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Class 12: Team Project presentations

May 7, 2020

Twelve weeks after we began the module it is now time to see your Team Project presentations. Sitearm Madonna joined us to record the presentations, along with Locks Aichi and Wisdomseeker who came to support you. The brief for the project Future Direction was explored in Class 4. Assessment criteria can be found on page 6. Each team presented their project which was followed by some comments from the floor. First to go was the Green Team.

 

Next up was the Red Team.

 

And finally, the Yellow Team.

 

And a few closing remarks from John (aka Acuppa Tae).

Each of the three teams made excellent presentations which were complimented by John, Sitearm, Locks and Wisdomseeker. Wrapping up the final class of the semester, John reminded you to ensure you made the final post to your blogs. He wished you well in all your assessments and thanked you for your attendance during what turned out to be a difficult semester. When it started nobody expected to be locked in their homes before it concluded. John also thanked all the guest speakers and hosts for field trips over the last few months.

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Class 11: Warning!

April 30, 2020

The issues around bandwidth and connections continued this week as the class discussion moved between voice to chat but, we managed to get through the final class of the semester. John began by asking for your responses to the two videos you were asked to watch, both taken from the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland in 2018. The first was an address by David Attenborough on behalf of the world’s people, telling world leaders that the ‘continuation of civilisation is in your hands’. The second an address by Greta Thunberg telling them ‘you are stealing our future’ and condemning inaction on climate change.

Caoimhe referred to the Michael Moore produced documentary Planet of the Humans which she found very worrying because it suggested that many of the actions being taken to address our impact on the planet may not be working. Sitearm urged caution and told us that when he was doing postgraduate study many years ago he worked on the first climate model that predicted we would all be dead from starvation twenty years from then. The problem with this, and indeed all models, is that it is difficult to take all the relevant factors into account. He also worked on the second model which attempted to incorporate uncertainty suggesting that while not necessarily accurate such models are extremely useful, even if they don’t tell the whole story.

John proposed that three significant changes have occurred in the world since the conference in 2018. Firstly, US President Donald Trump pulled the country out of the 2016 Paris Agreement. The agreement, within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change deals with greenhouse gas emissions and, historically, bound all signatories to reduce national emissions. For the first time such an agreement included most countries of the world and therefore carried significant weight as a very real ‘global’ agreement, bringing nations together in a planetary union. The withdrawal of one of the most influential players on the world stage is a significant blow to that unity of purpose.

Secondly, the UK withdrew from the European Union. The EU arose in response to the Second World War: to ensure that the almost continual state or warfare in Europe over the centuries, that eventually led to two world wars, would never happen again. The importance of the various treaties establishing the coming together of so may nations for the greater good of the people can be seen in the relative peace and prosperity since 1945.

While neither of the agreements was perfect they did signify the capacity of humans to negotiate a better approach to social development and the care of our environment. The deliberate withdrawal from such institutions by significant participants places the world on an even more unstable footing than it was in 2018. We now find ourselves in a completely different political and social context. The return to national boundaries, protectionism and inward looking societies may well bring about the destruction of our planet.

The third significant change is, of course, the coronavirus pandemic that has changed our world utterly.

Nevertheless, the darkest hour is before the dawn. We may be on the cusp of a change in our behaviour that is forced on us by external forces over which our control is limited. Clearly, it is only through collaboration that the threat to our planet and our continued ability to survive here can be addressed.

And so John asked ‘how do you feel, as young people about to take your place in society and who will determine the future development of our world? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

Scientists have proposed that the current era be named the Anthropocene because for the first time humans are having an impact on the planet that previously was made only by geological phenomena. There are arguments about when this started, ranging from the beginning of the industrial age to the development of nuclear power but, the key point is that our impact as a species, on our home, is irreversible. John recommended that in this context you consider the approach of individuals like the French intellectual Bernard Stiegler. He proposes that technology is a ‘pharmacon’, in other words it is both the root of our ills and the cure for them. This echos the proposition of Marshall McLuhan (who we considered in Class 5) that we build tools that end up shaping our society. Stiegler is actually developing approaches to redress the imbalance in society that results in exploitation without sustenance. If you haven’t already done so it is worth viewing Welcome to the Anthropocene featuring Stiegler explaining his unique approach. This should be a cause for optimism in the future and provides a pathway for the development of society the does not ‘cost the earth’.

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Class 10: Inspiration Island

April 23, 2020

In a change to the advertised class this week we visited Inspiration Island at the invitation of Lissena Wisdomseeker, the founder and CEO. When we arrived (accompanied by Sitearm Madonna, who graciously arranged the field trip) we were welcomed by Lissena, Francisco Koolhoven and Thuja Hynes.

Our gracious hosts on Inspiration Island: Tooyaa, presenting; Liss, right and Fran on her left.

