Posts Tagged ‘online presence’

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Class 12: Virtual identities

May 3, 2017

Sitearm Madonna visited DIT in Second Life this week to talk about the origin and development of his online persona. An engineer in the US oil industry in RL and manager of Virtual Dublin in SL Sitearm is glamorous female avatar who happens to be male in RL.

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The glamorous Sitearm Madonna discusses the evolution of his avatar.

A resident of SL almost since its inception in the early 2000s Site elected to inhabit the virtual world in the form of a female avatar from the start. Attracted to the classical Greek myth of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wild animals, childbirth and virginity but finding the name already proliferating in SL he settled on the anagram. He muses on this decision wondering how it might have been influenced by his working single mother’s life experience, or a simple curiosity. He soon discovered that not only was there a greater choice of clothing available for female avatars but, male associates were prone to bestowing gifts of jewellery.

In the early days of SL communication was via text chat – voice chat did not became available until late 2009 – so there was little to give away the fact that a female avatar might be directed by an RL male. It was only as Site became more engaged with the virtual world in RL, attending conferences and developing a consultancy practice for companies trying to move into SL that his identity became an issue. This led to some colleagues variously being surprised, irritated, embarrassed or unaffected by the revelation.

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Sitearm, left, introduces one of his alternative avatars.

However, men using female avatars and women using male avatars turns out not to be unusual in SL. Women sometimes refer to unwelcome attention from male avatars as the reason for their choice and, indeed, Site also spoke of this. Locks Aichi also spoke of her decision to use a male avatar saying that she grew up as a tomboy and felt comfortable that way in SL having tried female and male avatars. She does have a female avatar in traditional Nigerian costume which she reserves for special occasions.

We also remembered a past student, Box of Chocolates, who photographed herself in RL with a cardboard box over her head and face, sporting hand drawn features, which then influenced her avatar for the semester.

Virtual worlds such as SL, and social media in general, allow us to explore our identities in new ways. This can be an interesting and revealing experience. In Asian Genders in Tourism Rokhshad Tavakoli reflects on how virtual tourism could be used to overcome barriers to travel for Iranian women. But, one needs to be mindful of the impact this may have on others. There are numerous examples of how it can go terribly wrong from the Syrian lesbian blogger who was revealed to be a married man in 2011 to the outing of a white woman who posed as a black civil rights leader in 2015. They were both seen as behaving fraudulently despite their own insistence that they were presenting an inner integrity.

Somehow, the discussion segued into the subject of robots and cyborgs with special reference to Donna Haraway’s seminal feminist text: A Cyborg Manifesto (1984) which challenges traditional theories of the performativity of gender, proposing the confusion of gender roles against the essentializing of them. For Haraway the Cyborg represents the space to move beyond binary codes into more a fluid and dynamic understanding of identity, she writes;

Cyborgs might consider more seriously the partial, fluid, sometimes aspect of sex and sexual embodiment. Gender might not be global identity after all, even if it has profound historical breadth and depth. (P.108)

Within this conversation Site told us about the Museum of Robots in SL and promptly his avatar become a yellow robot, reminiscent of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2.

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Tasrill Sieyes, an SL Resident who made Duchamp’s legendary painting come alive.

This constant merging and morphing of identities throughout the presentation was resonant with practices in the field of Queer Pedagogy which seeks to use pedagogical techniques to disturb and trouble the way social norms are constructed and affirmed through traditional educational frameworks. In Site’s performance, the ‘Dragging’ of identity expressed a creative space between socially assigned norms ie ‘Male/Female’, Drag being the in-between (/). Such performative pedagogies also subvert the traditional role of mastery assigned to the teacher in education, allowing for more constructivist horizontal approaches reminiscent of Joseph Jacotot’s radical conception of Universal Education discussed in the first session.

As an extension of this discussion and as a way to both engage with the ‘making’ potential of SL and to interrogate and question the formation of identity in SL, Glenn suggested we build a robot for our next project. However, given that this is the last class of the module before the exhibitions and presentations on the 17th May, this ambitious undertaking will have to be postponed until a future point.

This last class has really been the wildest of them all and certainly opened up new questions and new possibilities within Second life. The students have been on a creative and somewhat disconcerting pedagogical journey through this project, one which has been challenging and bonding in equal measure. It has broadened our understanding of what constitutes a world in the contemporary sense and how we might act in worlds that are still too new to be fully comprehended, but which might at the very least give us a glimpse of what is to come. Class ended with Site offering a guided shopping tour in SL. This was received with much interest and we closed a most interesting discussion.

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Class 7: Akron Island

March 22, 2017

The class visited the University of Akron island in Second Life this week. We were hosted by Prof Dudley Turner (aka Dudley Dreamscape) who took the module some years ago and then co-taught it with DIT for a number of years. Many of you also met Dudley at the seminar for National Digital Week in the West Cork Arts Centre last November. Unfortunately the problems with voice in SL have persisted so the class was conducted in nearby chat text.

