SLENZ Update, No 132, August 25, 2009

Virtual world experiences …

Do SL memories  have same

quality as RL memories?

A “personal” view
sailwith wendy_001A question of memory … sailing on the Dreaming Sea, Daedelus, in SL

There  is no question one can use  a virtual world to learn or train  but there is a question still hanging over what educational benefits MUVES can provide when compared with other educational electronic learning techniques and face-to-face Real Life teaching.

There also is the question whether virtual worlds can be separated from Real Life as a stand-alone teaching aid, particularly in distance education, or whether they are just another useful tool in the education toolkit;  just another classroom/space on the  Real Life campus?

These thoughts were brought to mind  by the recent  blog by SLENZ co-leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel)  on “The barriers to using Second Life” and the PookyMedia  machinima promoting midwifery student use of the SLENZ Project’s pilot Second Life midwifery education programme at Te Wāhi Whānau, The Birth Place, on Kowhai, being run in conjunction with Otago Polytechnic.

The conjunction of the two sparked a discussion with my three-year, virtual-world, travelling companion, Wendy Steeplechase (pictured right), who believes that the  “memories”  created in Second Life, because of the nature of virtual world “immersion”,   have the same “feel, qualities and weight of real life memories” when compared with the memories created by more passive  entertainment/information delivery such as reading a book or watching television or a  movie.

This is important when one considers the role of memory in learning.

“For me,” Wendy said, “those more passive forms of information input don’t create the strength of the memories created by Second Life. I would never  confuse a memory I have of reading something in a book  with me doing it in Real Life. But it does happen  to me in Real Life that I sometimes don’t know whether the conversation took place, I saw the place, or the event happened in Second Life  or Real Life.

“Everybody talks about Real Life versus Second Life as though the two can never meet but in actual fact Second Life is a part of Real Life. The interaction between Real People in the virtual world means the  memory you create, the programming that goes into your head is more permanent:  you perform the action or interaction  and it becomes part of you, part of your Real Life memory.”

But that’s because of the 3 Dimensional,  graphical quality isn’t it?wendyA_006

She bridled. “Actually the 3D graphics and animations are a bit of a red herring because the great value of virtual worlds like Second Life lies in the realtime interaction between people/individuals  remotely.”

“In business I have found people very leery about the use of web cams,” Wendy who is “immersed “in Second Life  but also controls large Telecons in Real Life on an almost a daily basis,  said. “People do not like to do live video in a science/business environment. But the level of anonymity and  the artificial, perceived  (safety) barrier one gets with an avatar within a virtual world makes people more comfortable with a virtual world than with video conferencing, where everyone sits rigid and doesn’t really dare to relax or move naturally.

“This comfort level is evidenced by  the relationship situation in virtual worlds where people get so close to each other so quickly. It is also evidenced by the fact that virtual world residents  are comfortable  exploring alternative lifestyles and places  they would never even consider doing or visiting in a million years in Real Life.

“It’s less scary to interact with other people in here (SL),” she said. “They (we) think, “People can’t really see the real me so how scary can it be?’

“The ability to interact with this ‘safety barrier’ in place makes virtual worlds far more compelling and palatable than doing the same thing in Real Life or watching videos or movies,” she said.

The big negative of virtual worlds for Wendy is the fact that avatars, except for walking,  can only move in prescribed animations. For instance they can’t point at things with their hand or fingers; and their arms, except in prescribed animations, cannot  be moved. This, she believes, works against true roleplay learning in Second Life for many applications. For instance, she said, as a pregnant woman having a baby she would want to be able to point to where the pain is and the Real Life midwife would need to understand this.

For her – and she is at pains to point out she is not an educator – one of the most compelling training uses of Second Life is the international border crossing simulation created by Loyalist College, of  Ontario, Canada.

It works, she believes, because the  two partipants in the roleplay are fixed in space and time and do not move very much. She views the interview room of the SLENZ Project’s Foundation Learning pilot, with  its fixed avatar and fixed interviewer, in the same light, although neither Loyalist College nor the SLENZ pilot takes great advantage of the 3D environment for their roleplay.

Critical  of my view that academics need to be “immersed” before they can “champion” Second Life as an educational tool or teach in Second Life, Wendy believes that not everyone is capable of becoming “immersed” in a virtual world.

