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 66, April 8, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT

Foundation Learning Kowhai build begins

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The contrast between the build for The Birth Place (Te Waihi Whanau) and
The Foundation Learning project’s new build is quite striking.

There is a futuristic, almost organic building  growing out of the ground on the Kowhai Island, where the three-pilot   SLENZ Project – Midwifery, Foundation Learning and Orientation – is being created in Second Life.

Being designed/built by SLENZ lead developer Aaron Griffith’s (SL: Isa Goodman) , the “Clothing Centre”  has been designed to be  rezzable-on-demand, like all the Foundation buildings are likely to be.

The “centre” will be used by Foundation Learning students in the pilot programme to choose and put on the appropriate clothing for  job interviews and other interactions  set up by Foundation Learning lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa)  and her colleagues, before being assessed as to appropriateness for purpose by themselves, fellow students and educators.

When the build is finished it will be joined by rezz-at-will “classroom”  “conference” and interview spaces  for use by the students taking part in pilot programme.

The initial building  has been designed by Griffiths in close consultation with Lemon, to ensure relatively low lag – it will contain comparatively prim-heavy clothing, hair and other avatar accoutrements – and for ease of newbie camera use and movement.

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In the beginning …

The ground or first floor has been designated the display area with pose stand changing areas on the balconies on the second floor, closed changing rooms on the third floor and a fourth floor, at the top ,with the ability for a room ( holodeck) to  be moved  or fired 100 metres  into the air for complete privacy, something Lemon considers necessary and which may be in demand because of the cultural and religious diversity of her student body.

“It’s more to cater for those students, mainly female, who are culturally sensitive and do not wish to change their clothes within sight of anyone having the remote possibility of seeing them changing, even as an avatar,” Griffiths commented.

The floors will be connected by easy-to-use TP points.

Lemon, Griffiths said,   had specified a circular building with glass and metal. Working with her  – she had supplied pictures and sketches of her ideas – he had begun with mega cylinders before moving eventually to sculptie prims because they proved both easier to get the desired shapes and also were more attractive.

The build although having a light airy feel because of the arches and  iconic  Aotearoa-New Zealand panels of blue-green, see-through  paua (abalone) shell textures, still has form and substance. It is only 30 metres in diameter.

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Those “paua shell” panels
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Progress … the builder, Isa Goodman, and the “client”, Briarmelle Quintessa,
are working together.

The SLENZ Update – No 45, February 10, 2009

SLENZ pilot progress

An outsider’s view …

The creation and melding together of the design and development phases of the SLENZ pilot programmes has proven a slightly more difficult process for the SLENZ team than initially envisaged.

“We are making progress, albeit slower than I anticipated or would have liked,” joint project leader Terry Neal (pictured right)  said recently. “The focus over the last couple of weeks has been agreeing the processes, terminology and templates that will enable us to work together effectively for the design and development phase of our project.

“Once we have finalised these, we then need to use them,” she said.

photo-terry-1From the outside – and part of my brief is to view the project from the outside – one of the difficulties facing the team producing the three pilots – in  midwifery, foundation learning and Second Life Orientation – has been  the confusing number of platforms (Second Life, IMs, blogs, emails, googledocs, wikis)  being used by team members to disseminate their ideas to each other.

Although the pilots are still at an early stage it appears, at times, that team members are not talking “in the same virtual room”  although this is probably through no fault of their own, and is possibly a feature of every virtual  world “team” effort as opposed to VW individual efforts.  The problem is, however, that the oft-quoted proposition that in virtual worlds the learner is more important than the teacher/researcher/creator might be forgotten, with ever-widening, more ambitious ideas being put forward  and the possibility  that the goals of the pilots might be buried by words.

This is not to say that the ideas are not excellent,  but at times, in my view, grandstanding, reinventing wheels (a New Zealand habit), and widening the scope of a pilot, rather than containing it, can reduce the effectiveness of  a project and lead to the initial aims and goals being, if not  forgotten, glossed over.

The problem appears to be compounded by the fact that SLENZ is a temporary team with the members physically removed from each other who, once the project is over, will go on to do their own things: the academic life blood after all might be said to be publishing papers and individual recognition.

Significant milestones

Basically, I believe, as team members, we need to recognise that each of us will get something more valuable out of the collaborative team effort, rather than from our individual contributions, if we get onto the same page  and work in the same virtual room with the same language, even if on different campuses and with different world views. We will also lessen the workload.

As Neal said in her most recent project update, and this probably applies to all virtual world collaborative education projects, “We need to effectively refine and merge … and agree our terminology because (we) are using quite different terms for the same things.”

Despite the difficulties the team has already  achieved some significant milestones with its initial reports and discussion documents – the SL Literature Review,  written by Dr Ben Salt (research and evaluation), Dr Clare Atkins (joint project leader, pictured lower right), ) and Leigh Blackall (learning designer),  is being picked up by  a noted peer-reviewed virtual world journal – and obviously will achieve other major milestones in the future.

