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Class 6: My Avatar and Me – virtual identities

November 12, 2020
Real face merging with avatar

My avatar and me.

 

To establish some common ground for this complex subject John asked you all to think about how you would answer the question ‘who are you?’ in the context of the propositions put forward by Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers in the videos set for viewing in advance of the class. ‘How do you describe yourself?’ After you had given some thought to this we considered further questions: ‘Are your descriptions real?’ ‘Is it an illusion?’ ‘What makes yourself real?’ as we attempted to co-create an understanding as a group.

We acknowledged that how we present ourselves depends on the circumstances or the environment. So, the person we are at home is somewhat different from the person who goes into work or college, or who socialises with friends. Does this mean we have multiple personalities? This led to thinking about the difference between our ‘self’ and our ‘identity’ and the importance of establishing your ‘self’. The deep philosophical nature off this question is at the heart of what it means to exist, to be alive in the world, to be human.

It is also important on a more prosaic level. How we might wish to present ourselves professionally is important for our career development. It starts with coming to an understanding about the kind of image we decide to promote and then consciously projecting that through not only our work but also our professional engagements of all sorts. Social media is a key tool in this context – something we are all acutely aware of in the current situation where we are almost totally dependent on it.

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Class 5: From Hammer to Pixel

November 5, 2020

The class discussed the reading material about Marshall McLuhan’s mid 20th Century book The Medium is the Massage and the ideas springing from it. Beginning with the title (and the peculiar substitution of Massage for Message) there was a lively exploration of what McLuhan was getting at which threw up many questions. What did he mean by medium? How could the medium be more important than the information being communicated? How has media developed since McLuhan wrote the book? Does his thesis have any relevance today? Did he really anticipate the internet? This led to a brief look at some of the media that produced step-changes in human society through the ages, from the development of writing, printing, radio, television and the worldwide web.

John reminded us of McLuhan’s student who remarked that ‘we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us’. When we look at tools as an extension of the body and our way of interfacing with the environment is seemed easier to understand the symbiotic relationship.

It is more challenging to think about putting this knowledge to use. While it is clear to us in hindsight how new technology led to the development of human society it is not so easy to see the outcome of contemporary developments. What we can do is maintain a critical awareness and vigilance while taking nothing for granted.

Selection of newspapers

Is the medium the message or the massage?

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Class 3: Teamwork and Collaboration

October 29, 2020

This class is normally given by Sitearm Madonna but, regrettably, John was unable to make the arrangements in time this semester. So, he reviewed the key points in the hope that it might be possible to have the full presentation from Sitearm at a later date, perhaps with some students from other universities teaching in SL.

Poster showing theory of teamwork

Sitearm placed convenient posters around the classroom (check the roof also).

Sitearm had placed some very useful posters around the room which helped illustrate the dynamics of teamwork which, he suggests, is like breathing: more of a process than 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.

John reminded the class that it is very important to practice your presentation before the final delivery. You need this dry-run to iron out any difficulties that may arise in moving from a plan or script to the real presentation. Working with technology is not always reliable so it is a good idea to expect catastrophe and have at least one back-up plan, if not two: don’t get caught out! Prepare fully and you will be successful no matter what happens.

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Classes 2 and 4: Blogging and Project

October 22, 2020
Student teams for the project

Student teams for the project Fresh World

In accordance with John’s decision to bring the Team Project briefing forward we covered the content for Class 2: Blogging to the World and also Class 4: Team Project this week.

Three of you have started your blogs and there are links to them in the column on the right, page 9 Student blogs. For those who have not yet sent a link to your blog to John please do so now. Don’t forget that the first assessment of this work will be taking place the week after next. It is also useful to ensure that comments can be made to your blog to encourage the conversation. The three blogs that have been submitted are off to a great start with good reports on your exploration of SL and copiously illustrated with photos.

You all confirmed that you had read the Team Project brief – Fresh World and we discussed the detail of the project. John identified the team members as given above. We also discussed the importance of knowing the assessment criteria and keeping them to the fore while working on the project. Ensure your work is on point and relevant so that it contributes to your final mark.

