Archive for the ‘2019 class summaries’ Category

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Class 11: Warning!

May 9, 2019

Guest speaker, Prof Noel Fitzpatrick, all alone in class this evening.

Today was extremely disappointing. Only one participant turned up for class. No apologies received from anyone else. You all know that I had a guest speaker scheduled and this was the final taught class of the module. At the very least your unexplained absence is discourteous. Even more of a concern is the fact that we have spoken about the importance of reliability in online engagement throughout the semester. I made it clear that if you couldn’t attend I am happy for you to catch up with the summaries in this blog and all I asked was the courtesy of being notified in advance.

It is not possible to have a discussion with a single student so class had to be abandoned.

The next class meeting in two weeks will be your turn to present your Team Projects. I hope to see full attendance.

You should also ensure your website blogs are up to date.

Acuppa Tae looks around in vain for some students to participate in the class discussion.

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Class 10: Content Produser

May 2, 2019

The poor attendance continues with only five arriving for class today and two apologies received.

John suggested we visit Lauk’s Nest, a nature park in SL and one of the first (and now oldest remaining) public places for SL residents and visitors to enjoy in the virtual world. Based on the idea of a ruined ancient Mayan village in a jungle by the coast, it was built originally by Laukosargas Svarog in the very early days of SL’s existence and uniquely, despite changing hands several times, retains its charm. At one stage Linden Lab took on responsibility for the site but it is now owned by a preservation group that fund its maintenance along with donations from visitors. In addition to the lovely views it has some nice interactive features such as a bird feeding table and playable musical instruments in a high tree-house. The video below records a tour of Lauk’s Nest from 2016.

Lauk’s Nest, unlike many public spaces in SL, has the advantage of being a quiet spot which supports voice so we held our class discussion in the inspiring surroundings. To begin we questioned the rationale behind recreating the environments that already exist IRL. What is the motivation? Familiarity? Accessibility? Relaxation? Emotion? Coccinella asked if you wanted something like real life why would you come to Second Life? We decided it must be a matter of perspective. Such vistas are not available to everyone and can be difficult to access; it may be that they provide a taster for the real thing; or perhaps they provide an opportunity for those who have no direct access IRL to have a virtual experience.

EvaKKCara argued that this form of expression is just as valid as any other – it is a form of art. Aestheticant and JCraig added that it is an example of co-creation by a network, or community, of individuals. EvaKKCara added that it has been created by the ‘produsers’ (as described by Bruns) of SL! This process of co-creation also supports the maintenance of a level of quality that in turn ensures the value of what is created.

As the discussion moved on to the creation of content we looked at possible indicators of value. How do we know what we create has value and how can we realise that value? Is it simply about followers and income generation? What is the difference between social influencers, who can be seen as pedlars, and those who generate original content? John suggested that the class in which we looked at identity and personal branding throws some light on the emergence of value. He asked you to consider these in the context of your own blogs and ponder these questions as you move into you own professional careers.

Before we broke up John reminded the class that there is only one more meeting before the Team Work project presentation. You all confirmed that your teams are making good progress! John also suggested that if you don’t have your blogs up to date you should work on doing so immediately – before the end of semester rush to submit portfolios and essays becomes too much of a burden.

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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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Class 7: Online Communities and Relationships

March 28, 2019

Attendance was disappointing this week but we continued with our visit to Virtual Ability Island (VAI) nevertheless. We all teleported to the Cabana Classrooms where Gentle Heron, founder of the Virtual Ability community, introduced her colleagues Eme Capalini, Stepinwolf Darkstone and Carla Broek. Eme is Vice President of Development for Virtual Ability. SL gives her a creative work outlet and a place to make friends. She says that logging in is like coming home. Stepin has been in SL since 2007 and joined the group that eventually became Virtual Ability where he now manages a virtual apartment complex on a voluntary basis. Carla is from Belgium and just celebrated her 12th rez day (as SL birthdays are known). She was drawn to SL by the opportunity to explore creative work like photography and community. She has created her own world inspired by the English countryside where people can relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Gentle explained that she had been an educational researcher before being medically retired by multiple sclerosis.

