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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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A few final thoughts on VWBPE 2015

All in all, I thought it was a wonderful conference this year. Things appeared to run smoothly; a few small glitches I noticed along the way were quickly corrected or worked around. I can’t speak to any of the social events but I heard good things about them.  So, a few things:

Why the heck did I volunteer for people-facing things if I’m a shy introvert?

I was asked this recently, and the answer is simple, “I wanted to help and that’s what was needed.”  Sure, it’s a bit like an arachnophobe offering to watch your pet tarantula, but I’m capable of being pleasant and helpful regardless of the anxiety I’m feeling. Oddly, on two of my three shifts welcoming people to the conference, another volunteer was also there. He was far more chatty and social than I will ever be, and since he jumped to welcome people, I was largely irrelevant. I stood there awkwardly, and then changed into my pteranodon avatar and flew around and squawked. It’s remarkable therapy for shyness.

There is a way to take silent photographs.

Though I understand some people find silent photos creepy, hearing a Polaroid-like shutter sound over and over and over and over and over during a presentation can be a bit grating. Perhaps some people don’t know how easy it is to mute that sound. I can’t speak for the SL viewer, but in Firestorm we can simply use the Avatar menu, choose the Advanced tab and enable the Advanced menu. On the Advanced menu that now appears across the top of the screen, mark Quiet Snapshots.

Presenters would benefit from a very simple standing AO or a poseball near the podium. 

You’ve seen some awkwardly positioned avatars in my photos because generally, they’ve been standing at the front of the room without an AO (animation override), bending and turning in a way that isn’t often seen with experienced SL residents. The final keynote presenter specifically mentioned this. A speaker poseball or simplified AO could help them appear as professional as their talks. If I were a speaker, I’d probably use the capability for saving an AO in the viewer itself. I’d choose a simple walk and an appropriate standing animation or two from another AO and save it as a new “Speaking” AO. I may write about how to set up AOs in the viewer soon — it’s a splendid way to have a custom AO (or several AOs) available without adding to the script weight of a sim. I not only have two full AOs in mine, but I’ve used it to replace my dance and modeling HUDs.

The experience of attending the VWBPE conference outshines several conferences I’ve attended in the physical world.

The annual National Association of Broadcasters conference is a zoo. As much as I adore anthropology and always want to attend 90% of the sessions, the crowds at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association are unbelievable. I really loved the Popular Culture/American Culture conference when it was in DC, but that was overwhelming, too. There have been others, and my memories of them are mostly of holing up and ordering room service, unable to face the packed hallways and rooms of folding chairs any longer. Very social people might appreciate the physical conferences more, but there were plenty of opportunities to meet and mingle, play games, and dance at VWBPE.

If you want to provide access to your event for people on the autism spectrum, with disabilities or chronic pain, or with other conditions that make a physical conference very challenging, consider offering an online mirror in a virtual world. Even the crowded “rooms” at VWBPE aren’t that visually or perceptually full. Rather than rushing through jammed halls to try to navigate to the next session, I click a link and poof! I’m there. If my arthritis is bothering me, I can get up to pace and stretch during a presentation rather than sitting stiffly on a bad chair in increasing distress. The organizers do their best to provide sessions in both voice and text, to make them accessible to more people. I don’t think it is a coincidence that there were many people at VWBPE with disclosed disabilities; we want to participate, learn, and share, and virtual worlds give us a forum for that.

So in the end…

… a huge thanks to the organizers, presenters, builders/scripters/texturers, filmmakers and photographers, transcribers, sponsors, and other volunteers  as well as Linden Labs and the AvaCon Grid, who made the conference possible. Fantastic work.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in 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 2)

The afternoon session “Educators and the Second Life Viewer”, led by Oz Linden, wasn’t a topic that had direct impact on me, but I was curious.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one:

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Oz began with an overview of how the Lab does viewer development and release and then the questions came flooding in. Most of the concerns involved dealing with viewer updates in an institutional setting, where students sitting down to use machines lacked administrator rights and had to wait for someone else to install the software. At a busy school, the update schedule of the tech support staff can be terribly out of sync with SL releases.

