Monthly Archive for October, 2006

Interview with Milosun: How NOT to teach in Second Life

Second Life: Interview with Milosun

Having subscribed to an unhealthy number of Second Life education and research related mailing lists, I’ve been seeing interest from the academic as well as government agencies towards education via games. On the SL education list, Jeremy Wang shared an article published in the Seattle Times titled “Scientists say video games can reshape education“. Adding more legitimacy to gaming research, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) recently declared that video games (like SL) should to be researched as a possible direction for education in the future (See FAS Game Summit). As Jeremy explained, the good news is that there may now be federal money (NSF and DOE) to support research into how video games can be used in education.

This has prompted me to look at the various ways we could teach via Second Life (SL). One of the ways I thought of was to compile a “SL Teacher’s Toolkit” so that educators interested in teaching within Second Life could have the necessary tools to get started with a virtual class of students quickly. Such items have typically been dispersed all over the SL world, until I found the ICT Library which now houses almost the entire universe of teaching tools in SL.

Naturally, I met up with the Second Life ICT Library founder, Milosun Czervik (RL: Ross Perkins, PhD), where we discussed the possibility of easing the process for new SL educators by building such a package to distribute in-game. Off the bat, he didn’t really like the idea, but he explained why. This eventually lead us on a journey through instructional design, constructive learning, and on whether some tools function as novelty or distraction. The dialog is filled with honest to goodness anecdotes useful for understanding how Second Life should be approached from an educational perspective… and how it should not.

Using a chatlogger in the form of a SL notetaking gadget, the interview was recorded at 7pm PDT on 30th Oct 2006:

Kevin Suisei: Do you think it’s a good idea to compile a SL item that packages a bunch of “ready-to-use” tools for teachers?

Milosun Czervik: yes and no….

Kevin Suisei: Go ahead

Milosun Czervik: first, I don’t want to come across as protective…. I am not making a profit from this place…. but I do like getting the traffic and the kudos… so when I say “no,” it’s not to protect my turf, so to speak. On the positive side, a box would be a handy thing to have so folks wouldn’t have to click/read so much… as you did upon your visit here! I think another positive is that it gives noobs (who are into education) a great way to know that there are some easy to use tools out there… it reduces the overhead somewhat… as some folks take a while before they can even get a notecard!

Kevin Suisei: This is where an opportunity can be found… When I mentioned that your library contained “the universe of teaching tools”, I meant just that… that there are a lot of tools, some more specialized than others, some requiring more work (e.g. scripting). This is why I think the teacher’s package might work

Milosun Czervik: you are right… some are easy to use… others are not.

Kevin Suisei: It will only contain a sample set of tools which are directly useful to most teachers. So for example, the top ten tools could be compiled with credits to authors… and for more, a landmark link to your ICT library. Chances are, while say these ten tools are useful to most, many would want to find specialized tool, and that’s where they would visit your library. This ends up becoming a freebie with dual purpose… to allow SL AVs to teach immediately with a virtual classroom setting, and to promote your library as a good resource.

Milosun Czervik: overall, it’s a good idea… but let me give you some reasons why I say it might not be too useful…

Milosun Czervik: first, I am an instructional designer … to me, the most important part about teaching in SL is not learning to use AngryBeth’s whiteboard or figuring out how to place a survey script in an object. I am a little uneasy to package a set of tools and promote that set as a “teaching kit,” because to be honest, most of the tools… as good as they are… only promote a teacher-centered, didactic form of teaching…

Milosun Czervik: take for instance these hand-show chairs… No one will ever convince me that it’s a good idea to bring a bunch of students or trainees into SL as avatars and then have them sit around on chairs to listen to lecture. They have a great purpose to help control conversation… and there are equivalents in web-based tools like Breeze or centra… but SL is a place for collaboration and creativity and constructivist learning… not to simply replicated what goes on it a classroom.

Kevin Suisei: Yes, that is a good point… form defines function.

Milosun Czervik: So – I might be preaching to the choir, but that is my philosophical issue with a kit.

Kevin Suisei: In your own words, the teacher’s kit might promote the wrong idea of what SL should be?

Milosun Czervik: the bigger issue is this… and this is based on observation… by the time a person new to SL has figured out how to even set up and use said tools, s/he has a better handle on what kind of tools are needed.

Kevin Suisei: Indeed, it would almost be more troublesome to run a class in SL if the same class could be taught IRL, unless it has something that RL cannot provide.