Despite my criticism of the proliferation of communication channels the documents I am alluding to are worth reading, and contain good ideas for anyone working in education or doing research on the creation of learning opportunities in  MUVEs.  With the team currently concentrating  on the midwifery project Blackall has posted his thoughts on the overall process at http://learnonline.wordpress.com/2009/02/04/producing-educational-resources-through-second-life/ and at (http://learnonline.wordpress.com/2009/02/09/slenz-midwifery-ideas-for-stage-1-virtual-birthing-unit/ );  Atkins has used googledocs – although some are not publicly available at the  time of going to press –  to share  “SLENZ User story Stage 1” ( http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dcr62szf_4gnvmm3mg&invite=c7c87wm), drafted guidelines (http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dj2k8bp_19dk3m4vfx&invite and a template) and a technical specifications document (http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dj2k8bp_20cnsg5hc2&hl=en); and Sarah Stewart (lead educator) has put the midwifery pilot into context by detailing what she and her colleagues know of their students, such as learning preferences, motivation and access to technology, and clarifying what the learning objectives will be for each stage (http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/02/thinking-about-stage-1-of-second-life.html) and (http://sarah-stewart.blogspot.com/2009/02/context-of-midwifery-education-and.html)

Unenviable task

There  already has been agreement between Atkins and Todd Cochrane (developer) on such things as a template, naming conventions and version control, both within and outside Second Life.slenz-workshop-0051

Despite the “foundation learning” pilot appearing to be on hold while the midwifery pilot has taken precedence, Merle Lemon (lead educator) has been busy talking to the other academic collaborators to enable her to feed their needs into the pilot as well as determining how to make intra-team communication more effective.

The next major step, according to Neal,  and one might say unenviable task,  is for Atkins to translate the thinking of various members of the team on the birthing unit  into the technical specifications/production plan for further development of the guidelines for the birthing unit and templates.

Salt has done an initial draft of the evaluation process and is currently  completing it in more detail.

Finally, according to Neal, the team needs be ready to seek ethics approval in March.

Neal concluded,  “While our process and template decision-making is taking longer than I had anticipated or hoped, it is worth taking the time to get this right and will set us on a stronger course for the next 11 months.”

-written by Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh

ESSENTIAL READING!

Are avatars really useful?

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This is essential reading and I really mean essential. Even if you don’t read another thing on your computer  this week there are two articles/blogs that as an educator you must read.

I referred to one  in my previous blog (SLENZ Update, No 44)  by Caleb Booker ( ROI in Virtual Worlds 1 – Why Webcams Fail (http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/)

The second is his followup, ROI in Virtual Worlds – Anatomy of an Avatar (http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/02/03/roi-in-virtual-worlds-anatomy-of-an-avatar/)

His thoughts, which he is the first to admit are “off the cuff”, make sense to me on a variety of levels. They are easy to understand and they mirror my own virtual world reality.  That said, they also provoke considerable thought, and I would think will provoke lots of valuable discussion if not changes in attitude.

ROI in Virtual Worlds – Anatomy of an Avatar, is  the second of a series dedicated to answering why virtual worlds are a good alternative to existing technologies;  and how one can  best get a Return On Investment (ROI) from virtual world ventures.

Booker  argues initially that avatars yield returns on several levels: 1. They allow people to “see themselves” taking part in the experience; 2. Your perception of who is participating is greatly enhanced; 3. Open and honest communication between employees is greatly facilitated; 4. You always have an ice-breaker; and 5. You’re always ready for work.

Later in a reply to a comment from  Nic Mitham, of Kzero, he simplifies this in a business environment  to: 1) Real user engagement; 2) Increased customer contact;3) Improved employee relations; 4) Easier initiation of sales contacts; 5) Happier, more productive employees.

And I’m also indebted to Booker for the following  link from Collegehumor.com  which compares avatar creation on the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 consoles.

He comments, “their observations are brief and superficial but what I like about it is that this is very much the knee-jerk reaction from outside the industry echo-chamber -you know, the place where customers come from!”

Ten facets in 70 VWs

intellagirltully1Sarah Robbins (SL: Intellagirl Tully) (pictured at right), as part of her dissertation research, has noted 10 specific facets  that occur in the  70 virtual worlds that  she has studied over the past 18 months. She has published  her useful  chart of them here: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pgKqGR6eOiPOKjMG9f856Sw For more info about the facets: http://ubernoggin.com/archives/383

Robbins (www.ubernoggin.com and http://www.intellagirl.com) is a PhD candidate, Ball State University and director of Emerging Technologies, Kelley Executive Partners, at Indiana University.

