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Second Life: conference, land sale

I’m happy to say that I’ll be volunteering at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) conference again this year. It takes place from March 9-12 in SL and OpenGrid and everyone is welcome to attend, no charge. Some of the sessions are also streamed live and recorded to watch later.

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And that’s where I come in. Last year I volunteered as a greeter and a mentor: before the event I helped presenters get set up with the technology they needed, I served as on-site tech support during their events, and for a few hours, I stood at a landing point and welcomed attendees. Those weren’t the best assignments for someone who is terribly shy around strangers. Interactions are easier in a virtual world but I still get tongue-tied (finger-tied?) and uncomfortable.

So, this year I volunteered to be part of the streaming team. Not only is there less personal interaction, but I get to have the fun of working the camera and producing video content from the conference. Yesterday I attended a training meeting with other members of the streaming team and I’m excited by the possibility of creating professional grade recordings of an SL live event. I’m looking forward to learning more and playing with the tools in my spare time.

I haven’t been in SL much at all lately, which leads me to my next topic: my parcel on the Heterocera Atoll mainland. If any of you are looking for a quiet, low-lag place to drop a skybox or build on the uneven terrain, ping me (in SL as Kay Jiersen or with that same name – no spaces – at gmail). I’ve already abandoned a couple sections of my land, but I plan to give up another 3000 m² and limit myself to the land allowance on my premium accounts. The region I’m in is almost empty, just two long-term SL residents and abandoned land.  I’d happily chop off a section for one of my blog readers and sell it for L$ pocket change rather than abandoning it to be wasteland. In a perfect world, Linden Lab would say, “Oh, Kay! We’d really prefer you to just keep the land, because you landscape it nicely and don’t run idiotic scripts or put up ban lines, so we’ll waive your tier!”, but let’s not talk crazy.

Yesterday I was discussing my SL land with a new companion. I told him that honestly, part of the difficulty in downsizing is getting rid of things that belonged to Jakob that are rezzed on the parcel: bouquets of flowers, wind chimes, a lotus pond. “Take photos of them, then return them,” was his practical response. “Either way, it’s all just pixels.” True, but that doesn’t make it much easier.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2016 in Learning, Relationships

 

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Video game summer school

As someone who enjoys video games, even those I’m lousy at playing, it’s no surprise that I think gaming can provide unintentional learning opportunities. Of course there are games that target specific skills, but I’m seeing many ways that even the MMORPG I’ve been playing can be educational.

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That’s my second avatar in ArcheAge. Like my first, she’s of the Argent class and she just reached level 47, but she’s a different race from my initial avatar and I’m working on different proficiencies with her.  Since I’m nearing endgame levels and I refuse to engage in PvP fighting or join parties, guilds, or raids, at this point I’m doing whatever amuses me rather than playing the game as it’s designed. That means a lot of stealthy farming and gathering, leveling skills so I can craft everything I need, observing chat drama, and wandering off the edges of the map.  It’s given me a lot off time to see what other people are doing in-game and think about those behaviors.

I’ve seen players develop incredibly detailed profit and loss spreadsheets, as intricate as anything in a first-year college accounting class. Making money can be a big part of the ArcheAge gameplay, either as a goal in and of itself or as a way to afford high level gear. Someone who successfully farms for profit in AA has to track his costs carefully: raw materials (seeds, saplings, baby livestock), feed/fertilizer/medicine, land costs, the cost of the labor points used to plant and harvest, the cost of buildings/storage and carts/ships for transportation. He needs to know where he can get the most profit from what he raises and balance that against the risk of piracy on long trade runs. He must monitor the prices of raw materials he needs but doesn’t grow himself, as well as keeping an eye on the auction prices for his products, which sometimes may be cheaper to buy than grow himself.

Farmers like me, who don’t own or share land but instead seek out hidden places on the map where they can plant, have a different set of variables to track. We incur a higher labor cost and the risk of loss through theft or griefing, and we might need to keep track of numerous spots and the time that each particular crop will ripen. If someone intends to farm for profit instead of just playing 3D Farmville, the bookkeeping is no small matter.

