Second Life Blog Posts

Below are a few of the posts from the blog I created for a course on

Second Life and other Virtual Worlds.

wednesday, september 16, 2009

Introduction to Second Life

It has been about two weeks since I first signed up for Second Life, and I’m still feeling rather overwhelmed.  I had no idea there was so much to it!  Here are some of my first impressions: 

I spent the first few days just trying to make my avatar look somewhat decent.  Changing my hairstyle continues to be a challenge.  Every time I log on, I tell myself that I won’t focus so much of my time on changing my appearance….but I always end up fiddling with it.  It’s like new age Barbie, and from what limited snooping around I’ve done, it seems to me that building appearances is one of Second Lifers’ favourite activities.  Of course it is!  So much of what we see and do in the “actual” world concerns our appearances and the improvement thereof – virtual worlds allow us to mold our bodies in ways impossible to achieve otherwise.

I am eager to explore and talk with people beyond the class area, but the busier an area is, the more excrutiatingly slow the program runs on my computer.  This is extremely frustrating.  I am worried about meeting with the class.  I may have to find a computer more capable of handling SL?

I wonder if I’m the only one who experiences motion sickness when moving around.  I guess I should have expected this.  It’s the main reason why I don’t play video games.  Classic side-scrollers are fine, but 3-dimensional games make me feel loopy.

I do see great potential for using Second Life and other virtual worlds as meeting places in the digital age.  The visual, interactive nature of SL makes it so much more, erhmmm, personal than textual chat, discussion boards, etc.  When I was first introduced to internet communication way back (haha) in the late ’90s, one of the most thrilling aspects was that feeling of anonymity I experienced.  Of course, having an avatar to dress up and move around really doesn’t make me any less anonymous….but somehow I do feel more exposed.  It’s strange, and I haven’t yet given it enough thought to comment much further.  It’s definitely something I’ll be pondering over the next few months as I familiarize myself with SL and other virtual worlds.

wednesday, september 23, 2009

Exploring “There.com”

I registered with “There.com” tonight and spent an hour or so exploring.  Right off the bat, I was struck by how much more welcoming it is for beginners than Second Life.  I received step-by-step, basic instructions about how to move my avatar, how to change my appearance, how to chat, etc.  I appreciated this very much, after stumbling around SL for days without a clue as to what I was supposed to be doing.  I love the “View” features, which gave me a much better understanding of the structure of the “There” universe than SL’s maps.  I deliberately chose a male, African American avatar to explore “There”, just to get a feel for being someone other than who I am in the actual world.  It was fine until I began chatting with people…and then I felt rather silly.  Like a hoax.  Of course, everyone knows by now that the people you meet online aren’t necessarily who or what they appear to be – but I’ve never attempted to take on such a radically different persona. (I wonder, do novice actors feel this way?)  I’m not sure I’m pulling it off very well.  Who knows, though?  The first person I met claimed to be a 12 year old girl – was she?!  She could have been an century-old hermaphrodite from Pluto for all I know.  One thing I find very interesting about “There” is that it doesn’t allow for cross-dressing.  I tried to test out a woman’s hairstyle, and I was informed that I had no access to it.  I asked a Greeter, “Are we not allowed to cross-dress?” and the answer was an absolute No.  Huh.  Very interesting.  It made me think about the conversation we had during our class meeting a few days ago, about actual vs. virtual, and how virtual worlds are built from the same cultural, social, etc., constructs that shape the actual world(s).  It seems so bizarre that I am encouraged to stretch my imagination to its very limits – that I can build my fantasy home that may be an exact replica of…ohhh, I dunno….Hogwarts…, or that I can join a role-playing group in which I am a Gondorian soldier sent off to fight Orcs in Mordor – but I am not permitted to dress my male avatar in a woman’s clothing.  Huh.  Definitely food for thought.  I’ve barely scratched the surface of virtual worlds, and already there’s so much to think about!

sunday, october 4, 2009

Sparkly purple eyes are nice, and all, but…..