Finally, John asked you to familiarise yourselves with the module in Brightspace. Your assignments each week are given there, along with reading lists, summaries and full details of the assessments.

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Team Project – Fresh World

October 19, 2020

Photo of waves lapping on the sand.

Does the current pandemic provide an opportunity to re-evaluate how we spend our time?

 

As you prepare to leave college with your degree the prospect of seeking a fulfilling career will become increasingly important. Much is being written now about the changing nature of work. As long ago as 2012 Forbes suggested that Job Hopping is the New Normal for Millennials. opens in new window But, the Guardian newspaper reported that the trade unions in Britain are concerned about the abuses of the gig economy suggesting it results in lower wages. An article in The Guardian, TUC wants clampdown on ‘poverty pay’ in gig economy jobs opens in new window, revealed that almost half of adults aged 25 or over were earning less than the minimum wage.

The World Economic Forum report on The Future of Jobs 2018 opens in new window provides a comprehensive analysis of trends on an industry-specific and country-specific basis. In the section on Strategic Drivers of New Business Models opens in new window it concludes that the unfolding of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is resulting in a variety of new and emerging jobs while the more traditional job roles are declining. But, there is some good news for you as the Economist reported in 2016 that people working in creative fields are less susceptible to automation in Automation and Anxiety. opens in new window

Taking a more holistic perspective raises deeper concerns for the future of not just work, but the entire ecosystem of society. French philosopher Bernard Stiegler suggests that the world is heading rapidly towards a dead end thanks to the consumerist model. Speaking in London opens in new window in 2018 he argued that a radically new approach to shaping our society is required. Rather than allowing capital and technology to dictate we need to bring epistemological, technological, artistic, judicial, social and economic questions together in order to shape the future.

In 1992 the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a Warning to Humanity suggesting that vast human misery would ensue if we did not change how we are impacting the planet. They ‘feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life.’ Last year the warning was updated when 15,000 scientists from around the world published World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice opens in new window.

As if all that was not enough, we are now living through a global pandemic that seems likely to impact all our futures in ways we cannot predict. Working from home has already become a commonplace experience that is unlikely to change even when the pandemic eases. Online activity is becoming increasingly acceptable and people have adapted quickly out of necessity but more thought needs to be given to the principles of working between home and an office. Organisations like McKinsey & Company are already giving advice like that in the article Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19 opens in new window from June of this year.

This is a real challenge to you, individually and collectively, as you consider your emergence into society from college. For this project you are asked to consider how you might address the problems facing society while earning a living and living your lives. Do you accept the premise of the World Scientists? Can you see ways in which it is possible to work for a more sustainable engagement with our planet? Do you think the current situation might offer society an opportunity to re-think what we do and how we do it?

The Brief

Your team has been commissioned by a global firm in the communications sector to convince senior leaders that the time has come for change. The Board of the organisation recognises the challenges heralded by the pandemic and has acknowledged the imminent destruction of our planet if something is not done to address sustainability. It has decided that the company needs to lead the world to a new way of working. You have been briefed personally by the Chairman of the Board and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) who have arranged a day-long online workshop in mid-January to which all senior executives have been instructed to attend. It is intended that the outcome will be a completely new direction for the organisation that is fully sustainable, flexible and indeed, will lead the way in rejuvenating the planet and our relationship with our home.

Your task is to kickstart the session with a dynamic, exciting and informative presentation. You must inspire a group of hard-nosed executives who have been ruthlessly successful in exploiting the planet’s resources (including their employees and customers) for the company’s benefit, without any consideration for the consequences, to review their behaviour and plan a new future.

You will work on this project in your groups to make your presentation in an entertaining, informative and lively manner using whatever medium and format you wish as long as it can be stored for later review (e.g. a talk, short film, dramatic presentation, narration+visuals). Each team will present live in Second Life. The presentation should be no shorter than five minutes and no longer than ten minutes. You are encouraged to use visual, audio or any other aids to support the presentation during which each member of the team must take part.

