Archive for April, 2020

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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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