I was very excited to have $100 Linden to spend in SL.  I had visions of purchasing a vehicle, an exotic pet, a whole new skin for my avatar…or maybe even some land to build on.  As I was browsing free hair prims, I clicked on a pair of shining purple eyes and hit “Buy”, thinking they were free as well – but they cost me $80!!  This happened a week ago, and I’m still fuming.  No refunds?!  No warning bells gonging before the transaction took place?  Since this tragedy (drama, drama) occurred, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about virtual worlds, avatars, and the time and money spent improving the virtual representation of self.  I’ve been thinking about the gap that exists between my virtual avatar and the actual person controlling it.  This in turn has peaked my interest in the gap that exists between my ‘actual’ body and the…well…entity (sounds so Sci/Fi), or the “me”, that is housed by it and controls it.  It seems so silly to spend so much time (and money) searching for new outfits, new hairstyles, etc, for my SL avatar.  After all, she isn’t “real”.  And what is the difference between that and the time and money we’re asked to spend in our First Lives on altering and improving our appearances.  I consider myself to be more than just my body – and I don’t mean to suggest anything religious or spiritual, here – I’m just saying that playing around in SL has heightened my awareness of the separation between my body and the memories, thoughts and feelings that make up ME.  And I know I’m not alone.  But it’s so easy to be sucked in to thinking you need to buy those clothes, that make-up, that face lift!  UGH.
Again, I haven’t quite worked through my jumbled thoughts on this.  Tonight I’m stuck on an anti-superficiality rant.  This blog is becoming a soupy mess of half-formed ideas!

tuesday, october 13, 2009

Gotta Love “Get A First Life”

I stumbled across this “one page parody” of Second Life tonight.  Genius!  It touches on the most common concerns/comments I’ve heard from people when I speak with them about this course:
1. “So….is it just people having virtual sex?”
2. “Do kids have access? Is it safe??”
3. “Isn’t it just glorified chat?”
4. “Do people obsess over what is basically a fantasy land?”
5. “But…..it’s not REAL!!” 

I love how the webpage creators have summed up “First Life” in three words: “Work. Reproduce. Perish.”  Of course, the simplification is meant to be funny, and I do find it so.  But if I can over-analyze for a moment… I think it’s interesting that “Play” (or a similar word) is left off of the description of First Life.  Does this suggest that SL is just that?  All play, no work?  That’s how every (actual) person I’ve spoken with about virtual worlds describes them, more or less.  They’re surprised – and skeptical – to hear that “real” work takes place in what they view as a a glorified chat room or video game.  Social networking sites like Facebook have a far better reputation, in my experience, as having the potential to be used for serious work.  Having now attended two classes in SL, I am beginning to recognize its value as a medium through which “Work” can take place.  Furthermore, the statement seems to imply an underlying view of “actual life” as being first and foremost about WORK.  Forget having fun!  We’re here to sweat and toil…reproduce, and then die.  How nice.  😉
The other two words in the First Life statement are equally interesting: “Reproduce. Perish.”  Can neither take place in SL or other virtual worlds?  Perhaps not in the “First World” sense.  But maybe we need to expand our views of reproduction and death.  Certainly a great deal is produced in SL – what would residents say about REproduction?  If birth and “virtual life” exists, I would imagine that death occurs in some sense.  What happens to avatars that are inactive after a long period of time?  Are they considered “dead”?  When a person cancels an account (if such a thing is possible?!), are they killing their avatar??  These are questions I am interested in looking into further!

thursday, october 15, 2009

You know, I think I get it!

I discovered (with TG’s help) “The Printer’s Devil Project” tonight, and I think I finally understand the potential that SL and other virtual worlds have for enhancing our learning experiences.  The Project was created by an English professor at UWO.  Its purpose is to enhance students’ understanding of 17th century book history and literature.  It is described as “an interactive learning experience that allows users to engage in a simulation of the processes of printing, publication, and reading in the period, through working reproductions of presses and scholarly literary editions” (taken from the notecard at the entrance to the site).  The project consists of a reproduction of a seventeenth-century coffee shop and printing house, and also includes publication of “scholarly digital editions of texts relating to both of these venues”.  It is a 3-dimensional learning space where students can interact “physically” with their subject matter.  This is so creative!  And fun!!  Being able to actually – well, no, wait… virtually walk through the coffee shop and printing house was fantastic.  The visual, interactive element is such a wonderful complement to the information available textually.  And here’s the key: this would be very nearly impossible to “actually” create.  Imagine how expensive it would be to build such a site in the real world…and how time consuming!  Yup, I absolutely see the value of SL for something like this.  I’m excited to discover and explore similar projects!

thursday, october 22, 2009

The “Order” of Things, or, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall”