Lissena told us that Inspiration Island is the home of a programme called Whole Brain Health. Their purpose is to improve the quality of people’s lives through Interactive, Innovative, Inspiring activities and programmes. The intention is to support participants in positive personal development—both in-world and outworld. The programmes are based on a scientifically-sound, holistic approach to well-being—nurturing body, mind and spirit. There are currently about forty avatar-volunteers of all ages building facilities such as a 3D Maze, an Art and Music Park, a Covid-19 Information Centre created by a member who is a medical librarian. They facilitate programmes like Muscle Relaxation, Relationships in SL and Beyond, Drum Circle, The Wisdomseekers and Hero Walk. Lissena gave us globe teleporters that contained a menu of over thirty different places to visit. The place where we had the class, called Sunvibes, was built by Szavanna who lives in South Africa after emigrating from Hungary over twenty years ago. She is a DJ here and finds little-known world music from Africa, India, the Middle East among others, for dancing every Tuesday at noon SLT. The social interaction as people use dance animations, dance at home and chat in text is a fun experience with several benefits.

The Island comprises four levels to almost four-thousand meters over four full sims. Francisco Koolhaven, known as Fran, is the estate manager, media director and all-round problem solver. He told us that during the week he had to deal with the fallout from a cut fibre cable on the internet that caused problems for people trying to log in. At such times it is important to notify visitors that programmes have been cancelled or rescheduled. Other times he might be dealing with people who are unable to hear voice at an event and need tech support. Much of his time is spent behind the scenes ensuring a seamless experience at events of all sorts so he also has a security brief which occasionally results in ejecting troublemakers, adjusting group and parcel settings to prevent outsiders from making unauthorised changes and so on. As media director he has responsibility for filming and creating videos of events held here.

Fran has considerable experience in scripting, which means programming objects in SL to do various things. He has built a number of scripted object and demonstrated a calendar that works dynamically in-world. The calendar is also available in the SL Marketplace maintained by Linden Lab for sellers to list products for sale in SL. You can see the calendar by clicking here.

Fran explained how the development of tools in SL over the last ten years has introduced the ability to bring in objects created outside the platform using 3D editors such as Blender. The ‘mesh’ items give a much more realistic look and feel to SL, making for a more realistic experience. To show the extent of what can be done with mesh he showed us two animated sculptures that produce the same movements as avatars.

Fran demonstrated his scripting skills by showing us this sculpture of Daenerys from Game of Thrones behaving as if she were a genuine avatar.

Finally, Fran gave us all a copy of the Inspiration Island map teleport which allows you to visit any part of the island simply by clicking on it in the map – how handy would that be in the physical world?!

Lissena then introduced Thuja Hynes, Associate Director, to tell us about an exciting project. Known more informally as Tooyaa, she hosts or co-hosts Drum Circle, Firekeepers, Hero Walk, Simply Impossible and Women in STEM. She has designed a number of interactive, immersive and interpretive experiences on the Island, including the Multiple Intelligence Experience and Journey to Whole Brain Health, along with a series of ‘waypoints’ which delve into aspects of wellbeing, both personal and global. Tooyaa said that SL can allow learners immerse themselves in science and maths education in an interactive environment and also allow them practise coding. She gave us a reference to a landmark paper published in 2014 Second Life as a Platform for Physics Simulations and Microworlds: An Evaluation on the topic. From this perspective SL can be seen more as a simulator rather than a game. Tooyaa said that in addition to using script functions to enrich the Newtonian physics experience she enjoys constructing working machines without scripts, simply the serendipity of unexpected consequences. For example, she re-learned recently the word ‘osculation’, meaning ‘kiss’, as in when two objects come in contact such that their point tangents are aligned. She went on to demonstrate this osculation in avatars and a range of objects located around the area, exploiting the physics of SL’s basic programming.

To close she gave us all a gift of a Brain Quester hat which floated a translucent brain above our avatar heads, and lit up with coloured bulbs when we moved! On behalf of the class John thanked Liss, Fran and Tooyaa for their generosity—it was a fascinating experience and we are all grateful to them for hosting us. John also thanked Site for making the introductions and arrangements.

We all left Inspiration Island with bigger and more colourful brains than when we arrived.

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Class 9: Presenting your Team Project

April 2, 2020

Despite (or perhaps, due to) the current restrictions on physical meetings as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic we had good attendance at class.

John began by reviewing the structure of the Brightspace VLE (virtual learning environment) support for the module. In particular, the unit on assessment was considered. It is important that you understand precisely what is expected of each submission and you know where to find the details and supports for your assignments. If you have any questions on any aspect of assessment please contact me by email or after class in SL.

Clearly, not everyone understood the need to submit your work for assessment in Brightspace so, the option to do this for the Website Blog, part 1 will be extended to the end of the Easter break. Once again, if you don’t understand what is expected just email me and we can go over it in detail.

When asked how the Team Projects are progressing everyone responded very positively. You have all been able to continue meeting up despite despite the circumstances. Each team has engaged with the brief and begun to plan the presentation.

In response to questions John demonstrated how to upload images and ‘project’ them in the SL classroom. He noted that it costs L$10 to upload each image and gave each of you a gift of L$300. The initial appearance of extreme generosity was somewhat diminished when he revealed that this is roughly equivalent of US$1. However, it will enable you to download sufficient images for the presentation. You should consult the SL support pages on the web for details of image format (ie, jpg; png; tiff etc) and file sizes that are suitable for uploading.

If you are considering video it is better to use YouTube than to attempt streaming into SL. You can simply post a link in SL for the audience to play. This works more effectively than streaming.