“Just as there are different learning styles,” she said, ” there are different styles of being. Not everyone will ‘get’ virtual worlds, no matter how hard they try. I’ve come across many, many residents who have spouses or partners who think it is absolutely stupid and a waste of time, even after they try it, and even if they really want to share the experience.

“It’s unfortunate in those cases but that is the way it is:  for educators/businesses virtual worlds can only ever be one tool in a toolkit which might suit some and not suit others.

“Virtual Worlds are just another room  of Real Life and  a useful adjunct to it, if needed,” she said. “I think considering them separate from Real Life limits their usefulness.” – Johnnie Wendt/John Waugh

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Memories of departure  …  a Rollo Kohime performance
at Wellington Station in SL

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SLENZ Update, No 128, August 16, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

There is a difference between

immersion and  activity …

foundation_utdsom2Learning in Dallas …  Snowflake Lannock has a giftbox  for Aotearoa-NZ learners.
foundation_utdsom6Learning in Dallas  … virtually  speaking. [All Pictures: Merle Lemon]

Sometimes one listens to the  presentations  and reads the publicity  about  a person’s role in the world – any  world, real or virtual – and fails to  see  the difference between commitment  and involvement, between  being immersed in life  and just being active … and often noisy.

Those who play a full role in life – real or virtual – might  identify with  the old story of the breakfast plate  loaded  with bacon and eggs: the pig who “donated” the bacon was committed, the fowl  who laid the egg might have been active, but was only involved.

I believe there  are many “involved” in  virtual worlds –  builders, technicians, academics  and educators, making names  for themselves as “experts” and who appear to be able to talk-the-talk  and use the right jargon – who are not “immersed” and not committed to virtual worlds and in actual fact never will walk-the-walk of real virtuality, and do not understand  what being “immersed” in a virtual world really means.

They only pay lip service to the idea of  virtual immersion – only entering virtual life  for “work”, rather than “learning” to live  within it.

They are there because they see that being on the virtual world band wagon provides a career-enhancing opportunity. They will invariably move on to the  next career-enhancing fad as soon as it comes into their view, and is greeted with wonder by the chattering classes. They will then become the critics, the doom sayers of the old wave, and the “promoters” of another new wave.

foundation_janedaughterGetting into a virtual world  … educators Jane Field and daughter.

Manukau Institute of Technology lead educator for the SLENZ Project, Merle Lemon (pictured  right) (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) is not like that: since joining the SLENZ Project team less than 12 months ago she has quietly immersed herself in Second Life and become one with it. For her the suspension of disbelief is part and parcel of immersion and  an integral part of learning, and the best way of providing the best learning opportunities possible in a virtual world.Lemon, merle2

It is very difficult to get her to promote herself or her role but  tomorrow (Monday)  she will launch a Foundation Learning programme which will  eventually see  about 150 New Zealand students, ranging in age from 18 to 45,  “virtually” acquiring some of the skills needed to get a job or further education and training in the “real world”.

To this end  she staged an all-day  face-to-face training exercise for the  Foundation Learning team in the Learning Technology Centre at MIT South Campus early this month and has written about it, albeit probably reluctantly, on her blog, Foundation interviewing with SLENZ.

foundation_teresusietaniaSomewhere in a world … Terry Neal, Dr Susie Jacka and Tania Hogan.

The training workshop which began with a Karakia  (traditional Maori prayer that both welcomes and brings everyone together) was attended by SLENZ Project co  leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel),;  Maryanne Wright (SL: Nugget Mixemup), and Tania Hogan (Tania Wonder) from MIT; Jane Field (Morgana Hexicola) from Otago Polytechnic with her daughter; Vicky Pemberton (Sky Zeitman); Martin Bryers (SL: Motini Manimbo) from Northland Polytech; and Dr Susie Jacka (SL: Littoral Farshore) from Unitec.

The presenters from around the world included:  Jenny Wakefield (SL: Snowflake Lannock) of the Dallas School of Management at the University of Texas,  who gave instruction in communication skills, use of contextual menus, handling the inventory, more complex movements, location and SLurls, camera controls, and security issues;  Second Life’s Pacifico Piaggio, a faculty member from the University of the Pacific, and Second Life resident Doran Horngold, an elementary school librarian from Houston, Texas, who  passed on her collection of note cards with teaching resource SLurls and information.

