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Class 3: Teamwork and Collaboration

February 20, 2020

Sitearm Madonna presents the theory of teamwork and collaborative working.

 

John introduced Sitearm Madonna, our guest speaker on the topic of teamwork and collaboration this week. Site began by asking each of us to jot down one experience of poor teamwork and another positive experience of teamwork for later discussion. He then pointed us in the direction of a short video to introduce the topic.

Site also provided this link to his slides.

Projects involving teams go through different stages and each stage requires different energies or has different flavours, as described in the sestet (a poem made o fix lines) displayed in the class – if you haven’t seen it make sure to visit SL and review it along with this summary.

Sitearm’s sestets give a flavour of teamwork dynamics.

 

Teamwork is like breathing: it is a process not a one time event. There are four aspects to understanding how teams function. Firstly, teams have effective members. Each of us brings some commitment and some level of competence. You can compensate for the lack of either in team mates to ensure a positive outcome. Secondly, effective teams develop in stages. Starting with the forming stage where members are getting to know each other and find their place before moving onto what can be the most difficult stage known as storming. This is where everyone is pitching ideas and working out how to proceed. Then teams usually move on the norming stage when the members are beginning to work together comfortably and settle down to performing and getting the project done.

Thirdly, effective teams use best practices. For example, using brainstorming to generate ideas and then agreeing a protocol for deciding how to progress: majority vote, consensus or some other way. You will find that you move back and forth between brainstorming and deciding until the project begins to take shape. When you meet in your teams get into the habit of briefing yourselves. Ask questions like: what are we going to do in this meeting? Then do it. At the end of the meeting leave some time for debriefing: record any decisions made or what happened. Also ask each to member to say what they liked about the meeting and what they wished had happened. This helps your team meetings to become more efficient, effective and enjoyable.

Finally, effective teams share roles: research shows that there are nine key roles for highest performance and success in teamwork. As many teams don’t have nine members it is often necessary for people to take on more than one role. Each of us has a natural affinity to some roles but you can practice taking on new roles also. The disadvantage of this is the discomfort as you move into unfamiliar territory and the extra work involved but the advantage is seen in performance and success on both the personal and team levels.

Collaboration is a technology – proven and time tested with a vast number of academic papers describing the process. Think of it like that and you will find it less daunting.

Always remember to practice your presentation before the final deadline, have backups and expect catastrophe. Prepare for it and you will be successful no matter what happens. Ease the typical headaches of teamwork, whether you are a member or leader, by trying to discover what you can rely on from yourself and others on your team.

We then revisited the experiences Sitearm asked us to jot down at the beginning of the class to compare them against the theory outlined in the talk. This helped to root the theory in practice.

In closing, Sitearm introduced Persona theory. The concept originated in ancient Greek theatre where the actors wore wooden masks with a hole for speaking through. Humans develop multiple personas during our lifetimes – tailored for multiple purposes and taken on in different social situations. An awareness of persona increases your competence in moving from one role on a team to another as necessary.

Finally, John posted the team members for the Team Project. In the next class we will consider the brief for the project and answer any questions you have about working on it for the rest of the semester.

For the rest of the semester you will be working in the following teams.

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Class 2: Blogging to the World

February 13, 2020

The second class of the semester gets underway as everyone settles down.

We had a few more students join us this week and John arranged for them to join the module group after class. But he began the class by showing the blogs set up by three of you so far and reminding everyone to read the assessment criteria for the assignment. You will see that it is a requirement to write a post every week. On the one hand this is to ensure that you don’t have a big demand on your time at the end of the semester but, more importantly, to ensure you have time and space to reflect on your learning and progress continuously during the semester. Everyone who hasn’t already done so must submit a link to their blog this week (email it to John). The links will be posted here on the module website so that you can all see each others blogs, and even post comments to them.

John suggested that you probably don’t make a habit of reading blogs… When the module first started, over ten years ago, blogs were very much in fashion and many students were already avid bloggers. You confirmed that this is no longer the case. You more commonly use Instagram or, perhaps, twitter and occasionally, YouTube. However, you did not think changing the assessment element to a vlog would be a good move – preferring to remain with the traditional written blog.