Others monitor auction prices with the diligence of Wall Street options traders, snapping up underpriced items and flipping them for profit. Though some use bots and plug-ins that are against the game rules, many simply keep track of prices, fees, and profits over time. I’ve seen a trader buy up all of the listings for one particular item, then relist all of them at higher prices with differing auction duration.

Social and strategic skills are exercised in an MMORPG, for better or worse. In ArcheAge, trusted partnerships can be important for commerce and crafting as well as fighting. It’s possible to play as pirates and criminals, though there is a peer trial and prison system that provides consequences to those actions. Because people who have played the game long enough to have good gear, equipment, and land have a huge advantage over new players, new players who want to reach the upper echelon need to be socially strategic, making connections and getting into a powerful or very helpful guild. Once inside a guild, all the political and interpersonal pressures intensify. I was so burned out by leading a guild in another MMORPG that it will be a long time before I choose to be an active member again.

Even people who like to explore on their own face puzzles that require creative thinking. How is it possible to reach the peak of that mountain? Is there a hidden path, or a slope that can be tackled with some difficulty, or might I have to find a higher peak beyond my render distance and soar over with my glider?  Plotting a path through a bunch of monsters without attracting aggro is mathematical thinking.

It may seem mindless, but even relatively low-strategy gaming requires more cognitive work than passively watching a movie. When my stepson was younger, sure, I would have preferred for him to read a book, build something, play an instrument, or get a job in his free time, but I knew that his MMORPG time was valuable in helping him develop social and conflict management skills. Now as I lurk at the edges of ArcheAge, I see another generation engaging their brains along with their fingers.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Gaming, Learning

 

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VWBPE conference, day 4 (part 2)

The final keynote was from Jay Jay Jegathesan (Jayjay Zifanwe), who spoke on “Building Global Communities Through Virtual Worlds”. He talked first about how he began in a virtual world, building an online version of the University of Western Australia. Winning a Google SketchUp Build Your Campus in 3D competition with his team helped them gain credibility and funding from campus sources.

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His initial plan in Second Life was simply to reproduce the UWA campus so that people could enjoy the space. However, the campus soon became a living and breathing university, with in-world classes, an architecture competition, visualization research, artistic exhibitions, and machinima challenges. You can see more about that in the short promotional video below.

Jay Jay discussed a building launch where audiences were in both SL and the physical world, with cameras on both so that they could see each other.  After that, they did a full launch of the UWA online campus and the online presence was actually selected as one of the 100 Treasures of the university upon its centenary. Also, they made a point of connecting with media outlets for coverage. Jay Jay mentioned how he’s actually been able to travel extensively in the physical world to talk about his work in the virtual world.

He went on to discuss many ways that they’ve crossed between worlds: running film competitions, making physical books of the art from virtual competitions, taking part in a virtual world working group, and leading joint classes with other universities. They also created SLeducate to help educators and students learn about the opportunity in virtual worlds.

Then, Jay Jay showed a picture of a pretty, pixie-like avatar that he introduced as his friend Dianne. He showed a photo of her in RL — a lovely woman with a warm smile and mid-length white hair. Then, a third photo of her in her wheelchair. That was part of his inspiration for the Freedom Project, for artists and filmmakers with disabilities or chronic illness (in partnership with other organizations). He shared some of their artworks and words with us. It was a powerful way of reminding everyone how important SL can be to people who have limitations in the physical world.

It was remarkable to see how much Jay Jay, UWA, and their partners are doing. Wow, just wow. He attributed their success to the community, spread across arts and teaching and other fields, so the campus is always dynamic, and collaborating with other organizations. Before he left, he shared the film that won their 7th challenge, MetaPhore, by Tutsy Navarathna:

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Learning, Research

 

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VWBPE conference, day 4 (part 1)

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Shh. I’m still red-faced and attending the conference incognito.

Today is busy for me offline, so my plan is to see two sessions at beginning and end of the day. I’ll split those into separate posts to remain relatively timely.

The morning began with a talk by Susan Toth-Cohen (Zsuzsa Tomsen), “7 Years of Adaptation and Renewal in Second Life”. She has been using SL with her occupational therapy graduate students for that entire time. She began by talking about how she became involved here. She jumped in with both feet: quickly creating an avatar, joining the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), volunteering in-world, leasing a home base, and meeting others who were strong advocates for the possibilities of virtual worlds. She then began to talk about working with her students, mentioning the Diffusion of Innovation Theory and expressing surprise that the Millennials she taught were not so quick to embrace SL. (The Milennials I taught had never heard of SL until I did a presentation about it.)