“The workshop provided a great opportunity to gel as a team, to learn skills and to share ideas, ” Merle says. ” The day was tiring but rewarding. It provided all collaborators with the reassurance that they would never be on their own, and that there is a support structure soundly in place.”

Merle could have added that she, with her  hard-won knowledge of virtual world immersion, is one of the major  foundations of  that sound support structure.  But that is not something she would say.

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What was the  question?- Martin Bryers  listens to the real world
answer from Vicky Pemberton

SLENZ Update, No 127, August 13, 2009

SLENZ Project

Arwenna, Petal find the  light

at the end of the SL Tunnel …

Sarahmidwif“Authenticity of the scene” … inside the Birth Centre. (picture Sarah Stewart)

“The first words I heard were, ‘This is so much FUN …’

The listener was Arwenna Stardust (RL: SLENZ Project co-leader Dr Clare Atkins) and the words were from one of the midwife trainees “learning real lessons” at the Otago Polytechnic  Birth Centre on the Second Life SLENZ  island of Kowhai:  they summed up just what learning in a virtual world should be.

Arwenna, in the blog that  she doubted she  would ever be able to write “many times over the last few months””,  details how she was able to watch and listen in as the first of the midwifery students used the birth centre.

Her post entitled  “Finally – it all comes together! Midwives and SL” is  inspirational.  It demonstrates  again there is really light at the end of the virtual world education/training  tunnel.

Coupled with  lead educator Sarah Stewart’s (SL: Petal Stransky) post, “Students’ first experience of the Second Life normal birth scenario,” Arwenna’s post shows that, in Clare’s words,  “this is perhaps the closest (student midwives)  will get …  to the ‘real’ world  (for some time) and for them it seemed real but it also allowed them to make mistakes, ask for reassurance from Sarah and … to learn from her instruction and guidance.”Stewart, Sarah

For her part, Sarah (pictured right) says, “They were able to engage with a scene that will face them many times as a ‘real life midwife’ …  the beauty of this scenario and role play in Second Life is that students can experience the authenticity of the scene and learn from it, but are unable to do any harm to the woman. And because they have supporting visual tools and resources the role play is a lot more immersive than it would be if they were carrying out the role play in the classroom.”
But read both posts for yourself. I think you will find them worthwhile, particularly if you are feeling disheartened by the perceived difficulties with launching  an education or training programme in a virtual world. There is a light at the end of the virtual tunnel.

The Midwifery Pilot, as part of the Otago Polytechnic’s School of Midwifery, is one of three pilot programmes being run by SLENZ Project, which is funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand.

The SLENZ Update – No 123, August 07, 2009

THE COUCH IN THE COMPUTER

Virtual psychology, therapy

to get own  OLIVE world

InWorld

Using the On-Line Interactive Virtual Environment (OLIVE™) virtual world platform from Forterra Systems, InWorld Solutions™, of Palo Alta, California,  has developed a virtual world specifically designed for behavioral healthcare.

Created for use by clinical institutions and individual therapists, the online application, InWorld, has been designed to  overcome emotional and cognitive barriers to therapy, counseling, and education by engaging clients and mobilising their active participation.

Like health and medical applications in Second Life, InWorld can also be used for therapist training and supervision. Although in a different virtual world it will join a number of pioneering medical training and health care applications being run in Second Life such as  the SLENZ Project’s midwifery education pilot program being run by  Otago Polytechnic,  Auckland University’s Virtual Medical Centre,  and  a myriad of other universities and organisations around the world who are doing pioneering medical and healthcare work in  MUVEs.

The InWorld application was scheduled  to be unveiled in Toronto, Canada,  today, Friday,  at an American Psychological Association (APA)  117th Annual Convention  plenary session entitled Next Stop: Virtual Psychology and Therapy.

“We founded InWorld Solutions to bring new technology to the field of behavioral healthcare,” said InWorld Solutions co-founder and CEO Walter Greenleaf, a pioneer in medical virtual environments and a Stanford University-trained research scientist specialising in behavioral neuroscience and cognitive rehabilitation.

“I’m excited about the convergence of several technical and social trends that enable us to provide InWorld today: the advancement of virtual environment technology, the penetration of broadband Internet, the affordability of computing power, and the growing adoption of virtual worlds,” he added.

