Archive for the TLVW Category

TLVW, Day 7

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on August 4, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Well, it was the last day of class. We assembled at the MCGC sandbox for, officially, the final time and presented our term projects.

I’ve waited almost 24 hours to write about it because I’m very sad to see the end of this thing of ours. But more on that later.

We had many different kinds of projects presented, both group and solo. My project was in two parts: the first part was an assignment I’ve created for a college-level English course that I’ll be teaching next year; the second part was my argument that SL isn’t, at the moment, a particularly attractive tool for English education — specifically when it comes to teaching literature. In fact, I feel the same way when it comes to teaching writing; although some like Sara Robbins use it integrally, what she’s doing is in fact just generating content. This is very important in a writing class, but it’s not something that is special about SL; a creative teacher can use any of a number of things, either technological or not, to help students come up with things to write about. In fact, taking best advantage of what SL has to offer may actually be more trouble for an English teacher than it’s worth right now. Though I hope that becomes less true in the future.

Pamet’s project was actually the planned timeline for a much larger project, something like a year and a half to create a full-scale presence on the Teen Grid. The timeline is pretty big, and she managed to import the whole thing from Inspiration into SL and lay it out so we could see it. It was a pretty impressive visual aid.

I also really enjoyed the two group projects: Bigpick and Tiernan’s Fantasy Island project, which had us following clues around the island to learn about the plight of the local boxfish; and the geocaching project, which Eru tells me will become something bigger thanks to support and assistance from other organizations.

Shailey’s work was the continuation of an article she’d been writing, and she informed us yesterday that it’s been accepted for publication! That’s pretty exciting — the practical or applied nature of these and the other projects we created really showed how far we’ve all come during these 14 weeks. I’m proud of all of us, and I look forward to seeing where we go from here.

Then class was officially over, and we had a party. I know there were lots of pictures taken, so hopefully we’ll have more on other blogs or on Flickr to showcase our party outfits and the general fun and festivity. As you can see from this one shot, though, it was quite the party atmosphere. Someone said it reminded them of their prom — which, with the great ’80s music, was probably true for many of us.

Of course, after a while, other duties called, and people started taking their leave. It really did remind me of graduation day — lots of goodbyes all around, along with “Stay in touch” and “See you soon.” A handful of us lingered as long as we possibly could; we were down to five for quite a while until Tiernan left. Then four: myself, Eru, Esme, and Shailey. Eventually, though, we too had to call it a day.

This was the best course I’ve taken since I started graduate school. I got what I expected from it, but I also learned much more than I imagined I might. I met new people, made friends, and saw parts of SL I might never have heard of. I was exposed to an ordered view of education in SL, as opposed to the aimless wanderings I’d been making on my own and through the SLED. And through it all, I did not lose my enthusiasm for SL; not only that, but I also (earlier comments notwithstanding) feel more enthusiastic about education in SL.

Even though I’ll now have every other Saturday morning free again, I’m going to miss this. I’m glad to have been a part of it, and I hope all of us — and the course itself — enjoy a great and productive future.

Song of the Moment: "California Sun," The Ramones

TLVW, day 6

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on July 14, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Alright. Now that I’ve got the shoe thing out of my system for a minute, I can get back to business. In class the other day, we used some Sloodle tools with our own course Moodle in order to better get the feel of what it can do for us. We added more definitions to the glossary that we could access from in-world (that tool should allow you to add definitions from in-world) and played with the toolbar HUD and chat logger. We also looked briefly at a couple other unrelated tools.

After that, we broke into two groups to discuss some pertinent issues. My group was thinking about SL’s affordances for professional development, and we came up with a pretty good list. The other group discussed the objections and obstacles to using SL in education. This could not have been a better topic, as not only does it regularly come up in our class forums, but I was just talking about that very question the day before regarding my own campus. What does one say to those who complain of a steep learning curve or other problems as reasons to resist using SL in their department / school / district? What can you show people to demonstrate its feasibility without being to complex or technical? These are important questions, as even the most enthusiastic of us have doubts at least once in a while, and cogent answers are useful not only to convince the unbelievers but to help us articulate our enthusiasm in terms better than “it’s just so freaking cool!”