Each participant must also describe the progress of the project in a weekly blog post with particular emphasis on your own contribution to the project. (What are you bringing to the group and how does it fit into the team’s work?) Discuss the details of the project and also the issues that arise in working collaboratively online. How easy is it meet up virtually and plan the project? What difficulties arise in development? How easy or difficult is communication? What particular problems arise and how do you deal with them? Focus on the experience rather than writing a ‘correct’ post or having an answer for every difficulty.

Important note: If you use images or sound be mindful of copyright, particularly as presentations will be posted to the module blog.

Presentations should be no less than 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes in duration.

Your presentation can be made in the TU Dublin campus or any appropriate venue in Second Life selected by the group. Presentations will be delivered in the last class at the end of the semester.

For full details on the Team Project specifications and the assessment criteria see the Assessment Unit.
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Class 1: Welcome to Second Life

October 14, 2020
Class photo

Hannah impresses the class not only by arriving on horseback but also riding side-saddle.

The electives all started a week or so later than usual this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The fact that all students are participating largely online for most classes already has also eliminated the unique aspect of this module: totally online classes. Nevertheless, let’s hope that the novelty of Second Life (SL) as a learning environment will maintain everybody’s engagement and attention. It will also be interesting to engage with class through an avatar rather than the usual way of using Bongo, Zoom or Teams.

The class this semester is much smaller than usual with ten signed up but only six making an appearance for the first class. John suggested that it would be useful to review the content of the module in light of our current situation. Some of the classes will be combined so that we don’t overrun the semester and the focus will be on independent engagement between classes. John will present the team project in the next class to allow you all more time for collaboration – working together from the get-go should support a more engaged experience.

As we settled into class John asked that everyone friend each other and all were invited to join the module group, which will facilitate remote and private chatting. Some participants had difficulty getting voice activated but with innovative use of other apps we all managed to tune into the discussion. John told the class that a link to Brightspace will be circulated after class. This contains summaries of all classes and the reading/viewing list. It is important to put in the 30 to 40 minutes of preparation before class so that our discussions can be well-informed and relevant rather than a simple sharing of uninformed opinions. If the prep is not done we can assign the first half hour of class to doing it and push the finish time out to 9.30 pm.

The assignment for next week is outlined in detail in Brightspace. You are to explore SL and visit at least three different locations. Be careful doing so and approach the task as if you were visiting a new city. Remember, SL is just like Real Life (RL) and you will meet pleasant, friendly people but, also perhaps, some unpleasant individuals. If you feel unsure or uneasy just Quit SL immediately. Don’t worry about being rude!

You should also set up a new wordpress blog in the name and character of your avatar. You will be expected to write a post to this blog every week. The combined posts will be the equivalent of an academic paper for the purposes of assessment at the end of the semester. The first post will be a description of your SL explorations.

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Autumn semester 2020

October 12, 2020

The elective sessions were a little late in starting this semester due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The first class will take place on Thursday 15 October 2020.

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Class 12: Team Project presentations

May 7, 2020

Twelve weeks after we began the module it is now time to see your Team Project presentations. Sitearm Madonna joined us to record the presentations, along with Locks Aichi and Wisdomseeker who came to support you. The brief for the project Future Direction was explored in Class 4. Assessment criteria can be found on page 6. Each team presented their project which was followed by some comments from the floor. First to go was the Green Team.

 

Next up was the Red Team.

 

And finally, the Yellow Team.

 

And a few closing remarks from John (aka Acuppa Tae).

Each of the three teams made excellent presentations which were complimented by John, Sitearm, Locks and Wisdomseeker. Wrapping up the final class of the semester, John reminded you to ensure you made the final post to your blogs. He wished you well in all your assessments and thanked you for your attendance during what turned out to be a difficult semester. When it started nobody expected to be locked in their homes before it concluded. John also thanked all the guest speakers and hosts for field trips over the last few months.

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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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