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.

 

 

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The SLENZ Update – No 43, January 31, 2009

2.Would you believe Kermit?

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Although I don’t agree with a lot of what she says I would recommend that you should read knowledgeable educationist/researcher Eloise Pasteur’s (pictured above and left below)  reply to  my blog (SLENZ Update No 42) on  the necessity – or not – of providing oneself with a “credible” avatar when either doing ‘real’ business or endeavouring to provide a ‘real’ education in Second Life (http://eloisepasteur.net/blog/index.php?/archives/252-Wouldnt-you-believe-Kermit.html).

To me, using Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message”,   the Second Life avatar –  his, her, its credibility –  and the avatar profile/groups/picks etc is part of that message, reinforcing or devaluing it.  For those of us who might argue that education in Second Life is more powerful than either tele 0r video-conferencing for business  or other forms of e-communication or e-learning because of “presence” it would seem obvious that the credibility of the avatar is all important, unless one is a “kidult” in the virtual world of such virtual world’s as Habbo Hotel or on the teen grid, and even there “presence” in a fantasy sense is important.

Even the creators of video games such as Grand Theft Auto know the value of “presence.”

It is well-known and possibly an unfortunate fact in the real world, outside VWs, that 80 percent of one’s initial perception (judgement) of another individual is based on appearance: That subconscious value  judgment  is made not only  by white male chauvinists in the real world  but also by the sweetest, most progressive, liberal humanitarians no matter how much they attempt to modify their behavior.   To say this doesn’t happen in a virtual world, which is a microcosm of the real world with all its faults,  is to wear blinkers.  No matter whether it is right or wrong, a number of researchers have already established  that those with “power”  “acceptance” etc in Second johnniefbLife are those with the best-looking or most cleverly-created avatars, even if fantasy figures which are in context.  Researchers have also established, at this stage anyway, that avatars with black “skins” are not treated the same way by the denizens of Second Life, as those with lighter skins.

Yes, Eloise, Second Life is like Real Life  (JW pictured RL, right), whether we like or not  and whether or not we can change it. And yes Eloise the visual appearance of the presenter is important to me and other  “ordinary people” – rather than academics –  both in Real Life and MUVEs because that is  where my/our initial value judgment comes from, no matter how much I wish it was otherwise.  The importance of visual appearance to 99.9 percent of the denizens of Second Life and other similar Virtual Worlds –  given the fact that obesity and age are ubiquitous in the Western World, from which most SL users are drawn –  is demonstrated by the lack of  fat, ugly, or aged, ugly avatars, either male or female, among  users, with even a few days experience. The first thing the average user does is get rid of the “noob” skin and then  tinker with their shape and height before picking up clothing.

Eloise, you might not focus on the presenter in Real Life,  but I do,  believing that academics who rely on, and repeat almost line for line,  boring PPT presentations, don’t have anything new to impart and don’t know their material. A  PPT presentation should be no more than an adjunct or an aid to  a presentation: if that is all one relies on for learning/information one doesn’t need the “presence” of either the real person or an avatar, or even need to be in a virtual world for the learning/business process to take place. Virtual Worlds, for better or worse, are about people interacting with each other,  rather than with the magic board or a slew of cryptic PPT slides.

In both worlds a credible presenter and his/her or message will hold one riveted.  One doesn’t look at the clock or out the window. This will become more and more evident as voice  takes over more and more within VWs.

pasteureYour willingness, Eloise, to completely “ignore the appearance of the avatar … because I just don’t look at them” at the presentations you attend would suggest to me that there is no necessity for you to be in a Virtual World  attending those presentations – they could just as easily be done via email/text or other less bandwidth hungry forms of e-learning.

Having been in SL with a variety of avatars for some four years and other VWs/MMORPGs longer I have to agree with Eloise, however,  “that avatar appearance is totally independent of the quality of their mind and the quality of what they have to say.”

That given, however, I am unlikely to listen to a heavy breathing, male, minotaur avatar, with membership of various BDSM, “rape” and Gorean groups in his profile  and a large exposed genitalia, discussing equality for women with anything but a sense of derision if not disgust.  But I too have learned things such as building/terraforming/scripting from fairies, elves, furries, butterflies, herms, males who are females and vice versa  and even “beasts”, on occasion, but not in a “formal” education sense, and only after getting to know them.
Finally, Eloise,  as you say, as  educators, we have a multitude of roles, duties and responsibilities to our learners.

“One of those can be loosely summed up as ‘putting the learners at ease so they can learn,’ ‘ you say, and another “challenging inappropriate behaviour for example bullying, racism and sexism.”

Additionally I would add, no matter how old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy it may seem,  as educator-avatars we must also think of our own appropriate behaviour/appearance/context etc if we are to be wholly effective both in Real Life and Second Life. Both are parts of the Real World. – Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh

The SLENZ Update – No 42, January 28, 2009

Would you believe ‘Kermit?’

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People like to have fun with their avatars but, is a big, green, frog credible as a senior Linden Lab executive (no don’t say it), a large organisation’s Chief Financial Officer authorative as a friendly Beagle pup, or a renowned educator and SL guru believable as a flittery, monarch butterfly?

It’s a shame, when one can be “anything”  in Second Life, that  educators and others in leadership roles, if they want to  achieve anything based around credibility, cannot and should not, in my view, adopt/create avatars that are distracting, disruptive,  incredible, discreditable  or just downright tacky and/or profiles, including picks, that provide a counter-productive message.

I believe, in this period before Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity occurs and we evolve into online beings, that the real life humans behind the screens of all avatars  – particularly students  – are inherently conservative and are conditioned to seeing their educators, even if no longer “the sage on the stage”, as credible representations of earthbound homo sapiens, adhering to an appropriate standards of  appearance, costume, gesture and language.