In closing, John suggested that you use the break to catch up on your blogging, ensure you submit on Brightspace and continue planning the Team Project presentation. You should also use the break to get some rest and time away from virtual learning!

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Class 8: Walking Away…?

March 26, 2020

The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas generated a fascinating discussion.

John sent an email to all students during the week with a survey about your ability to connect to Brightspace and Second Life. All but three replied that you have access although it might be less reliable or slower than usual. Of the three that didn’t reply two turned up in class. So, it seems that we can continue with our meetings as normal, although I will keep an eye on things to ensure everyone remains able to engage.

Glenn Loughran (aka feilimy) joined us this week to lead the discussion on the short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K Le Guin. It soon transpired that Glenn’s voice connection was not working well so we reverted to text chat for the class. Although somewhat slower than voice it was possible to have a lively and engaging debate. At least everyone had read the story in preparation for the class!

Glenn started by talking about the ways in which a text can be read and suggested that a methodology he is trying with difficult texts at present is to read first for the overall sense and then read again with this knowledge in place for a deeper understanding and to make more sense of the content. He then asked for some reaction to the set text on the surface level. What is your impression of the text? It was written in 1974. What kinds of event or images does that era raise for you? After getting through the inevitable Austin Powers replies (!) and the fact that the 1970s was ancient history, for everyone except Sitearm and me, some connections emerged: the Vietnam war; peace protests; aftermath of the bombs; hippies; the freedom movement; draftees; and Watergate.

Dr Glenn Loughran (aka feilimy) adjusted to the lack of voice with admirable agility.

Glenn noted that this is a science-fiction story but it is important to know when it was written to be able to draw out the associations between the story and the reality of the time, including the politics and ideas around utopia. He then asked: What kind of society is described in the first half of the story? Responses included: happy society; something too perfect, a picturesque holiday city; a very happy community; city by the sea, like San Francisco; kids playing and people dancing; hippies. Glenn suggested there is another name for this in Greek literature and wondered did anyone know what it is? You replied, the sense of community; the Garden of Eden. And Spooky said Utopia.

Glenn explained that in 1516 Thomas More wrote the first Utopia. He coined the word utopia from the Greek ou-topos meaning no place or nowhere. But this was a pun – the almost identical Greek work eu-topos means a good place. So at the very heart of the word is a vital question: can a perfect world ever be realised? Sitearm referenced Erewhon by Samuel Butler, a nineteenth century English novel that also addresses the question of Utopia.

Glenn asked if the short-story presented a utopian ideal? You replied that it didn’t to which Glenn asked why not? The answers you gave included: humans aren’t perfect; everyone’s ideas of perfection are different; because of the child; the kid in the basement; just because only one person is suffering doesn’t make it better. Then Glenn asked if everyone else in Omelas was happy? and when you all said no he asked why not? People who see the child leave the city because they are so horrified; they are horrified by the illusion of a perfect world; the other kids feel bad for the kid; they don’t know about the kid until they are older.

Glenn wondered who the child is and why it is there? You suggested he is suffering for all their happiness; he or she is someone who did not have a chance. At that Glenn asked if the child is a he? You ansered: no; it is not clear; we don’t know; rachel said it’s not known; and when glenn asked why you think that is? the response was that the child is symbolic. Of what? The society; the child is a reminder to society that even a supposed utopia isn’t perfect, it’s not what it seems; third world countries; they suffer for first world countries.

Glenn suggested that it is an allegorical story – a story that stands in for the geo-politics of the world, at a time when the Vietnam war and the hippy movement dominated popular culture. It also represents a set of moral dilemmas, can you describe some? What is the dilemma here? You suggested that even if people tried to help the child it won’t make much of a difference, similar to the way we give aid to third world countries which does not amount to much at the end of the day due to corruption.

Glenn asked if it might be possible that like Omelas our freedoms and technologies are dependent on the oppressed nations and peoples? Are we facing a similar dilemma to the people of Omelas if we buy and use technologies made under oppressive conditions? If we know they are made under such conditions what do we do, how do we react? You replied that we wait; we don’t buy; we try to support groups that are against oppression; we are conscious of what big brands are doing behind the scenes.

Again Glenn asks… Should we accept it like the citizens of Omelas do? Did the ones who walked away do the right thing? Where do you think they went?

zach said they did the right thing in leaving because it’s wrong for one person to suffer for other people’s happiness. Auaki suggested that if the story is continuing maybe we are the citizens of Omelas. Crimson argued that it is not right to stand for oppression.

Glenn: But what does walking away do to help the situation?

You are not supporting the people who are doing this. It removes you from the situation, all it takes is one person to walk away for others to follow. Auaki suggested that it makes it worse and Glenn asked how does it make it worse? and what did the author say? Crimson replied that she said they go to a darker place. And Glenn added:

‘The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist.’ And taking a risk is always about jumping into the unknown. It is scary but… it’s necessary.

How does this relate to our situation? he asked.

And with that final question Glenn informed us that his battery was dying and he would leave us with that to ponder!

John thanked you all for bearing with the class tonight. I appreciate everyone’s patience. Broadband speeds have been slowing because of the heavy usage as most of the population watches Netflix! but, when this module began there was no voice in SL and we conducted all classes in chat text. This does make things a little slower but, we can still have a good discussion – as evidenced by our class this evening. Well done for adapting so readily! Particular thanks to Glenn for adapting to the shortcomings of technology with style!
John also apologised for not having posted the summary of last week’s class yet but, explained that it has been overwhelming trying to deal with the closing of the University. The summary is almost ready and will be posted tomorrow.