Dudley described the origin of the island. When it was planned the faculty wanted to make sure there were a variety of areas for small group gatherings. These are scattered around the island. Originally there weren’t any big classroom spaces but Dudley built the larger lecture hall type space for larger meetings as the requirement grew. The learning spaces include a tree house and a glen with its own waterfall. Glenn noted that the rural design was reminiscent of the hedge schools that sprang up around Ireland under the Penal Laws.

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Akron Island with the life-size pie chart maker in the foreground.

We moved to the life-sized pie chart maker for a discussion on virtual identity. As we were forced to chat through text this was a useful to device to encourage debate. The facilitator (me, in this case) asks a question. Participant avatars then move to the appropriate section: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree and a pic chart is built in the centre. We worked with the following questions:

  1. Do you think you share too much online?
  2. Do you know who is watching you online?
  3. I would be happier not to have social media apps
  4. I keep my business and personal stuff separate online.

The second question resulted in discussion around free apps and the ‘price’ we may unwittingly pay. Chip Van reminded us that if it is free we are the product. In response to John’s question if people feel in control of their online information Inchydoney suggested we tend to throw caution to the wind for the sake of convenience. However, there was an acknowledgement that different age groups are behaving in different ways online.

The discussion around social apps resulted in many comments about ‘addiction’ to the buzz from them. Yet everyone agreed they were useful for keeping in touch when physical distance is an issue. Once people have met in RL the online engagement can be more satisfactory.

The class meeting finished with thanks to Dudley for hosting us at Akron Island and an invitation for him to join us in Dublin anytime.

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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!

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 8: Content creation

November 17, 2016

John started this week by discussing the student blogs. He recommended that you have a look at each others blogs for reference. Compare them with your own blog for insights into how you could improve. You have until 8.00 pm next Thursday to bring your blog up to date before the week 8 assessment. One or two of you need to complete your bios in the ‘About’ section. In response to a question John did not recommend revising old posts but rather, put any effort into your future writing – this will give a better opportunity for improving your mark as it will demonstrate improvement and that you are learning. If any of you would like direct feedback on your progress speak to John after the class and we can discuss then or make any appropriate arrangement.

From now on your blog posts should report and reflect on the group project. Discuss how your team is functioning, how roles are filled, meetings are organised and conducted, decisions are made, work schedule agreed etc. Look at your own contribution in a critical light and describe what you discover about working in an online team: what makes it difficult and what supports it. Remember, you don’t need to use SL – any online tool or application that works for your team is good.

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Does this qualify as a diverse range of class participants…?

We went on to discuss the project in a little more detail after that. Some of you have been meeting in your teams while others are just getting started. Some of you have begun researching your own and your team mates digital footprints using Google searches. This is a good way into the project and should be a feature of each team’s approach. However, be sensitive to each other’s right to privacy and don’t go so far as to cause discomfort to your colleagues. This is a class project not a private investigation! Back away if it starts to become personally uncomfortable for anyone. The final presentation should describe your methodology (how you researched the project), a summary of what the team discovered about the members online presence, a reflection on your reaction (were you surprised by anything discovered?) and a possible scenario where the information could be exploited by others.

On a daily basis most of us are generating ‘content’ online and broadcasting it to the world. Whether anyone is interested in it, or even aware of it, is a different matter. Before the internet facilitated such easy access to broadcasting there were gatekeepers in the form of newspaper and book editors, financial controllers etc. This provided some form of quality control. Now, much of what is published on the web is worthless making the issue of ‘value’ more important.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Look up: the infographic Things that can and can’t be copyrighted.
  2. Read: this thoughtful blog post Content and licensing in virtual worlds about the legal issues around protecting ‘things’ you create in SL and online in general. Read the comments also.
  3. Write the ninth post: to your blog reflecting on the progress being made on the group project.
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Class 7: Communities and identity

November 10, 2016
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Online identity versus ‘real’ identity.

This week we had a lively discussion that was informed by our visit to Virtual Ability Island in the previous class. The differences between real and virtual spaces became apparent when we considered the limitations of  Second Life. For example, avatars can have difficulty negotiating stairs, particularly spiral staircases, but this has not led to their replacement: experience of Real Life building has shaped our approach to building in virtual worlds for the same reason that early motor cars resembled horse-drawn carriages.

An understanding of what helps us to feel comfortable in a virtual space is very important in the development and support of online communities not just in SL but in general. The rules of engagement need to be clearly defined as do the conventions around acceptable behaviour. Regulations, conventions and etiquette help to define a community and support the feeling of belonging to a group and participating. Joining a community requires patience and a certain amount of commitment – while the rules may be published, conventions and etiquette are less clear. It take time to observe and learn them as you gradually become engaged.

This is also an important aspect of team building. Even in Real Life teams can be difficult to manage and tend to be successful when the social glue that holds them together is given attention. This is even more important for online teams that  meet only virtually. For success you must consider how to support social interaction before you get down to the ‘real work’.

Another important criteria for successful group work and team building is trust. This fundamental human condition can be delicate in Real Life so how much more so is it in virtual environments? Building an online identity is really a matter of building trust. The example of the Syrian lesbian blogger demonstrates how easy it can be to build a persona and how devastating it can be if it emerges that the persona does not match Real Life.