I’ve been hmmming and hawwing about what to write about on my blog since our last in-world meeting, and not coming up with much.  I’m starting to feel like all I ever post are complaints.  Our visit to Burning Life was exciting – at first.  I enjoyed playing around with all the different exhibits, and seeing how SL affords both the creators and the people interacting with their creations so much more freedom and room for creativity.  But while everyone else remained impressed (albeit with some complaints about time lag), I began to experience that same frustration that inevitably hits me as I explore SL.  In his latest blog posting, Gnutt talks about the lack of order, logic, and reason in the organization of Second Life.  I recognize the value in his suggestion that we try to overcome our all-consuming need for order when exploring SL, and adopt a more positive attitude toward disorder and even chaos.  I’m trying, Gnutt….heaven help me, I am trying.  Interestingly, I disagree with him about blogs and books and the importance of reading them chronologically.  I guess I’ve somehow managed to develop a more laid-back attitude toward chronological order than I have toward geographical order.  Is it because blogs and books tend to have a common thread, a common theme holding the whole together, so that although you are reading it piecemeal and out of order, you still have a sense of purpose – whereas exploring SL is often a case of jumping wildly from one vastly different “theme” to the next?  I enjoyed the 17th century Book History site I wrote about in my last entry so much because I understood its PURPOSE.  I received much less enjoyment from Burning Life because it seemed (to me) to lack one!  It felt like a carnival in a wild post-popcorn eating dream (tell me I’m not alone in experiencing craaaazy dreams after eating popcorn).  I wandered from one bizarre exhibit to the next, at first enjoying the sense of dislocation….but quickly fearing the feeling of being…….untethered.  Interesting.  SL actually seems to be serving as (a rather unnerving) mirror through which I can observe my hitherto unrecognized behaviours and attitudes.  No wonder I often find it so unsettling!

tuesday, october 27, 2009

Berlin 1920 is AMAZING!

I absolutely loved our class this evening.  We visited Berlin 1920.  Walking around the streets and into shops and apartments gave me a great sense for what the actual city may have been like…minus the bustling crowds and traffic, of course.  This is where I see the most potential for SL as an educational experience – allowing learners to visually experience a time or place.  I was chatting with my father-in-law last night about SL, and he mentioned hearing about an educational program for students of literature in which they can “enter” the book as represented in a virtual environment, and move around the sets and interview characters.  What an amazing idea!  Readers would be able to engage with the stories on whole new, exciting levels.  What a great way to provide support material for students reading books for class.  Imagine having had the opportunity to explore Dickens’ London and Paris while reading “A Tale of Two Cities” in high-school! How helpful would it have been to have been able to “speak” with Sidney Carton or Madame DeFarge about their motivations, etc.  Certainly shoots Coles Notes out of the water!
I also loved the presentation on 1920’s fashion and how designers (re)create fashions in SL.  The presentation was really well done.  So much more engaging than simply reading an article and posting ideas on a discussion board in Webct.  Even the slight lag wasn’t a huge issue.  I only wish we had more time for discussion!

wednesday, november 4, 2009

Using voice chat in SL

Last night I met with my group members to discuss our presentation plans.  We decided to try voice chat.  It was an interesting experience…beginning with me trying to locate a microphone amidst the mess of boxes, bags and newspaper in which I am currently living (boy, moving sucks).  There are pros and cons to using voice chat, we discovered.  My first impression: it was nice being able to hear my classmates speak.  It gave me a better sense of who they are in “first life”.  It made them seem more real.  Right off the bat, though, we ran into trouble trying to coordinate our preferences so that everyone was able to participate.  It took about a half an hour for us to work it all out.  Once we fixed everything, operating voice chat was easy – but the setup time was a pain in the neck.  It would be pretty frustrating trying to use voice chat in a presentation or group meeting if any of the avatars participating had never used it before!  Another problem we ran into was trying to pace our conversation so that only one person was speaking at a time.  If more than two people tried to speak at once, we heard terrible static and feedback through our speakers.  With only four people in the meeting, it was relatively easy to follow who was speaking when, thanks to the green sound-wave animation that appears above the active avatar.  We agreed, however, that the larger the group became, the more difficult it would be to see this visual clue and to pace the conversation successfully.  One more major drawback we noticed about voice chat was the lack of a textual record of our conversation.  Being able to save the transcript of our group meetings in SL has been really useful.  So often the conversation moves too quickly for me to pick up on everything that is discussed.  I enjoy reading the record afterward and discovering interesting comments that I missed during class time.  Voice chat certainly has some advantages, however.  It is easier to convey and pick up on emotions and attitudes through speech tones and expressions than by reading text.  I often find it easier to voice my ideas in spoken words rather than written language.  Spoken conversations can move more quickly than written conversations.  My one complaint about our lecture last week at Berlin 1920 was the slow pace of the presentation because of the time needed to type and then read and absorb the material.  And, as I mentioned before, hearing the other avatars’ voices helped me connect them to the “actual” people.  For me, voice chat in SL helped to create a strong bridge between the virtual and actual.

