Category Archives: habitat

BJET article – MUVE Eventedness – An experience like any other.

This article was one of the many interesting (and diverse) things I did for the openhabitat project. Many thanks to the editors of the British Journal of Educational Technology. This is being reprinted here based on the “you may use all or part of the Article and abstract, without revision or modification, in personal compilations or other publications of your own work;” section of the Wiley Publishing contract.

Colloquium
MUVE eventedness: An experience like any other

Introduction

The OpenHabitat project is a Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) Users and Innovation Programme funded project exploring the practical application of multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs) to the higher education classroom. This paper discusses ongoing research, drawing tentative conclusions from reporting streams coming out of the project. The researchers have identified that once lecturers have acquired literacy in the MUVEs, there is a threshold afterwhich they become able to see MUVEs in education as offering an experience that allows for the exploration of existing content in a new context and which acts as a focal point for reflection. The ‘otherness’ of the environment provides a ‘mirror’ for practice (for both student and teacher). The otherness, however, does not necessarily call for new pedagogies but rather relies on a long tradition of experiential learning.

The use of MUVEs (Multi User Virtual Environments) in education is no longer the realm of the avant-garde or the charmingly quaint, and is encroaching on the edges of the mainstream. A recent scoping study conducted for JISC tells us that the (educational) ‘use of virtual worlds has accelerated exponentially over the last two or three years’ (de Freitas, 2008).With the increasing prominence of these new tools, we need to start asking what the technology offers for the average classroom, and moving beyond the ‘if ’ of virtual worlds to the ‘when’ and ‘for what reason’. The OpenHabitat project is primarily an attempt to see past the complications of the technology to explore what happens when a virtual world comes to a regular classroom, or in the case of OpenHabitat, two classrooms: Ian Truelove’s art and design class at Leeds Metropolitan and Marianne Talbot’s class at Oxford University overseen by the project’s Principal Investigator David White.

The OpenHabitat project
The project was conceived as a series of two iterative pilots where best practices and lessons learned could be gleaned from the results of the first pilot and used to inform the development of the second pilot. Each of the groups has kept an open, running discussion freely available online and aggregated to www.openhabitat.org using video, photo and text blogs. This reflexive method was chosen for the first pilot in order to track, develop and refine best practices. These practices would then lead to a solid foundation for the second pilot, in addition to offering a preliminary opportunity to test out those best practices and further refine them. This method worked for us, but rather than the second pilot simply being a reinforcement for the first, it also allowed us to ‘see through’ the technology to such a degree that we were able to focus from a clearer standpoint on some of the real advantages of using MUVEs.

That clearer picture is something that we suggest may be the subtler and perhaps more important part of our research with MUVEs. ‘Teaching and learning in virtual worlds is’, according to David White, ‘an experience’ (White, 2008a). In his first blog post on the subject, he explains that it is the intensity and ‘eventedness’ that creates the real value of the MUVE experience. Bringing a virtual world into a classroom serves as a catalyst, a ‘shared event’ that takes learning beyond a simple knowledge transaction between student and instructor. It has the potential to bring students together as a class, and push the material far enough into a new context to allow students a new and, perhaps, more compelling way of approaching the content of a given learning event.

Literacies: identification and acquisition
The planning for the first pilot primarily involved consideration of what we could do with the technology. From the perspective of the project members, researchers designed the platforms, focusing on specific kinds of feedback loops and avatar actions that would allow for an ‘authentic experience’. Best practices were sought that would allow for replication of the immersive experience in other instructors’ teaching spaces.

In the process, we accumulated a great deal of data and found some patterns that we thought (and think) might be important. In reflecting on some of the lessons learned from the first pilot as described, however, we saw a slightly different picture forming. Rather than the skills-based, step-by-step planning typical of a ‘traditional’ approach to Higher Education, we began to see the primacy of social literacies emerging as our lessons learned from the process. We find that the intense curricular and pedagogical/technological planning is less responsible for successful learning ‘experiences’, and that the support of teacher/student dialogue and pre-MUVE socio/pedagogical concepts start to portray themselves as the primary and essential literacies needed for the learning habitat.

The reflections from the project leaders during the first pilot revealed key principles that formed the foundation of the new ‘what we already knew about teaching’ perspective, a move away from focusing on MUVE-specific best practices. Ian Truelove blends in lessons from his arts-based background when discussing identity.

Design education consciously and deliberately strives to achieve a balance between the unrestricted and impulsive (Nobody), the collaborative teamworking, subject specific or audience satisfying (Anybody) and the personal achievement of the author/producer (Somebody). We
glued all this together with many,many ‘Aha!’ moments (Eureka) … . but it is clear that individual and collective identity is bound together with the creative process (Truelove, 2008)

This description could be applied to the MUVE environment aswell as design education. There is some question of whether the issue of identity will really be very different than the identity stretching that happens to students when they come to university. In a designed classroom, where you already know who the people in the class are, flights of identity are going to be less disruptive—and no different than those of art students using other mediums or having other experiences.