Milosun Czervik: that’s just it… people are using SL, in some cases, for the weakest of instructional reasons (imho)… personally, I don’t think “novelty” counts as a good reason… in fact, the novel environment may well distract from learning rather than enhance it.

Kevin Suisei: Well, since SL is still new, it’s worth experimenting with various types of classes… we’ll never know for sure…

Milosun Czervik: um… well… I disagree a bit… in that we know enough about learning – and even enough about virtual environments – to make good instructional design choices. We should not have to experiment with a range of classes each time a new tech tool hits the streets.

Kevin Suisei: Perhaps you could share ideal class situations which would work better in SL than IRL?

Milosun Czervik: Sure…. virtual environments lend themselves to replicating RL things that are too dangerous or expensive to do in RL. For example, I was an English teacher at one point. My goal would be to have students actualize narrative in SL – whether their own or from a novel and then to do machinima based on it.

Kevin Suisei: Hmmm, say we categorize such an activity.. could we say that SL works best in Role Play situations?

Milosun Czervik: I wouldn’t say “best,” – it’s just one option available. Remember, Kevin… SL makes the digital divide wider, not narrower. Inclusion is a keenly important issue… and in truth, access to SL is limted. SL is also an interesting environment for social presence, but I would be careful not to concentrate on SL. SL is only the latest iteration as a number of other graphics-based MUVE’s exist… and 10 years ago or more, people like Chris Dede of Harvard were doing research on things like MOOs and MUDs .. but like Neal Stephenson of SnowCrash fame… they saw an avatar-based world coming.

Kevin Suisei: amazing isn’t it?

Milosun Czervik: Actually, that is one reason why I did the early ICT Library… to clue people into the fact that though SL has some unique features… it’s in the line of many similar things. Anyway… I don’t want to preach too much… I don’t want to discourage use of SL for teaching – though I would urge caution on a number of fronts. I have hope that even folks who come here and stink it up with terrible design strategies may eventually see the light…

Kevin Suisei: Yes, there’s a strong push towards educational uses of games or virtual environments, sometimes we forget it’s not the best “tool”

Milosun Czervik: who knows… the tool itself may reform them. The best tool is the well-trained/experienced teacher. Period.

Kevin Suisei: I appreciate your time… this has been an honest and educational interview. Perhaps over time I will see what works and what doesn’t.

Milosun Czervik: I don’t think we resolved the kit thing though…

Kevin Suisei: well, it’s not going to happen is it?

Milosun Czervik: BUT… it has reminded me that I need to do a better job at advertising perhaps.

The meeting carries on as we blab about other stuff, but one good thing did come out of this… I will be helping to promote the ICT library through various activities, not just to leave my mark in SL (builds identity), but to explore the ways we can educate in Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs).

Related Links:
The ICT Library blog
The SL Library 2.0 blog
Teleport to the ICT Library

Today’s Links: Optimized Firefox 2.0, Yep, Disco, and other Mac tools

Firefox Crop Circle
Oldie but Goodie: Mozilla interns from the Oregon State University really love Firefox!

Video: Why political satire? Asking Nelson on “Head of State”

Currently pursuing his MFA in Computer Art & Communication Design, Nelson Tan presented his latest installation piece at a graduate student art exhibition in the Center for the Arts here in UB. Entitled “Head of State”, his creation was mixed media, consisting of colored print on canvas and a video projection of a time-lapsed face.

While there were a lot of familiar Singaporean cues in his work, the way he displaced, layered and animated one upon another helped tell not one, but multiple tales of our life in the Lion City. Indeed, his work reflects the localized complexity of our multi-layered lives, be it on community, business, academia, or politics. In this video, he explains the various aspects of his work, which is shown to relate to:
1. Singaporeans as individualistic people
2. Citizens as true constructs of Singapore
3. Significance of Political Satire in Singapore

Besides the streaming video above, you can download Nelson’s video in Quicktime format.

What Web 2.0 was suppose to be, illustrates produser challenge

As mentioned on the creator’s web site, “Web 2.0″ is a viral advert created for a competition at The First Post, a daily online magazine in England.

Neither of the directors had any formal training although both did Art foundation courses at Winchester School of Art in 2005. This autumn, Leo Bridle goes to Bournemouth Arts Institute to study animation while Leo Powell will study Fine Art at the University of East London. The music for the viral was composed by Tom Rubira.