Next week is the last class before the two week Easter break. We will look the Team Project so make sure to come along in good time.

Addendum (added on 2nd April 2020)

As we gathered for Class 9 the following week John asked for your takeaway from the discussion about The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas. After some consideration it was proposed that the theme of the discussion was responsibility. As we become full citizens of our society we need to think about our personal responsibility, our responsibility to our community and our professional responsibility. There are no absolutes here. We each have to give consideration to this aspect of life and, much like the citizens of Omelas who are aware of the suffering of the child, we are aware of the realities of our world, whether we like to acknowledge it or not. The question is, do we choose to ignore these realities or accept our role in creating and sustaining them. Becoming aware of our personal and professional responsibilities, and the importance of contributing to the betterment of society is an essential requirement of each and every citizen.

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Class 7: Online Communities and Relationships

March 20, 2020

At the class field trip to Virtual Ability Island, hosted by Gentle Heron, we met residents and guests who shared fascinating insights with us.

The class field trip to Virtual Ability Island, as guests of Gentle Heron, was a real success. Unfortunately – as it was the first meeting following the closing of Universities in Ireland in response to the Covid-19 pandemic – fewer students than usual were able to take part. Some clearly had difficulty with their broadband connections (two of the six students attending dropped out as class began) which we hope will be resolved for the next class. In any case, John will survey all participants to determine if we can continue properly in SL.

Gentle Heron, the founder of the Virtual Ability community welcomed us warmly and told us that Virtual Ability Island (VAI) hosts this module every semester to talk about ‘the glue that holds the community together’. She explained that she would be using text plus voice, the normal practice in VAI where people with diverse abilities are supported. Formerly an educational researcher before being medically retired due to multiple sclerosis (MS) she said she intended covering five topics.

Who is the Virtual Ability community?

Virtual Ability is an international cross-disability peer support community of over a thousand members. We’re international because the people in the community come from six continents. Cross-disability means our members who have disabilities may have a physical disability, a mental or emotional or developmental disability, or a sensory disability (deafness or blindness). Many of us have multiple disabilities. We offer peer-to-peer understanding, support, and education. Sometimes it’s important to communicate with people who are most likely to ‘get’ your concerns, your language, your point of view. That’s why most people with disabilities seek to relate with others like ourselves. But we don’t want to live in isolation from others who do not share our disabilities. We are not a virtual ‘leper colony’. About a quarter of our members do not (yet!) have disabilities. We call them TABs, temporarily able bodied. They may be a parent, spouse, child, or friend of a person with a disability; a professional or non-professional caregiver; an academic researcher; medical professional; or an educator. Our community has been in SL for almost thirteen years, so we have a good record of continuity. We won the first Linden Prize back in 2009 for a project that has ‘a tangible impact on the real world.’ We are one of the original Community Gateways into Second Life, authorised by Linden Lab. So we are recognised well beyond our own community. We are supported in virtual worlds by a US nonprofit corporation, Virtual Ability, Inc. Our community assists people with all kinds of disabilities to enter and thrive in virtual worlds like SL. Virtual Ability offers various educational and entertainment activities daily. We also encourage members to explore all the fun things to do and beautiful places to explore throughout Second Life.

What is the relationship between real and virtual (online) communities?

What I want to express in terms of this question is that I have to reject the term RL for real life when it is used to distinguish the physical world from the virtual world. Some avatars may not be realistic if by realistic you mean a replica of the individual sitting at the computer operating it. But they are realistic in terms of the person who created them. Our avatars express our personal sense of self. But I have found that communities are quite similar in both venues. (more on that later)

Why is it important to consider the rules and etiquette of a virtual community?

This one is easy to answer. You should consider the rules and etiquette of any community you interact with. But a caveat, not all the rules and community standards are written down. That is why ethnographers understand that a casual observation of a community is inadequate to understand it. You must spend time immersed with the community before you will really know how it functions. If you disregard community rules and etiquette, even by ignorance of their existence, you risk having a less than optimal and limited understanding of that community.

How are online communities developed and maintained?

First, why do I consider Virtual Ability to be a community? Some definitions of ‘community’ are based on geographic proximity. That’s not us. Nor are we culturally similar. In fact, we embrace diversity! The population of persons with disabilities is the largest minority group in the world, and is the most varied. In our VAI group chats, we often hear ‘Oh, I didn’t know [people with that disability] had that [symptom] too.’ or ‘Wow, we have the same diagnosis, but your life is really different from mine.’ Our diversity is a constant for all our interactions, requiring a group value of respect and accommodation. So we aren’t ‘together’ physically, and we aren’t really very similar. However, we definitely exhibit other aspects of community:

  • Our members form both close and informal relationships.
  • We promote mutual support among members. We ask potential new members what the community can do for them, and what they can do for the community.
  • We share common values and beliefs. One important one is our emphasis on Ability, not disability.
  • We offer organized interactions and activities. Some of the most popular are campfire chats and dances.
  • Most members exhibit a strong sense of belonging to the community.

