Posts Tagged ‘Conventions’

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Week 2: Blogging to the World

February 11, 2021

Much to our relief when we logged in to SL for class today everybody found that ‘voice’ was working. This ensured our second class was much more accessible and far easier to engage with than was our first class last week. A few more participants joined the group and once they were settled John thanked those who had sent links to their blogs and reminded everybody else to do so as soon as possible (send your link by email). He will post the links on the student blogs page here and asked you all to check out your classmates blogs, read their posts and leave comments.

You were reminded to include an ‘About me’ page in your blog (see page 1 here for an example). From the discussion is seems that many of you had read Griffin’s article ‘How to Write a Killer About Me page for your Blog‘ and understood the importance of giving your potential readers a context for your opinions. John reminded you that although your blogs are public and available to anyone to read it is unlikely that they will gain a following without promotion and advertising; nevertheless, you may use your avatar’s persona for the blog if you are uncomfortable using your Real Life (RL) identity. Simply write your bio from the perspective of your avatar as a participant on the module.

We discussed the continuing relevance of blogs on the web and many of you confirmed that you are more likely to view videos or listen to podcasts than read blogs. Indeed, there appeared to be a feeling that blogs are a somewhat dated form of publication. John suggest that it might be that the online-diary nature of blogs has changed and the level of presentation has evolved so the what was once seen as a blog is now an online magazine publication. Once a distinct format in its own right blogs have now become an integral element of many websites.

You asked about the most appropriate style of writing for a blog and whether it should be casual and informal or more academic. This module, as part of its learning methodology, uses writing as a mechanism for learning. The intention is that by the end of the semester you are confident in your own writing ability and familiar with the conventions around accountability. You will use four main forms of writing for your blogs: descriptive, narrative, reflective and critical. This can be achieved while writing in an informal tone of voice – a dry academic style is not suitable for blogging. However, you do need  to be accurate and write to the topic. It is also important to ensure your opinions are validated by referencing to your sources. In the first instance those sources will be the reading and viewing material for the module but, as you go on it is important to read around the topics and discover your own sources. Remember, it is essential that you reference the sources correctly. John referred to the links provided in the reading list to support your writing and referencing.

The practicalities of working online were discussed and you noted the difference between SL and video platforms such as Zoom, Bongo and Team. Online virtual worlds seem to be more immersive and less tiring than video meetings, despite the somewhat dated look and feel. SL can also be seen as less intrusive as you aren’t required to share video of your personal space in RL. In all online engagements, however, the lack of body language and the ‘distance’ allow for misunderstanding to arise more easily than it might in RL. Humour, particularly the more subtle form, can be lost and efforts to convey irony can come off badly. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the conventions and etiquette that are appropriate to any online group in which you are working and to provide feedback and cues that support your communication. Positive engagement is not guaranteed so be aware of the need to confirm your points of view are understood.

Finally, John introduced the assignment for next week. You are to try and meet at least three individuals in SL and engage them in conversation. He explained that this exercise is becoming increasingly difficult as residents of the virtual world are less accessible than they used to be. SL, and other virtual worlds, used to have a tradition of welcoming to the ‘newbie’ but, this seems to be less true these days. As people become more specific in their use of virtual worlds they tend to have less time for casual engagement, and may ignore you, or even be rude. John recommended that if you feel uncomfortable during any of your engagements don’t hesitate to quit SL immediately. Don’t worry about how you may be perceived – just get out if things don’t feel right. While you cannot come to any physical harm in a virtual place don’t allow yourself to be exposed to any form of aggressive or inappropriate behaviour either. Whether or not you are able to find any avatars to engage with write about your attempts and experiences in your blog post this week.

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Class 9: Digital Citizenship

December 5, 2020

Valibrarian

Valibrarian shared some of the ideas from her book on Metamodernism to the the class this week.

 

We visited the Community Virtual Library (CVL) in SL this week for a presentation by Dr Valerie Hill (aka Valibrarian), the director. Val has taught at all grade levels, served as a school librarian for twenty years and a college professor of information science. She suggests there is now a need for a new look at literacy: metaliteracy.