Les Paschall, InWorld Solutions co-founder and CEO of CFG Health Systems, a 450-clinician behavioral healthcare provider in Marlton, New Jersey, said, “The potential demand for this kind of program is enormous. InWorld is designed to manage a wide range of disorders, and we’re seeing unprecedented levels of engagement and participation in our first use with clients who suffer from oppositional defiance disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as patients dealing with issues of anger management and substance abuse.”

The pair claimed that  InWorld is the first and only product to offer therapists a complete solution by combining a virtual world with important clinical functions such as session notes, appointment calendar, clinical illustrations, a clinical manual, and the management of avatars, the personalized characters used by therapists and their clients.

Complements traditional therapy

Interactions use speech, so keyboard skills are not required. Sessions are recorded and can be saved for review and playback from different viewing perspectives.

It complements traditional talk therapy, helping the therapeutic process to go deeper and progress more rapidly for individual, family, and group therapy. In addition, InWorld can increase access to behavioral healthcare by allowing therapists and clients to meet in the same or different locations.

It was first used in residential care facilities for teens more than two years ago and was found to be a successful treatment option, making it possible to engage patients in the therapeutic process in ways that not only enable therapy, but facilitate faster progress.

In every setting where it has been used, clinicians and patients have reported, according to the company, that it is an important addition to the tools available for the management and treatment of behavioral health.

InWorld, which runs on the Windows operating system and requires broadband Internet access, will be available for download from the InWorld Solutions website in October 2009 at an introductory subscription-based pricing of  US$95 per month per clinician.

See also:  Use of Virtual Environments in Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and  here.

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The SLENZ Update – No 111, July 08, 2009

New spirit of NZ tertiary ‘cooperation,

collaboration’ across  virtual  worlds

ADA Keynote Conversation 001-1

ADA Symposium Poster

With New Zealand tertiary institutions – polytechnics and universities – sometimes at loggerheads with each other  its good to see a  spirit of cooperation and collaboration in their working with  and within virtual worlds.

This was brought home to me 10 days ago when The 6th Aotearoa Digital Arts Symposium, Critical-Digital-Matter, supported  by  the Victoria University School of Design, of  Wellington,  New Zealand, and by Creative New Zealand, Enjoy Public Art Gallery, None Gallery, De Balie Centre for Culture and Politics, Amsterdam, Leonardo Education Forum, and Otago Polytechnic, chose  Mike Baker’s (SL: Rollo Kohime) Wellington Railway Station build on the Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Second Life  island of Koru, as  one of the venue’s for a keynote international debate.

This was as part of the three-day symposium’s examination of  the critical intersections between digital materials and art practice in a bid to determine the relationship of the digital to matter. Other issues explored, included:  How do we forge connections beyond art practices? And, what is the role of critical discourse in contemporary art practice?

The symposium featured a keynote presentation by internationally-renowned sound and intermedia artist Phil Dadson, and a remote conversation with London-based media theorist Matthew Fuller via De Balie, the centre for Culture and Politics in Amsterdam.

The “Keynote Conversation” was distributed through real life and Second Life as a live broadcast between London, Amsterdam and Wellington with projections screened at ‘Debalie’ in the centre of Amsterdam, on a screen at Goldsmiths College in London and Victoria University in Wellington. Interestingly, Victoria University leases space in the real life Wellington Railway Station, looking down upon the concourse space in which Baker have been carrying out his dance work for the past two years.

The initiators of this event were Eric Kluitenberg (Amsterdam) , Su Ballard (Wellington) and Matthew Fuller (London) with additional guests.

The other conference sessions included materiality in digital art; developing critical discourse in a small digital arts community; and forging connections beyond art. A wide range of artists and researchers from Wellington and around New Zealand presented their current projects.

ADA Discussion 006-2

Conversation across the world.

The new spirit of collaboration between tertiary institutions in the virtual world field in New Zealand was noted by the  joint leader of the SLENZ Project, Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust) at a recent regular SLENZ team meeting on Koru.

But it is also expressed in the cooperation and collaboration taking place  in what is scheduled to become the new New Zealand national virtual world grid, ONGENS, a development virtual world project which was initially launched by Otago and Canterbury Universities.

Although still virtually just out of OpenSim embryo  the ONGENS  virtual grid’s collaborators already include  Auckland University (12 sims), Weltec, NMIT and SLENZ among others.