Then we went to Weather Island, owned by The Weather Channel, to do some surfing. Yes, on surfboards. It looks like a lot of fun, but – ironically, given my own enthusiasm for SL and the recent discussion – I couldn’t get anything to work. My client started lagging super-hard, I couldn’t even see the water for a while, I couldn’t get on the surfboard, and finally the program just crashed altogether. Esme was her usual great, patient self; when I signed on again she did her best to get me back to the beach and on the board. It took quite a while, but it eventually worked a little (and it was freakin’ cool), although it was perhaps the most frustrating experience I’ve ever had in SL. Not only that, but we got griefed on the beach: some bonehead was running around caging people, and another (or maybe the same?) was making sexual propositions in Spanish. So now I truly understand what some of the resisters are talking about when they describe their bad experiences.

Very educational, that was. So, too, was the general experience I was having that day. You ever have one of those days where it seems that it’s just hard to keep up? No, I wasn’t hung over or anything. But class was more talkative than normal that day, and between managing my avatar in SL while looking at Moodle, plus trying to keep up with all the chat going on, it was all I could do to stay on top of things. I found it difficult at times to participate in the discussion, which is usually not a problem for me. It was commented more than once that I was unusually quiet; I can only say that for some reason the multitasking was just overwhelming at the time.

But it got me thinking. It is assumed that the so-called digital natives don’t have that sort of problem. But how true is that? And everyone has an off day now and then, no matter how much they can usually process at once. As we (some of us, at least) strive to integrate more technology into our classrooms, this is a factor that I think must be kept in mind. Even though we as instructors never feel like we can afford it, we should probably always be mindful of the pace at which we conduct our classes.

Song of the Moment: "Simon Says," Drain S.T.H.

TLVW, Day 5

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on July 7, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Esme, our fearless leader, was at a conference last weekend (about which she probably owes us a blog post 😉 ), so we held that class session yesterday. Two major things in yesterday’s experience.

First, I’m mad at myself because I didn’t get any pics of the Second Louvre, which was among a few spots we toured in class. I’ve been to Paris in FL (though not for many years), and it made the appropriate impression. But it was not until I’d visited Paris 1900 and now the Second Louvre in SL that I realized why France is such a cultural center. I’m not much of an art buff, but this museum was too cool. It was the sculptures that particularly caught me (so much so that I forgot to take freakin’ pictures!). If you’ve been around in SL even a little, you know that good prim-work is the cornerstone of any quality 3D work, and there are some lovely examples at the Louvre. They range from FL-looking pieces (“traditional”-style sculptures) to shimmery, animated, or simply outlandish things that are only possible in a virtual world. I was captivated.

To take a moment and look at this from an educational perspective, just think of what SL museum tours might do for the imaginations of children and young people who are looking for artistic inspiration. Think of how this can augment the notions of art appreciation and art history!

Can you tell the Second Louvre was my favorite part of yesterday’s tour?

So anyway…the second part of class was a presentation by Giannina Rossini on Sloodle, the mashup of the Moodle course management system and Second Life. Basically, adding the Sloodle module to your Moodle installation allows you to use SL to enhance your online course by giving you and your students access to various parts of the Moodle while in SL. This includes chat (the chat can be conducted with those both in and out of SL at the same time), posting to your Moodle blog from in-world, access to glossaries, and more. Pretty nifty, and growing in capability all the time.

A good question was brought up, but there wasn’t time to address it (though I suspect we will in our own Moodle discussions this week): why was Sloodle created? The creators themselves have their answers, some of which are on the website. But the question underneath that is, I believe, “why would we use it?” And my answer is: I’m not sure we would, at least not all of us. It might have been a good tool for this TLVW course, for example, since it’s being conducted completely via Moodle and Second Life. At this point in the course, however, I think of the blogs we’ve created: some of us use the Moodle blog tool, which can be enhanced with Sloodle. Some of us, however, chose WordPress or Blogger blogs, which are – as blogging tools – much more dynamic. If we’d been using Sloodle from word one, these options might not have been available, and I for one would have enjoyed blogging much less. (Let me quickly add that compatibility with major blogging tools is probably on the horizon, since the BlogHUD system already allows blogging to various platforms from in-world.)

The bigger consideration, though, is for teachers who are not using SL as a major component of their classroom or course, even with a major Moodle component. I’m thinking now of the back-end issues, really, since every effort has been made – rather successfully, I think – to make Sloodle easy to use for teachers and students. Unfortunately, unlike BlogHUD (or even SL, to an extent), it’s not a tool you can just pick up and use. It’s a third-party add-on module for your Moodle installation, and for many educators (like me) that means a long heart-to-heart with your sysadmin, IT division, or computer science department. The natural reticence such folks often display when someone wants to add yet another something to the Frankensteinian monster that is the school’s or department’s server comes from the fact that – even if the tool is a plug-and-play module – after the work of the installation, the thing needs to be kept up-to-date (remember that “growing in capability all the time” I mentioned earlier?), and it needs to be integrated from a systems point of view with the rest of the tools on the network (strange incompatibilities pop up for no reason at all, like on my PC, where Thunderbird won’t auto-update if Logitech’s QuickCam software is running). It is what they get paid the big bucks for (!), but is the return (in classroom terms) on the investment (in IT energy and time) worth it? That is, of course, up to each individual. But it’s a serious question.

