Time flies!

Is it really a week since the start of relive08? My! How the time flies! It’s been such a busy week too! We’re all just hoping that Anna gets back from Thailand unscathed… It must be a little stressful for her. Indeed, let’s hope for a peaceful resolution to the current situation out there all round.

It has been an interesting experience for me to be part of this conference and so rewarding to have so many people sign up to the Facebook group, visit this Blog, tweet away with reference to relive08 and visit and comment on the flickr photographs. And to meet up with so many people I had only met previously in the virtual world (or not met anywhere before) and to make some great contacts for the future was such a bonus. I think I have been slightly overwhelmed by the adventure! I’m still sifting through things in my head and shall gradually be able to make some sense of it all!

If anyone would like me to add their relive08 related web pages to this blog, then please comment below.

Panel Debate

The second day turned out to be equally as absorbing as day one. It began with a panel debate. The panellists, Edward Castronova, Roo Reynolds, Bill Thompson and Claudia L’Amoreaux were fielded questions by Chair, Ren Reynolds .

This is a quick summary of the debate:
Roo suggests in order to convince education authorities that Web 2.0 tools are practical and indispensable, educators should keep referring to research. Other ideas were to work closely with the curriculum agencies that work with the authorities. This won’t be an issue as school children become teachers themselves. Ted urged people, especially the sceptics, to play to see what virtual worlds are like. Claudia stressed the need for good communication.

Like the WWW it will take us a while to realise what virtual worlds can do for us. Another issue is that of teachers’ skills – we need more training for teachers as well as getting IT departments to deliver the technology. Ted claims virtual worlds will eventually change how humans can interact.
“That was a wonderful, foresightful conference, but man! We didn’t see that
train coming!”

Roo reminded us that computers and the web exceeded our expectations.

Answering a question of what the biggest risk is to stopping the fun of virtual worlds, Ted thought regulatory authorities and Bill asked who said (real) life should be fun?! There is a need to be careful about the words we use; we have to lose the ‘fun’ vocabulary.

On the question of virtual worlds reaching mainstream education, Claudia said that it was already happening in some places in the USA. But warned that unless the media stops its current war on virtual worlds, then there won’t be a shift.

Regarding sensory and haptic tools and interfaces, Roo felt we don’t feel comfortable with some of it and that’s why they haven’t taken off; Bill thinks other sensory modes of engagement give us a sense of immersion and emotional and educational depth; Ted envisages a tread mill merged with a punch bag and the ability to virtually/physically kill orcs!

Has the economic downturn impacted on virtual worlds? Ted’s answer was that virtual world use is strongly counter-cyclical: when the economy is bad, more people go in-world. The Chair queried if Second Life becomes less attractive as it mirrors real word too much, whereas the more fantastical worlds become more attractive.

What social divides are there in Second Life?
Newbies -v- older residents (Bill concurred, saying that the first into any territory gets to define the rules and norms. This kind of behaviour reflects the human psyche.)
Language divides: English -v- the rest.
Landowners -v- everyone else.
Higher Education -v- K-12 (US) – for technical kit and access reasons.
Hierarchies actually enhance the fun, according to Ted, and inequality is healthy! Bill had something to say about that!

Where are virtual worlds heading over the next 3/5/10 years?
Claudia preferred to look back 10 years. Things are happening today that she was unable to imagine 10 years ago. Ted thinks Artificial Intelligence is the future.

Uses for virtual worlds that we are missing:
How we can learn, controlled experiments, policy delivery, qualitative research (see Jane McGonigal)

What should be highlighted in this blog?
Bill: everything! Can’t have too much data!
Ted: tell them to play!
Roo: play
Claudia: that virtual worlds aren’t new and there is a well established community of practice. The abundance of incredible ways people are using virtual worlds today.

The Panel and Chair

Time for tea

It’s been a long, but very interesting (sorry, am going to think of another adjective to say same) day with a wide variety of presentations and lots of stimulating discussions. I have taken copious notes on the sessions I have been in with every intention of blogging on each one but I didn’t have a terribly strong wifi connection and kind of gave up on that idea. Might be better using my dongle tomorrow! Currently uploading photos to flickr – and that is struggling too. (And while I remember, I apologise for just throwing up the pics, I shall tidy them up later!) I am convinced we had son of Liam Neeson doing a presentation, ah, but no, it was Graham Hibbert talking about how they got students comfortable with virtual worlds on OpenSim before going into Second Life. Then next up was Margaret de Jong Derrington urging us to “Get real!!! This isn’t real. It’s Second Life!”, in other words, don’t have classes in classrooms with tables and chairs with teacher at the front – be a bit inventive. Kathy Trinder then talked about the fear for some people of Second Life and how they have overcome this by putting on evening classes for staff, students and the general public. After tea and scones (hit the spot), Mark Bell kicked off with his Virtual Assisted Self Interview tool. You can read all about this on: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1188562

Paul Grove and Graham Steventon told us about their pilot project:Exploring community safety in a virtual community where students could experience first hand different scenarios in community design. The final session of the day was an informal discussion from Paul Hollins and Sarah Robbins-Bell asking whether something has gone wrong with education and looked at different headings eg Identity – that was a biggie, we could have talked all day about that one! Oh, and what was that disparaging remark ….?