Alvin Toffler, writing in the late 20th century, coined the term prosumer when he noticed individuals were beginning to create and share content themselves: what we now call user-generated content. This has toppled the information hierarchy and we now have much more user-generated content than traditional formats such as books. YouTube has become the main source of information on the planet. As both consumers and producers of media we have become prosumers. One of Toffler’s well-known quotes relating to changing literacy is:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.

This constant oscillation – swinging between production and consumption of media, and between physical and digital media, aligns to our philosophical moment which Val calls metamodernism, a term being widely adopted to describe our era. Acquiring knowledge in the past meant climbing the ladder toward final mastery. Not anymore! In metamodernism culture, we learn new tools and apps constantly while evaluating live information and adapting to new devices and software updates. There is no end to the incoming stream of information. Val’s book Metamodernism and Changing Literacy addresses the challenges we face due to these changes. It is imperative that we each understand our personal responsibility as digital citizens. A term that fits with this personal responsibility (at any age from child to adult) is metaliteracy. Mackey and Jacobsen (2014) coined the term to help us better understand how we can be literate in digital culture as prosumers. This is essential to digital citizenship. For more on this have a look at Metaliteracy and Metamodern Times.

We play many roles as a metaliterate individual, as both consumer and producer of content. The Internet connected everyone… giving a voice to all. Yet, not everyone has anything meaningful to add to the conversation! The Internet has become a flood of information that is impossible to navigate without metaliteracy. Once we understand with it means to be prosumers and participants in digital culture (unless you are a hermit isolated without Internet connectivity) we become aware of the need for digital citizenship. Yes, everyone has a voice online… but not everything shared is good, meaningful or even true. In fact, Mackey and Jacobson believe we live in a post-truth world.

While the many elements of digital citizenship are beyond the scope of this short talk Val suggests they cover ethical use of information, cybersecurity and safety, communication and even emotional intelligence. She suggests looking at the digital citizenship wheel at the DQ Institute website. CVL has built a digital citizenship museum in the virtual world of Kitely and has branches in other virtual worlds besides SL.

Val witnessed the close of the Gutenberg Parentheses (the period in which the printed word was the main source of information) as printed encyclopaedias or dictionaries became rarities. Many of us love the smell and physicality of books which are likely to remain available, but we also use ebooks, websites, databases, videos, podcasts, blogs, apps and more. Juggling all these tools – sometimes simultaneously – is actually changing the human brain. This juggling is a metaliteracy skill and part of digital citizenship. However, one can get carried away by the stream of social media into a self-absorbed whirlpool. Not only must we learn to juggle and choose the best digital tools… we must also juggle between worlds: physical, virtual, or augmented. Choosing the best space for a specific purpose (working, gaming, social interaction, learning) is also a metaliteracy skill. New platforms are emerging constantly with virtual reality headsets and 360 video becoming mainstream. Val is part of a team of educators researching these environments as it is impossible to explore them alone. A major goal for CVL is to bring together digital citizens to share best practices for becoming metaliterate digital citizens. CVL has tools to help accomplish that goal. For example, they are working on a virtual database, a network of ‘office hours in virtual environments’, and a virtual world education consortium.

The Information Revolution has changed literacy forever. We live in a fascinating, fast-paced time. Val has adopted the term metamodernism in discussion of our current philosophical era but there are other names being used: post-postmodernism, for example. She is presenting the topic here today in the metaverse, a place where metadata constructs a simulation of reality – we are inside a metaphor of our world. As you think about that you are using metacognition (thinking about thinking). About… about… about… meta… meta… meta! We have become metamodern and it is now time to become metaliterate.

In closing, Val hoped that we will all ponder our own responsibility for digital citizenship and think critically about our own changing literacy. Metaliteracy is simply a term to address literacy as prosumers. The Metaliteracy website describes it as follows:

Metaliteracy promotes critical thinking and collaboration in a digital age, providing a comprehensive framework to effectively participate in social media and online communities. It is a unified construct that supports the acquisition, production, and sharing of knowledge in collaborative online communities.

In response to Val’s presentation the students suggested that being accessible all the time and being expected to reply instantly to everything is overwhelming. The ‘show location’ tool is scary too. The death of privacy in the age of Google was also mentioned and the need to teach children from an early age so that they can navigate the worlds they are going to inhabit as they grow. Val suggested looking at the Common Sense website for more on this.