tuesday, november 24, 2009

“Exhibits, Simulations, and Virtual Recreations: Immersive Learning Opportunities”

I am posting my presentation script here.  If anyone has any thoughts, questions, or ideas – or if you would like to share your experiences with virtual recreations in SL (or any other virtual world), please add comments to this post! 

***
Good-evening, everyone.  Tonight I will be discussing immersive learning opportunities in SL through the use of virtual recreations of “actual” places or events.  This is something we are familiar with, having explored a few examples during our class “field trips” (eg. Burning Life).

The slides I will be showing are examples of such environments.  The one on the screen now is the 3D interactive globe called “Second Earth,” a mash-up of Google Earth and SL technology.  The names and slurls for all of these locations can be found in one of our Touch Notecards.
Before I begin, I would like to clarify the difference between my topic and Eliana’s focus on role-playing. Role-playing is centred on the social interaction between residents, with a simulated environment serving as a backdrop.   In contrast, my discussion focuses on 3D environments that residents explore without (necessarily) having to participate in social activities.
(This slide is a screen caption of the Native Lands island – a visual reproduction of North American Native life pre-European contact.)
Immersive exhibits and virtual recreations are being used to by educators across disciplines.  Students are able to develop a deeper understanding of places, situations and circumstances, and can reflect upon their object of study in context, so to speak.
Education has seen a shift toward “constructivism”, a paradigm that advocates that knowledge is constructed and learners need to be more engaged in the process.  In SL, users can manipulate and explore environments, actions more in-line with constructivist activities and learning.
SL sims are being used to teach subject-matter that is more difficult to grasp when presented in static format.
For example, astronomy students are being taught difficult concepts such as “lines of nodes” and the variety of scales and sizes in 3D virtual environments – topics that are typically disregarded in introductory courses because they are so challenging.
Immersive learning opportunities foster experiential learning.  We have agreed that our simulated classroom provides us with a sense of being together in a much more intimate and “real” way than other communication tools like WebCT, blogging, or e-mail.  This sense of “being there” occurs also when students are immersed in exhibits and virtual reproductions.  In a 2009 study (Jarmon, et al.), students reported that the 3D nature of SL fostered a sense of personal presence, allowing for tangible experiences that enhanced learning: “I just felt I was there. And so I had a very visceral connection to what was being built. I don’t think you can get that in a model or anywhere except real life or virtual reality.”
Immersive learning opportunities allow students to experience what others experience through sensory-rich simulations. Rather than giving a lecture, assigning readings, or even showing videos about undersea exploration, teachers can use SL to simulate underwater environments that students can explore together or individually in a very hands-on way.
(This slide is a screen capture of the outside of the “Virtual Sistine Chapel”.)
Exploratory learning can also include inferential tasks having to do with conducting and analyzing fieldwork. For example, geography students can collect weather data at various parts of the SL grid in order to test hypotheses on various aspects of meteorology and climatology.
SL’s 3D synchronous environment can be used to teach students about the location of items and to help them understand the relationships between features within an area.  In a tour of a virtual reproduction of an historical battle field teachers can demonstrate positions of figures, locations of weapons and storerooms, the size of rooms, distances between features, and so on.
SL offers learners a way to experience locations to which they cannot physically travel.   Medical students might take a tour of a blood stream, or earth science students might tour the inside of a volcano.  Guided tours in SL can even be pre-programmed items that students carry with them that provide instruction, removing the need for a live person to serve as a guide.
I have listed a few examples of virtual recreations in one of our Touch Notecards, but now I’d like to showcase two examples.
My first example is “The Virtual Alamo” – a virtual recreation of the real life Alamo in San Antonio.  The slide currently on screen is an image of the outside of the building.  This location was created as part of ISTE’s online activities for the National Educational Computing Conference 2008.  The “exhibit” includes historically accurate buildings and virtual recreations of historical artefacts.  Notecards and signs are littered throughout, providing extensive information about the real life site.  The Virtual Alamo is a fantastic demonstration of how real life locations, especially those from the past, can be brought to “life” in a virtual world.   Visitors from around the globe can explore the site and experience the history of the Alamo without ever having to travel to San Antonio.
