuss the paper of Isabel de Cavadas Valverde: Envisioning virtual cartographies for corporeal interaction: dance and performance convergent applications of Second Life 3D Metaverse social environment, at the SDHS Conference at Stanford.

Baker (pictured above with wife Fiona), who has danced and worked with: BodyCartography Project, (USA/NZ) Wilhemeena Gordon, (NZ) Nancy Stark-Smith, State-of-Flux Dance Co, (Melbourne, Australia) Martin Keogh (USA) jzamal Xanitha (USA) and Catherine Chappell – Touch Compass Dance Trust (NZ), is completing a Masters in Art and Design (majoring in dance and video) with AUT University,  Auckland.

His performance-based Masters project, “Company of Strangers – Negotiating Meetings, Exchanges and Conversations in Urban Spaces”, critically explores both in the real world and Second Life the forces of indeterminacy which he maintains are responsible for the dynamics which create the personna of the ‘stranger’ in encounters between people in urban spaces. He uses interventionist dance strategies to prompt and then interrogate the formation, nature and parameters of encounters in designated public places. The experimental movement frameworks employed are informed by the discipline of Contact Improvisation Dance. The working process is documented using a range of video narrative and internet blogs.

The Second Life portion of Baker’s dance project is based on the NMIT/SLENZ island of Koru. His blog is at: http://hoststranger.blogspot.com

Better SL viewer ahead?

On the face of it the churn rate of “newbies” entering Second Life is probably unacceptable in business terms but 15 percent of those trying out Second Life for the first time, deciding to “settle” in world, to my mind, is nothing to get discouraged about.

Given similar problems to those Second Life has had over the years many five-year-old – old hat? – businesses would be pleased with the on-going, steady retention rate. philip_rosedale

Linden Labs’ executives, Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon appear far from discouraged even though they would like to “triple that number,” according to an exclusive report by Ian Lamont, in The Industry Standard. (Story and transcripts http://www.thestandard.com/news/2009/01/30/exclusive-linden-lab-executives-plot-second-life-growth-interface-concerns-persist?page=0%2C0&source=nlt_daily)

Both Rosedale (pictured right) and Kingdon (pictured left) said in the Lamont interview that on-going, significant work to make the user interface less complex would have a huge impact on the retention rate of the virtual world.kingdon2

Singling out search, the user interface and new user orientation as needing major improvements, to up the on-going user retention rate, Rosedale told Lamont, “We need to collapse the orientation experience on learning the interface down to a 30-minute timeframe. We’re not there yet.”

Going on to describe the current interface as “overwhelming,” Rosedale said, “The basic UI of the software also needs to change. “It has too many pixels,” he said referring to the buttons, numbers, and other data presented to users on the screen. “They’re all kind of demanding your attention — your [Linden] dollar balance, your inventory window, all the buttons on the bottom bar, chat and text that are visible in the window, that’s asking something of you, blue pop-ups that are coming up.”

Rosedale said that Second Life had moved beyond an emerging application for technology-savvy users. “There is a lot more diversity in use, demographics and behavior in Second Life today than there was, say, at the end of 2003,” he said.

Kingdon added. “There is a very compelling set of activities that virtual worlds are incredibly powerful for. They erase geographies, they allow for a type of interaction that you can’t get in the real world and they bring with them really interesting economic and business opportunities for users.”

Kingdon detailed localisation projects for countries in Europe, Asia, and South America, and cited in-world training and remote meetings as compelling activities for companies. Both he and Rosedale portrayed Second Life as a competitor to enterprise video conferencing, which they believe is unable to match Second Life’s ability to make people feel comfortable interacting with other remote users.

VW education/meetings do work

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On Mark Kingdon’s case (above) for the benefits of holding real world meetings in virtual worlds Metaverse developer Caleb Booker has provided a compelling argument for the use of virtual worlds like Second Life for real world education environments and meeting spaces.( http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/)

I have to agree with Wagner Au  in New World Notes (http://nwn.blogs.com/) that up until now, “the notion that the professional world should prefer meeting in the metaverse over speakerphones or web cams or other technologies seemed roughly crazy.”