There is also a sense in which the foregrounding of ‘natural’ collaboration competes most directly with traditional views of Second Life as a call for a new pedagogy. Truelove wonders if ‘Maybe “collaboration” in these MUVE environments is more about discussion than construction. When people collaborate in world they are rarely to be found wrestling over the same polygons/prims’ (White, 2008a). There is a sense in which thinking through ‘construction plans’ and trying to force the MUVE medium can bring to the fore project member Steven Warburton’s concerns that ‘Second Life can be deceptive … It can seduce one into believing that “teaching” practices that work on the outside can be readily transposed inside. It is a sobering experience when the particular constraints of SL kick back and even the best-laid plans begin to unravel’ (Warburton, 2008).

Conclusion
We took advantage of the two-phased approach and allowed the continuum to flow from the technology and towards the educational experience that the students were going to be having. Discussion among the project planning team moved from considering what we could do with the technology to elicit certain learning behaviours from students (the best laid plans) towards more immersive, experience-based plans that contextually allowed for the realities and limitations of the platform. The experience of working within a MUVE environment brings out some of the key concepts already existing inside the field or topics being covered; it exposes things that might have remained hidden in a more traditional context. This is best represented by Ian Truelove’s screenshot of the virtual houses built by students, with the caption ‘They’re first years. They only left home 3 weeks ago. Of course they want to build themselves homes.’ (see http://www.flickr.com/photos/cubistscarborough/2978733707/)

If David White’s intuitions are correct that the MUVE should be seen as an experience, a form of journey or field trip, where students are travelling in both virtual space and in their personal development, it is possible that the project is only now realising the real fruits of the reflections gained from the first pilot. In this model, each of the students will be able to engage with both the pedagogy push from the lecturer and their reflective journey articulated in student–lecturer and student–student relationships, supporting not only peer learning but peer development. The learning designer might be better served by accepting the chaotic nature of the virtual environment and the value of the field trip for what they are. A positive result from a virtual learning experience actually relies on the chaotic, organic nature of the MUVE and the interactions therein, on the literacy level of the instructor, and more importantly appears to be pedagogically agnostic.

While Steven Warburton’s caution against directly translating real-world book teaching styles into a MUVE is well warranted, this should not preclude the inclusion of teaching styles that are based on other, perhaps less traditional, but still valued experience-based learning pedagogies. Many of the same criticisms levelled against teaching in a MUVE might be made of a classroom in the open air of a park, a lesson taught by mobile phone or a practicum in a hog farm. These are all experiences that do lend some confusion and some chaos, but it is this very unsettling of the learner (and the instructor) that makes a change in habitat such a valuable learning experience.

References

de Freitas, S. (2008). Serious virtual worlds: a scoping study. Retrieved March 9th 2009, from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/media/documents/publications/seriousvirtuallworldsv1.pdf. Archived
by WebCite(R) at http://www.webcitation.org/5f9ulxex1

Truelove, I. (2008). Eureka. Retrieved March 9th 2009, from http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/
index.php/2008/05/22/initial-impressions-first-open-habitat-pilot. Archived by WebCite(R)
at http://www.webcitation.org/5f9uCxyfE.

Warburton, S. (2008). How tall is tall in Second Life? Retrieved March 9th 2009, from http://
warburton.typepad.com/liquidlearning/2008/06/how-tall-is-tal.html. Archived by Web-
Cite(R) at http://www.webcitation.org/5f9uLAg1d.

White, D. (2008a). That was an interesting experience. Retrieved March 9th 2009, from http://
tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2008/11/27/that-was-an-interesting-experience/
Archived by WebCite(R) at http://www.webcitation.org/5f9uNPPqn.

White, D. (2008b). Initial Impressions from the First Open Habitat Pilot. Retrieved March 9th 2009,
from http://iantruelove.blogspot.com/2008/05/eureka.html. Archived by WebCite(R) at

http://www.webcitation.org/5f9tynZ6X.

546 British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 40 No 3 2009
© 2009 The Author. Journal compilation © 2009 Becta.

Openhabitat – The magazine

Hey folks… it’s been quite a rollercoaster ride here lately… but time to get back to work

Last week I got formally assigned the roll of editor for the Openhabitat magazine… uh… idea. We’ve got a general idea of where we want to go with this magazine, and I’m going to try and pull together the ideas of my fine compatriots and put them together into some kind of multi-narrative that will make it interesting to someone who has not really thought of using an MUVE for an educational purpose and still compelling for the hearties who’ve been at this since the MUDs were king.