Student Rebekah Majesty with Eme Capalini, Gentle Heron, Stepinwolf Darkstone and Carla Broek at Virtual Ability.

Speaking and using text (as is the custom in VAI to support those who are deaf) she describes VAI as an international cross-disability peer support community with over 1,000 members. ‘Cross-disability’ means that members who have disabilities may have a physical, a mental or emotional or developmental disability, or a sensory disability. Many have multiple disabilities. The community offers peer-to-peer understanding, support and education because sometimes it is important to communicate with people who are most likely to understand the issues, concerns and point of view. But the community is not exclusively disabled. About one-quarter of the members do not (yet!) have disabilities. They are known as 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. The community has been in Second Life for over 11 years – and won the first Linden Prize in 2009 for a project that had a tangible impact on the real world. It is also one of the original Community Gateways into SL, authorised by Linden Lab, so is recognised well beyond its own community.

VAI is supported by Virtual Ability Inc, a US nonprofit corporation. The community assists people with all kinds of of disabilities to enter and thrive in virtual worlds like SL. It also offers various education and entertainment activities daily, encouraging members to explore all that virtual worlds have available. On this island the community provides educational exhibits and displays, health information, information on research opportunities and details of over 120 disability peer support communities identified in SL so far. The community also hosts the Cape Able Art Gallery and Cape Serenity Library.

The population with disabilities is the largest minority in the world and is the most varied. VAI members are neither geographically proximate nor culturally similar. In fact they embrace diversity. This requires a group value of respect and accommodation. The other important value is an emphasis on Ability and not DISability.

The students joined the discussion with some interesting questions. Hummish opened by asking about protecting oneself from cyber bullying, online theft and so on. Gentle replied that there is little help from SL itself but the community provides help as it can by banning griefers. Carla told us that there is a reporting tool provided by Linden Lab but it is not a direct support. John told of the retired Miami Dade police officer who headed up security in Virtual Dublin and kept the community safe and peaceful.

Coldteosies asked about anonymity and whether virtual friends met IRL. Gentle said that people may retain as much anonymity as they wish. For instance she had met all three colleagues IRL and they were exactly the same as the people she knew from SL! Stepin added that he was glad to find that Gentle was very much Gentle IRL. John added that he had many many friends in SL, some of whom he eventually met IRL and some not.

Aestheticant asked if people who are differently abled need extra digital protections, within the broader sense of digital citizenship. Gentle explained that while VAI did not have a constitution it has an informal set of principles that are enforced, along with the SL Terms of Service. Stepin added that on Cape Heron they have a covenant and a Rental Agreement which spell out a lot of expectations.

This led on to some interesting observations about how we might identify with our avatars (which also emerged during Class 6 last week) and how that can affect behaviour. Some of us have avatars that look like ourselves IRL but Rebakah said hers doesn’t look anything like her. Gentle suggested that the sense of embodiment takes a while to develop and explained the concept of mirror neurons – the same parts of your brain fire when you see an avatar doing something as if you were doing with your physical body. We also learned that some people on the autism spectrum find SL a comfortable place to meet others because they can retain control of their interactions. Some of them don’t use human avatars but use, furry animals, fruit, or even a simple metal sphere.

Eme shared some links to VAI’s projects:

Gentle offered explanatory notecards to us, giving more details about VAI and the community and invited everyone to visit again anytime we wished. John thanked Gentle, Eme, Stepin and Carla for hosting us and being so generous with their time, knowledge and experience.

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Class 6: My Avatar and Me – virtual identities

March 21, 2019

We were joined by Locks Aichi for class this week but, due to the vagaries of online environments, she was unable to materialise her avatar in SL so engaged remotely. Locks could hear us but was unable to move her avatar or communicate through text or voice. Instead she sent WhatsApp text to John who shared with the class.