I did get a pic to share, by the way, which leads to the last thing I have to say about yesterday’s class. This comes from the moment when we are gathering for the Sloodle discussion; Rossini is perched on the orange box, and the rest of us are milling about on the ground. And there’s not a newbie-looking avatar among us! You don’t have to have prim hair or blingy accessories or store-bought tuxedos to transcend that “just out of Orientation Island” lack of style. Everyone here has created their own look, and whether it’s simple or complex, it’s not the cookie-cutter, factory standard. Compare the looks in this pic with those of our first or second meeting, and you’ll see how far we’ve come. Am I too obsessed with appearance? I dunno; how many SL fashion blogs are there out there? Check them out and judge me later. But these are people, not dolls, and in a 3D, visual, digital world, one of the ways to make that most clear is to have an individual look – something at which we’ve all succeeded.

It makes me warm and tingly inside.

Song of the moment: "Telephone Call from Istanbul," Tom Waits

TLVW, day 4

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on June 16, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Wow, that means we’re already at the halfway mark. Not sure how I feel about that.

So Saturday I learned a lot. Our group is really feeling like a group, as one could tell by the way we bantered about before class started. It’s a great bunch of folks, and I’m glad to be in with them. It might be a little hard to tell from this pic, but almost all vestiges of the noob look are gone!

In this pic, we’re actually listening to a presentation about the teen grid. Teaching adults about the teen grid is in some ways problematic, because we’re not allowed to actually see the place (unless we go through the extensive background check, which we probably would’ve had to do last month in order to be ready by this week). Thus there was no way to see what the kids are up to, or even what educators (or, in this case, an educational consultant) are doing. We can only hear about it in secondhand reports. On the other hand, the grid itself works the same way as the main grid, and so as far as the idea of planning for involvement goes, we already have the information we need. I’m in this for college-level applications, so the difference is academic in my case, but I found myself trying to reconcile the idea of the teen grid delivered via reportage with my experiences in the main grid. I’ve come across work by Teen Grid denizens elsewhere in the blogosphere, and in spite of the “physical” similarities to the main grid, it sounds like they’ve got a whole different culture there. I wonder whether and how much that might affect educators trying to work in that environment.

Here’s a slightly off-beat observation. The picture I’ve got above looks like it might have come from the period just before class began, when we were just hanging out and getting ready. In truth, I took this snapshot well over half an hour into class and the aforementioned presentation. Look at what happens spatially (and/or visually) when we don’t have a prescribed seating area! Now, I’m not saying this is a bad thing. It looks like a bunch of folks milling about, but everyone was really engaged – you could tell by the kinds of questions and comments that appeared. Still, such an appearance of chaos might madden some (like me) who find order comforting. It’s a reminder that we (read: I ) always have more stretching we can do when it comes to our comfort zones (although this time it didn’t bother me, as I was not in charge). Thinking on it, it’s more fair to call it “organic” than “chaotic.” We are a class full of good thinkers and hard workers, and that doesn’t change just because we don’t have a classical seating arrangement.

After the presentation, we went into more advanced building. I learned a very valuable lesson about using offsets to display just part of a texture on an object; this can save a lot of money on texture uploads. I ended up working with Shailey and Ebliu on a maze that would help people solve problems with getting voice communication to work. There wasn’t nearly enough time to get it done, but you can see here that we got off to a good start. No, I’m not just sitting around; I just wanted to get to a vantage point so I could see the work better. I also learned how effective the group call feature can be for collaboration – once again I found myself using voice, and it worked well. I guess I’d be more comfortable with it if I had a headset, but I have to admit that voice has some things going for it, especially as part of a collaborative building project. I would have been much less effective if I had to interrupt my hands to type my thoughts out rather than just saying them.