Some worried about potentially losing inventory when testing new viewer candidates (you won’t; it’s stored on the server, not your client viewer). Others asked about screencasting or screen sharing tools. The discussion indicated that other tools do it better, which perhaps didn’t satisfy everyone’s needs. People asked about hair alphas and alpha conflicts in general, which Oz said were always on the LL bug list. A question came up about how to transfer settings from one computer to another (move the settings.xml file). There was a discussion around how to create a shared whiteboard in SL. HTML 5 support will be coming in a few months, which might make it easier to use media-on-a-prim to create a whiteboard, and one educator suggested using Twiddla for that implementation. In the discussion of media-on-a-prim, Oz mentioned Quicktime for Windows and Flash as being difficult to support in-world (personal opinion: they’re outdated and shouldn’t be supported, but we need a media option).  Someone asked about getting an MSI instead of an exe to make installation in labs easier.  I’m sure Oz was flooded with emails mentioning that an MSI can be generated directly from Visual Studio by choosing “Create an Installer Package” from the Project.

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People also asked about social media sharing, rendervolumeLODFactor settings, inventory management (!), an export feature (nope), and more. Oz also mentioned render costs and the setting being tested that won’t render avatars above a certain weight.  Not that I have a horse in that race. It was a very informative talk, with a couple of other Lindens jumping in to add details, and I hope it was useful for them as well. The session took place during dinner time, so my software engineer husband was listening with me and often yelling responses to questions across the room; I’m glad my microphone fiasco happened later in the evening.

Speaking of which…

Next, I attended the “Content Curation Through Virtual World Communities” session, where I was able to hear the first two panelists and a small amount of the third. My write-up of this session is limited as I committed an accidental faux pas (open mic in a voice-conducted panel) and lost my notes in the flurry of embarrassment afterward.

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Valerie Hill (Valibrarian Gregg) touched on library topics — as you might guess from her SL name — but also referenced Alvin Toffler and talked about users as prosumers: both consuming and creating content. She spoke about how important it is to vet our own content sources for credibility and to avoid placing ourselves in an echo chamber where we only hear our existing views reflected back at us.

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Renee Brock-Richmond (Zinnia Zauber) gave a presentation centered on creating an “authentic” avatar and reinforcing your personal branding. You might be able to tell from the slide above that she is all about color. She talked about different ways to use color in-world — not only for clothing — and about creating a consistent avatar, including profile, that is authentic to yourself. I found that very thought-provoking. I wanted to agree and argue, so it’s something I might pick up in a future post.

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Next up was Beth O’Connell (Beth Ghostraven). She talked about useful communication techniques and tools. She also shared a helpful notecard entitled “Professional Education and Library Resources in Virtual Worlds” that has links to SL and OpenSim areas, mailing lists and groups, and websites. Unfortunately, my gaffe happened during her session. I missed part of it while talking and after being removed from the sim.

I completely missed the presentation by Joyce Bettancourt (Rhiannon Chatnoir), which was disappointing because I had enjoyed the session by her Vesuvius Group colleague so much earlier in the day.

Not being one who can shake off things like that (despite the wise counsel of Dr. Taylor Swift), I didn’t attend the session “Real Democracy in a Virtual World” or the Quill & Quarrel performance later that evening. Today, I’ll be attending sessions from my desktop computer, which has no microphone whatsoever.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in Learning, Research

 

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VWBPE interrupted: an apology

So, tonight I made a complete ass of myself in a VWBPE session. I owe a huge apology to the presenters of “Content Curation Through Virtual World Communities”, particularly Beth Ghostraven/O’Connell, and to the attendees. I’m so sorry. I turned away from my keyboard when my husband came in, turned back to see what was happening, apparently hit the wrong button…. and then went along my merry way, chatting with him about an event later that night… unaware that my mic was open and I was broadcasting it all to everyone in the session.  UGH.  A few minutes later I looked down and saw lots of chat notices trying to let me know.  One of the great people from Idahonia was kind enough to eject me from the parcel.

I sent apologies to everyone who tried desperately to get my attention so I would turn off my mic, and thank you all for being so polite and friendly. I know, it happens; I warned a couple people about their mics earlier today, but it aches to have it happen to me. Blame it on being upset and tired and distracted or just being clumsy, but it was a dumb thing to do. I think we were mostly talking about the Quill & Quarrel performance later tonight, so at least I don’t think I was being really awful, but still….

Take one woman with serious shyness, add public humiliation, and, well, I’ll be hiding in the closet under a pile of old jeans for the next year or two. Seriously. I’m done for the night.  I’ll do a write-up about more of the conference tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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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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