The ADA symposium followed another successful Second Life  presentation by Mike Baker to the PSI#15 conference, in Zagreb, Croatia, from Koru’s Wellington Railway Station  (Baker as Rollo pictured below) which is becoming known in academic and dance circles around the world for his  “In the Company of Strangers – Negotiating the parameters of Departure in Urban Spaces; a study of Indeterminacy and the Roaming Body.”

The title of his Zagreb presentation with participants both in Second  Life and real life was: “Misperformance: Misfiring, Misfitting, Misreading.” The title appeared rather fitting given the trauma of a previous presentation at Stanford where Second Life crashed during the key part of his address. Fortunately he was able to finish in Skype.

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The SLENZ Update – No 103, June 24, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT PROGRESS

‘Machinimas’ show the benefits,

comfort in learning  virtually

It’s often difficult for an outsider – especially one with little experience in virtual technology –  to get a real impression of what happens in an education environment in Second Life and just what the benefits can be.

As part of the on-going SLENZ Project, Midwifery Pilot lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) and Foundation Learning Pilot lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) have attempted to show  those benefits  with the recent release of  two machinimas, which are worth looking at.

The first, Te Wahi Whanau 2 ( the second video from the Midwifery Pilot team) demonstrates  the benefits both in Second Life and Real Life of building  and using an architect-designed “ideal”  Birthing Centre like that  on the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Uploaded to YouTube by “Debdavis5” (Dr Deborah Davis, principal lecturer in Midwifery at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand)  the machinima displays the build  of “Te Wahi Whanau: The Birth Place” by Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) .   “The Birth Place” is used in the Bachelor of Midwifery programme at Otago  and also aims to inform Second Life residents about the importance of space/place in facilitating physiological birth. The machinima is also on the SLENZ Project website here.

The second video,  Bridging Education: Interview skills @ SLENZ,   by Merle Lemon, of the Manukau Institute of Technology, is somewhat different in that it is designed specifically to show Foundation Learning  tutors why  their students will benefit from the use of Second Life to improve their interview skills.

The video, which is also available at the SLENZ Project website,  illustrates the difference between a real life practise interview situation and a Second Life interview situation.

The SLENZ Update – No 89, May 25, 2009

Distance education with a difference

Otago Midwifery students to learn

about birthing in virtual world

Birthing Centre_002

Today, for the first time,  New Zealand midwifery students began  to enhance their regular study programme with learning in the virtual world of Second Life.

The 27 first year students and 23 second year students were introduced to the Otago Polytechnic’s virtual “model” birth centre (Te Wāhi Whānau), on the Government-funded SLENZ Project’s Second Life virtual island of Kowhai.

The students will be joined by another 15 third-year students in June as the School of Midwifery further develops the “blended delivery tools” it is using in its newly-revised midwifery education programme. Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (CPIT) and midwifery students will also join the virtual world part of the programme in June.

The students range in age from their 20s to 40s, with a variety of life experiences and varying degrees of computer literacy.

According to Dr Deborah Davis, the school’s principal lecturer, students will eventually access The Birth Centre from home via the Internet through Broadband links.

In February Otago Polytechnic in collaboration with CPIT began a new “flexible” programme which allows the students to remain in their home town or community while accessing course material on line and working alongside local midwives and women and meeting for face-to-face tutorials. Their virtual world experience will be part of this.

‘Intensives’ face-to-face

“They are supported by a midwife from their area who provides face-to-face tutoring and support,” Dr Davis said, adding that these students travel to the polytechnic for “intensives” (two weeks, four times/year) where they “focus on skills and other learning that is more suited to face-to-face” teaching.

Dr Davis said the virtual Birth Centre would also “provide an important learning opportunity for second-year students, who are currently focusing on the physiology of normal birth.

“While students are currently engaged in real life midwifery practice they may not have the opportunity to facilitate physiological childbirth in a home or home-like environment … we hope that the virtual birth centre will provide them with an immersive experience and one in which they start to feel the sense of responsibility and accountability that comes with being a registered midwife.”

Dr Davis said the virtual birth centre should also provide a useful opportunity for third-year students to hone and practice their midwifery decision-making skills while participating in an “apprentice” style year on clinical placements with midwives all over New Zealand.

The SLENZ Project, which is running two pilot education programmes in Second Life, is funded by the Tertiary Education Commission of New Zealand.