During the discussion it was clear that many of you are not preparing for the class in Brightspace. You are not reviewing the Reading List, looking at the topics given in advance of the class discussion or availing of the Quiz. John reminded you that this is an essential part of the module. The in-class discussion must be informed by the reading or you will simply be sharing uninformed and relatively valueless opinions. The reading and viewing material has been specifically selected for accessibility and to be varied so it is not asking too much that you engage with it each week.

When asked if you had seen the class summary for last week many of you seemed unaware of this module website so John shared the link again. He reiterated that this resource is at your disposal and you should use it. It is particularly useful if, as in some cases, you crash out of SL during class, or your mic fails for a while and you end up missing some of the discussion: you can review the class content in these weekly summaries and catch up on the detail.

When writing your blog posts remember to adhere to academic writing standards and protocols that you are expected to apply in your critical theory classes. Use all forms of writing: narrative, descriptive, reflective and critical. Refer to the reading and viewing material from the module reading list and cite it correctly. The additional reading list this week gives links to manuals describing how to do this and will be useful resources for you to refer back to over the course of the semester.

We also spoke about the conventions and etiquette that you need to be aware of when working virtually. When you join a new group, whether in work or socially, you take time to see how people behave. The same thing applies when it comes to online working. Here in SL I have already suggested that you need to provide feedback to me to confirm that you understand what I am saying: typing a ‘y’ into the nearby chat window for instance. This also reassures me that you haven’t gone off to make a cup of tea and it replaces the body language and facial expressions we are so used to relying in real life. If you find yourself working in a virtual space that uses live video feed different work-arounds will be needed. The key is to remember the importance of reaction and feedback in human communication.

Finally, John asked everyone to prepare for next week’s class carefully and attend on time because we have our first guest speaker joining us.

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Class 1: Welcome to Second Life

February 6, 2020

The first class of the semester is always a little fraught as everyone is meeting in Second Life (SL) for the first time. Getting used to operating in this virtual environment takes a little while: trying to find the location of the class, learning how your avatar walks, talks or sits and trying to keep up with the content of the module can be an intense experience. But, after a week or two everything will settle down nicely. This semester was no different – it took a little longer than usual for everyone to find their way to the classroom in SL but eventually we settled down and got started. John asked everyone to ‘friend’ each other and ensured that all became members of the module group which gives you access to the TU Dublin campus in SL and supports remote chatting by allowing you to send group Instant Messages (IMs).

The plan was to take the class photo after that but in the hustle and bustle John completely forgot.

John forgot about taking the class photo until after the class had concluded and everyone had gone home!

 

Instead he introduced the content and structure of the module to come as the semester proceeds. Each class is quite self contained and will have a unique topic. You can preview the topic for each week on page 4 of the this blog (see the link in the right hand column) or in Brightspace. The first three weeks will see you all getting used to operating in SL until the Team Project is introduced. From then on you will be assigned to your teams and will work on developing your project which will be directed by the content coming from the following classes. You will also need to spend time working in SL between class times. At first you will be assigned specific tasks to complete  but as the module progresses you will use it to meet in your teams and to work on the Project.

The module has been constructed to be as interactive as possible – you are expected to preview the content in Brightspace well ahead of each class meeting: working through the reading and viewing material provided so that you can contribute to a discussion in class each week. This approach engages all participants actively allowing each to contribute appropriately. In addition, there is a specific assignment to be completed following each class. The details are given in the Brightspace unit for the relevant week.

John also explained how the module will be assessed and asked you to read the Assessment unit in Brightspace very carefully. Pay particular attention to the assessment criteria and the Assessment Rubric as these will guide you on what to submit. It is important to ensure that you write a post you your blog every week and don’t forget that the first assessment occurs after week 4.

The summaries of each class that are posted here are intended as a support for class not a replacement. Use them to catch up only if you unavoidably miss an occasional class meeting. John asked that if you cannot make class for any reason please let him know, by email, in advance.

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Spring semester 2020

January 16, 2020

Welcome to the module ‘Virtual Environments: Is one life enough?’ being offered as an elective module to students of Technological University Dublin School of Creative Arts and Dublin School of Archtitecture.

Classes will start in February on Thursdays at 8:00 pm. We meet online every week at TU Dublin in Second Life. Please note: you will need a Mac or PC desktop or laptop to access Second Life – you cannot do so with a mobile device.