John gave some feedback on your blogs reminding everyone to ensure you are writing on the required topic. Generally, the descriptive writing is good and posts are well illustrated. Now it is time to become more reflective. Write about your own response to your learning, how you might apply it and where you are finding it difficult.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Write the eighth post: to your blog describing how your team has approached planning your project, dividing the work and addressing conflict.
  2. Lecture: watch From Prosumer to Produser: Understanding User-Led Content Creation by Prof Axel Bruns (Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland Institute of Technology) who explains his theory of user-led collaborative content creation.
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Class 5: personal branding – presence online

October 20, 2016

Class began with a review of the student groups. Some of the groups have been unable to make contact with one of their members so John suggested that we would consider the groups again next week. By then the pattern of class attendance will have emerged and if some realignment of membership is required we can do it then.

Most of the class have now joined the Facebook group and everyone agreed that it is a very useful way to keep in touch with class issues because most of us access the app regularly throughout the day. John asked how the group members intend to communicate online and it appears that many of you will use Facebook messenger. In addition to the advantage of regular checking it is also accessible across may platforms – phone, pc, tablet etc. This gives it an advantage over WhatsApp, WeChat and other apps that are limited to the phone.

Only some of you had read the articles posted here last week so there was a limited discussion on how employers might interact with employees who have a very public social media presence. In the four years since the Wall Street Journal article was published the landscape has changed so much that it appeared quite dated. However, it did begin a discussion about the ubiquity of social media and how our real lives are becoming synonymous with our online profiles. We will return to this subject next week.

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Lauk’s Nest, one of the oldest parks in Second Life, was built in 2004 by Laukosargas Svarog.

The class finished with a visit to Lauk’s Nest, one of the oldest natural parks in SL. Symeon Siamendes greeted us by offering cocktails and a notecard giving the history of the park. It was created only two years after the launch of SL itself, in 2004 and, almost uniquely for the virtual world, it has been sold to different owners four times since then. Each has maintained the integrity of the original creation.

John commenced disbursement of L$300 to each participant and said he would ensure everyone received their payment before class next week.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Look at: the infographic Personal Branding: 10 Steps to a New Professional You.
  2. Explore: Humans of New York Facebook page and related social media see how Brandon Stanton has used social media to make an impact- an example being his use of instagram, facebook, twitter alongside the blog. Take note of how he has identified and positioned himself.
  3. Read: about the Heron Sanctuary which we will be visiting next week. Virtual Ability Inc. 
  4. Write the fifth post: to your blog about how you might convert your personal presence online into an identity for professional networking.
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Class 2: Settling in

September 29, 2016

The class started out with some housekeeping. All participants were reminded to select the DIT Module group and activate it. This will allow us to keep in contact and also provide security and privacy for the class. We did have a stranger wander into the building during class and although he didn’t say anything it is distracting when somebody is walking around. John will restrict access to the DIT campus to DIT Module group members so remember to activate the group or you will not be able to get into class next week!

Seven of you had given John a link to your blogs during the week. All blogs included the first post and John commented on each one. Many of you also wrote something for the ‘about’ page. This is important because it gives visitors a hook, something to let them know who you are, your credentials, and why your opinion is valid, important, interesting or otherwise. Those of you who have not yet set up your blogs are now a week behind in the required activities so hurry up and get blogging! Don’t forget to send a link to John so it can be given on the Virtual Environments website. John also encouraged you to read each others blogs and comment on them: get used to engaging online, opening up conversations about shared interests, opposing views or anything else. You should also read about how and when the blog will be assessed so you focus your efforts appropriately. The first assessment point is now only two weeks away. You will be expected to have the first four posts made to your blog by then so get writing.

We had a discussion about the sample blogs given in last weeks class, looking at the variety of ‘voices’ and styles. You were asked to consider these and try to identify what the authors were trying to convey and how they supported this through the design of the blog, the tone of voice used in the writing, and other aspects of the blogs. The examples showed more serious academic style bogs, a professional blog clearly used as a marketing tool and a fun blog show casing images that appealed to the writer. Explore this further, find other blogs and attempt to identify the features that make them successful or otherwise.

A straw poll was taken to identify a social app we would use for notifying any last minute changes to class, letting you know when this summary is posted, and to use as a communication platform for any other issues that might arise outside class. Two apps were proposed, Facebook and WhatsApp. Neither is currently in use by everyone in the class but the result of the poll, below, indicated a majority in favour of Facebook. We agreed to consider the outcome over the coming week and make a final decision in the next class.

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THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. Explore: Get to know your class mates and explore SL together. You are to visit at least 3 locations that are new to you. Find them in search, or ask other residents for recommendations or select them at random.
  2. Write the second post: on your blog reviewing the locations you visited. Describe the places and include photos, if you can. Explain what you liked and disliked about the location and talk about any interactions you had.
  3. Read: 5 steps to build a productive and tight knit remote team
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