On our Healthinfo Island directly to our west, we are focusing not on disabilities and impairments, but rather on health and wellness. You will find educational exhibits and displays, a pavilion listing research opportunities, and the Path of Support. The Path of Support lists information about the more than 120 disability peer support communities we have identified so far in SL. There is a list of the current month’s exhibits and displays on a notecard in the giver box in the centre of the cabana. Our community has three residential islands, with private properties around the edges and public land in the central area. On Cape Able, there is an art gallery on the public land; Cape Serenity hosts a library. In both the art gallery and the library, we offer only works that are created by persons with disabilities. That goes along with our emphasis on the abilities of people with disabilities. Another notecard in the giver box tells more about the SL islands our community maintains. You are welcome to visit our public areas any time. You can learn more about the VAI community at our website.

And how does our community develop? I would have to say it is organic, through biological-like processes of accretion and evolution. We have a niche on the larger SL ecosystem, and we specialise to fill that niche. We are maintained through the continued interest and volunteer time of so many wonderful community members. Let me introduce some of them to you now.

Q&A with VAI guests
iSkye, Suellen, James, Mook, Celene and Slatan are all going to introduce themselves to you. Then when they are all finished with introductions, you will be able to ask them questions about their experience in virtual worlds. You can address your question to one of them, or to any of them. Please type your questions.

iSkye Silverweb is completely deaf in RL. She has worn a hearing aid from the age of five, learned to speak, and became a highly literate, and voracious, reader. Reading books, she never had to worry about missing anything anyone said. She never had to ask ‘What did he say?’ as she did about TV shows, only to be told ‘Wait for a commercial’. iSkye lost all hearing about twenty years ago, and when that happened, she got tinnitus. Her doctors don’t know the cause; they guess it was due to cochlear otosclerosis. It seemed to iSkye that a switch was flipped. Bye bye hearing, hello tinnitus. Lipreading became an exercise in frustration. Over the years she has seen ICQ, IRC, AOL, Cybertown – she’s been there, done that. Until SL. Members of the VAI community will say ‘I am more me in SL than I am in the physical world’. It is difficult to imagine how valuable that is for a Person With a Disability (PWD). Her first friend in SL was a blue-haired girl named Mucaro India. ‘Hello. Can I help you?’ Those five friendly words in text made a all the difference. At that time the voice capability had just be added to SL, where communication was through text chat. It was generating much excitment among residents who were trying it out. Great for them: useless for iSkye. But, with Mucaro’s help she made more friends – a ‘Dead Ghost’, a dinosaur named Orange, a robot named Tin Man, and Gentle. All willingly used text to converse with iSkye, who felt like an Alice in Wonderland – just a little female avatar! She learned that all her new friends have different disabilities yet Virtual Ability brings them together as a community of support. They all get disability here. The name Virtual Ability is clearly not an accident. iSkye was given, and also found, ways to be useful and to help people and made many friends along the way. Being invited to do things in spite of protesting, ‘but I am deaf!’ and being told ‘we don’t care, join us’ was empowering. SL does not cure iSkye’s deafness or tinnitus but it does provide relief from the feeling of being closed off from the worked that she knows is filled with noised and voices. SL is such a visually rich environment, and the avatars she met and the friends she has made help her cope with that isolation. She can communicate with people, do things, and create art. Members of the community can express their real selves in this virtual setting, instead of their disabilities. That is essential for iSkye’s health.

Suellen Heartsong is a member of VAI and helps out with the estate managers, participates in conferences and events by voicing for those who need that help and generally helps where needed. She is also an Ambassador for See Yourself Heath, a project that works with people dealing with diabetes. Suellen is also editor or the VAI Facebook page. She participates in many of the group events and classes and particularly enjoys Campfire hour where chat and gossip combine in mutual support. Virtual worlds open up so many things that Suellen is unable to do in RL: dancing, being a DJ, meeting her now RL husband in SL and making friends all over the world. She met James and they became immediate friends in March 2012. They traveled back and forth by train for a year between Denver, Colorado and Oswego, Illinois getting to know each other in RL. In 2013 she moved to Colorado to be with him and has lived there happily ever since. They married in RL on Leap Day 2016 so celebrated their anniversary this year. Not every relationship in SL becomes RL, sometimes people are far apart and cannot meet. Suellen is fortunate that she was able to move across the US to be married to James in both worlds. They still enjoy their SL time dancing and listening to music that they are not able to do in RL. Suellen has diabetes, a heart condition and PTSD that she and James deal with together as a couple.

James Heartsong tells us that his name in SL it Peaceful James. He chose the name as part of his personal ‘rehab’ work when he came to SL to follow up on an article in the National MS Society’s Magazine. Prior to be disabled with MS he used to work 40 to 60 hours a week at HP, teach at a martial arts studio most night and weekends and once a month he would spend the weekend with his National Guard unit (a special forces A-Team). All of this was in addition to being a father and husband. It all went away when MS came to stay. He was not exactly a ‘peaceful’ man back then. He discovered that stress was aggravating his condition so now avoids it. His name in SL and his entire approach to life had to change. He did a lot of inner work to reduce the underlying stress levels and became more peaceful, loving and kind. Since he started these holistic changes his overall health improved a lot, although his remains disabled. Changing from the inside out made him a better man and eventually brought him to Suellen. One of the things he learned in Special Forces was to help people to learn how to free themselves. Now he is not teaching people how to free themselves from foreign oppressors but tries to teach them how to free themselves from their personal concerns. He has learned also to focus on his abilities rather than being depressed by what he can no longer do. He concluded by saying that ‘I may have MS but MS does NOT have me!’

