The SLENZ Update – No 83, May 16, 2009

COULD YOU BECOME YOUR AVATAR?

So you want an ‘out-of-body’ experience in Second Life…

Video of an early experiment in virtual out-of-body research.

You might  just be able to become your avatar, or at least  have the illusion that you are, in the not too distant future. It’s all a question of  “presence”. an issue which is hotly debated by educators  in Second  Life and other virtual worlds and which is seen as the key to virtual  world learning success, when compared with other on-line technologies.

A group of  neuroscientists has found that research subjects fitted with goggles that stream video from cameras strapped to another person (or mannequin) can experience that body as their own, not just in a fluffy, philosophical way but with measurable physiological changes, according  to  a report in the open-access journal Public Library of Science One

The paper’s authors, Valeria I. Petkova and H. Henrik Ehrsson of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm  – although they were not the first to do this  sort of research – argued that their work could prove important for future human-robot collaborations — and give hope to those dreaming of uploading their brains after Ray Kurzweil’s forecast Singularity.

“The present findings could have groundbreaking industrial and clinical applications” the neuroscientists  were quoted by  Wired Science late last year as saying. “Experiencing ‘becoming’ a humanoid robot in tele-robotics and feeling ownership of simulated bodies in virtual reality applications would probably enhance user control, realism, and the feeling of ‘presence,’” they added.

The gaming industry,  already taking steps down that road with Mirror’s Edge, which lets players see other parts of their virtual body in motion producing a sensation real enough to induce carsickness, the creation of  the soon-to-be-marketed  mind-reading  headsets – they do have some drawbacks – and the on-going Indian sub-continent development of holographic mobile handsets capable of projecting, capturing and sending 3D images and thus giving one peripheral vision, as it were. The last are expected to be on the market  next year.WillowShenlin

According to  Wired Science, while the research might be biological, the ability to make headway on this centuries-old problem is technological. The development of light-weight head-mounted displays that are capable of displaying real-time video is the key advance in creating this curious body-swapping illusion. The research follows a slate of publications by the same Swedish group and another European team on generating out-of-body experiences using video and virtual reality tools.

“These experiments have demonstrated how remarkably easy it is to ‘move’ a human centre of awareness from one body to another,” they write. “This speaks directly to the classical question of the relationship between human consciousness and the body, which has been discussed by philosophers, psychologists, and theologians for centuries.”
I was pointed to the Wired Science article by SLED lister, Cathy Anderson,  but it was lister and Second Life “presence” guru Sabine Reljic (SL: Willow Shenlin – pictured left) who pointed me again to the 2007 video above and another demonstrating the possibility of the out-of-body experience and of becoming one with your avatar, as well as to the results of  earlier experimentation.

Interestingly Reljic has looked at the  few mobile headsets, currently on the market but found most are “quite disappointing”.

“In some cases, putting the headset on was enough to (make me) realise that the “immersion” was not going to happen – (side vision not taken into consideration, etc,” she said.

Creator of the Rezed group Social Presence in Virtual Worlds,  Reljic, from North Carolina,  is doing  doctoral research focused on social presence as a variable of a successful Second Life  educational experience.

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The SLENZ Update – No 51, March 6, 2009

I’ve seen the future …

I’ve seen the future of virtual worlds and already want to walk the streets. Well not really, but if Ray Kurzweil’s timeline (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Kurzweil)(http://www.kurzweilai.net/meme/frame.html?main=/articles/art0274.html)is right Bruce Branit might be providing us with a glimpse into a future virtual world that is just over the horizon in this stunning and evocative video, “World Builder”.

tizzybettina1It’s not really grassroots education in Second Life or other virtual worlds but I think you will be pleased that you spent nine minutes watching it.

As Not Possible In Real Life founder (Madly, wildly embracing the impossible made possible in Virtual Worlds) SL’s Bettina Tizzy (pictured) agrees this is what “Second Life should be like – and sometimes is” (http://npirl.blogspot.com/2009/03/this-is-what-second-life-should-be-like.html) I’m grateful for her heads up to something I found rather astounding … although only a video.

As the wonderful Bettina said: “For those who have never been a part of a virtual world … and for those of you who have and are sometimes frustrated by the technical inefficiencies, here’s an inspiring glimpse at what content creation is like when everything rocks and rolls.”

The SLENZ Update – No 42, January 28, 2009

Would you believe ‘Kermit?’

pressconf_002

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.”