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Class 7: Online Communities and Relationships

November 19, 2020
Class field trip to Virtual Ability Island

Mook Wheeler (second from left) introduces Virtual Ability Island to us. Sitearm Madonna is on the extreme left and Gentle Heron on the extreme right with the two Marias beside her.

 

John began the class by talking about the feedback for the assessment of the Website Blog, part 1, which was circulated earlier. He spoke about the importance of beginning now to write more reflectively on your experiences in SL and on your teams. Think about what you are learning and how your perception of working online is developing. You should also refer to the reading and viewing material given to the class when writing your posts. Consider how your experiences either support or contradict what others are saying. Your view is valuable once you are developing it in that context so, your posts may become a little more like short academic papers from here on.

John also emphasised the importance of reviewing the assessment criteria for the Website Blog, part 2. Take careful note of the descriptors in the assessment grid so that you know what to aim for. This is also important for the Team Project. Remember, the brief is to stimulate hard-nosed executives. You need to be creative to attract and maintain their attention.

Then we teleported to Virtual Ability Island (VAI) to meet the community led by Gentle Heron. Unfortunately, Gentle’s internet connection was playing up so she was not fully with us at the start. However, Mook Wheeler, a long-standing friend of this module, was on hand to do the introduction. She explained that VAI is an international cross-disability peer support community of over one thousand members, who may have physical, mental, emotional, developmental sensory (deafness or blindness) or multiple disabilities. About a quarter of the membership does not (yet!) have a disability and they are referred to as Temporarily Able Bodied (TAB). They may be a parent, spouse, child, friend or care-giver.

For a more detailed report on the presentation see the post from the visit to VAI earlier this year.

Mook then introduced herself saying she has Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is a former academic who first discovered SL in 2006 at the peak of its media exposure. She continued:

This discovery was a blessing for me, because SL provides methods of interacting with people that do not carry the high stress that face-to-face, eye-to-eye and voice-to-ear interactions do. In the physical world, ‘socialisation’ exhausts and stresses me. In SL, it can invigorate and lift me. I consider SL essential for my mental and emotional health. Because interaction in SL does not carry the stress it does in ‘RL’ (‘Real Life’, or the physical world), I discovered that the ‘SL me’ is very different to the ‘RL me’! The ‘SL me’ is calmer, steadier, more rational. The ‘RL me’ is much more of a reactive creature, buffeted by sensory input and constantly set back by ‘incorrect’ social input and output. Offending and getting offended is an unfortunate constant of my ‘real-life’. When around people, the ‘RL me’ is hardly able to think. When around avatars, the ‘SL me’ does not have this problem.

She shared notecards which give more details about online communities and Virtual Ability; how SL’s communication methods support her needs; and digital citizenship.

Maria Wirsing has very low vision so she uses two avatars and two SL viewers. One supports the visual and the other converts text to speech using optical character recognition (OCR). She has many friends in SL and interacts with people from all over the world.

We then opened the discussion to questions from the students. HannahSimoneNathalie started be asking if SL had impacted in unexpected ways? Gentle explained that she had not anticipated how intertwined SL and RL would become and she now doesn’t see a separation between them. xtrashot wondered how everyone had heard of SL? Gentle first heard of the world from an online chat room and was immediately attracted by the immersive nature of the virtual world whereas Mook discovered it through her research activity and Maria was introduced by an online group that was developing a presence here. Once she arrived she didn’t leave. John wondered how much time community members spend in SL every day and the answer is anything from two to eight hours normally but maybe as long as fifteen hours when involved in conferences.

ianjkelly noted that the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an increase of online activity and asked if this was also the case for VAI? It seems not, for the most part, although Gentle commented that she is noticing it in the less disabled folks. For the members who are used to social isolation prior to COVIDS-19 there has been little change. pastelmoon19 asked if it took a long time for them to enjoy SL or was it something they loved from the beginning. Gentle remembered that she spent her first few weeks sliding on every waterslide she could find! She loved it. For Mook the first day was full of shocks of all kinds but, after the first week the risk was becoming addicted. John said he spent long hours immersed in SL when he discovered it in 2007, only emerging for food and sleep! Sitearm admitted that he got over it after the first five years! For Maria it took three minutes to ‘fall in love’ with SL, and she hasn’t looked back.

Gentle invited the class to remain on at VAI, or return later, to explore the range of activities and sights. She thanked the students for their attention and their interesting questions. John concluded by thanking Mook for stepping into the breach unexpectedly and so capably. He also thanked Maria for sharing her insights this evening. Gentle Heron has been involved with the module since it commenced over eleven years ago and has always been extraordinarily generous with her time and sharing her not inconsiderable experience. John thanked her for her continuing support. He also thanked Sitearm Madonna, who has also been involved since the beginning, for making the arrangements for this field trip. The students echoed their thanks saying they enjoyed the session finding it really insightful and interesting.

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