Mook Wheeler was a university lecturer in the social sciences until early medical retirement over a decade ago. Her discovery of SL was a blessing, she says, because it provides a method of interacting with people that does not carry the extreme stress that face-to-face, eye-to-eye and voice-to-ear communications do. In the physical world, social interaction always exhaust and destroy her; in SL, it often invigorates and lifts her. Like iSkye, this virtual environment is essential for her health. She says she has only been able to ‘be myself’ in SL. Until discovering SL she had no idea that she had never ‘been myself’ in the physical world. She shared two notecards with us. Worlds Apart attempts to explain why SL makes Mook more ‘normal’ than RL. It is a detailed and very well written piece that gives great insight into her experience. Regrettably it is too long to share here. The other notecard Socialising in SL is shown below.

Mook Wheeler, who has Aspergers and is on the Autism Spectrum, shared this notecard with us.

 

Mermaid Celene told us that Virtual Ability is her virtual home; the community means a lot to her and VAI has helped her through difficult times. Being able to come here allows her take her mind off the flashbacks and terrible memories of her past. She loves volunteering in whatever capacity she is needed and sees it as part of her way of giving back to VAI. She suffers from retinopathy or prematurity, glaucoma and severe PTSD and it totally blind. She used to be partially sighted so has a deep love for bright colours which she expresses with a huge inventory of ball-gowns! Her love for bright colours keeps them alive in her head because she can remember what they look like by comparing them to objects she has seen. For example, she will ask her husband what shade of pink an item is and his response is flamingo pink of kindle pink. Kindle pink refers to the baby pink cover of her old reading device. The same goes for colours like sky blue, pool blue, apple red, fire engine and home depot bucket orange. She is also lead Radegast mentor. Radegast is a text-based viewer that allows the blind to access SL. When not working in VAI she loves to fish and explore SL. Sometimes she just sits in her apartment and listens to the sounds from her bubbling aquarium which she words, or finds a quiet place near the Canadian geese in the pond at Cape Heron, the residential community apartment sim. Celene has made lifelong friends here and for her, VAI is a lifesaver.

Slatan Drake is Italian and a veteran who suffers from PTSD. He considers SL the best therapy he has had in years. He is an SL old-timer, mentor, linguist, artist and photographer, is endlessly curious and eager to share what he learns. His mentoring career began about twelve years ago when the programme was officially managed by Linden Lab. He is now a Mentor and Tutor in several groups but a special mention goes to Virtual Ability Group with the specific purpose of simplifying SL for those residents with different abilities to whom he gives distinct classes. As an artist and photographer some of his works are permanently displayed in popular Art Galleries around the Grid. If you meet Slatan you can right-click his avatar for more information in his Profile. He concluded by recommending a viewing of Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is Me a full-length feature about SL residents, including James and Suellen Heartsong.

Chenming asked if the two couples who met in SL prefer online or offline. Suellen responded that she liked both, depending on what is going on offline. iSkye, Celene and Slatan agreed. John suggested that it can be difficult to differentiate between SL and ‘RL’ as they are both so real. James responded that he enjoys SL particularly when he is suffering higher fatigue levels… but he really enjoys RL even better because he can reach out any time and touch Suellen. He added that kissing in RL is much more fun than it is in SL! On the other hand iSkye and Slatan are only a couple in SL because they live in separate countries in the physical world. They are able to spend time together in SL.

Sitearm asked if any of the guests are ‘builders’ in SL. iSkye shared a link to a video of a build she made as part of the Liden Endowment for the Arts. James has a link to a video of one of his builds in his profile and Slatan shared a link to a video of Crumbs from my Nightmares, an art installation in SL. It takes time and practice to become proficient at building in SL but all the necessary tools are built into the environment.

The final piece of advice from Gentle and all the guests is to suspend your preconceptions about SL, and virtual environments in general, and especially do not think of SL as a game. It is a platform where you can play games but it is not a game in itself. There are colleges here offering classes just like this module, communities like VAI, towns, museums and much more. Slatan explained it wonderfully saying:

Second Life offers the great opportunity to free our essence, with an explosion of feelings, socialising, activities, colours and creativity beyond our imagination. I am what I am, but in Second Life I am what I wish!

James gave an insight into how SL can actually influence people’s abilities in the physical world which is explained by the concept of ‘mirror neurons‘ and Mook shared a link to a YouTube movie about the impact on a woman with Parkinson’s.

Gentle invited the students to explore VAI and subscribe to the Google calendar of upcoming events. This may become a more significant opportunity than we might have expected as we are all confined to our homes over the coming weeks.

