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?

adzel-dragon_009

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.

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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

lbj_close_talker

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?

blumenthal

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.