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Susan decided that she didn’t want to be walled off on a private campus, so she got a small parcel on EduIsland, open to the rest of SL, and said that the traffic was stimulating to her students. She took hundreds of classes in building and creating, used the framework on how to create powerful interactive exhibits from the Tech Virtual Museum, and discovered interactive tools like Holodecks. Her graduate students worked as groups to create and present research-based material in areas such as the Adapted Playground and the Garden of Healthy Aging.

The next section of her talk was about scholarship and faculty development in virtual worlds, as well as grants/funding and the difficulty of publishing work done here. (She specifically mentioned an article about the Garden of Healthy Aging being rejected because it lacked “behavioral outcomes”, which makes me think it could have been a great fit for something like Medical Anthropology Quarterly or a journal of another field that would value a discussion of the lived experience of using the Garden.) Susan emphasized that documenting the work she does in-world in other formats, YouTube videos and a blog, was essential for establishing it as legitimate scholarship.

All in all, very interesting. It reminded me of the difficulties I had getting Second Life research approved by my university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB). Though the university maintains an island in SL and has staff partially dedicated to working there, it was as if I was asking about doing research in Narnia. Eventually I rewrote my proposal so it didn’t require approval and moved on from there.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Learning, Research, Uncategorized

 

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VWBPE conference, day 3 (part 1)

I’m splitting today’s posts about the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference into two parts, to take advantage of my afternoon break and not overload either post.

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I arrived at the first session, “Creating Dinosaurs & Earning Badges”, in my finest pteranodon attire, but since it was as anachronous as my normal shape, I reverted to human to sit in the amphitheatre. Presenter Jeroen Frans is a founder of The Vesuvius Group.  He spoke first about a project they did for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which has a summer program in which middle school kids study cretaceous sea animals. The program only lasts two weeks, which doesn’t allow much time for teaching building or texturing skills, so they created a LEGO-like build kit so the kids could make animated models of the animals in a virtual world. In the photo below, you can see the build kit on the right as well as two types of avatar — a skate and an ammonite — that are used in the program.

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It got even cooler. The kids were instructed to think about how their creatures behaved, what they ate, where they lived, etc. This shaped how their creations acted in the virtual world.  Unfortunately, they hit technical limitations and had to reduce the numbers that were active at any time. Jeroen also explained how they set up an orientation area to teach the teachers, so that they could train students ahead of time and not have that cost time during the program. Everything about their implementation was awfully clever and I’m looking forward to playing with their build kit.

Later in his presentation, Jeroen talked about two other projects. One was for the World Bank Institute. The WBI wanted to gamify some of their courses, so Vesuvius created a game show and also an ATV race track, with questions to challenge the participants at checkpoints. The second was for the CATEA project (Center for Assistive Technology and Environmental Access) through Georgia Tech. They created an environment for mentors to meet with disabled STEM students, but soon found that the lecture-type spaces weren’t used.  So, they gamified the process by creating a HUD that allowed participants to earn badges by attending events and doing things online.

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The next session I attended was “Transcending Culture in Global Settings”, in which Steven R. Van Hook discussed his own work. His research question was, “How do we gather a group of culturally diverse people in an international setting, and try to get beyond our differences, reaching together towards a common purpose?”  He did this by using a study group of university students (with more than 24 countries of origin) in an advertising class, looking for positive transcultural themes in television commercials. You can find a paper published from his research here: Hope and Hazards of Transculturalism.

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I had to leave that session a little early, so I will have to read the paper to learn more about his conclusions.

I’ll post another update at the end of the night. Now, I’ve got to grab a quick lunch before two hours of social anxiety volunteering as a greeter, and then I’ve got a little break before more sessions.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Learning, Research

 

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VWBPE conference, day 1

The 8th Annual Virtual World Best Practices in Education conference started earlier today. Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg kicked things off with the opening keynote. The amphitheatre started filling up more than an hour before the event.