The top 11 according to…

Promoting his new ebook , Virtual Worlds for Business Nick Wilson ( pictured) of CleverZebra.com has released an interesting teaser identifying what he considers the top 11 virtual worlds technologies for meetings, training and wilsonnick2collaborative work which he believes will change the way we work. http://cleverzebra.com/virtual-worlds

There are some “old” standbys on the list and some interesting and unusual new choices: his reasons for his choices are thought provoking.

His list includes:   ActiveWorlds, OLIVE, Protosphere, Quaq Forums, Second Life, web.alive, Multiverse, OpenSim, Project Wonderland, 3DXplorer, Vastpark.

The SLENZ Update – No 35, December 22, 2008

SLENZ Workshop:

One viewpoint

slenz-workshop-057Workshop: Building designer, Aaron Griffiths, joint project leader (RL) Terry Neal, and lead educator Merle Lemon work on the details.

Blood, sweat but

no tears

The SLENZ workshop held in Wellington, New Zealand, mid-December achieved the goal set for it – the initial establishment of the learning activities needed to achieve the SLENZ Project objectives.
The three-day event at WelTec ended with all participants agreeing on “a fairly complete overview of what will be done” to create the two New Zealand pilot education programmes in foundation learning and midwifery in Second Life.
All nine participants in the two-day, “closed” part of the workshop, however, also would probably agree that the process of determining the activities, resources and support needed to achieve Stage 1 of the pilots, rough out Stage 2 and develop the Stage 3 vision, needed considerable refinement.
As one of the participants said, “It was a crap process, but we found out ways not to do it.”
But, as joint project leader (Second Life) Dr Clare Atkins and developer, Todd Cochrane, said in their “Principles for Design and Implementation of SL ‘Builds’ in November, that, as with the ‘process for designing learning activities’, “We are working in an area in which there are no clear guidelines or best practices.”
Earlier in their “Process for learning design for the SLENZ project” joint project leader (Real Life) Terry Neal and learning designer Leigh Blackall said that because all involved in the SLENZ project were learning through the project, it was important that “our process for designing learning activities is flexible and engages as many of the participants as possible.
“Our aim is that the people who will pilot the learning activities will have a sense of ownership over the activities, and so their involvement is necessary throughout the process.”

slenz-workshop-006Blood, sweat and no tears … some of the participants in the open session of the workshop.

The facilitators – as were all participants – were heavily involved and all would have left the workshop with both a sense of achievement and ownership of the projects.
And it appears likely that at least one academic publication, which could become a key text in guiding the creation of viable education initiatives in multi-user virtual worlds, will result from the workshop.
The workshop began with a valuable, if at times technically fraught, scene-setting, one-day, open workshop attended by more than 40 people in RL and some 20 in Second Life at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology island of Koru (http://slurl.com/secondlife/Koru/156/122/27).
The Real Life participants were mainly drawn of New Zealand universities and polytechnics.
The Second Life participants included SL education developer Jo Kay, of Wollongong, Australia, and in Second Life Jokaydia, who detailed her Australian activities and University of Arizona, US, students who spoke candidly about their reactions to learning in Second Life as well as answering questions in realtime from the live audience(unedited text script at http://docs.google.com/View?docid=ddbqbfvm_118qn5pmx3).
The morning session included an, at times, fairly volatile discussion of critical perspectives for education within virtual worlds with some participants opposed to the use of virtual worlds for education.
The session was completed with “brainstorming” sessions on the two proposed pilot programmes – Manukau Polytech’s foundation education project led by Merle Lemon and Otago Polytech’s midwifery education, led by Sarah Stewart – which led to some valuable new insights into the projects.
There is no doubt that the SLENZ team benefited from the brainstorming activities which also served to raise awareness of the potential for Second Life to improve adult learning experiences. The documents produced in these sessions were used by the project team in establishing goals and determining how best to go about the creation of the pilots.

slenz-workshop-052Point made: Developer Todd Cochrane tells it how he sees it

During the course of the workshop it was determined that there were actually three pilots – the two education projects and an orientation/education pilot for facilitators and students.
Probably the two key problems which the workshop faced were the differing philosophical leanings and sometimes boundless enthusiasm for other new media which led to some frustrations in the debates, and the lack of Second Life/MUVE experience of some of the key education participants.
This led to some difficulty at times in keeping the workshop focused on relevant Second Life issues and in determining what activities should be left in Real Life, in-on-line learning, print media or machinima.
There were also problems in narrowing down exactly what the educators wanted to achieve through Second Life, possibly because of a lack of experience in virtual worlds.
Finally, although the free-flowing nature of the workshop brought up a considerable number of new and valuable ideas the decision-making process might have been improved with a tighter focus on the targets and what needed to be achieved.
The workshop was the first major function to be held by SLENZ since it secured funding from the New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission to determine the benefits of virtual world education in New Zealand, particularly for adult learners.

More pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/10345904@N08/sets/72157611341636969/