We all teleported to a location that was large enough for you to break into your teams far enough apart to have a voice discussion without disturbing each other. However, it seems you mostly used text again! continuing to be somewhat reluctant to use voice. Each team was asked consider the question: ‘what is the basis for your visual identity?’ and come up with two key considerations – to be posted to a scrumblr board.

Scrumblr board recording team responses.

We then teleported back to the classroom to share our thoughts. John opened by suggesting that some consideration of what ‘self’ means is an important starting point when considering our personal identity. Chalmers talks about consciousness – a prerequisite for the idea of ‘self’ and Dennett posits a particular theory about the nature of ‘self’ being somewhat fluid to say the least. (Some of you hadn’t viewed the video material so it would be useful to do so now to get an insight into this thinking.)

Using the examples of our avatars John suggested that virtual identity gives us the opportunity to explore how we might present ourselves to others. His own avatar, Acuppa Tae, was originally designed to look as close to him IRL as possible because he felt it was appropriate in his role as a teacher. However, that requires the avatar to be updated as time passes! Sitearm Madonna’s decision to use a female avatar emerged from a desire to acknowledge his mother’s role in his development. Locks said that she chose to be a guy to be different from her RL self; not really because of how she wanted to be perceived but more to see if she would behave differently when aligned with a male avatar. She considers her avatar as a suit of clothes rather than an identity. Experimenting with your virtual self allows for fun to explore – just like dressing up. It poses the question that identity may be something transferable bringing to mind the movie Get Out.

We discussed the issues you noted on the pin board and attempted to identify the shift in thinking from consciousness of the self to the development of an identity and on to the promotion of a personal brand. The notion of authenticity began to emerge as we came to the end of the class and this would be an interesting point to pick up in your own blog posts. What influences our choice of avatar and how we present in SL? How do we identify with our avatars? What identity are we attempting to present in our website blogs?

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Class 5: From Hammer to Pixel

March 14, 2019

Since our last class the first assessment has been completed and feedback posted to Brightspace for everyone who submitted. John reminded you to read both elements of the feedback carefully: your level for each criterion on the rubric and the general comment. If anyone would like individual feedback a tutorial can be arranged in SL.

We then had an interesting discussion on the value of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking for today’s society. John encouraged you to use voice rather than text so that you start getting some experience of speaking virtually. This is good practice for delivering the presentation of the Team Project and also allows for a quicker response and more dynamic interaction. However, it emerged that not everyone was in a position to use voice. Some of you were in a cafe, another didn’t have a functioning mic and others just didn’t want to! So we proceeded with a combination of talk and text.

The discussion began by considering the impact of different media on society. The shift from an oral to written culture, McLuhan suggested, had a very particular impact on people that was only beginning to be recognised in his era. He was interested in the impact resulting from the change to a visual culture. He argued that literacy as a form of awareness is objective. It supports the ability to stand back and observe situations objectively. The, at that time, new medium of television was introducing a visual awareness, one that is subjective, because it is so involving.

We tried to review the impact that the last 40 or so years of television has had on society, particularly in light of the emergence of the web and access-on-demand. This change from a mass medium that saw audiences numbered in the millions consuming the same programme at the same time to asynchronous viewing must surely impact on our awareness. The emergence of the ‘echo-chamber’ effect, where social media insulates us in a bubble of our peers seems to have made society vulnerable to detrimental manipulation as seen in the election of Trump and the result of the Brexit referendum.

We noticed how difficult it can be not to end up making value judgements and the impossibility of predicting how individuals and society will react. Referring to McLuhan’s concern that 20th century man was shuffling towards the 21st century in the shackles of the 19th century, we concluded that awareness is a key ability we need to nurture. By attempting to remain aware of the impact that technology is having on us we can at least minimise a blinkered descent into the unknown.

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