Full details about the module are available to registered students in Brightspace, where you should self-enrol.

If you are new to Second Life, known as SL, then start by reading Getting into Second Life to find out how to access the class. You should then visit SL and find the TU Dublin campus, learn how to get around the virtual world and familiarise yourself with the environment and how to control your avatar. This will take a few hours so give yourself plenty of time before class starts.

Please read pages 1 to 9 in the column on the right also. If you would like to find out more about what to expect during the semester read the posts in this blog: all class since 2009 have been summarised.

If you have any problems email John O’Connor at TU Dublin.

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Team Projects

December 19, 2019

The presentations by the four teams were excellent. The Green, Yellow and Red teams opted to present live in class with the support of slides while the Blue team directed us to a YouTube video. Each participant contributed to the delivery and there were none of the glitches often associated with technology. Everything went smoothly and according to plan. Except for one thing: John recorded the live presentations and a Q&A with Sitearm Madonna so they could be included in this post but… the sound failed to record. So the only shortcoming was my own. Sincere apologies for the error and the lack of sound on the following videos. But well done to the participants this semester. You did an excellent job.

Sitearm asked you to share your experience of working on a virtual team and compare it with team work in RL. Most of you found it slightly easier to present in SL but more difficult to work collaboratively. Nevertheless, you agreed that it required a more disciplined approach to achieve success.

John concluded the module by thanking Sitearm for his attendance and contribution. I also thanked you all for your attendance and engagement throughout the module. I enjoyed it and learned something from your contributions. I hope you also enjoyed it and found it useful and informative.

*Note: since this post was written John received sound files recorded by the wonderful Sitearm Madonna. The videos below have now been updated with full sound recordings. In addition, the Q&A video has also been posted.

Green Team presentation:

 

Yellow Team presentation:

 

Blue Team YouTube video:

 

Red Team presentation:

Here is the script for the Red Team presentation and the slides.

 

Q&A with Sitearm Madonna:

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Class 11: Warning!

December 12, 2019

Prof Noel Fitzpatrick (aka Oshinn), Head of Learning and Research Development, was interviewed by Acuppa Tae (aka John). Some very interesting topics around the meaning of Anthropocene, the future of work, individual and social responsibility and the importance of the local were discussed and you asked some searching questions. (Runtime: 47 mins 33 secs.)

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Class 10: Content Produser

December 5, 2019

John was suffering from the beginnings of flu so asked the class to be patient and let me know if I get delirious and wander off the point. I had a comforting drink to keep the tickle from my throat and we opened the class with some feedback on the visit to Virtual Ability a few weeks ago.

Everyone agreed that it made you aware of the potential SL has for very real social engagement in ways you hadn’t previously considered. You were also impressed by the amazing stories told by the community members we met. Of particular interest was the fact that two of them had met in SL and since married in both SL and RL. The opportunity for independent and fulfilling engagement between the members was notable. This went some way to explaining the enduring popularity of SL despite the ageing technology. Despite the low-res avatars and the cartoon-like environment the sense of immersion supports genuine social engagement.

Over the 16 or so years that SL has been in existence the number of communities that have grown up is remarkable and their embeddedness seems to ensure a positive future for the virtual world. The financial viability of such environments remains an open question. Philip Rosedale, the original developer of SL who left the company in 2010, moved on in 2013 to start a new venture known as High Fidelity with the aim of providing a higher quality interface (more realistic avatars with facial expressions reflecting the user’s own and 3D audio). But, it has taken until now to get into serious beta testing.

John’s avatar in Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity virtual world.

There is a plethora of other virtual world platforms catering to different market segments and interest groups but, the future of virtual worlds remains an open question for the time being.

We spoke about how virtual worlds might become a more regular form of communication and interaction, referring to books, movies and games that explore the idea such as Ready Player One and Pokemon. Dogboy and Kebab referred to the YouTube comedy sketch about an online doctor by Foil Arms and Hog that aptly highlights the shortcomings of technology. John referred back to the discussion on McLuhan which warned that our tools don’t simply help society but also have an very real impact and will change who and what we are. As the conversation moved on to Artificial Intelligence (AI) he referred to the famous Turing Test that the University of Reading claims was passed by a chatbot called Eugene in 2014.