He based this on the assumption that  in-world meetings put on by companies like IBM and Microsoft “were mostly limited to the early adopters already familiar with Second Life.”

However, Au goes on to say, that Booker lays out his reasoning lucidly for why the professional world should change its view through comparing being “close” to  people in an avatar sense to getting the “close-talker” feeling of  being trapped counting the other speaker’s nostril hairs, as in the Lyndon Baines Johnson picture above or a la webcam, and not being able to look away.

Suffice to say, Caleb argues cogently that Virtual space experiences work better than a webcam experience because one can maintain some “personal space”;  whatever learning mode one is in, chances are one will do fine;  and the experience fills one’s field of vision far more readily.

Read Caleb’s article: its one of the best expositions on just why education as opposed to other forms of elearning WILL work in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

Kermit for the third time..

intellagirltully

My final word on the saga of  the believability of Kermit. Intellagirl Tully (real life Sarah Robbins) is recognised as one of the foremost researchers/educators operating in Virtual Worlds. She probably has thought more about academic identity in a non-academic world than most other people. I’m indebted to a SLED list poster for pointing me to her “enjoyable and insightful” piece for the SLCC Education Workshop in 2006 titled, ” ‘Image Slippage’: Navigating the Dichotomies of an Academic Identity in a Non-Academic Virtual World.” You can read it at: http://secondlife.intellagirl.com/SLCC-Robbins.doc

Is the writing on the SL wall?

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The on-going debate inside the walls of Linden Lab and among Second Life educators and others on the benefits or not of merging the carefully policed, but poorly-patronised Teen Grid with the well-patronised adult grid, has been brought into sharper focus by MySpace’s decision to remove the profiles of about 90,000 US-registered sex offenders.

The question is not whether Second Life can survive the addition of a teenage group of possible hell-raisers (grin) but whether it can survive the imposition of more stringent controls such as proof of age, identity, location and possible background checks being placed on the general population of Second Life, things which may be required by some US regulators to ensure the safety of the teens.

Personally I’m not a proponent of the Nanny State and think this would be a step too far. I have enjoyed, for better or worse, the “anything goes, frontier” feel of Second Life – even the griefers – for the past four years and hope to continue to be surprised and astounded by the activities/art/works of my fellow residents for years to come, no matter what their real life backgrounds.

Proof of age is currently not mandatory within Second Life and is required only for specific “adult” areas – I’ve only come across one proof-of-age-barred area over many hours of exploration – but given the general in-world penchant for privacy I don’t think the introduction of mandatory proof-of-age on the general grid would be a good thing.

[Interestingly the Linden Lab ban on casinos and sexual age-play among adults has, as predicted, reportedly only served to drive these activities underground.]

The thoughts on this issue were sparked by comments made by Connecticut Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal (pictured above at an unrelated occasion, but appropriate-looking “friend”) who initiated the release of the MySpace figures which were almost double the number that News Corporation-owned MySpace officials originally announced last year. (http://preview.tinyurl.com/c62qqs)

Blumenthal said the “shocking revelation” backed up his campaign to ensure that social networking sites should be barred as “playgrounds for predators”. “

Almost 100,000 convicted sex offenders mixing with children on MySpace is absolutely appalling and totally unacceptable,” he said. “For every one of them, there may be hundreds of others using false names and ages.”

Blumenthal said the new data unmasked what he called MySpace’s “monstrously inadequate counter-measures” and noted he would continue “to fight for reforms and safeguards at MySpace and other social networking sites to protect children, including age and identification verification.

“I urge MySpace and the social networking industry to end their resistance to age and identify verification,” he said.

One wonders how long it will be before he and his fellow travelers look at virtual worlds, now that social networking and virtual worlds are coming together.