If anything, this creative work (like many others on Youtube) illustrates two opposing trends:

  1. As more of us are able to produce our own media, the word “consumer” will no longer exist (see Produser idea). Markets transform as power get redistributed to all.
  2. Capitalists (traditional power holders) have learnt to leverage on the produser, by organizing creative contests for quality promotional work. This provides companies with access to both advertising and marketing channels, with costs way below that of the traditional mass media approach.

As such, are we merely becoming a new kind of consumer, one who lives in the illusion of control over our immediate world as commercialism continues exploit us at every turn? Do we retain our power by doing it willingly as corporations truly share control with us, giving equal fate in making ventures work? Perhaps we are re-appreciating the idea of humility. After all, both corporations and individuals are dependent on one another.

An expert relevant to this field is Dr. Axel Bruns. Watch his videoblog post as he gives a 10min explanation of the Produser concept.

First time to a chiropractor… is it all B.S.?

Michael Hall: UB Student Health Center

For the past three days, I’ve been having acute aches and tingling sensations on my upper back. I don’t recall doing anything out of the ordinary on Sunday, but I simply woke up one morning and went “YEOW!”. It felt like my head was hotglued to my body, making it difficult to turn my head without turning my torso. My friend recommended seeing the chiropractor at Michael Hall (UB’s student health center as seen above) and I was skeptical at first, but after two days of torture, I decided to make my first appointment. I’d have preferred to let the body heal itself.

After presenting a pleasant workshop on Wikis at ETC yesterday morning, I made my way down to South Campus for the appointment. There I saw other students, mostly girls, where I overheard them saying that they come twice a week. I have friends in the medical field who say that chiropractic is a load of B.S. It’s nothing more than hearsay and people generally use appointments with chiropractors to take leave from work. I was about to experience it for the first time, so I could judge for myself.

After staring hard at the wall of the waiting room, a resident chiropractor came in and gave me some paperwork. It was the usual… personal particulars, health history, pain diagram, and indemnity forms. When it came to signing the last form, he reassured me that it’s generally safe and I’ll be ok (erm, if you say so). Walking into his office, there were two other guys… a doctor who was overseeing his session, and an understudy who was shadowing the resident. Note that this treatment was essentially “free” since it was for students at the New York Chiropractic College to get practice. Being my first visit, the doctor explained who they were and what I’ll be going through, which was neat since I get to understand the treatment.

The resident chiropractor then got to work, testing my nerves by flexing my head and limbs to confirm where the pain lies. After that, I got to lie face down on the infamous chiropractic bed where he proceeded to press palm down descending my spine. Following that, he held each arm and I believe he pressed on my shoulder blade until I could hear the pop/crack between the joints. Having me lie on my side, I retracted my higher knee where he proceeded to twist my body until another pop was hear (once for each side). Grabbing my head, he started to tug on it away from my body (more pops). Finally, he pressed down hard on my upper back shoulder to soften what he described as tight and knotted muscles. It was a little sore after all this, but nothing anyone should be concerned about.

So did the chiropractor help with my problem?
Frankly speaking I still don’t know. It could be psychological for some, especially since you feel and hear the pops of air/fluid released from your joints. The ache isn’t as bad today, but it was already getting better before I saw the chiropractor. Before I left, he said that it would be more effective if I came back for a few more treatments, but I’ll think about it since I frankly haven’t felt the “day and night” difference that some friends mentioned before.

Aside: Take it with a pinch of salt, but I found this skeptic’s guide to the chiropractic practice which might be of use to you.

Blog: The handsign > The t-shirt > The story > Just $10

blog handsign

Threadless is having a $10 t-shirt sale until Wednesday (that’s tomorrow?) and if you don’t already know, they have a whole community of designers and fans who pick designs and eventually helps decide on what get made and what doesn’t. It’s like a prettified “Digg” for slick t-shirts.

While perusing their full catalog, my ETC colleague Gautam pointed out this particular shirt to me. I’d almost forgotten about this handsign, having seen it on BoingBoing eons ago. As you can see, even handsigns are the stuff of copyrights and royalties. Fortunately for me, Threadless had the small tee for my uber-sexy Asian physique, so there goes with my Visa card.

BTW: There’s a handsign for “Wiki” too. Wanna make that into a t-shirt?

Today’s Links: Rocking the vote on Google Earth

Google Earth: US Elections Guide 2006

Video: Building a Flying-V Guitar in Second Life (plus Copyright woes)

On Saturday, I mentioned Rambling Librarian’s special guitar he created as his first ever item in Second Life. The guitar is a virtual version of the Gibson “Flying-V” which you can see here in real life. In this video we made yesterday morning, the Rambling Librarian (SL name: IvanChew Link) shows us how he goes about making it. It’s not too complicated and looks great as a intermediate level project.