The Magazine – What is it?
We’re planning a two pronged magazine approach: one, an online rhizomatically structured living document, full of interconnections focused both internally and reaching out to the other communities of folks who are working on these issues. The second is a PAPER magazine, that should be a snapshot of the ‘knowledge’ that our community contains at the time of publication… say January 15th, 2009. The first gives an uptodate and ongoing idea of the state of the work that is being done by the folks in the openhabitat project and the other allows people to take a digestible look at what we’ve learned from 13 months of this project.

The online magazine (do people still say e-zine?)
There’s a pile of content on the openhabitat website at this point in the project. What we’ve come to realize, is that most of it is only really understandable by those of us who’ve been part of the project. The goals, directions and needs of the project have morphed as we’ve started to understand different things about the work that we’ve done and the magazine is an attempt to try and craft those things that we are now starting to see into a format that is manageable and interesting to people regardless of where they fit on the spectrum.

The paper magazine

One of the things that I learned from the living archives project is that its really difficult to show what you’ve done in an MUVE project in a meeting, in a bus, or in your office. People confronted by a virtual world for the first time are going to struggle to see past the wonder, confusion or simply the lack of familiarity with the ‘medium’ in order to be able to see what you’ve done with that space. Enter the magazine format. It’s a familiar medium, which should give people with less experience with MUVEs a place to start with evaluating wether the lessons that we’ve learned apply to their situation.

Ideas for structure
The majority of the content will be repurposing of the live blogs, data and pictures (the existing content is really quite good) from the research project organized and coalated in order to give people a window into the work done and hopefully pass on the lessons learned in this project to others doing the same work. In addition to this however I’m starting to think that I’d like to acquire some other pieces as well

1. The anatomy of an MUVE (a non-MUVEer’s explanation of what one is)
2. Some ads from other project doing work with Virtual Worlds.
3. A story (or two) from one of the students about their learning journey.
4. Interviews with the teachers and TAs… done in some not yet decided interesting manner (online this will be easy, in print… well… maybe excerpts that link back to the website
5. Talk with dave re: project management

And I turn it over to you folks to ask for some more things you’d like to see!

Thoughts plucked from the openhabitat project

I’ve been wandering around the blogposts on the openhabitat website trying to glean from the work of my colleagues a small fraction of the lessons learned to try and give people a sense of the work they’ve done and the things that they’ve come to understand. (If you don’t know what I”m talking about, check out the about page.)

There is a heavy dose of reality in these posts… about what happens when you drop students from different disciplines (art and design and philosophy) into a virtual world. The project is divided into phases and, with the completion of phase one, these sets of lessons cover the tone that you would expect. They are about seeing the spaces for what they are rather than what they appear to be during the planning process. There is nothing like having 20 avatars swirling around to get a sense of out of control, or, as david points to, of people trying to capture each other in massive spheres. There are discussions of identity and collaboration, of the limitations of platforms and some real possible strenghts moving forward.

For this post I’ve really only covered the posts of the two actual educational pilots themselves, and left many of the very interesting side conversation aside. I’ve chosen to cut out bits of realizations and link you back to their source in the hopes of encouraging you to follow the pieces that would most affect your practice. It’s a focus on the results in the classroom…

1. Collaboration

“Maybe ‘collaboration’ in these MUVE environments is more about discussion than construction. When people collaborate in world they are rarely to be found wrestling over the same polygons/prims.” http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/muve-curriculum/initial-impressions-first-open-habitat-pilot dave white.

I think the initial desire with these technologies is to assume that the ‘construction’ part will actually be the collaborative aspect that things focus around. It may be more interesting to think about how the space can contribute to knowledge building and the formations of community.

2. Identity

“Design education consciously and deliberately strives to achieve a balance between the unrestricted and impulsive (Nobody), the collaborative teamworking, subject specific or audience satisfying (Anybody) and the personal achievement of the author/producer (Somebody). We glued all this together with many, many ‘Aha!’ moments (Eureka)…. but it is clear that individual and collective identity is bound together with the creative process”. http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/blogspot/eureka ian truelove

Identity is a key concept in all of this. In some sense i wonder how much of an issue identity will be the more that people get comfortable with the medium. In a designed classroom, where you already know who the people in the class are, flights of identity are going to be less disruptive. This quote is a nice subtle description of how that can work in set-piece courses.

3. Games

“The students flicked between real world and in world chat as the games progressed. One pair discovered that they could throw objects around in world and appeared to be attempting to trap each other inside large spheres in what looked like a surrealist version of a fight between two super heroes. This was transition point one, when the activity shifted from simply learning a piece of software to co-habiting the same virtual space with all the attendant social effects.” http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/muve-curriculum/making-transition-practical-social
david white

Contextual play in a virtual world seems to be something that happens is many MUVE projects and is something that is very hard to predict. It may be a lesson going forward that we might want to consider ‘encouraging’ play… whatever that would mean.

