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.” 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”. 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.”
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.” 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. “ 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. “ 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. 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.” 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.” 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.

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