The SLENZ Update – No 44, February 4, 2009

Strangers: off to the world

rollo-mike-fiona

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 41, January 23, 2009

Xstreet ‘in from cold’

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The Linden Lab’s acquisition of  Xstreet SL and OnRez – the two leading Web-based marketplaces for buying and selling creations for Second Life –  will not lessen marketplace competition, according to Lab executives.

And it could eventually lead to Xstreet SL retail virtual world products being made available to other grids, such as OpenLife, although this is not under active consideration at present.

This was made clear at a Linden Lab in-world press conference (pictured above)  during which there was a frank discussion of just where the organisation planned to take its most recent acquisitions, bought from Virtuatrade and the Electric Sheep Company for undisclosed amounts.

OnRez will be folded into the more successful Xstreet SL entity following the acquisition which Linden executives say, rather than lessening competition, will increase retail competition through an easier user interface – both from a buyers’ and sellers’ point of view – being made available to SL creators and retailers.

Apotheus Silverman and  key members of the Xstreet SL team have joined Linden Lab to integrate the Xstreet SL platform more deeply into SL with  a single, unified SL marketplace. (Press release: http://lindenlab.com/pressroom/releases/01_20_09)

Suspension of disbelief

The more a virtual immersive experience is based on design strategies that combine actional, symbolic, and sensory factors, the greater the participant’s suspension of disbelief that she or he is “inside” a digitally enhanced setting, according to Christopher Dede (pictured), Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies, Technology, Innovation, and Education, Harvard University.

chris_dede22Noting that immersion is the subjective impression that one is participating in a comprehensive, realistic experience, he said in an abstract of an article in the January issue of Science that “Studies have shown that immersion in a digital environment can enhance education in at least three ways: by allowing multiple perspectives, situated learning, and transfer.”

But, SLENZers take heart, he added in his article, “Immersive Interfaces for Engagement and Learning”, further studies were needed on the capabilities of immersive media for learning, on the instructional designs best suited to each type of immersive medium, and on the learning strengths and preferences these media develop in users.

Just what SLENZ is doing mate!!

His article is in the subscription only:  http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/323/5910/66 but he can be reached at: chris_dede@harvard.edu

75% SL tasks completed

One should watch out for Dr Steven Hornik’s (SL: Robins Hermano) “Really Engaging Accounting: Second LifeTM as a Learning Platform” when he finalises the research paper.

It will be a unique and important document for virtual world education researchers and providers.

Hornik of the University of Central Florida’s  Kenneth Dixon School of Accounting,  uses SL to teach a financial accounting course titled Really Engaging Accounting   (http://mydebitcredit.com). The aim of the project is to engage students in what is normally a very non-engaging course and ensure they develop basic accounting literacy.

In the course, SL is used asynchronously to help students learn basic concepts related to the accounting equation: Assets = Liabilities + Stockholders Equity; to learn how to manipulate the equation using debits and credits; and to become debits and credits themselves as part of the T-Account Game. They also participate in weekly web-based lectures and other web-based learning.

Taught since the fall of 2007 class size has grown from an average 250 to close to 900 in 2008, with 75-80 percent of the students completing assignments in SL.

hornikstevendr1In a preliminary draft of his study of the course, albeit released inadvertently,  Hornik (pictured left) said the courses have demonstrated that through the use of SL’s building and scripting tools, “environments can be created that in some cases lead to student engagement, and for those cases positively affect student performance”.

This, “in the context of accounting which traditionally might be viewed as the opposite of engaging, provides an extreme example of the power of Second LifeTM to create socially relevant, immersive, engaging learning environments,” he said.

“This study has also shown that time-on-task can far exceed expectations if tools are designed to actively involve the students and allow them to become immersed in the activity.”

Besides, Hornik said, the study also showed that one antecedent to successfully engaging the student is spatial presence.

“Thus, when building and designing environments it is necessary to create places where students are able to perceive a sense of place and a sense of ‘being there’,” he said.

“These virtual places are no less real than a physical world classroom space, the geography is no less real, the experiences are no less real because they take place in a 3-D environment,” he said.  “The results indicate that the more genuine we can make the experience, the more engaged our students are likely to become.”

But Hornik has one  important caution.  It would be wrong to view these new learning platforms completely through rose-colored glasses, he said,  as there can be adverse psychological reactions to these environments, such as dizziness and nausea, and the results of this study show that if student experience these adverse conditions their performance suffers.

“As we routinely test students for learning styles and direct them towards learning material best suited for their styles, we may need to direct certain students away from 3-D immersive environments if it is determined they are having adverse reactions,” he said.

Coming events

January 31, 2009 – 10am SLT – 2pm SLT,  Info Island(http://slurl.com/secondlife/Info%20Island/112/105/33): Alliance Virtual Library Tech Fair 2009. Designed for educators, librarians, museum owners, and others who teach and/or create and provide information and exhibits  to view the tools that are available to  meet and hear  their creators. Speakers: 10am:  Eloise Pasteur, “Developing teaching tools in Second Life”; 11am:  JJ Drinkwater,  “Lowering the Barrier – The Library-Onna-Stick”; 12noon:  Fim Fischer,  Quiz System (Multiple Choice Board); 1pm:  Buddy Sprocket, SLOODLE. A comprehensive trade exhibition will be held along with the presentations.