4. Feedback

“But what really tipped it for me was the lack of tools in SL for getting feedback from the audience. How do I know I am being heard – do I need to adjust volume, where is the back channel for people to participate, ask questions … and so on? Status indicators are key.” http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/second-life/six-barriers-innovation-learning-and-teaching-muves david white edit: Steven Warburton

Funny that the lack of interactive technologies would send someone from a very new technology to an older technology to allow for more interaction. The pitch on MUVEs has always been that they are ‘supremely’ interactive and give people a sense of embodiment. It might be just a lack of needed literacies (different feeback mechanisms… maybe something like twitter?) but it might be an indication of MUVEs really being at the PacMan stage of development.

5. Wonderland

“Wonderland is basically a 3D conferencing tool, a bit like a 3D version of Elluminate. Rather than avatars, it would be more useful to see a live video stream of the people you are communicating with. Bandwidth restrictions would probably limit this to low-rez versions of each participant’s webcam, but even this in the 3D space would be useful. As a participant watches you move around, they would get a sense of what you are looking at, as your video image would be orientated to face that thing. In group meetings, the direction that you are looking would make sense in the 3D space. If you look to someone on your left, your video image would seem to be looking at the same person in the 3D space. This would provide valuable cues to enhance social cohesion. If someone decided to wander off, you could follow them, see what they are drawing or browsing, and engage in a meaningful conversation with them about it. “http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/blogspot/walking-inter-wonderland ian truelove

Very tidy description of the pros and cons of Wonderland, which, of course, is still in development. I like the idea of these different platforms specializing out to specific pro/con specializations… the same way that we’ve noted the difference between opensim (reliable, contained) and SL (open, communal) and how they can both be very well used inside the same project in order to arrive at different points.

6. Sports

“I found my mind wandering towards sport as something that might provide a possible framework for creative collaboration in virtual worlds. I like the idea of teams with different skills working together. I’m interested in two or more teams competing. I’m wondering what the rules of art/design sports might be. I like the fact that teams can compete globally. I can see how the tutor could be like a coach, picking the team, structuring the training exercises, motivating and encouraging, but ultimately standing on the side line whilst the students put in the effort and perform. “http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/blogspot/united-united ian truelove

I love that question. I have no idea what it would mean… but certainly with the different games that have been played (check around for d. white’s tower building exercise) it shows more and more that these games allow us to explore these environments passed the pioneer stage.

6.5 Going Forward

50 ideas for going forward with the project. http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/blogspot/50-ideas-phase-2 ian truelove

A really great narrative list of feedback and go forward positions for the project.

7. Teaching

a. “The majority of the participants were experienced philosophers. They did not have to grapple with the environment AND the subject. Once they had learnt how to text chat, move and sit down (an activity they all seemed to enjoy) the rest was home territory.”
b. “We were flexible with the teaching format and adjusted activities to fit the flow of the discussion and the speed of response from the students.”
c. “The participants who signed up for the pilot self selected as those willing to investigate a possible new format. This was not a mandatory part of a course. In other words they were open to a new experience.” http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/muve-curriculum/philosophers-philosophise-second-life david white

Tagged these comments from dave because they remind me that teaching in an MUVE doesn’t change all the things that we already know about teaching. People get confused if confronted with too many layers of confusion. Self-selected students are different than those who are being forced. Being flexible when exploring new territory is essential to the success of the project.

8. Limitations

“Second Life can be deceptive. On the surface it presents itself as an environment that can be interpreted by understandings from the real world. It can seduce one into believing that ‘teaching’ practices that work on the outside can be readily transposed inside. It is a sobering experience when the particular constraints of SL kick back and even the best-laid plans begin to unravel.” http://www.openhabitat.org/blogfeed/second-life/how-tall-tall-second-life david white edit: Steven Warburton

These worlds are experimental and while many people are forging foward right now into these worlds they have severe limitations… not the least of which sometimes they flat out don’t work. They also force you to think in a specific way… there is a real sense where the logic of the world is going to inevitably affect what’s happening in the classroom.

Opensim/Drupal integration for education – proposal and call for help

Well… i’m finally getting my teeth back into opensim and finding that there are a couple of things i’d like to get built over the next couple of months. We’ve already gotten a good start on the automated installer for opensim, but what i’d really like to do now is attempt an integration with drupal. I’ll be keeping my running requirements list for that integration on the openhabitat project page and will hopefully pop a few updates into here from time to time.

What I need
I need two things.