We tried predicting the kinds of jobs that are under threat by robots and AI: anything that has a repetitive element, whether physical or intellectual or that requires the recalling facts from a vast store of knowledge or information. It seems that the creative abilities of humans are the most difficult to automate and might, therefore, be the least susceptible to AI. The creative process and the ability to generate content of value is, of course, the most elusive of human activities. Creativity is a natural ability and is one of the attributes that sets us apart from other animals, coupled with intelligence it is the reason the human race has developed with such sophistication to its current state. We have access to the widest possible set of accessible tools and anyone can reach a global audience. Now, as we shall see next week, the challenge is to save the planet from ourselves and our endless creative abilities.

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Class 9: Presenting your Team Project

November 28, 2019

Building a screen for showing slides in SL.

The class meeting this week reviewed the progress you are making on your projects and considered some of the practicalities of delivering it in Second Life.

There was at least one member of each Team in class (and all members of the Green Dog Team) so John asked for an update on progress. All teams have been meeting and considering what approach to take. The openness of the brief has made it difficult for some to settle on a specific direction but has resulted in repeated readings. John emphasised the importance of constant referral to the brief in any project you are undertaking. It is very easy to drift off-point or become distracted by your personal interests and concerns so re-reading the brief is necessary to keep you on track.

All teams have been attempting to keep working online rather than give in to the temptation to meet in RL! The Green Team have found it very useful to meet in SL while maintaining communication on Facebook and other media. Others have been using tools such as Google docs to support brainstorming and begin drafting the text.

John asked about the locations you might be thinking about for the presentation. One group had found a location that suited their topic but discovered that voice was turned off in the region. Some of you had also heard about the incident last year when the owner of the location selected by one team thought she was under attack when we all arrived suddenly! So, if you are presenting outside the classroom make sure you visit the location during class time in advance and try to get permission from the owner, or at least warn them in advance of you intention.

Most teams seem to be considering either a YouTube video or presenting slides in SL. John suggested that providing a link to YouTube is probably more successful than trying to stream into SL. We can then have a Q&A with the team following the video viewing.

John demonstrated a simple way to present slides in SL by dragging images from your inventory and dropping them onto a panel that acts as a screen. It costs L$10 to upload an image to SL so you each received L$300 (the equivalent of about US$1) to cover this expense. It is important that you give yourselves enough time for a rehearsal to ensure everything works as you expect it too.

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Class 8: Walking away…?

November 21, 2019

Guest speaker Glenn Loughran (aka Feilimy) led the discussion about Ursula K Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas in this week’s class. Due to travel commitments John was not able to attend so there is no summary but you can read about the discussion last semester for some insight into the topics that emerged.

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Class 7: Online Communities and Relationships

November 14, 2019

Gentle Heron and the Virtual Ability Island community hosted our class this week.

Visiting an active community in Second Life is a privilege and always an interesting and informative experience. Gentle Heron, the founder of Virtual Ability Island, hosted us along with residents James Heartsong, Sullen Heartsong, Dorie Bernstein and Eme Capalini.

Gentle told us of the founding of the community and the necessity for such an organisation. She started by explaining that they usually communicate with voice and text because there are deaf and blind community members. Gentle was an educational researcher before retiring due to multiple sclerosis. Virtual Ability (VAI) is an international cross-disability peer support community of over 1,000 members. People in the community come from six continents and may have a physical, mental, emotional, development or sensory disability, with many having multiple disabilities. Because it is sometimes important to communicate with someone who understands and ‘gets’ your concerns, your language and point of view, the community offers peer-to-peer support and education. However, the community does not live in isolation – it is not a virtual ‘leper colony’ – and about a quarter of the members do not (yet) have disabilities. They are referred to 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 SL for over 11 years and won the first Linden Prize in 2009 for a project that has ‘a tangible impact on the real world’. It is also one of the original Community Gateways into SL authorised by Linden Lab. So, it is well recognised beyond its own community.