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The SLENZ Update – No 24, November 12, 2008

SL learning “fun”

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Second Life provides options for multi-modality in communication that “make learning fun – always a desired outcome,” according to two Finish researchers.
This was only one of the findings from their recently completed in-depth study of distance learning in Second Life, published recently in First Monday, the peer-reviewed journal of the University of Illinois (Chicago). http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2178/2033
Reflecting other research Kim Holmberg and Isto Huvila (both have researcher/lecturer roles in Finland’s Department of Information Studies, Åbo Akademi) found that, although virtual learning is reshaping what happens in the classroom and will be a valuable add-on learning tool in the future,  Second Life and other virtual worlds can never fully replace in-class learning.
But they said, “To place Second Life, Web-based learning environments and face-to-face education in order according to which one is the best is hardly useful.

“According to the results of this study, the three learning environments compete very well with each other,” they said. “There are benefits in face-to-face education and in real physical presence that are difficult to achieve in other learning environments.
“Education in Second Life is closer to face-to-face education than traditional methods in distance education that are based on asynchronous communication and two-dimensional media. Second Life provides options for multimodality in communication (voice, chat, gestures, space) that make learning fun – always a desired outcome.”
The researchers said they were convinced that the concept of interreality – the integration of physical and virtual worlds – is “an advantage in distance education, if it can bring distance education closer to face-to-face education.”
Interestingly of the 30 students that participated in the study of a course in information studies – 28 female, two male – few had difficulty navigating through SL and most felt that it was superior to other Web-based learning environments.
Second Life was used as a platform to deliver lectures and as a place for organising group assignments and having discussions.
“One reason why the barrier to participation in Second Life was lower may be the fact that SL provides means for multimodal communication, even in-world,” the two researchers said.
“Students could use text-based chat inside SL to ask questions and participate and the teacher could answer and respond at a suitable time without interruption. It is possible to communicate through different channels at the same time, and students can use a channel that best suits them. Another possible explanation might be that the use of avatars gives students some level of anonymity with students ‘hiding’ behind their avatars.
But they added, provided that participating face-to-face education does not require too much travelling and learning outcomes are satisfactory, “Second Life does not necessarily provide any significant benefits, at least not when using it only as a platform for lectures and teamwork.
“When considering distance only as a physical measure of separation, Second Life provides a means to overcome it. The existence of multimodal and non-interfering means of communication and socialisation by using chat, instant messages and voice calls in personal and group interaction provides users a wider range of possibilities to communicate than in face-to-face sessions.”

Browser wars?

My belief that the creation of a universal generic browser (carrying assets) will be the key to the widespread adoption of virtual worlds received somewhat of a setback this week with Wagner James Au reporting in Newworldnotes, about a leading open source developer creating a non-SL compatible viewer.
Asking whether there was a fork ahead in the road to the Metaverse (http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2008/11/a-fork-in-the-m.html#more) he wrote about KirstenLee Cinquetti’s, development of the Openlife R16 viewer, (pictured, courtesy nwn) cinquettikirstenleewhich, although based on the original open source code of the SL viewer, only works with Openlife.
Au said the move was significant because the work by Cinquetti, previously renowned for her SL-compatible viewers, especially her dynamic lighting-enabled Shadowdraft viewer, could complicate attempts by Linden Lab, IBM, and other organisations to create full interoperability between Second Life and OpenSim servers as well as possibly lead to browser wars a la the early days of the net.