  1. I need a good drupal/opensim programmer. Someone familiar with both platforms who can spearhead the drupal integration (or, if you like opensim integration).
  2. I need some sense that there are other folks in the British Higher Education community who would find this integration compelling for an application to the emerge community for extra funding.

Why would we need this?
Opensim is an opensource Multi User Virtual Environment. It allows you to have much of the functionality from something like Second Life, and you can host it on any server you like, or, if you like, on a desktop in your classroom. The one issue, is that if you would like to tinker with it a little, you currently pretty much have to do it from the command line on the server. What I would like to see is an integration with a content management system (my preference is drupal, but the code could easily be repurposed) so that a teacher can do stuff like track users and install different ‘presets’ for training purposes.

Why would we need this — slightly more technical explanation.
There are currently two flavours of opensim, the ‘grid server’ and the ‘standalone server’. My work with opensim over the last 9 months has led me to believe that the standalone server is far better scaled to the average educational use… but, sadly, much of the work towards creating a user interface has tended to side with the larger grid server installations. Standalones are more manageable, and provide an easier entry point for the ‘average’ person and really allow for alot more functionality.

so… if you’re interested and interested British Higher Ed person (I’m looking at you emerge community or anyone else for that matter) … just send a comment here and I’ll pick up your email address and get back to you. Same goes for if you are that drupal/opensim person out there. If you don’t want your comment posted, no worries, just indicate in the title, and I’ll delete it after getting your email address.

Openhabitat Opensim

Well… time to put rhizomes aside for a bit and move onto working on some of the other interesting projects that I’m privileged enough to be involved in. It’s been quite a spring really… my partner has been on bedrest for the past 13 weeks, and with conferences and projects and writing I really haven’t had much space to think…

I’ve spoken about openhabitat in the context of how I find it interesting as a knowledge node, but not so much as a project. Basically, there are two courses being taught at two English universities using Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs)

The project will generate solutions to the challenges of teaching, learning and collaboration in MUVEs. These solutions will be primarily in the form of guidelines, models and exemplars but will also be supported by the development/appropriation of software tools and services in and around the MUVEs themselves.

My main role in the process is to support the opensim side of the equation. Opensim is an opensource MUVE server that allows folks to have their own MUVE installed on their own server thus sidestepping some of the downtime and money-for-upload issuesassociated with some of the commercial servers as well as having local installations that can be installed inside school firewalls and, indeed, on each computer in a computer lab.

I have a couple of development goals that I would like to get accomplished during the course of this project. 1. I’d like to be able to finalize a ‘plug and play’ version of the server. Something that can be put into any computer and simply start up a server. We have a version of it now, but… well… it’s not too terribly reliable. 2. I’d like to get some version of a server installed on a USB drive. This would allow for the ultimate in portability, a personal world that you could take and move from your home to the classroom, without the need of supporting a server. 3. I’d like to create a preinstallable ‘distribution’ of opensim that had the training for opensim built into it. It could be the started version that you would load up if you had a new group of folks that needed to learn about opensim and then you could simply dump that version when you were ready to start working on your own world.

For now, I’ve set up a little sandbox for people in the community to drop into an opensim world and see what it’s all about. I’ll include the ‘superfast’ instructions and then add some of the other options at the bottom. There are a variety of ways of doing this… see

To get into my opensim with existing Second Life client
1. Find the shortcut to your secondlife client on your desktop (either on your desktop or in your second life client) right click on it and click ‘properties’
2. Change the Target: to “C:\Program Files\SecondLife\SecondLife.exe” -loginuri http://openhabitat.org:9000 and Apply and OK
3. Lauch client using shortcut button you just changed
4. The temporary creds are ‘user’ ‘one’ ‘password’ (five users… user one user two user three) but i hope to do away with those in the next week (email me for username and passwords instructions after this) Also, if you need more instruction getting in, feel free to do the same.

Looking forward to digging in

Opensim in education (with alpha software)- lessons learned

just some quick notes… so i don’t forget them. More will get posted at openhabitat.

Well… for those of you following, the second run at it went MUCH better than the first one. We rejigged our plan, forwarded our initial goals to the front end, used a little more scaffolding, and the whole process skimmed along quite nicely.

So, when your working with alpha software, it helps if you’ve got two things going on in the computer lab. What we did this time is that we took four students and used them to develop our workflow live and in cooperation with the students. What we did this time is that we had the students roughly cut into two, and one group worked on editing their blog posts and the other was working in opensim using the workflow developed by the students. Groups of three, two coaches and one ‘driver’ who was actually trying to get the initial ‘quest’ accomplished. So important, i think, to have a nicely strucutured activity to complement more freeform fun in the MUVE… and to forward the structure. Play seems to be automatic and, so far in my experience, isn’t encumbered by more early structure as it seems to in a standard website.