That exercise was really just to get us thinking about how we can use building skills as a pedagogical resource and to get some practical experience doing it, but I found myself compelled to complete the project. I went back this afternoon and mostly finished it up. The project is basically an embodied problem-solving flowchart: Can you hear anything? If yes, go left; if no, go right to Plug in your headphones; can you hear? etc. Each choice points you left for a Yes and right for a No answer, and in the end that required serious planning. I did it on paper first, which took about 20 minutes just to figure out the basic shape of the recursive structure. After that, the build was pretty straightforward. I also learned how to make the equivalent of a one-way glass (or hedge, for the maze) that’s transparent when viewed from one side but opaque (textured) from the other, as each set of choices eventually converges on a successful or unsuccessful outcome. Really, it helps to see the thing. Anyway, it was a nice (and nicely temporary) return to my engineering and computer science days of logic and problem-solving. If this is what digital humanities can be like, I’m definitely in the right field.

Song of the moment: "Follow Me up to Carlow," The Young Dubliners

TLVW, Day 3 and more

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on June 11, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

Well, I’m a bit overdue for this post, thanks to some serious studying I had to do. More on that in another post.

Anyway, back on May 31st we met for class again. Voice worked much more smoothly this time, and a lot of us were using it (although I didn’t until the end – my name is Text, after all, and I’ve gotten to feeling that that’s my preferred modus).

We had this awesome assignment to do: we broke into teams of four, and given a “journalism” mission. The team members were to take the roles of manager/producer, photographer, writer, and interviewer, and we were given a set of locations to visit. With a deadline to meet (time limit of ~1 hour total), the goal was to visit as many of the locations as possible, taking pics and notes and getting interviews with anyone in the area, in order to have “stories” we could share with the class. I loved this task for several reasons. First, the journalistic theme was a really creative setup, in my opinion. It’s also an all-purpose type of assignment; that is, it can be used for any subject material that can be found in-world. Plus, there’s nothing like a deadline to make group work really effective. Class got started a little late, so we didn’t have nearly the full hour in which to work, but my team managed to visit three locations for about ten minutes each. I also like that the pics and notes remain as artifacts for a potential group presentation.

There were a couple of problems, though. First, the interviewer in our group didn’t really have much to do, as there never seemed to be anyone around to interview. Bodies thin on the ground, as it were. A teacher might actually get some accomplices to hang around so as to ensure that doesn’t happen, or there might be a supplemental task as a contingency. Also, one of the locations we visited seemed to be an incomplete build. I’m not sure we investigated it properly, since there were a few interactive items there, but the place did seem to be mostly empty of objects. Builds can, of course, change overnight – something that was just there for your class to visit might suddenly disappear, or be bought out by a neko store or something. Not that that would be so bad – neko accessories are usually super-cool and well-priced…

Um, anyway. So that was really cool and fun. Also gave us the chance to practice navigation and communication skills; from teleports and poking around to IMs and chat, everyone from the team leader down has to get it in gear to get the job done. I was my team’s leader, and keeping track of my team and making sure we made the most of our time was an interesting challenge. For a competitive bent to it, it might be interesting to have some common locations on each group’s list (our groups all had non-overlapping lists) and see who can “scoop” the big stories.

We were supposed to meet with someone who works in the teen grid to discuss youth and VWs, but there was some confusion I think about his appointment with us. We’ll meet with him this weekend.

Then we did some building basics. We worked with uploading and applying textures and again broke into groups to do some collaborative building, which was an interesting experience. We weren’t tasked with building anything in particular, and there was some confusion about how to build collaboratively. Eventually my group figured out how to share ownership of an item so that any group member can edit it. (I have since found a tutorial video by Torley Linden that discusses that and related questions; his Tips of the Week videos are generally both educational and entertaining.) Without a specific building goal, though, we ended up just making this pile o’ shapes. I have a bunch of sculpties that I’ve picked up in various places, so that’s how the strange shiny thing got made.

Overall, good stuff.

The next day I went to the theatre. There was a presentation of Euripides’ Bacchae, and it was great. I’m becoming a real fan of SL theatre. This show differed from the SL Shakespeare’s Hamlet in a couple of different ways. First, as you can see in this pic, the amphitheater is much larger than the SL Globe’s stage area. Thus, with only a few actors on, it looks pretty sparse. This also affected how we heard the actors’ lines, as when they were on the far side of the stage you could really hear the distance. It was a neat effect (I’m not sure whether it was intended or not), but off-stage voices were almost too faint at times. Still, the actors were very good and the play was a great choice. The outfits were also great. I’m not sure that they put as much into gestures and animations as the Hamlet production, but I didn’t miss it that much. Plus the Bacchic dances were wonderful. The show’s run is over now, but some video is available here and the main info page is here (though I’ve been having trouble with that link lately).

