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.”

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The SLENZ Update – No 21, November 02, 2008

How ‘real’ are VWs?

A research team, led by North Carolina State University’s Zelnak Professor of Marketing and Innovation, Dr Mitzi M. Montoya, has developed a new way of measuring how “real” online virtual worlds are – an important advance for the emerging technology that can be used to foster development of new training and collaboration applications by companies around the world. ( http://news.ncsu.edu/news/2008/10/wmsmontoyavirtual.php)

The research was focussed on developing the measurement tool specifically for business applications in the virtual world because the productivity and effectiveness of workers interacting via online environments is closely linked to how well the workers are able to feel as if they are actually in the virtual realm.

“This is an important issue,” Montoya said, “because we believe that if users feel they are ‘present’ in the virtual world, they will collaborate better with other members of their team – and the more effective the virtual world will be as a setting for research and development or other collaborative enterprises.”

Additionally, Montoya said “an increased sense of presence in the virtual world leads to better comprehension and retention of information if the technology is being used for training purposes, and trainees are happier with the process.”

The measurement scale, called Perceived Virtual Presence (PVP), factors in how users interact with the virtual environment, with their work in that environment, and with other users.

“Now that we have developed the PVP scale,” Montoya said, “it can be used to determine which PVP levels are most conducive to training, collaboration or other applications.” Effectively, the PVP scale can be used to design a virtual environment that has the degree of reality that will best cater to a company’s specific needs.

Montoya developed the PVP metric with Dr Anne P. Massey, Dean’s Research Professor of Information Systems at Indiana University.

Distance Education Event

November 10-14, 2008 – The US Distance Learning Association is sponsoring National Distance Learning Week (NDLW)  to promote and celebrate the growth and accomplishments occurring today in distance learning programs offered by schools, businesses, and governmental departments (USDLA). In support of this initiative, and highlighting the global reach of virtual environments, several organisations are collaborating to present and celebrate the tremendous potential of the virtual world of Second Life for distance learning. November 10 (Free in SL -12:30 am SLT and run through 8:00 am SLT): a full-day conference will include presentations from within Second Life and in real life at the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne (audio capability and the latest version of Quick Time required) . http://slurl.com/secondlife/Selmo%20Park/67/174/26

The first presentation will be at 12:30 am SLT from students of the L’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris presenting “Eden of the Lost Animal.”

Other featured speakers include Bryan Carter, University of Central Missouri; Ed Lamoureaux, Bradley University; Jeremy Kemp, San Jose State University; Claudia Linden from Linden Labs; AJ Kelton from Montclair State University; Tim Linder, Meramec Art Department; and Beth Ritter-Gluth, Literature Alive.

Collaborating organisations include: University of Central Missouri, the Alliance Virtual Library in Second Life,  the Bibliotheque Francophone, and the L’Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs de Paris. Info: Bryan Carter at: bc&@mac.com

Healthcare training

Margaret Hansen (SL: Maggie Waechter), of the San Francisco School of Nursing, has provided a lot of the answers on what virtual training in healthcare in worlds like Second Life can achieve and at the same time pointed to the directions virtual healthcare training should take. (http://www.jmir.org/2008/3/e26)

Entitled “Versatile, Immersive, Creative and Dynamic Virtual 3-D Healthcare Learning Environments: A Review of the Literature.” the Hansen overview comes to the conclusion that Virtual worlds  “may change the way people learn and live in the future”.

“The major strengths associated with virtual worlds are one’s ability to design and construct unique environments and then share them with others in a collaborative fashion,” she said in her report. “Educators may write specific learning goals for students to complete while learners actively build and interact in environments that promote creativity and social networking.”

Other advantages include  “virtual training approaches that yield results and are invaluable for healthcare professionals, and improvement in students’ access to places otherwise difficult to reach and heightened student engagement because the real-time social interaction and gaming aspect spurs chances for “discovery-based and goal-oriented learning”.

She, however, does not shirk from the challenges faced by healthcare education in 3D worlds, detailing what criticism there is.

She concludes in part: “Virtual 3-D learning environments may encourage active learning while students create and explore activities similar to those of a “field trip”, versus the experience of a static classroom setting. This reaching out and meeting new avatars and practicing communication skills in an aesthetic environment may help maintain today’s students’ interest in learning and provide valuable experiences that may enhance student engagement, promote participation, and motivate self-directed learning.”

Picture below: Maggie Waechter (the avatar of the author) visiting the Sexual Health sim in SL.

OpenSpace Land revolt

An avatar/resident revolt over Linden Lab’s signal of  a 67 percent  hike in the purchase price and maintenance fee of “OpenSpace” SL sim land has led to headlines,  avatar self-‘immolation, forum and blog protests and the threatened exodus of  hundreds of avatars for other virtual worlds.

The proposed price rises have also  worried educators who have used “cheap” “OpenSpace” sims to make their regions more attractive as well as ordinary residents who have used the “void” spaces for a multitude of purposes other than just decoration.

The most balanced coverage of the events so far has probably been provided by noted Second Life journalist Wagner James Au (pictured). http://gigaom.com/author/wjamesau/
He notes, however, that there have been protests like this throughout the world’s five-year history, but without a competing virtual world offering all the unique features of Second Life, angry customers have largely stayed put, despite their grumblings.

“Now, however, there is an increasingly viable alternative: OpenSim, an open-source platform for developing virtual worlds, that was, ironically, made possible after Linden Lab released its viewer code,” he said. “Though still in beta mode, OpenSim has attracted developers with IBM, Microsoft, and numerous startups, so it’s bound to rapidly improve.”

Given the fact that registrations for one OpenSim jumped dramatically in the days after the Linden announcement it might be wise this time for the Lindens to take notice before more residents start voting with their tiny avatar feet.

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