The degree to which every student i saw on Monday had a full set of computer literacies was astonishing. Every one of them seemed to be able to move forward and backwards, navigate up stairs etc… I may have missed one or two students, but the ones i saw were quite proficient. They also seemed to be able to recognize flaws in the system quite easily, which was also useful. Several students expressed a desire to be part of the debugging process.

As always, don’t panic. We had several issues that cropped up, much much fewer than last time, but the fact that the team was willing to work together kept things pretty steady. Our decision to make the MUVE part of a larger project was gold for this part of the exercise.

1. because of the potential for vast literacy differences from class to class, establish workflow and goals at the beginning of the project with the students who will be using the software.
2. have two things going on so that you have a fallback lesson already running if the cutting edge tech starts to fall apart. You don’t really want to be sitting there with a bunch of worksheets (boring) to fill the time. A class planned with two concurrent activities one technologically dependable, one more risky, makes the transition to the ‘other activity’ seemless and much less painful.
3. forward the structure to the front end of the lesson. Unlike other social networking sites, students don’t seem to feel ‘restricted’ in their play by having a heavily structured exercise as their introduction.
4. ask for volunteers for gathering debugging information. Some students seem very keen, and valuable information can be lost in the drama of the moment.
5. Make your MUVE part of a larger project. whether your muve is proprietary or on an unstable platform, it’s nice to have the canonical information in another venue… and it diversifies the project. Many people will never see the muve… and if they can visit the website, with video of the MUVE, it helps spread out the reach a bit

Our first run at getting the students in Opensim

Well… well well well.

What we wanted to do was get a bunch of students to come into our computer lab, sit at a computer in pairs, wander around opensim, take their photo from their blog post and post it into a picture frame. That was the bottom line. Simple quest based goal – find the house, find the picture frame with your number on it, put your picture in the frame. If this is easily accomplished, then we can go back and get the blog posts into the ‘notecards’ (which aren’t really notecards yet) so that when people walk around the house, they can see a picture, click on it, and see the blog post that the student wrote.

<--Background - if you've no idea what i'm talking about, read this-->
The Living archives is a project that takes 3 junior high school classes and helps them research 19th century history. Their journey started with some themes found in the Anne of Green Gables novel and chosen by an assessment of artifacts from the period available for digitization at local heritage sites… The students then went to the locations, chose images, documents and objects to be digitized. They then did enough research to contextualize that content in a blog post to be associated with the picture. They are also going to take those images and text and bring them into Opensim, an ALPHA open source MUVE (secondlife but on your server with more control) where they will put their images into context by putting them into picture frames in a period house.
<--End of Background-->

We preinstalled the clients, got them connected to the right server, and logged in 13 users. The students arrived. I gave my 5-10 minute song and dance intro… and then the students grabbed hold and started flying around. 5 minutes of pure success… and then, our first server crash. You could see all 13 computer monitors and see their avatars diving towards the ground… with the first one i just assumed they were playing around, with the second a small part of my brain was hoping on a coincidence, with the third, that little voice silenced, I looked to my buddy (designer and opensim dude) nodded and started a new song and dance. I explained to the students that the work that they’d done was very valuable, showed them that their blogs were now ‘authorities’ on google on the obscure arcane subjects of ‘herb juice’ and ‘ice boats’ while chris desperately worked to get the server up.

We never really got everyone up again. One of the other inconveniences we discovered with the current release of opensim is that it doesn’t particularly like concurrent logons. So you’d really like to give several seconds between people logging in. This, as you might imagine, makes getting 13 students to log back in at the same time a little difficult. We tried, and got a few more in, and then lost them, and then got them back in again. Eventually we ended up cycling them to one computer connected to the overhead projector one at a time and got them to get their pictures in.

Not exactly what we had in mind, but many lessons learned.

1. We (and by extension the development community) has realized that it’s probably time to swing the development back from making the software ‘more awesome’ and swing back to making it ‘more stable’. It’s an inevitable balance, and one that we sped past in our own development… we probably didn’t actually need the ‘smoke script’ for instance. Cool to see the chimney working, but extra work for the system.

2. Include another concurrent project that you can divert more time into in the case of a technical failure. Now, we all know this, but i had about a half hour of material, not the 2 hours that was required for yesterday.

3. Start slow and build on simple successes. Tomorrow, when we try this again, we are going to start out with a simple tutorial and are going to run 4 student groups through at a time. Images first, blog posts second. If that works out, we’ll start adding more people. But just moving around inworld ‘is a success’ and accomplishing that needs to be focused on and regarded by both instructor and students as success.