My second example is especially interesting because it blurs the line between my focus on simulated environments and Eliana’s focus on role-playing activities.  “The UC Davis Virtual Hallucinations” facility is an immersive walk-through exhibit designed by a UC Davis professor of psychiatry.  It was designed to give people with a better understanding of the experience of schizophrenia.   As an avatar walks through the location they are exposed to simulated visual and aural hallucinations associated with schizophrenia.  These hallucinations are based on experiences described in interviews by real schizophrenics.  The hallucinations include multiple voices, occasionally overlapping, criticizing the individual; a floor that disappears, leaving the individual walking on stepping stones above a bank of clouds; a television that plays a political speech, but then criticises the user and encourages suicide; a gun that appears under a cone of light, with associated voices telling the user to take the gun and commit suicide; and a mirror in which a person’s reflection appears to die, becoming gaunt with bleeding eyes.  The inability of family members, doctors, and caregivers to fully understand a schizophrenic’s experiences is a source of major frustration and alienation for the patient.  This simulation can be used to train medical students, nursing students and hospital staff and to give the caregivers and loved ones of patients a better understanding of the world the patients live in.  The majority of individuals surveyed after touring the environment indicate that their experience improved their understanding of the hallucinations experienced by people with schizophrenia.  The cost of creating this simulation was minimal compared with the cost of building custom software, and, because SL is freely available for download on the internet, it has the potential to reach a much larger audience.  A word of warning: if you visit the simulation (and I encourage you to do so!), please be prepared to see and hear upsetting and disturbing content.  You will see a link posted on one of our boards for an excellent video showing a resident doing a walk-through of the exhibit.
To conclude, I’d like to comment about a potential issue with using simulations as an educational tool.  Tonight I’ve been speaking about how these environments offer the sense of a tangible and sensory experience, and how these recreations of real life places can create a seemingly “authentic” experience of the actual thing.  I think, however, that it is problematic to view SL exhibits as authentic.  When I visited the virtual Sistine Chapel (this slide is of its interior), I was lucky enough to have the whole place to myself.  I experienced the beauty of Michelangelo’s ceiling in peaceful solitude, flying up close to see the tiny details in the artwork.  But this is not an authentic “true to life” experience of the Sistine Chapel!  I can never privately view the actual building….and I certainly can’t fly.  Of course, I see the benefits of being able to experience these great places without all the noise, but I wonder if something is lost by doing so?  This question was raised after our field trip to “Burning Life”. Perhaps we can discuss this further together at the end of our presentation.
For now, though, I will turn the stage over to Eliana!

saturday, december 5, 2009

Research Proposal Joys and Woes

I am in the process of writing my research proposal for this class.  It is slow, slow going, unfortunately.  My topic is very interesting (I think) – book clubs in SL.  Earlier in the term I was having a really tough time trying to think of a topic to pursue – virtual worlds are just so huge, and were so new and strange to me that I felt overwhelmed by the thought of finding something specific to research and write about.  But as I explored SL, I discovered that it really isn’t as alien and unfamiliar as at first it seemed.  So many of the activities and interactions that take place in SL simply mirror “actual” life.  (Excluding flying, of course….too bad, too – boy would I love to fly like Holly Hubbenfluff!)  When I stumbled upon the Bookstacks book club I knew that I had found something that interested me.  I think it will be fascinating to compare participant’s attitudes toward virtual world book discussions and actual face-to-face book discussions.  Book clubs thrive online and in SL – clearly there is something important happening here that libraries should be paying attention to!!  My literature review for my proposal is taking me some time, though – I can’t believe that there hasn’t been anything written about virtual world book clubs before!  I keep searching and searching, thinking I’m not looking in the right places.  Virtual world research just seems to tough to locate!
Ah well, I’ll push on.  Hopefully I’ll be able to put together something interesting to hand in.  🙂

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