Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I won't push you unless you have a net

Miss Dio wrote a rather pointed blog entry on why educators are pulling out of SL. I do think part of it, just thinking about it on my own, is the now-strong emphasis on SL's "cleaning up"--with the entire catastrophe of Zindra and the dunning for money at every third turn.

More than that, though, I think she makes an excellent point which I'd like to reinforce here: rebuilding campuses, so students can walk around in virtual reconstructions of the places they're comfortable, or at least used to, attending, and that university will lose in-world students. Every damned time.

But build something that intrigues, build something that's designed for flight, not for walking, build something that takes into account the incredible variety of form and intellect on the grid...and people will come.

Put another way, Second Life--and other virtual worlds--are immersive environments. And going from the treehouse or the sky-level skybox to the exact duplicate of a university those students see every day, in RL--well, to be plain, it's boring. And it shows a lack of forward thinking.

Even little changes can wake up sleeping minds and bring them online to interact and learn. Case in point: I'm not a full-time student, but I have taken classes, and--while for the most part they've been in sweeping incandescent towers or held on rolling glass hills, there was a class I attended that was held in a schoolhouse. A circa 1800s schoolhouse. And it was faithfully reproduced, from the whitewashed clapboard walls to the sturdy wooden tables, battered and worn.

But it engaged. We had not walked into a concrete-and-glass monolithic cube. We had not walked into something we see every single day. We walked into something amazing, even in its own quiet way, with shadowed trees and brickwork paths, and our minds opened to the imagination in it.

Use that imagination, educators. Rebuild your campuses. Keep a business office and a registry office if you like; but make the rest of the build something different. Make it something that will awaken tired minds, erase the boredom of the media-saturated minds. Be innovative. Universities are supposed to do two things: preserve knowledge, and pass it on. You can't pass on information if no one's there. And you won't get people there unless they're engaged.

So engage them. And watch the world change.

(I would also like to address a point from one of the original articles Miss Dio was pulling from, to wit, one of the comments, from "larryc":
"A friend and colleague keeps bugging me to enroll in Second Life and meet her there. But what if her avatar looks like Elvira but with a squirrel's head? How will I face her in the next faculty senate meeting?"
(And my response to that he serious? Larry, you deal with her just like you deal with anyone else you meet on the street: like the person you met in the first goddamn place. Honestly. That is so ridiculously close-minded, it's surreal. It's like running into someone at the grocery store you've only seen in movies: OMIGoshIcan'tBELIEVEit'sactuallyX...and they're buying ROMA TOMATOES!

(I mean, really. Get real. They shop. They talk. They have sex. They fall down. They dress up in funny costumes for parties. They make bad eating-out and fashion choices. Just like the rest of us. So you meet someone who's drop-dead gorgeous below the neck and a chipmunk above it...well, usually in SL that means you're talking to Risusipo Jun, but I digress. All information is worth having; maybe ask her about it next time you see her. Don't get all weird and freaky, it's just an avatar.

(And...also...really. Really? The animal-headed human is what drops your brain out of your head? Man, you would not have handled the leather-clad, piercings-on-her-piercings, prim-breasted lass with the fully erect and DRIPPING equipment trailing ooze in a line between her legs, then. It gets SO much worse than your pitifully limited imagination can manage to exert, Larry. You have my pity...and not a small amount of my scorn.)

William Murphy addresses the history of science fiction in terms of MMO gaming; it's a pretty interesting article, overall, but I was more amused by the brief and dismissive mentions of Phantasy Star Online, Tabula Rasa and Matrix Online. I think all three games, still, have ardent--and on occasion vocal--fans, even though I, like the author, don't really classify Phantasy Star as a "real" MMO--it is a game one can play with friends, yes, but while that group is moving through the settings, that group is the only thing "alive" in that sense--there's only genuine multiple mingling in the various lobbies, not the instances or the station itself.

He also brought up, extradordinarily briefly, City of Heroes, which I'm trying to puzzle out. This may be a failing in me, but comic-book superheroes are specifically science fiction? They can have science fiction elements, but they also pull from fantasy (Dr. Strange) and horror (John Constantine of Hellblazer) as well. (Just to mention two things that popped to the forebrain, writing this--there are endless other examples.) Basically, the flights-in-tights brigade pulls from multiple sources, from mythology (Wonder Woman, Thor and Morpheus, Lord of Dreams spring to mind) to slapstick (The Tick), and everything in between. Why pin them just into science fiction's realm?

Other news is shorter, and more scattershot, because I'm culling through everything I saved while sick. I no longer remember where I first heard of most of these things; I will say Miss Neome handed me the "Avatar" video, and background story; and most of the rest originally came from someone or other on Twitter. Here goes:

One competition, one basic robot design. Several thousand possibilities for decoration and movement. So what do the competition judges do? Hold a dance-off.

And for another design aesthetic entirely, check out the highlights of one hundred years of movie stills, and how popular design concepts change.