4. Don’t panic. We easily could have had more students go back in… but when, after a second restart, we didn’t see images loading, we thought we’d lost the server. Turns out, it was just the jp2 converter taking its time. Had we given it more time, it would have worked fine. no need to panic. breaking new ground is never going to be painless

5. Never forget that forging new roads is going to be difficult and that selling that is key to success. The students need to buy into the fact that they are breaking ground.

6. It may be worthwhile, as Ian Truelove says, to start the students in a standalone server. We’re not doing that monday, but might in the future.

wish us luck tomorrow.

Living Archives and Opensim – Virtual PEI curriculum beta.

Well folks, tomorrow morning is a big day. I started writing the grant on this in the summer of 2006, have had piles and piles of help along the way and have now come down to it. We’ve got a website, we’ve got some great content researched and written by the kids. I’ll save the thanks to all individuals for when I’ve got a half day to order them all up and thanks them all properly. For now, I have work to do –> Crystallize the lesson plan for tomorrow morning. The kids are coming to the university… and we’re going to get them to do some simple tasks…

Background
It’s a big project… you can see it at http://livingarchives.ca. The ‘kensington’ link reflects the work that is the most complete right now… A class of grade seven students from KISH who just happen to be coming to the university tomorrow. They’ve gone to the provincial archives and records office, to various museums, taken video, pictures and done research to create an online textbook. An online textbook they are now going to round off with a trip into opensim where our crazy good team of developers has (with some fantastic help from the excellent opensim community) built three replicas of period houses in an opensource virtual 3D environment. In each house you’ll find about 25 picture frames. Each frame is to hold one of the pictures used by the students, with an attached notecard that will be the first paragraph of their blog post (see website above) and a link that will send people back to the website. From which, of course, a person could go in the other direction… from the blog to the opensim world.note:Stephen Downes was a great help in working out the elegance of this part.

For tomorrow – background prep
1. Get really cool people to build cool stuff. take video of cool stuff to show to students to give them a sense of what they will see when they get there.

2. Visit students. Encourage them in the belief that they are pioneers… that there are things that ‘are more likely to be easy’ and other things that ‘might make your computer blow up’. Encourage them to try the first ones first, then blow up their computer later.

3. Made the students choose which picture frame they wanted to have their picture/blog associated with. If two students wanted to use the same frame, quick debate ensued, best argument wins. I then attached the numbers associated with each picture frame to the title of the blog post of each student in a comment during the class.

4. I came home and made ‘node relationships’ (linked them together) between the videos and the blog posts.

5. installed the software in the computer labs and tested it. I will not bore with the disaster which was the first step on this road. Installed SL client on each of the computers that were necessary. The final tally… 20 computers for the first classroom (about 50 min) and 10 computers for the second classroom (about 1 1/2 hours). We have twenty-five students… but at least we’ve got computers that will connect to the Grid. That’s key, and they’re tested and ready.

6. The low end goal was to get the kids to go in and tour around and post their picture from their blog posts http://livingarchives.ca/etext_kensington . Step two, if possible, was to get the text from the text from the blog post in some kind of notecard and link back to the actual blog

more on this in the next “what happened” post.

Rhizomes and Blogging – public/private groupwork and the establishment of trusted nodes.

This is some draft thinking that is behind the post from yesterday. I’ve tried to think of any number of ways to turn this into something… but, in the hopes of getting somewhere with it… i figured i would just post it for uz to look at.

Blogging, or the combination of a bit of regular content with some form of automated syndication, has become something of a common part of everyday conversation. Whether people dislike the idea, live in their blogs or have casual interactions with them, I now rarely run into people who’ve never actually heard of them. They have been, for many, the heart of their professional work, and the key repository for the work that they are doing in their given profession. We are, however, approaching a critical point (indeed if we haven’t reached it already) where the number of self-selected, personally empowered bloggers are going to start becoming overwhelmed by those who are being ‘told to blog’ for whatever reason. We are now seeing more and more blog posts that are full of members of the same class who’ve been instructed by their professor to ‘go and comment’ on a given post by a well known member of a field.

This transition from fringe community tool, to mainstream working/marketing apparatus is going to have a critical effect on the work that can and will be done with blogging. Already communities are being ‘formed’ out of whole cloth by people are trying to create a ‘community of practice’ through blogging. They are, in effect, trying to replicate the success of existing loosely tied communities in order to turn it’s power toward specific ends. There are several impediments along that road, including the unwillingness of many professionals to release their work online, the difficulties involved in scaling a tool beyond it’s original market and the nature of the tool itself. A new plan for integrating traditional blogs with walled gardens is needed, a plan that will allow a given community of practice to have a private and public face, and will, most importantly, allow a community to work towards a given goal with content that can be both rhizomatic and can last over time. There are a plethora of tools out there right now that are trying to do this… and some communities that are managing, but there are a couple of issues around it that I keep running into over and over again.