John, along with the students, thanked Val for her highly informative and fascinating talk. John also thanks Sitearm for coordinating the event.

Class listens to Valibrarian

The class listening attentively to Valibarian’s fascinating talk.

 

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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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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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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 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 2: Blogging to the world

February 14, 2019

This week’s class started with John asking if anyone had visited SL since the last class to complete the assignment. Everyone said they had done so. Then you were reminded that you should send a link to your blog to John. Remember that the first assessment takes place after Class 4 and counts for 20% of your final mark so it is worth getting your posts written on a weekly basis.

We continued by talking about writing to your blog. John explained that regular posting will help your confidence in writing and at the conclusion of the module you should have experience of writing in an accountable manner. We discussed the different voices available: descriptive, narrative, reflective, critical and analytical; along with the importance of references and citing from the module reading lists. Finally, the importance of proof-reading before publishing was emphasised.

Then John asked if some of you would present your bios (About me pages from your blogs) just to get some experience expressing yourselves with voice in SL. Aestheticant volunteered and after sharing a considered bio told us she would be updating it for next week. Nobody else had a bio prepared so it was agreed that you would be ready for next week.

After that we all left the classroom and moved out to the garden to talk about the practicalities of work in on online environment. You agreed that while avatars gave some animation and life to our engagement they fall far short of providing the kind of cues we are used to in Real Life. The ability to read body language is completely missing, as is the subtlety of mood changes and loss of attention. Therefore it is very important to make up for this by presenting cues explicitly. The use of emojis and emoticons arose in response to this realisation. In SL we have already seen that giving regular feedback is necessary. The point to remember is that any virtual space is much less conducive to accurate communication than Real Life so we need to make a conscious effort to address the shortcoming. Each environment will have its own conventions and etiquette and we need to be aware of the importance of learning these and abiding by them.

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Class 5: Virtual ability

March 8, 2017

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Gentle Heron introduced the class to Virtual Ability Island.

This week the class was hosted by Gentle Heron in Virtual Ability Island. Comprising three islands, the community (of over 1,000 people from six continents in RL, and growing all the time) supports and enables people with a wide range of physical and mental abilities to thrive in online virtual worlds. For many, SL has become integrated with their RL. Gentle introduced us to some members of the community who spoke of this experience, Mook Wheeler, camaro and Eme Capalini. Although disability may be less apparent in SL where, for example avatars can walk even though their human counterparts may need a wheelchair, those with visual or hearing impairment require particular consideration.

The principles of universal design and access for all underpin the development of the environment so that colour schemes, landscaping, materials and access all promote integration – there is no segregation between the able and the disabled. You won’t find any stairs here, only ramps, colour schemes are soothing to promote calm stress-free engagement and support those with visual disability, while speech is accompanied by text in local chat so those with hearing impairment are not disadvantaged. The Virtual Ability website is worth a visit if you would like to read about the history and development.

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There are many activities, supports and exhibitions in Virtual Ability Island.

Mook, a former academic with a doctorate in a social science field, has Aspergers and manages clinical depression and anxiety. Mook described ‘being an autistic social scientist as somewhat of a paradox: trying to understand the production/politics of subjectivity without being able to negotiate it in a personal or practical sense, for the most part.’

Eme and Mook told us that in SL they can leave the ‘difficult’ parts of their lives behind in RL. In fact, Mook’s avatar has evolved away from human form to become a sphere with various attachments and bubbles because ‘being human brought too much of RL’s physical difficulties and memories into SL.’ In fact, a lot of people in SL are not aware of Mook’s autism whereas they would be fully aware of it in RL.

We had a fascinating and enlightening discussion exploring and comparing experiences. Gentle commented that people with disabilities often experience a lack of respect in RL and asked if it also happened in SL. Burnsygirl told us of her experiences as a teacher with a disability organisation in RL and how people would pat her students on the head as if they were pets.

