All entries for Friday 02 November 2007

November 02, 2007

SL and identity

Lycanthrope avI made a statement about determining students’ personalities from their avs in my last blog entry – since I’ve never actually met them – and I’m not sure how valid it is. I know a lot of people make their avatar as much like their RL as possible, or usually with a few minor tweaks. And there’s the whole literature on identity tourism, expression of “true selves” and so on. I don’t think I fall into either category though. I went through and purged a lot of the avatars I never use. I’m now down to about 40. One of those is undeniably human (and that’s only so I can get into some rp sims that insist on everyone looking human). The rest are mainly fantasy animals, or cartoon-like animals, or animal-human hybrids. I’ve gone for albino versions where possible, initially because I thought they’d show up better (my one collaborator in SL at Warwick was visually impaired. he’s still visually impaired – he’s just not at Warwick any more) and then after a while because I thought there should be some consistency across avatars (and some means to constrain my obsession with buying new ones).

But I wouldn’t say that these reflect my personality at all. I wouldn’t really know how to define my personality. I do dress to fade into the background, and tend to withdraw in large crowds. I never spend more than a few minutes choosing which clothes to buy or wear. So why purchase a ten-foot tall muscle-bound werewolf and walk around SL appearing as that? And spend far too long trying out different fur colours? Is that some idealised version of myself? Do I want people to get a different impression of who I am? Is it just the whole dressing-up thing, which is just more visually interesting in SL than RL because there’s so much more flexibility? Or is there something within my personality that’s previously been unexpressed?

OK answering that is not really important, however I think what is interesting about SL is that it raises questions about identity that aren’t necessarily raised in RL. And maybe the assumptions about the personalities of the students that I made aren;t entirely invalid. Maybe take a look at the image for the teaching session and see if you do the same – (plus one joined later in a Batman av – which I missed).


Meeting the students in the living roomYesterday I did my first lecture in Second Life. I was at home, the class was in King’s College, London. The subject was Gaming and Serious Gaming (the subject area of a couple of my research projects). The class at the other end (and their lecturer) were all in the same room at the far end. I was projected and my voice was over speakers at the far end. The students all attended inworld through separate computers in the classroom. They communicated to me through talking to their lecturer and he passed on their questions. Inworld the lecture was held in the backyard of my Chilbo residence (thanks to Fleep, Wainbrave and Cosimo from Chilbo for giving me a space). After the presentation I took the class on a tour around some roleplay sims to show them gaming, and some educational places. In my study at home I had SL running on my laptop and my notes pulled up on my PC so I could refer to them without switching windows.

Observations: Voice worked well, once the other end selected the push to talk rather than the toggle option. Before then it was impossible to talk because I’d hear my own voice back. Moving the speakers around didn’t work. I’d say this is an unbreakable rule for using voice – insist that others use push to talk unless they have a headset.

I’ve done a lot of distanced teaching before, through audio and videoconferencing. The golden rule there is to stop frequently and ask for feedback. I did this after every slide – until I got behind. Hugh – the lecturer at the other end, was good at breaking in – but it would have been better to have given him the space to do it. Using voice made me less aware of the SL aspect. I was mainly interacting through listening to him, and not taking any notice of his avatar or the students’ avatars while I was communicating.

Where the virtual presence and copresence with the students was important was in the initial set-up of the presentation. We met up inside my house, they picked up the references for the session from the notecard dispenser there, then we moved into the yard to look at the presentation. Compared to audioconferencing, I really had a feeling that the students were present, and felt I had some impression of what they were like as personalities from their choice of avatar. Once I got underway though I did pretty much tune out the visual and focus on the dialogue between myself and Hugh – or Hugh-as-class-representative.

I was unsure about the tour, but it seemed to work well. I went to the different locations and then invited Hugh to tp to where I was. I don;t know how he then rounded up the rest of the class. I think three sims was enough to give them the idea. The intention was to show how the rules and induction process helped create the games’ “magic circle” but as soon as I’d taken them through the educational stuff they were off looking in the shops. Just like any other field trip, I guess. Following the students round reasserted the impression of copresence with them, particularly as I got separated in the goth horror sim and had to wander the streets trying to find them.

Most sims block voice (handily illustrating my point about the division between augmentation and immersion) – and it was a real relief to get back to a place where Hugh and I could talk. I’m not sure I’d feel the same comfort with talking to people I didn;t know so well in RL though. Chat in those circumstances is a means to avoid some of the anxiety with talking with people I don;t know.

The whole thing took about twice as long as I’d planned (I took all of their two-hour session – and had planned on just taking up an hour) although some of this was due to set-up time, it was mainly because of the high level of interaction with the students. I left Hugh with the remaining landmark that I didnt have time to show them.

Next time: I’d structure the field trip a bit more, and have something specific in mind to show them – during the solar system tour I lost them somewhat. Probably should have kept a better watch of the time, too.

I’d also try and find ways to support the feeling of copresence with the students throughout the session – maybe direct interaction with them might have helped (or looking at them rather than the PowerPoint screen) – even though they could only use text, that might have been better than relaying it through Hugh.

Having someone else along to document the session would have helped. I did a couple of screengrabs before the start, but once I was underway I forgot to do more.

Having the documents open on the PC was more of a distraction than a help – since the only time I wanted to refer to something I couldnt find it.

And a reflection on the reflection – my PhD study is based on the assumption that there’ll be enough to say as a consequence of these sorts of session to confirm the literature, and provide some more insights into the learners’ experiences of these environments. After this session though I’m not sure that there is very much to say, or that the experience really provides a lot of stuff to be analysed. I mean, it went well, I thought, it was kind of nice seeing versions of everyone inworld, and I had fun setting it up. That’s not going to fill 80 000 words though :s

November 2007

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