I really haven’t done any of these presentations the justice they deserve. And I’m sorry I couldn’t get around all the other sessions but there were far too many (had it been in Second Life, teleporting between them would have been a doddle.)

Flickr is still uploading…

Maths and Staff Development presentations.

I opted to go to parallel session C: one presentation on teaching maths in Second Life and another using Second Life for staff development. Breen Sweeney teaches with the Open University and carried out a pilot using SL with 6 volunteers for tutorials. He discussed using both text and voice for these and the issues and problems that occurred. He also looked at immersion and used eyetracking technology with some tutor volunteers to test how immersed users are in Second Life and in Runescape. This was a proof of concept and would like to develop this further. The staff development pilot study, carried out by Steph Broadribb and Chris Carter looked in detail at the possibilities of using a virtual environment for staff development. The study looked at three approaches: written exercise, real life and role play (used actors) and second life role play. They’ve promised to email me information that I can post on the blog. Watch this space! Now off to lunch 🙂

Broadribb and Carter’s  paper  can be  accessed here (Word  doc):

Exploring the Virtual Learning Cycle in Staff Development through the Lens of Experimental Design

Breen, Chris and Steph

Edward Castronova

Edward gave a very thought provoking and interesting presentation.

Edward Castonova doesn’t spend time in Second Life but games and virtual worlds are important. And it’s not teenage boys that are online gaming, more likely to be 33 years old and a high chance that they are women. Virtual Worlds need to be more than a replication of the real world. Virtual Worlds have expanded, just look at Lord of the Rings, for example. But the gaming industry needs to look more at audio which
helps develop a better sense of virtual reality.
But what is real? We are surrounded by virtual or fake elements in everyday life – even mock facades on houses. Edward explained how the economics works in virtual worlds, using the Cuban cigar as an example and ‘shadow pricing’. The same economic logic used in the real world is also used in the virtual world. The virtual economy is growing exponentially. Anywhere with good internal technology and low wages are good for ‘Gold Farms’ eg China, Eastern Europe and other South East Asian countries.
Science has contributed towards infant mortality and increased life expectancy. Even if we invest a lot of money in science, we are still unclear of the benefits. He suggests that we don’t have a tool for doing controlled social science experiments, we can only theorise, but virtual worlds give us this opportunity to
carry out tests.
There is also evidence of The Proteus Effect (Yee and Bailenson), “I found that participants in taller avatars negotiated more aggressively in a bargaining task than participants in shorter avatars.”
The law of demand was proved in experiments in Arden (but it wasn’t a ‘fun’ environment and people didn’t go in to ‘play’.) And nothing in particular is planned for Greenland apart from making a fun game which will produce research subjects. “Greenland is a game of late neolithic society. Tribes of hunter-gatherers have begun to settle into farming communities.” The public sector should invest more money in such games; research subjects will pay $15 per month to play!
Virtual worlds are ordinary human communities where people are trying to improve the way they live. This is no different from J R R Tolkein’s Middle Earth. He didn’t create that for productivity, it was about his life. Tolkein asked why we shouldn’t want to live in fantasy? Edward argued that it’s fundamental to human nature to not want to live this way. It’s natural and acceptable to try not to be always in that world.
This is the bit I like: virtual worlds are not ESCAPE but REFUGE, somewhere to restore ourselves. We are trying to get ‘home’, home for the human mind, where we can be at peace and free.
Then there is the question of fertility and virtual worlds. People who adopt virtual lives will have fewer babies!
Will we make as big a mess of the virtual world as we have of this world? If you consider migration from Europe to the US, it has impacted greatly on all of us. Similarly, virtual worlds are also going to have a massive impact on us. There should be special laws to stop us making a mess!
Final words: try out (in a virtual environment) how humanity could work better.

Edward Castronova

You can see the webcast of his presentation here: http://stadium.open.ac.uk/stadia/preview.php?whichevent=1247

Conference is underway!

Anna Peachey opened the conference wearing her wings! Denise Kirkpatrick, pro Vice Chancellor, Learning Teaching and Quality presented the Welcome Address. Pleased to support this conference. Interesting to see how we can interact with virtual worlds – presenting interesting challenges regarding policy, funding and fitting into existing OU strategy. Trying to tackle these challenges seriously. Have been supporting students over past 40 years and looking at creating opportunities for students. Engage wide range of learning and enrich the learning but also, as academics, looking at evidence to guide and expand the practice.

First of many

Right! We have arrived at ReLIVE08 – well, some of us have and we enjoyed a very pleasant reception. It was great to meet people who have signed up for the Facebook group or who follow on Twitter. The discussions are carrying on as I write and I know that there are going to be some interesting, even controversial, discussions to be relished over the next couple of days. We shall be totally immersed in virtual worlds – might be wise to bring a snorkel!  I should have taken some photos. There will be some tomorrow. By Friday at 4.15pm I will have got the hang of this!