Acknowledging the theme of the module Mook said that ‘SL is perfect for me, as close to a social and communication utopia as any medium can be for me, because I can talk (in type) to people without having to deal with their physical presence or eye contact … I can adjust all of SL’s settings, avatars, environments, visuals and sounds to accommodate my sensory needs. SL is a space of pleasure, interaction and comfort to me which RL cannot duplicate.’

Mook also shared her insightful and searing analysis of Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas which is well worth reading! [Note: this has been updated with with additional comments on 30 November 2018]

We all appreciated the generosity of Gentle, Mook, Eme and camaro for taking the time to welcome us to their community and share their experiences. It really exemplified the possibilities and opportunities offered by this technology. Gentle said we were welcome back anytime – the islands are open to the public. Many of us remained after class to explore and chat.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. View: The Politics of Utopia by Richard Noble, professor and lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths. From Utopia Revisited conference at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, 2011.
  2. Write the fifth post: to your blog reflecting on our visit to Virtual Ability Island and the notion of a virtual Utopia.
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Class 3: Teamwork and collaboration

February 22, 2017

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Open discussion about places students visited in SL since the last class.

Locks Aichi, formerly of the DIT Learning Teaching and Technology Centre and who has been teaching the module since it started, joined the class this week. She will be around to provide support and guidance from now on.

We began class by explaining the thinking behind our SL avatars names. Some people have chosen to model their avies (as they are known in SL) on their RL selves and consequently the name reflects this choice. Others have developed new ‘en ligne’ personalities that may reflect previous engagements or suggest future exploration, with correspondingly thoughtful names. John explained that when he started in SL in 2006 residents had to choose a surname from a existing list, which gave him Tae. Forenames could be freely invented so Accupa was impossible to resist. However, when SL changed its policy to allow any name to be allocated to an avie he reverted to John O’Connor. Maintaining two identities was too time consuming! So, if anyone is unhappy with their initial choice it can be changed but make sure to let everyone know.

The discussion moved onto a report on the locations everyone had been visiting since the last class. You have been very adventurous exploring pubs, museums, shopping malls, clubs and even some venues of dubious repute. Many have tried dancing, with varying degrees of success; chatting with other residents; flying; teleporting; and generally trying to get a feel for the environment. You are noticing the nuances of etiquette in this particular virtual space and, despite the occasional embarrassing moment, settling in very well.

The opportunity to observe your own responses to being in this strange new environment, one where you feel awkward and clumsy as you try to control your avie, and struggle to understand the conventions around acceptable behaviour, are not lost on you – everyone is reflecting on this. But, John reminded the class not to become too caught up in SL as an end in itself – the module merely uses SL to explore online behaviour in its broadest context, particularly for how teamwork and collaboration can be facilitated and supported. Keep that in mind while you inhabit the space.

We had hoped to look at Teamwork and Collaboration in more detail but time ran out. We did, however, present the teams you will break into for the main project, and in which you should continue your online exploration. Get used to working together online.

Group 1: shadidame; freddymcfreddy; ChipVanCorner.
Group 2: AlxMway; Burnsygirl; whatyamacallit.
Group 3: Saoise; jackmittons; amarcordcat.
Group 4: Deeuwan; Fayebubba; Inchydoney.
Group 5: Yashurdoshur; Agendasm; Yogitea.

John also said he would give each avatar L$300 for pocket money – instantly transforming from lecturer to Dad! Don’t get excited and spend it all at in the first shop – you will need some of it to upload images into SL for your project (at a cost of L$10 per image). By the way, your pocket money is the equivalent of about US$1. Your ‘bank balance’ appears in the menu bar at the right hand side.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Meet: at least two residents of SL and try to engage them in conversation.
  2. Write the third post: to your blog describing your encounters.
  3. Read: (if you haven’t done so already) the very short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. Ursula K Le Guin. 1973.
  4. Prepare: one question about the text to propose to the group at the next class.
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Class 2: Art and Utopia

February 15, 2017

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Exploring the changing light from the balcony of the DIT campus in SL.

This week we met three times! On Tuesday Glenn did a technical support session to resolve access to SL, activating voice for everyone and generally getting used to residing in SL. John followed this up on Wednesday to ensure everyone had joined the module group. We looked at changing the orientation of the sun for capturing dramatic photos and tried out flying. We also agreed to use the Sherkin Class 2016 private group for communication outside class time.