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I should be jaded after almost ten years in Second Life, but it was still exciting to see five Lindens on the map. This year I wasn’t able to take notes (one of the many advantages of a virtual world conference is that I could attend while cooking dinner) and I don’t see a video of the keynote online yet, but there are excellent posts about it from Daniel Voyager and Ciaran Laval.

Update: here’s the video!

Unfortunately, I missed the discussion on gamification that I planned to attend after that, and I hope to find a summary.

In the evening, I attended two sessions from the tech-savvy educators at the University of Idaho. The first was a hands-on workshop entitled “The Importance of Space”.  We visited three different environments and played with blocks that had some odd physical qualities. I had the pleasure of trying to figure out the blocks with Gentle Heron of Virtual Ability; we both approached the challenge with a similar mindset, though I’m not sure she laughed as loudly as I did when we discovered that if you sat on a block, you would immediately faceplant on the floor. The discussion afterward addressed how we felt in each space, emotionally and physically, and then connected that to principles of design. It’s useful to remember that in a virtual world our meeting spaces can be anything we want them to be.

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After the workshop, we went over to the University of Idaho online campus in Idahonia for a research presentation entitled “Comparison of Teen Gamers and Non-Gamers in A Virtual Learning Simulation”. You can find that paper on page 29 of this issue of the Journal of Virtual Studies (it’s easiest to download the PDF and read it offline). The presentation itself was interesting but there was great value in the Q&A session afterwards, where people compared notes on some of the nuts and bolts of virtual teaching experiences: how to get buy-in from local schools when SL has a reputation as an adult space, funding and bandwidth issues, and the advantages of online simulations. I really enjoyed watching educators sharing ideas and links.

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Tomorrow I have three sessions that I’m hoping to attend, plus I have two volunteer shifts as a greeter. Friday’s schedule is packed with seven sessions I’d like to see. At physical world conferences I usually hit burn-out and people overload by the second or third day; it’s not so bad for an introvert when I can put down my headset and step away if I’m feeling crowded.

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Learning, Research

 

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VWBPE conference this week!

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VWBPE info kiosk at my office

The Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference runs from Wednesday through Saturday this week. I’m not an educator but this is a conference I strongly recommend. Most of the year, I read articles about how virtual worlds might be used to teach, inform, increase empathy, improve health, etc — usually based on studies run by researchers on a few dozen college undergraduates. At this conference, I get to hear from people who aren’t just speculating; they’re doing the work. They’re using Second Life and Open Grid to teach academic classes for teenage and adult students. They’re creating interactive virtual spaces for people to learn about healthy choices and medical conditions. They’re performing live theatre and music and shooting films. They’re dealing with issues like distracted students, varied technical abilities, and diverse cultures and languages. They’re building their own supplementary welcome/tutorial experiences to help people new to the world.

The conference is free and you don’t need to be an educator to attend, so if any of the sessions interest you, stop by. Some of the talks, panels, and machinima will be streamed live if you can’t attend in-world. I’m working a few shifts as a greeter and mentor, and I hope to clear my schedule so I can get to the following sessions. All times are in SLT, which is GMT -7.

Wednesday

  • 13:00 – Virtual Education in Second Life & In the Future: keynote talk by Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg
  • 14:00 – Gamification
  • 16:00 – The Importance of Space
  • 18:00 – Comparison of Teen Gamers and Non-Gamers in a Virtual Learning Simulation

Thursday

  • 7:00 – Reconstructing and Navigating the Crossroads of Community
  • 9:00 – Gaming and Machinima at the Crossroads of Gender and Culture
  • 10:00 – Quill & Quarrel: REAL Theater in a VIRTUAL World

Friday

  • 7:00 – Creating Dinosaurs & Earning Badges
  • 8:05 – Transcending Culture in Global Settings
  • 11:00 – How Do Virtual Experiences Alter Users’ Visual Cognition?
  • 14:05 – Educators and the Second Life Viewer
  • 15:00 – Content Curation Through Virtual World Communities
  • 17:00 – Real Democracy in a Virtual World

Saturday

  • 7:00 – 7 Years of Adaptation and Renewal in Second Life
  • 16:00 – Building Global Communities through Virtual Worlds

There are many others; see the full calendar with descriptions here, including social and machinima events. There’s also an exhibit space to visit in your spare time. Perhaps I’ll see you there.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2015 in Learning, Research

 

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