John concluded by saying thank you to Suellen, James, Celene, Mook, Slatan, iSkye and Gentle. ‘We are really grateful to you for sharing your experiences and stories with us this evening. It has been a privilege for us. Hearing about your community has given us new insights into the possibilities offered by virtual communities. It is particularly interesting to be here at a time when the physical world has suddenly become an unknown place for many of us due to an invisible danger. You have given us much to think about. Thank you all very much. And special thanks to Gentle Heron: in my view you are the Queen of SL!’

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Class 6: My Avatar and Me – virtual identities

March 12, 2020

Discussing self and identity is more complex than it seems!

Very few of you had reviewed the reading/viewing material before coming to class this week so, John asked you do so before we began a discussion. It is pointless trying to have any discussion without some prior exposure to the concepts presented by Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers. This is quite challenging territory so we all need to start off from the same point of departure.

Although this took up a considerable amount of class time it was necessary.

Locks Aichi sent apologies and regrets that due to work commitments she was unable to join us as guest speaker this evening. However, she had done considerable preparation and sent notes to John to guide the discussion.

We started by remembering Sitearm’s introduction to the concept of ‘persona’ in class 3. John then asked everyone to answer the question ‘who are you?’ in the context of the two presentations, ‘how do you describe your self?’ The questions were more difficult to respond to than we might have thought but the following emerged after some prompting:

  • 20 year old male
  • student
  • a mind in a body
  • outgoing, extrovert
  • introvert
  • fair
  • fun
  • cheerful
  • honest
  • concerned
  • considerate
  • careful
  • curious
  • creative
  • musical
  • visual
  • aspiring (to greatness)
  • positive

Sitearm asked you about your skills, do they contribute to who you are? John wondered what impression you would like to give to someone you are meeting for the first time. How would you like them to describe you?

  • inventive
  • swimmer
  • process (eg, design process)
  • kind
  • good humoured
  • charming
  • open and approachable

Then John asked if you consider these descriptions to be real, or are they illusions? So, what makes your self real? You suggested that it is social interaction, how others reflect you back to yourself. One of you put it as ‘I am what other people think of me’. This led to the proposition that while we are one person we have many different layers. John asked if there is a core ‘you’ an unchanging sense of your self underneath all the layers? The response was that you have some core qualities that are more stable than others and that might change much more slowly than others.

You spoke of how your presentation of your selves is somewhat determined by the social situation. For example, your persona at home with your family is very different from your persona when out with friends.

Another interesting comment from one of you was that you don’t sit down and have a conversation with yourself.

Ultimately, it seems difficult to grasp exactly what our ‘real’ self might be. John suggested that the notion of an unchanging ‘you’ that lies at your core is what we tend to think of as our ‘self’ whereas the manner in which we present in different social situations is seen as a range of ‘identities’ that we can assume depending on the situation.

This led on to a discussion about social media and how we might present ourselves there. Do online environments give a greater opportunity for controlling our identities? Or does it simply result in a more detailed digital footprint that you leave behind? Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsApp, Facebook and LinkedIn we mentioned as the main apps used. Some of you use aliases when using them, just as we do here in SL. Your use of the apps reflected your earlier references to different identities.

Sitearm asked an interesting question about how your use of social media might also change over time. For example, if you were using social media before college have you felt the need to change your profile since leaving school? or do you anticipate having to change again when you enter the workplace? John wondered if you had heard of the phrase ‘the internet never forgets’? Are you aware of the nature of ‘digital footprints’?

This led the discussion to the difference between your personal identities and your professional identities. How do you present your professional skills in the digital online environment? John suggested that you need to take control of your social media – it is too important to simply allow your image to develop randomly. So, activities such as blogging can support the development of your ‘personal brand’. Your social media profile is an opportunity to demonstrate your professional attributes.

Before we concluded Sitearm asked for a quick ‘likes and wishes’ reaction to the class. The ‘likes’ included the opportunity to dig deeper into the topic; support for developing professional profiles; shared examples of our ideas on personality and identity; open conversation with no right or wrong answers; Sitearm appreciated how the everyone participated and shared their experiences. The ‘wishes’ included viewing the reading/viewing material in advance of class; and also doing the reading together during class!

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Class 5: From Hammer to Pixel

March 5, 2020

Prof Dudley Turner (aka Dudley Dreamscape) from University of Akron and Dr Glenn Loughran (aka Feilimy) of TU Dublin presented this weeks class.

John was unavailable this week and so guest speakers Prof Dudley Turner (University of Akron) and Dr Glenn Loughran (TU Dublin) led the discussion. Dudley introduced the key concepts of late 20th Century thinker Marshall McLuhan which led on to Glenn’s insight into some of the issues around digital reading. Glenn provided a text The Importance of Deep Reading in advance of the class to support the discussion.

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Team Project – Future Direction

February 27, 2020

How much distance do we need to form an objective opinion? Photo by Tyler van der Hoeven on Unsplash.

As you prepare to leave college with your degree the prospect of seeking a fulfilling career will become increasingly important. Much is being written now about the changing nature of work. As long ago as 2012 Forbes suggested that Job Hopping is the New Normal for Millennials. But, the Guardian newspaper reported that the trade unions in Britain are concerned about the abuses of the gig economy suggesting it results in lower wages. TUC wants clampdown on ‘poverty pay’ in gig economy revealed that almost half of adults aged 25 or over were earning less than the minimum wage.