To me, possibly because of my conditioning (and age),  – and I know this is probably not politically correct – a  frog or a minotaur, a furry anthromorph or a centaur,  a werewolf or a butterfly, a man without a head, a male avatar with an exposed penis or a female avatar with exposed nipples, are at the very  least distracting and at worst destructive of any learning impulse  I or any other student  might have.

The same goes for avatar naming, costuming and profile writing: if an authority figure has a name like “Jerkoff Nightly” ( a name rejected by the Lindens)   is wearing filmy kajira (Gorean slave girl) silks or features in  their picks the stores of Stroker Serpentine,  xCite or a BDSM sim, I probably would not  learn much from him/her either, athough, as some “with-it” educators have said to me,  its obviously my problem rather than their problem

This issue was brought home to me at a recent Linden press conference where the figure who had the most to impart was a large, green frog [pictured above (right) with the knight (centre) and the Beagle (left) plus others].

Another key player was the tiny, armoured knight almost lost  on a stool,  while the Linden Lab CFO , who also had important information to give, was the friendly Beagle.

Geeks may be united in seeing nothing wrong with this sort of roleplaying in “real” situations, be they business or education,  in SL: Geeks, however, no longer represent the majority of people entering virtual worlds. The masses coming in now are real people conditioned by the real world.

The perception of these “reasonable” people  is important.

No matter how much one would hope otherwise we do bring our perceptions with us from real life into the SL world for better or worse. This has been demonstrated on a number of occasions with a lack of equal-treatment by SL residents for dark-skinned avatars. It’s also shown in the disregard some have for SL furries.

I have nothing against  fantasy avatars for fun but educators and business types must remember that their “working” avatar is  yet another tool that they have available  to interact with the world: if they are only there to have fun as  a fantasy figure  it is fine to adopt a fantasy avatar but if they  are in world to impart serious information/work  that they want to be believed then their avatar should be packaged accordingly. In real life  even Heidi Klum would not wear a lingerie to a normal business meeting nor Hilary Clinton a frog costume to a cabinet meeting.

I have no actual research to back my thoughts on avatar credibility but  I have been in virtual world’s long enough to know that the best-looking, attractive, human-like avatars with easy-to-remember names are generally the ones who get the best initial results in social interaction. It then remains for them to hold this position through their communication skills.

No matter how good a communicator one is, the wrong choice of name, avatar or costume or inappropriate words on a profile, I believe, could put one behind the eight-ball, if not get one laughed out of the virtual classroom or business meeting.

That is both a waste of time and money.

What do you think?

Valuable ‘roadmap’

kamimoA valuable addition for educators working in or planning to move into  education in virtual worlds,  the newly-published “Learning and Teaching in the Virtual World of Second Life”, provides a roadmap to SL instructional design, learner modeling, building simulations, exploring alternatives to design and integrating tools in education with other learning systems.

Published in English by the Tapir Academic Press, of Norway,  the book has been edited by Judith Molka-Danielsen (SL: Aklom Haifisch) and Mats Deutschmann  (It’s available for  350,00 kr from http://butikk.tapirforlag.no/en/node/1195).

molka_danielsenjMolka-Danielsen (pictured), one of the more experienced European academics in SL, is associate professor (Førsteamanuensis) with the Department of Informatics at Molde University College (Norway). Teaching and doing research within the Information Management program at the university she leads a research group and manages  Kamimo Education Island in SL (Kamimo Island (134, 162, 25), a virtual platform for education, co-developed by Molde University College,  the University of Kalmar (Sweden) and the University of Central Missouri (USA). The island has been developed by Design Container.

This book, which includes input from some of the smartest educators in virtual worlds from across the real world,  is based on the experiences at Kamimo, the first Scandinavian project to experiment with the design and testing of teaching platforms for life-long learning in SL.  Besides detailing the experiences and lessons learned in that project and from other educational projects in SL the book identifies the gaps in traditional forms of education.

With a preface by Graham Davies the book includes contributions from Mats Deutschmann & Luisa Panichi, on Instructional Design, Teacher Practice and Learner Autonomy;  David Richardson & Judith Molka-Danielsen on Assessing Student Performance;  SLENZ’s Dr Clare Atkins & Mark Caukill on Serious Fun and Serious Learning: The Challenge of Second Life; Lindy McKeown on  Action Learning in a Virtual World;  Bryan W. Carter, on Enhancing Virtual Environments;  Bjørn Jæger & Berit Helgheim on Role Play Study in a Purchase Management Class; Marco Bani, Francesco Genovesi, Elisa Ciregia, Flavia Piscioneri, Beatrice Rapisarda, Enrica Salvatori & Maria Simi, on Learning by Creating Historical Buildings; Toni Sant, on Performance in Second Life: some possibilities for learning and teaching; and James Barret & Stefan Gelfgren, Spacing Creation: The HUMlab Second Life Project.

It concludes with Mats Deutschmann & Judith Molka-Danielsen discussing Future Directions for Learning in Virtual Worlds.

So you need a Holodeck?

I”m indebted to  Thinkerer Melville for showing me just how useful Holodecks can be in saving prims in an education or business environment.  Re-introducing the idea of using a holodeck as a prim miser he created the video above to hammer home his point that  holodeck scenes do not use up prim allocation except when they are in use. It was something that I had forgotten for the moment – but its something that might prove useful for educators looking for another lecture hall or workshop which wont take extra prims when students are not on hand.

He noted that Butch Dae, the inquiring character in the video, had collected a whole simful of holodeck builds, some bought from Novatech where the machinima was shot, and others obtained for free (http://rezzable.com/blog/thinkerer-melville/holodeck-made-business).

Butch can be IMed in world if you are “seeking better/faster/cheaper ways of finding, storing, retrieving information to in turn create knowledge faster.”