SL prize details

Every educator believes they are working not only for the good of their students but also for the good of the world and even the universe.
Well, Linden Labs has now allowed them – as well as every other Second Life resident – to compete in a “superlative achievement” award in what would appear to be a made for education prize opportunity (http://lindenlab.com/lindenprize)
Robin Linden and Everett Linden gave further details of the Linden Prize in SL this week. The prize will see one Second Life resident or team receive US$10,000 (paid in $L) for an innovative inworld project “that improves the way people work, learn and communicate in their daily lives outside of the virtual world.”
When originally announced four months ago by Mitch Kapor the prize was described as rewarding “superlative achievement” exemplifying the mission of “elevating the human condition” through using SL.
“We expect and want to create a wide funnel of people thinking, ‘Hey that might be me,'” said Everett Linden (Everett Harper in RL and Linden’s Director of Community Initiatives).
He said entries were expected from people in healthcare, people-creating communities with real impact, scientists with psychological studies, people with diplomacy projects, and architecture among other things.
“The key thing is that can you document tangible evidence of improving and having a good impact on people’s lives, and I say that broadly,” he said. “And it’s got to be compelling and high-quality, from compelling to aesthetics to technical to pure execution. It should really have a sense of being influential to creating future development across virtual worlds into the real world. ” Applications close January 15, 2009, with the winner and finalists announced no later than April 30, 2009.

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SL Community

For those of you who missed it previously Jennifer Ragan-Fore (SL:Kittygloom Cassady), SLEDcc Co-Chair, has again provided the slurl of the streaming pages and blogs of the successful “edu track” of the Second Life Community Convention in Tampa. http://sledcc.wikispaces.com/Audio+Visual+Archives; http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=blog+sledcc08&btnG=Search; Flickr uploads http://www.flickr.com/groups/sledcc08; RezEd discussions http://www.rezed.org/ ; and tweets http://twitter.com/sledcc .

Kemp on SL strength

Building community in Second Life is “really a matter of fostering user ownership and getting users involved,” says Jeremy Kemp, assistant director of San Jose State University’s SL Campus and wellknown virtual world guru. “That’s the strength of Second Life,” he said, “it’s a world created by users.”
And, in Second Life, according to Kemp, where a group of students meets at the same time online, there’s a sense of embodiment, a feeling of being in the classroom and a sense of presence.
“They get the feeling of being there,” says Kemp, and “they can see me in the classroom.”
Kemp expressed this view to Samantha Cleaver in an article in the ecommercetimes on Virtual Learning and the Avatar Generation – diverse issues in higher education, which looks at distance learning up close. http://www.ecommercetimes.com/story/web20/65082.html?wlc=1226309206&wlc=1226353422

Events

November 17, 1-5pm (SL time) “Real World Impacts from the Virtual World” including a “sneak preview” of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s new sim “Foundations” should be of interest to educators and researchers. Interactive events covering how groups use virtual spaces like Second Life to build opportunities in preserving native peoples’ cultures, creating accessible spaces for people with disabilities, helping obese people make healthy life choices and teaching underprivileged youth about paleontology and science. Venues: (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Foundations/119/233/36) and the neighboring archipelago that includes the Network Culture Project, Justice Commons (http://slurl.com/secondlife/The%20Justice%20Commons/134/130/29) and Aloft Nonprofit Commons (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Aloft%20Nonprofit%20Commons/88/52/23/).

November 18, 2008, 7-8am (SL time) – Edward Lee Lamoureux (pictured at right), associate professor, Multimedia Program and Department of Communication, Bradley University) (SL:Professor Beliveau) participant in the recent lamoureuxInternational Distance Learning Day event. will share a portion of his IDLD talk with the Healthcare Education group (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Health%20Eduisland/174/144/25) Info on Lamoureux http://slane.bradley.edu/com/faculty/lamoureux/website2/

November 28-29, 2008 – Australasian Virtual Worlds Workshop 2008, EN 101, Swinburne University, Melbourne, Australia, and selected locations in SL. Keynote speakers include: Larry Johnson (CEO, NMC), Chris Collins (Director of Enterprise Business Systems, Linden Lab) and Bruce Joy (CEO, Vast Park) This workshop builds upon foundations established by the Second Life Discovery Day held in 2007 at Monash University, Australia. Registration for presenters and students is A$20 and for other participants A$50. In-world attendance slurls will be emailed following registration. http://avww.org/files/AVWW%20programme%20Panel%20and%20Presenters.pdf