The World Economic Forum report on The Future of Jobs 2018 provides a comprehensive analysis of trends on an industry-specific and country-specific basis. In the section on Strategic Drivers of New Business Models it concludes that the unfolding of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is resulting in a variety of new and emerging jobs while the more traditional job roles are declining. But, there is some good news for you as the Economist reported in 2016 that people working in creative fields are less susceptible to automation in Automation and Anxiety.

Taking a more holistic perspective raises deeper concerns for the future of not just work, but the entire ecosystem of society. French philosopher Bernard Stiegler suggests that the world is heading rapidly towards a dead end thanks to the consumerist model. Speaking in London in 2018 he argued that a radically new approach to shaping our society is required. Rather than allowing capital and technology to dictate we need to bring epistemological, technological, artistic, judicial, social and economic questions together in order to shape the future.

In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a Warning to Humanity suggesting that vast human misery would ensue if we did not change how we are impacting the planet. They ‘feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life.’ In 2017 the warning was updated when 15,000 scientists from around the world published World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.

This is a real challenge to you, individually and collectively, as you consider your emergence into society from college. For this project you are asked to consider how you might address the problems facing society while earning a living and living your lives. Do you accept the premise of the World Scientists? Can you see ways in which it is possible to work for a more sustainable engagement with our planet?

The Brief

Your team has been commissioned by a global firm in the communications sector to convince senior leaders that the time has come for change. The Board of the organisation has acknowledged the imminent destruction of our planet and decided that the company needs to lead the world to a new way of working. You have been briefed personally by the Chairman and the Chief Executive Officer who have arranged a day-long workshop in mid-May to which all senior executives have been invited. It is intended that the outcome will be a completely new direction for the organisation that is fully sustainable and indeed, will lead the way in rejuvenating the planet and our relationship with our home.

Your task is to kickstart the session with a dynamic, exciting and informative presentation. You must inspire a group of hard-nosed executives who have been ruthlessly successful in exploiting the planet’s resources for the company’s benefit, without any consideration for the consequences, to review their behaviour and plan a new future.

You will work on this project in your groups to make your presentation in an entertaining, informative and lively manner using whatever medium and format you wish as long as it can be stored for later review (e.g. a talk, short film, narration+visuals). Each team will present live in Second Life. The presentation should be no shorter than five minutes and no longer than ten minutes. You are encouraged to use visual, audio or any other aids to support the presentation during which each member of the team must take part.

Each participant must also describe the progress of the project in a weekly blog post with particular emphasis on your own contribution to the project. (What are you bringing to the group and how does it fit into the team’s work?) Discuss the details of the project and also the issues that arise in working collaboratively online. How easy is it meet up virtually and plan the project? What difficulties arise in development? How easy or difficult is communication? What particular problems arise and how do you deal with them? Focus on the experience rather than writing a ‘correct’ post or having an answer for every difficulty.

Important note: If you use images or sound be mindful of copyright, particularly as presentations will be posted to the module blog.

Presentations should be no less than 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes in duration.

Your presentation can be made in the TU Dublin campus or any appropriate venue in Second Life selected by the group. Presentations will be delivered in the last class at the end of the semester.

For full details on the Team Project specifications and the assessment criteria see the Assessment Unit.

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Class 4: Team Project – New Direction

February 27, 2020

Before starting the class John asked if everyone had read the brief and, while some of you had, many had not. So, everyone was asked to read it now. John also asked that you read the requirements of your submission in the Assessment Unit on Brightspace to ensure you are aware of the deadline for completion, assessment criteria, along with the part of the project that will be group-assessed and the parts on which you will be assessed individually.

Once that was completed John asked for some initial reactions. Most of you agreed that while it is a difficult topic is is current and highly relevant. The main problem to contend with in addressing climate change seems to be our reluctance as humans to acknowledge the problem, to consider the changes we need to make in our own lives and to demand that those with greater influence face up to the reality and do something. We acknowledged the iron will of people like Greta Thunberg, who are unafraid of power and willing to name the issues and those responsible. You also indicated that presenting your projects to a room full of senior executives in a global corporation sounds intimidating. However, John reminded you that the two most senior people in the organisation (the chairman and the chief executive) are backing you.

John outlined your assignments for the coming week: to make contact with your group and hold the first meeting. He suggested that it might seem a simple task to complete in a week but in previous semesters many groups failed to achieve it. There was some discussion on how to make contact: do you share email addresses now? try to find each other in social media? hope to bump into teammates in RL? The logistics of arranging meetings online is somewhat different to doing so in RL. You need to ensure a common approach is understood by, and available to, all team members.

What do you do when (if) you manage to meet? John reminded you that the presentation board from Sitearm Madonna’s talk on Teamwork and Collaboration is still available in the class meeting room. Use it when you meet. Remember the stages teams go through when working on a project. Try to be aware of that when you meet so you can get the most out of your time together as a group.

Sunrise at Lauk’s Nest, the oldest complex build in SL, it dates back to 2004.

John proposed a visit to Lauk’s Nest for the final part of class. Notecards with information about the park were circulated along with landmarks and we all teleported there. Before allowing everyone off to explore John reminded you of the forthcoming deadline for submission of the Website Blog, part 1 for assessment. You must make the submission in Brightspace or John will be unable to award a mark and give you feedback.

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