Only a few participants had checked the post from last week’s class so much of the activities were not completed. Please read them carefully and get them done for next week. It is particularly important that you start your individual blogs immediately so you can reflect on the issues that arise in class. If you wish to retain a sense of anonymity set up the blog with your avatar’s identity: there is no obligation to reveal your true self online!

We also spoke a little about how conventions in SL differ from Real Life (RL). For instance, it is perfectly acceptable to approach complete strangers in SL and initiate a conversation in a way that would be unthinkable in RL. More often than not, other residents are happy to engage. Sometimes they may ignore you or, indeed, may have stepped away for their pc – known as ‘away from keyboard’ or AFK – leaving their avatar abandoned and unable to respond! It is not possible to tell whether or not an avatar is inhabited merely by looking at it. Similarly, we don’t receive the subliminal confirmation that somebody has heard and understood what we have said because the RL facial gestures and expressions are missing. So, remember to provide deliberate cues during class discussion to confirm you are still in attendance and understand what is being spoken of. Type a comment in ‘Nearby Chat’ or even just a simple ‘y’ to indicate agreement. Better yet, type a question. Typos and poor spelling are perfectly acceptable in SL, as are txt words and acronyms – it is poor etiquette to correct another’s spelling or grammar! Familiarity with all this will develop as you  spend more time in SL.

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Class 2. Continued…

Good start to the second session this week. We have most of the technical issues worked out at this stage, everyone is on the Facebook page and it seems that almost everyone has a voice and can hear when others speak. The room was arranged into a more informal setting to allow for the second part of the module, which will be based around the close reading of key texts on Utopia and Art. This week Glenn gave a broad introduction and overview of Thomas More’s Utopia text. The group was asked to read the introduction to Stephen Duncomb’s text: Open Utopia. This introduction is quite lengthy and quite dense, however, it provides two important ways of thinking about More’s Utopia. Firstly it addresses the idea of Utopia in the present and after a century of failed and violent attempts that led to Fascism and Communism. As a result of these attempts, the concept of Utopia has become a difficult somewhat closed or static concept. However, referring to Francis Fukuyama’s thesis on the ‘end of history’, Duncombe also suggests that while we may be at the end of large-scale social projects, the status quo is very far from perfect for most of the populace. It is within this context that the concept of Utopia is being considered anew, as a way to begin to look forward to the future in a way that has been somewhat barred since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. At a more technical level, Duncombe makes some interesting arguments about the relationship between criticism and utopia, suggesting that criticism is utopias antithesis. This argument is made in a more general sense and then in a way that is much more particular to More’s Utopia, and it was quite illuminating to read Duncombe’s interpretation of the book as a critique of the function of criticism. This critique leads Duncombe to assert the role of the artist in mediating the present-ness of criticism and the future orientation of Utopian projection. This articulation of the artist as the proposer of alternative modes of social formation will be picked up in the next session. The rest of the session looked at other examples of utopian literary exposition such as François Rabelais (1483– 1553) Abbey of Thelema from his novel Gargantua.  Finally, we looked at a couple of concrete experiments such as  André Godin’s  Familistère complex in 1859 and the Worgl Experiment in Austria in 1932.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Explore: SL with some colleagues from the class. Visit at least 3 different locations that are new to you. Find them in search or ask other residents for recommendations, or simply select places at random.
  2. Write the second post: to your blog reviewing the locations you visited. Describe the places and include photos, if you can. Explain what you liked and disliked about the locations and describe any interaction you might have had – relate this to the concept of a Utopian place.
  3. Read: the very short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas. Ursula K Le Guin. 1973.
  4. Pose one question about the text to the group.
  5. Read: 5 steps to build a productive and tight knit remote team
  6. Read: 10 Rules of Professional Etiquette for the Digital Workplace
  7. Supplementary reading about SL and virtual worlds:
    in Virtual Worlds Magazine, Virtual Anthropology and the Prometheus myth.
    Interview with Rod Humble, former CEO of Linden Labs, owners of Second Life, Forget Playing Games. Meet the Man Who Wants to Empower You to Make Games.
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