Placing myself in the discussion

I came late to blogging, admitedly, I tried a few times and have been blogging consistently from this spot (with one remarkable blip) since mid 2005. I started blogging because i had an idea (the feedbook) that I wanted to record. I had a great discussion with David White at the jiscemerge conference last week about what blogging has done for the both of us. I told a story about a colleague of mine who’d thanked me for the Feedbook post almost 2 1/2 years after it was written while i listened to others talk about how their work got crystalized inside of their blogs, how the professional things they cared about became part of the flow of their personal histories, untainted by the needs and necessities of traditional publishing.

There is something compelling about the idea of history and histories and it’s one of the things that can make blogging so interesting. There is also something compelling about the way that the information can travel. There is a kind of knowledge what’s been called ‘the wisdom of crowds’ that burgeons out of the morass of content that gets put up on the internet. The way that conversations can spread, by comments and by related blog posts from around the net creates what I’ve called elsewhere a rhizomatic web of knowledge… knowledge that can ebb, flow mutate and grow from a variety of nodes as they crop up and as the contents of those nodes grow.

What makes a blogger
There are, however, some implicit assumptions that are holding that system, or, some may argue ‘were’ holding that system together. There was a time when blogging was ‘pure’ self-selection. People began to blog because they had things to say, because they wanted other folks to hear what they had to say, because they wanted to be popular, or for any combination of a variety of reasons… but almost entirely because ‘they wanted to’. We had been told that blogging could jeopardize a career, early last year in a meeting I heard the bloggosphere described as ‘the lunatic fringe’. No longer. The blogging community, while it is still exclusive of those who don’t have the textual literacies, the computer literacies, the free time, is beginning to cross over a wider spectrum of the internet using public.

There is another critical component to the ‘democratization of blogging’ that is more difficult to speak about in North America, and that is about authoritative voice. There is a significant ‘class literacy’ involved in believing that other people are going to be willing or interested in listening to what you have to say. Class here, should be understood not as something related to ‘money’ but to an idea of the hierarchy of a culture. It is, for instance, considered part of the ‘american dream’ that any member of the united states could become the president. How many of us, in the realm of a lifetime could acquire the knowledge necessary to raise that kind of money? How does one act in public in order to have people vote for you year after year? If you disagree with this, by all means, look at the families of the 42 presidents and tell me how many came from a lower socio-economic class. Look to the Members of Parliament in Canada, to our Prime Ministers. It is no accident.

The thing that always worries me, however, is scaling. While blogging, then, has been fantastic for me, and has worked great for many of my peers, what happens when the people who are blogging are no longer self-selecting… where they feel that they ‘must’ in order to compete… when they are encouraged or forced by their bosses or their instructor to share their work/feelings online. This is happening everywhere. At that same meeting in York one of the first comments I heard was ‘we need a private place to do this work’. I don’t want my comments to be permanent, or be part of the larger flow of the internet.

These are not, I would argue, things we can or even should be teaching people. There is something painfully difficult about trying to move someone away from the way they wish to work. I would argue (without foundation at the moment) that this sense of being extroverted and wanting everyone to read your thoughts does not represent the majority of society. Nor do i think we should be trying to move them in that direction.

I do, however, really like the work that is done in a COP and would like to make the internet COPs more available to other people.

Thinking of the content as more ‘permanent’
The other issue I have is with the time dependence of a ‘blog’. I’ve read hundreds of posts over the last few years that have comments from people near the end who are apologizing for coming to the conversation ‘late’. While I do think that much of what we now call ‘knowledge’ is inherently time dependent, I’d like to think that we could make that dependence something that was decided upon by the author and by the author’s community and not by some arbitrary passage of time.

I’d like to see a ‘type’ of blogging that would wrap these ideas into a larger whole. That would allow for ‘posts’ to persist over time, that would allow for the extrovert and overt to interact freely with the private and more conservative. It is a community of practice, in effect, which both allows the bloggers to continue their work public and also allows non-bloggers to work with them.

There’s more… but it gets even more wandery from here…

Creating a Rhizomatic knowledge node on a website

This is another attempt at showing what a rhizomatic build would look like. It fits in with an article I’m currently writing and a discussion paper that is dying in the draft section of this blog. I’m looking for feedback on this, so I do hope some of you will take the five minutes to listen to it and then comment. If your comment is “I have no idea what you’re talking about” that’s fine too. I’m just trying to find a more dynamic way of talking about something that is always changing. This will also appear as a ‘resource’ on the article that should be published in June…

Link to the excellent folks at screencast.com

One more thing… There are two websites I’m trying to do this on right now… http://davecormier.com/ukan http://openhabitat.org/