Archive for April, 2019

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Class 9: Walking away…?

April 11, 2019

Unfortunately, the low attendance at class continues this week.

Glenn Loughran joined us today in the guise of Feilimy. John didn’t recognise his avatar and ejected him from the classroom when he first arrived! But we soon settled down, identified those who could use voice and those who, like robadamson travelling on a bus and using the less-than-reliable-wifi signal, would be relying solely on text chat. John introduced Glenn, course chair for the BA Visual Art delivered in Sherkin Island, and attending today from Ecuador, where he is delivering a course, presenting papers at conferences and working on a collaborative research project looking at the idea of islands with Universidad de las Artes. As there was one student whose voice was not working at all John said he would provide a text chat commentary this week.

Glenn suggested that the discussion begin with your ideas about the text and to start off looking at the first half of the story. What is it about? What kind of society does it present?

The responses suggested it was a perfect place, a utopian community, it didn’t have kings or leaders – all are equal, without hierarchy where everyone is happy. Glenn referred to the origin of the Utopian concept from Thomas More’s novel published in 1516. He asked who you think the narrator might be? What is the narrator’s relationship with the community? It was agreed that the narrator’s is an external voice providing, in the first half, a positive yet clinical and objective description. The community is in harmony with nature and has no need or desire for anything but the simplest technology.

Then Glenn asked us to think about the second part of the story. It seems to describe a democracy rather than a utopia: a democracy that is built on the suffering of a child in order to provide happiness and comfort to the rest of the community. Your response was unequivocal: the place now seemed unfair, more dystopian than utopian and reminded you of our world; its wealth reliant on the suffering of the innocent, often children; the rich exploiting the poor. It reminded you of class conflict, racial inequality, exploitation of the developing world by the developed.

Glenn spoke of an island he visited in Ecuador this week and showed us some photos. In the last 15 years rising sea levels are beginning to have a noticeable impact. Buildings are being washed out to sea and the island is slowly disappearing. It is a real example of climate change. The tragedy for those in the region is the inaction of the rest of the world. The idea that we in the West have the opportunity to watch this happening so that we can confirm climate change as a reality before deciding to do something about it is described in Wishful sinking: Disappearing island, climate refugees and cosmopolitan experimentation.

The sinking island off the coast of Ecuador visited by Glenn.

Buildings are being washed out to sea.

A bridge to somewhere…?

Returning to our short story Glenn asked if it is the right thing to do, to walk away from Omelas? Your answers included: yes, because living at the expense of others is not right; reforming the society would disrupt its utopian nature; the community’s happiness must be sacrificed for the good of the suffering child; this is a philosophical question rather than a real one; we have a duty to take part in this discussion and question our privileges.

We concluded by suggesting that the text challenges us to face up to what we actually know and to consider an ethical response. It is about deciding on a course of action for our own lives – knowing that the right thing to do may be difficult. We also considered the story in the context of SL and virtual worlds in general. Do they offer an escape from an unpleasant reality? There are many movies, such as Ready Player One, that support this notion. But, what does it take to maintain a virtual world and can it ever be a replacement for RL? How does our visit to Virtual Ability Island inform our thinking in that space?

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Class 8: Presenting your Team Project

April 4, 2019

Again, attendance was disappointing this week. Apart from the first week, which had full attendance, we have had eight attending every week. However, last week only five came to class and this week only six. Both weeks two students gave their apologies. Nevertheless, such poor attendance means that class discussion is not as lively and engaging as it should be and, with only three more classes until the final presentation, it is a cause for concern.

John started by asking the class group if they would mind switching topics between this week and next week. Our guest lecturer is travelling today and therefore unavailable. All agreed so we will postpone the class theme ‘Walking away…?’ until next week. Some of you also admitted to not reading the short story yet so John urged you to ensure you have read it for next week.

We started the class by reviewing the visit to Virtual Ability Island last week. It gave you all a sense of the possibilities that virtual worlds can open up for some people and communities.

John asked for some feedback on the Team Project, in particular, how you were thinking of making the final presentation. Only members of the Blue and Yellow teams were present and most of you seem to be thinking in terms of video. It was not clear if the thinking is to use YouTube or steam directly into SL. John suggested reviewing options such as LinkedIn Slideshare, as was used by Sitearm Madonna in his presentation on teamwork and collaboration in class 3. You can also import images directly into SL and display them much as you would give a PowerPoint presentation IRL. John demonstrated how to make a simple ‘slide viewer’ using the ‘Build’ tool. It costs L$10 to import images to SL so John presented each of you with a budget of L$300 to use if you need to. The exchange rate is approximately L$270 to US$1 so your avatars have not become immediately rich!

Building in SL is normally reserved for premium residents (ie, those who pay a monthly subscription) however, there are lots of public sandboxes where anyone can build. Just remember to save your creation to your Inventory Folder so you can access it at a later time. You can also practice building in the classroom area – just be careful not to delete or change anything there! John reckons he has everything locked but remembers the day he accidentally deleted two of the walls and floor. So, do try out some building – there are links to support information in the reading set for Class 9 Presenting your Team Project.

You should also use some of your Linden dollars to explore the economy in SL. Go and visit some shops and see how the economy works. But, don’t spend everything you have – keep some for your project.

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