On a side note, this is my first machinima. Now I made it in high quality so you could see our text-based conversation, and it would have looked good on Revver (my choice of video sharing service), but there was a hitch. While I like Revver for their higher resolution video playback, their ad revenue sharing feature became a problem for me. Even though this was a user-created work, the Revver moderators said that I couldn’t publish the video there since I would be essentially profiteering off the creators of the Second Life. Makes sense in terms of copyright, but isn’t this helping to promote SL anyway? Perhaps Linden Lab should consider creating a space for user submitted in-game videos.

For now I was back to square one… finding a video sharing service that was high-res enough for you to see our text-based chat conversation. I’ve settled for Google Video until I can find a better solution. I don’t need the advertising dollar… I just want to get stuff published. Can anyone recommend a higher-res video sharing service besides Revver?

Today’s Links: Virtual World + Real Money

Spring Vortex” by Astrovine (See the video). The eerie feeling sets the tone for today’s links…

Second Life: Building 101 + Wired Magazine’s opening day…

My newly constructed teak love seat with pose balls
See entire Second Life photo set here…

Today, I took my first class in Second Life called “Building 101″ at 2pm EST. It was interesting seeing a class of strangers gather in the training area near the Second Life Library and then building things under the guidance of a librarian volunteer named Eiseldora Reisman (See her SL avatar / her library blog). She first showed us the basics of building by having us produce a cube then manipulate it by size, position and so on. We then learned to link objects together, add textures and even throw in pre-built scripts to allow for our creations to animate or interact with the users.

After a 1hr lunch break, we started an advanced lesson on building furniture, specifically sculpting a love seat using just one prim (i.e. basic 3d object such as a cube or sphere). As with most 3D games, building items with less prims means more speed for the end user, since it is more efficient on bandwidth (everything’s stored on the server) as well as the end-user’s graphic processor. While I was happy with my creation, I was even more impressed by what the Rambling Librarian managed to accomplish on his own, by creating a V-shaped guitar which he now sells for $199. Some day I’ll get there, but for now I’ve experience first hand the learning potential in a virtual world. While the subject matter was meta in nature, there’s a strong possibility to demonstrate things beyond the classroom in here. For one, a well-trained user would find it easier to visualize and share ideas here.

I’m not the only one in discovering this of course. According to Wired Magazine, professors from Trinity University, University of Texas at Austin, San Francisco State University, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Vassar College have used Second Life in their courses. Plenty have probably joined the fray by now and many have even established virtual campuses in Second Life.

As the RamblingLibrarian pointed out, it’s no surprise that Singapore’s Ministry of Education has sought to establish presence for learning in digital environments, further legitimizing the importance of understanding how Second Life could be use to further active forms of learning.

Apparently, in order to help teachers bring their classes to Second Life, Linden Lab donates accounts for each student, as well as an acre of land in the metaverse for the teacher and students to work and build on. Afterward, anyone wishing to stay a member can do so at half price. There are more details in the Second Life Education Wiki.

Speaking of Wired Magazine, they just opened their virtual offices in SL by throwing a virtual party today. Many gathered for the opening address by Wired magazine’s Chris Baker and Danny (didn’t catch full name), as well as a Millions of Us’ designer, Rodica. I suggested that they start a SL group so as to capture their readers who were present and they did so by creating one called “WireHeads” (search to join group in SL). I also asked them what their plans were now that they had an online presence and they said they weren’t sure yet. I told them I understood and that it’s always good to try something for yourself first anyway so you can discover the social affordances along the way.

Besides the Wired folks, I got to meet a Millions of Us designer responsible for creating the Wired magazine offices, which looks like a life-sized computer motherboard (See my photo / their clever design rationale). Philip Linden stopped by to check out the party and I got to ask him if they could allow for items that could be destroyed (e.g. smashable TV sets). He liked the idea and said that he’s seen artists do that before. If you’re wondering why I asked such a weird question, perhaps you might understand why in future. For now, you can read Rodica’s account of the event or teleport to Wired’s office to take a look.

Aside: With all this talk about Second Life, I really hope Linden Labs doesn’t turn into another case of AOL. Don’t overcharge… SL is after all an enclosed service that works over the Internet. Embracing the Internet, opening your APIs and making your virtual world accessible to the rich and the poor makes it more socially responsible and significant.