VAI is supported in virtual worlds by a US nonprofit corporation, Virtual Ability Inc, to assist people with all kinds of disabilities enter and thrive in virtual worlds like SL. Virtual Ability offers educational and entertainment activities daily and encourages member to explore all that SL has to offer. Some of the most popular activities are campfire chats and dances. Healthinfo Island focuses not on disability and impairment but on health and wellness. There are educational exhibits and displays, a pavilion listing research opportunities and the Path of Support which gives information about the more than 120 disability support communities that have been identified in SL so far. On Cape Able there is an art gallery and Cape Serenity hosts a library. Both gallery and library offers only works created by persons with disabilities.

Although a community, VAI is not based on geographical proximity nor cultural homogeneity. It embraces diversity and recognised that people with disabilities form the largest minority group in the world, while being the most varied. This requires a group value of respect and accommodation. Members form both close and informal relationships and the group promotes mutual support. Potential new members are asked what the community can do for them and what they can do for the community. The emphasis in on Ability rather than DISabilty.

Gentle referred to the nine elements and three principles of digital citizenship that are outlined in the reading material for this week’s class, suggesting that they apply to virtual community membership. VAI involves members in various projects and encourages them to stretch their capabilities. The community also enforces standards of virtual world etiquette while helping members understand their rights and live up to their responsibilities. This is not always simple. Sometimes the needs of community members conflict. For instance, some cannot type because they are paralysed, others cannot read due to dyslexia or blindness, and others are deaf and cannot hear. Therefore, communication often requires an intermediary, either technological or human.

The community educates beyond itself through two annual conferences. The beginning of the month saw the 8th Annual International Disability Rights Affirmation Conference.

Gentle asked the other members of VAI to introduce themselves and students to type their questions into local chat.

Suellen Heartsong helps the estate managers and supports conferences and events by voicing for those who need that help. She is also editor of the VAI Facebook page She is able to do things in SL like dancing and being a DJ that she could not do in RL and also met her now RL husband in SL.

James Heartsong is a US Army Veteran whose disabilities include MS and PTSD (from both military and civilian tragedies). He found SL after reading an article in an MS magazine suggesting that good peer support was available but was completely lost in the large world that is SL. Luckily, he met Gentle and was welcomed into the community. He also met his wife in SL and brought her to VAI. They eventually met in RL and have now been together almost seven years.

Dorie Bernstein’s avatar is a black wolf. She joined SL over 14 years ago looking for an early community of autistic individuals but never made it to their island instead finding a home at Dreams, a community started by The Sojourner. She was a speech/language pathologist who discovered that learning to use SL helped with her recovery from strokes. She was also raising an autistic son. Dorie now runs Dreams and is getting more involved with VAI. This gives her a safe place to socialise while creating and learning new skills. Her current leadership position pushes her outside her comfort zone on a near-daily basis but is as rewarding as it is challenging.

Eme Capalini has been in SL for 12 years and works for VAI creating virtual environments for the community and and for its real life clients. She finds virtual worlds a great way to connect with others socially and to engage in research.

The questions from the class came in rapidly! LouHug wondered about how safe it felt meeting somebody from SL in RL. Suellen responded that as a retired 911 supervisor she was able to do a good background check on James in advance. It is important to be as careful and responsible as possible when moving from SL to RL. Dorie added that her mom and stepdad met in a comquserve chartroom in 1995!

John told of a former participant in the module who met their partner during the final presentation of the group project and they have since become engaged. MsBenediction noted that she might not share that story with her boyfriend.

Kebab asked about finding suitable members for the community. Gentle replied that people now find VAI rather than the other way around. It is a closed group so people must apply to join. The community needs to be wary of devotees who prey on PWDs (People With Disabilities) or those who pretend to have a disability and want to role-play. So newcomers are invited to visit for a few months so that their suitability can be tested.

ChataMari wondered why VAI chose SL as a platform to connect with others. Gentle said as the largest and most active SL was the best choice.

John reluctantly drew the discussion to a close as James said he was just getting warmed up. Thanking Gentle and friends for their generosity and time he noted that students had been welcomed at VAI for many years now and TU Dublin is very appreciative of the continuing engagement.

John offered an invitation to everyone from the community to join next week’s class when guest speaker Glenn Loughran (aka Joseph Jacotot) will lead what promises to be a very interesting discussion on the 1973 short-story The One’s Who Walk Away From Omelas by Ursula K Le Guin.

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