Monday, April 23, 2012

Usher in OpenSim: One Hour, 19 Prims, Staircase!

Studying the Usher Staircase  
Location: Nevermore Region, Jokaydia Grid

Give me an idle hour during exam week, and my thoughts return to fixing little problems my last class identified with the Virtual House of Usher. There's a small chance that I'll teach with the simulation in the 2012-2013 academic  year, so I decided to spruce up things in OpenSim.

On both that grid and in SL, much of my summer work will focus on adding more clues directly from Poe's stories-within-stories that make "Usher" such an interesting tale. These additions further my pedagogical purpose of adding reasons to return to the primary text. After all, one purpose of the simulation is to deepen how students read the text.

But first we need stairs that work!

Many students new to gamelike spaces never really figured out the spiral stairs I had once thought so clever. So when parts of Usher returned to Second Life, Enktan Gully's staircase, a "dollarbie" from Enkythings, saved the day. Along with other repairs and revelations from the Fall 2011 final exams that took place in Jokaydia Grid, one lesson included getting rid of the spiral stairs.

Enktan's original gave me the model for reproducing a more battered and rustic version in Jokaydia Grid.  Finding the right Z-axis spacing would have been tough, otherwise!

Here's Roderick at work.

Roderick Works on the stairs i...
And after an hour, on both grids, the finished product. It weighs in at 19 prims, to the original's 31 and, I think, about 30 for the spiral.
Stairs Done!
While I don't have any problems with available prims in OpenSim, it's best to never let a build get in the way of learning. I even put aesthetic considerations after that, though both builds will get some needed attention this summer in their decor, particularly in deepening the sense of general gloom.

I don't suppose there are any "gloom consultants" out there?

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.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jumping into Jibe

Location: Pathfinder Lester's Home, Jibe

In class on Monday, I plan to discuss why I don't think Second Life or OpenSim are good venues for Writing Center work.

I've blogged about my reasons here and then, later, after reading an article about a centers' use of Second Life, I reconsidered. A virtual world might be JUST the venue for a gathering of writing tutors between schools.  They would not be there to look glamorous or roleplay as elves. They'd be there to chat about ideas, as they would in a face-to-face conference.

A conference of this sort does not require a world and a persistent set of avatars.  A one-off event in something like Reaction Grid's Jibe might be perfect, and with a team of developers I could see setting up a conference venue that small or large groups could use year after year.

So in class Monday, my students won't see a hard-to-master user interface best suited for collaborative teams building in a virtual world.  They'll see something that can work with a Web browser and a plug-in.

I remain skeptical about Jibe and Unity 3D when mainstream-techie faculty like me wish to do building, especially in collaboration and in real time. As I've often stated, I am not evaluated on my 3D modeling skills. Thus, I don't plan to master the complex tools to make these models, no more than I plan to master LSL scripting. Unlike Photoshop or Dreamweaver (and hand-turned HTML code) these 3D applications do not yet figure into my daily work and annual evaluation.

But for such a conference venue, where pedagogical decisions are not vital, I'd be happy to hire out the work and focus on the content we'd share from the other side of the screen.

Update 4/17/12: Jibe was very jumpy indeed on a wired connection and a decent Windows 7 desktop. While downloading the Unity plug-in was a snap, the rest of the experience was very subpar. My avatar could not walk, lag was enormous, and after lots of fumbling I sit in a chair.

My students were not impressed. Sounds a lot like Second Life under bad conditions.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Edgerati" Share Virtual World Resources: VWER @ VWBPE

VWER at VWBPE 15 March
Location: Sifting the Links

photo by Sheila Yoshikawa of VWER

Thanks to Grizzla Pixelmaid of VWER, we have the full and unadulterated transcript of our meeting (more filling! more taste!) at VWBPE last month.

160+ edu-advatars in attendance. Not a bad showing...I came up with 173 last year.

Much of the talk, as one might expect, focused on virtual worlds and games other than Second Life, but there still appears to be robust investment of time and energy in that grid. Some familiar complaints, about lack of support from IT staff, locked-down classroom tech, SL's bad reputation, high cost, and steep learning curve, returned to haunt our talk.

Hat tip to Zana Kohime for this remark: "One of the new terms I think fits is Edgerati: people who venture out onto various edges, engage with participants on those edges, develop deep insight from their involvement on the edge and report back to the rest of the world what they have learned." SL may not technologically be "the edge" for those in gaming or VWs, but for education 3D immersive learning, broadly defined, remains edgy. I felt more confident, after this meeting, that we'll soon see more of this technology in classwork.

On another positive note, we heard about moves to bring virtual worlds to mobile devices and an interest in collaboration and content-creation by the latest wave of Millennial learners in US classrooms. That is very exciting.

I was also pleased to see how many of the attendees were year-one SLers. Say what one might about SL, but it's a good grid for getting 150 or more of us together for a plenary session.

Even if we increasingly turn our talk to Minecraft and OpenSim and Unity and Jibe.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I LOSE! And Buy Hair

Uncle Carlyle  
Location: Discord Designs Main Store

Wrong wrong wrong. I was wrong, so instead of being the bully that one commenter said I have been, I put my 1000L where my big mouth is.

CronoCloud has a point that SL is about fashion and playing dress-up, and she's not only won 1000L but also convinced me that...I am a fashionista. There is simply no easy way to refute her point or prove mine that RP and other uses of SL outnumber the fashion-minded.

But if I am a fashionista, so worried about his damned fake hair, then so are many of my female colleagues in VWER. They love dressing up. Now stay with me and reason it out.  If anyone who cares about avatar appearance is a fashionista, then...Cronocloud is correct.

So, with a tip of the tophat to her, I went in search of low-ARC dreadlocks at a shop she recommends.

More Beards!

And I gave up. To hell with ARC! Every dread I tried bumped me up from 33K to over 55K, but dahling, it's all about me and my look right?

Since I do love my Mystical Designs Dreads, and the creator,  Mystikal Faddool, has apparently left SL, my old doo is staying on my fake skull.

But then, across a nearly empty showroom (and looking right past a nearly naked SL girly-girl) I saw....FACIAL HAIR. Creator Kallisti Burns clearly understands the appeal. She has a Dali mustache that is priceless (and a steal at 45L for one tone or 90L for a range of them).

But I had other things in mind (though I may have to appear as Dali soon at an arts event).

Weasels Ripped My Flesh

Now I'm all set, and thanks to CronoCloud, I have some synchronicity going. My circle of wags has been discussing the origin of Frank Zappa's album "Weasels Ripped My Flesh," ever since we discovered it to be the name of an infamous tale of survival published in a 1950s men's pulp magazine.

Now I've got the 'stache for the new chin-wagging session. Rock on, fashionistas!  You do keep SL alive!