Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Virtual Worlds Changed a Bunch o' Educators

Location: VWER Meeting

I want to pull out a few choice remarks from a March Roundtable, where moderator Chris Robinson posed this provocative question by VWER member Birdie Newcomb:

How have you changed since using virtual worlds?

Beyond how some of us get called our SL names in real life, here are some reflections:
  • AJ Brooks: well – for me, I have a career because of it. I’m a published author, a seasoned presenter
  • Birdie Newcomb: I’m much more sociable here than in RL, though one influences the other
  • Frankie Antonelli: in my case, vws make me feel more connected as I don’t have to for annual conferences, better yet, I can continue conversations after the conference
  • Liana Hubbenfluff: well, I was exposed to other cultures I’d never thought I’d be hanging out with
  • Merlin Moonshadow: My experience in SL has made me more outgoing and more confident, brought out leadership skills that I never knew I had, stimulated my thinking and my creativity, and was a big factor in deciding to go back to graduate school.
  • Samantha Chester (sam55.chester): well vws have allowed me to collaborate with educators from all over the world and be exposed to ideas and practices I would not have in [real life] 
  • Pathfinder Lester: in my experience, I think everyone who spends a good amount of time in virtual worlds is fundamentally *changed* in how they perceive the world and people (including themselves). . . .I think that’s why the community of people using virtual worlds has a lot of binding energy…..not just because we share experiences…but because we all share a changed perspective on things.
Readers can surf over to the entire transcript here.

I think that Dan Holt puts one aspect of these changes very well, and he is supported by research into online writing communities from scholars like Cindy Selfe, Gail Hawisher, and many others who publish in Computers and Composition. Cynthia Haynes and Jan Rune Holmervik explored the expansion of self enabled by MOOs, MUDs, and similar in their book High Wired.

 Namely, Dan notes "Much of what you all say about expanding your community takes place as well with older tech like listservs, but the sense of being with other people is magnified tenfold when taking place within a 3D environment."

That's where I hope we'll have more discussions. There's something different about embodiment that is hard to pin down. Dan gets at it with his remark that "To me, [Facebook] really is only valuable for keeping loosely in touch with people I’ve known in the past. A VW is much more amenable to meeting with others you may never see in RL." Some VWERs disagreed, but for me that has been the Facebook vs. VW experience.

I'll also stand by what I said in response to Dan and a few others, "But all identity is constructed, says the lit-crit boy with the dreads and tophat."  Pathfinder Lester pointed us to the always savvy Peter Miller's "The Affective Context in Immersive Learning," and such good academic work may point the way forward to other studies of 3D applications and how they change us.

The pragmatic and snarky Claudia Rossini wins the commentary-contest award for her remark about SL and appearance, "the sexier cooler version is a desire formed by ads and tv, making fools think they need to be something they are not in order to be worthwhile."

Fools and their Linden Dollarss are soon parted? I suppose that's why I have so many of those mustaches and beards now! But then as I observed, in a moment right out of James Howard Kunstler, " SL cultivates a sense of the surreality of RL…I see more and more RL people as being like avatars…no more than inventory, good hair, and a dream home."

We are more than our hair, car, and house in either life. At least I hope so.

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