More soon!

Song of the moment: "The Device Has Been Modified v2," Victims of Science

TLVW, day 2

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on May 17, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

So, class met in Second Life again today. We got off to a slow start, having problems with the settings for voice communication. Voice is something I actually haven’t yet used myself, and I’m not sure I’m sold on it just yet. I attended a discussion earlier this week on teaching tools in SL, where the presenter and some of the audience had voice. On the one hand, information was able to be shared pretty efficiently, as most people can talk faster than they can type and still be understood. However, there are occasional bandwidth problems and other technical difficulties one might encounter which usually create delays or at least hiccups in the presentation, especially when the audience members start saying/typing “I can’t hear” and you get a chorus of “me, too”s – things really grind to a halt. There was a tech on hand to handle the sim’s broadcasting, but there were times when the problem was the presenter’s mic, or simple grid lag. What can you do?Teaching Tools seminar Plus, as I realized quite quickly, capturing the text was of course an impossibility. Fortunately, I have WireTap on my Mac for audio capturing and used that, but it’s therefore also fortunate I have a 320GB external hard drive, because capturing nearly an hour of audio is really hard on the drive space, to say the least. And the audio capture really requires a lot of cleanup, as there were big pauses and fades as the presenter’s avatar moved about the amphitheater. I guess text capture probably requires cleanup in general, too, so I won’t hold that against voice.

Still, I’m not sold on it.

When we got things together, we went to the BIOME sim and got a Q&A session with Clowey Greenwood, a bio prof from Northern Michigan University. The sim is pretty cool on its own, but more importantly the discussion provided some good ideas. She uses text-only in-world, and uses SL largely in conjunction with WebCT – which, evidently, NMU students totally dig. When I was at Northern Iowa, most of the students I encountered couldn’t stand WebCT. Myself included, truth be told. I like Moodle better by far.

The BIOME sim has a giant-scale microscope with various single-celled organisms one can examine, and I guess one of the things Clowey has her students do is take photos of/with these and incorporate them in Powerpoint slideshows to present reports. I think that kind of thing could be extended to various fields in both sciences and humanities, if you can find a relevant build. For example, I heard there’s a new Land of Lincoln sim, and that could be used as a photo setting for presentations in a history class. Similarly, there are always builds related to literature and the sciences floating around. One of my favorites is the International Spaceflight Museum, though that might have only very specific course relevance. Still, it’s something to think about.

One other interesting thing Clowey said was that her grad students generally appreciate working in SL more than the undergrads.Q&A at BIOME I’m not sure why, but I found that pretty surprising. Some of the others weren’t surprised though, with the theory that the younger people want an environment with more direct action, like a game world. I don’t know how we can get across to some of these young people that it’s something different and needs to be approached with different expectations.

In any case, I thought it was a good session. Hopefully the rest of the class got good things out of it – we’ll see what the coming discussions bring!

Song of the Moment: "Never Had a Friend Like Me," Robin Williams

TLVW, day 1

Posted in Second Life, TLVW with tags , , on May 3, 2008 by Bola C. King-Rushing

I don’t know what it is, but I always have a good time in Second Life. Well, 99.9% of the time, but I’ll write about that some other time, maybe.

Today was the first meeting of the Teaching and Learning in Virtual Worlds (TLVW) course. In SL, of course. There were quite a few newbies, but today was getting-to-know-each-other and learning-how-to-navigate-in-SL day. So I got to start out ahead of the curve!

Class”room” management was, as always, an issue of sorts. Just like in FL, I suppose. We were sent out on a scavenger hunt to find notecards that would teach basic skills (communication, getting around, landmarks, etc.), and later visited a couple of other locations. Re-gathering the group always took some time–imagine a school field trip with the ability to fly!–and distractions were everywhere (especially when many got to see their first SL sunrise and later on ISTE Island, when folks spotted dolphins in the water). I wonder whether things will be easier or harder to keep on track when we start using voice…

It’s a very interesting group, and I’m looking forward to working with them, as well as to the coursework itself. Esme (instructor) did a great job with a class full of mostly newbies.

Next thing is to get these people geared up [edit: I mean dressed & accessorized]. We even had two noobs in the same outfit! I may post some pics (gotta ask the class if that’s ok), both of today’s meeting and of future meetings. I’ll be the one with the wings…

Song of the moment: "Black Sweat," Prince