What happens when you find God, and he doesn't want to play? Ask Raj Patel. That brings virtual worship to a whole new level, really.

In one of the best videos (honestly, I think it's better than the original, and I adore the boots) I've seen of the 'Avatar' song, I want to present Avatar: CoH style! Apart from the very nearly flawless matching of lyrics to actions seen, it's also a powerful statement on its own: not so much of how much fun City of Heroes is, potentially, but what happens when a creator is inspired by another creation, asks permission to use it in their own creation, and the original maker gives that permission.

This is how Weird Al has operated for decades, even though his songs in many cases fall strictly--and legally--within the parody rules for fair use. And with our current (at least, within the US) legal system, this also points out the very problematic flaws in the music industry: namely, unless one is on a first-name basis with the songwriter or singer (and even then, it's tricky) of the original work, a request to use material signed to a major label will, nine times out of ten, result in cross-filing to cease and desist from their legal department--for even asking the question.

The Borg are getting scarier in Star Trek Online; and no, you still can't play one. (Also, none of us can figure out why she's wearing a batleth on her head.)

Meanwhile, Edward found footage of a very hungry mantis. Awww. Hon, you can't eat cursors, that's not at all filling. Let's take you back outside.

Fascinating study released on roleplayers and socialization; I'm always amused when the big studies go live and reveal what many of us have known for years. Especially in SL, this is very, very true--while there's no specific, universal body language in Second Life (all body language is either inferred/invented directly by the viewer, or added by whomever designed that avatar's range of animated stands, sits and walks), what we do face, and very directly, is the choice of avatar we interact with, and are interacted with. That choice tells us very specific, surprisingly concrete things about the player inside it, and can form its own form of social language and subconscious clue-set as to that player's desires, needs, fears, and hopes.

This last one comes from Mr. Allen; I know, I remember the conversation that followed. I present to you the "digital" device that might as well have had steam power and a gerbil rig: the Tomy Blip hand-held game. Electronic? Not by half. Gear-driven through and through. That's just stunning, that is. The only thing "electrical" in the least is the input leads--that go to lighting just the one light--that are powered by batteries. One, if I recall the breakdown specifically.

So much for "high tech", even at the time.


Dio said...

Hey Hon,

Thanks for the mention and the link. However, I would like to make a slight qualification regarding the subject matter of my post. It's not really about educators pulling out of SL, even though there is some evidence that some educational institutions are scaling back or modifying their in-world presence.

Mostly what I was trying to explore were issues of what does or does not seem to work in terms of learning and teaching in SL. And I'm really just getting started on that discussion.

Yes, as you point out, a big part of what doesn't seem to work well is the traditional educational environment. But even more importantly, what does seem to work is not just about environment, it is about the kind of learning and the learning processes that are promoted and facilitated.

I think the really interesting question now is why a traditional, formal approach to education and learning in SL generally does not seem to work very well. I think you are correct that it is related to the issues of environment and the need to engage the learners in fresh way, but I have this feeling there is a lot more to it.

Recreating your bricks and mortar campus in a virtual space is, I suspect, more of a symptom than a root cause of what is wrong with the standard didactic approach taken by schools and universities in SL.

So I intend to kick around this issue of "why" more in the next few weeks, hopefully with input from some interesting folks.

Emilly Orr said...

I'm interested to read along, then (and I did mean to leave a note on your post, but things got really hectic here when m'ady managed to drop a full glass bottle of vinegar on her knee from a rather great height...), and I'm definitely interested in any conclusions drawn. I think there are flaws in regimented education, and there have been different styles proposed for years now that are more functional (the Montessori system, f'rinstance, for grade-school aged children). But universities keep plodding along. What didn't work for their forefathers is good enough not to work for them, seems to be the gist of a lot of programs.

In or out of SL.

Magdalena Kamenev said...

Lots of intriguing items in this post, but I'm commenting largely to react to the Raj Patel story.

The odds of him being the Messiah in my religion seems low, but he's definitely someone a lot of people should listen to ... a very smart, passionate, incisive activist. I've heard him speak on my local left-wing radio station, and I have one of his books, Stuffed and Starved. If you care about globalization, industrialization, food policy, public health, etc., read him. If you don't care about such things ... try him out anyway, he may convert you.

Also, lovely, plummy, buttery voice, rather charismatic ... one of my intellectual crushes. *blush*

Michelle Travis said...

Just wanted to say thanks for your review of my "Avatar: CoH Style!" video. I had an absolute blast making it, and was thrilled that The Guild Management allowed me to use the song, and then Felicia Day even favorited it! :D

CoH is a great deal of fun (been playing for almost three years now), so do give it a go. Again, I'm glad you liked my video (and yes, aren't Andrea's boots just gorgeous?), and thanks for the mention!


Emilly Orr said...

Oh, you're more than welcome. At this point CoH is sort of an eventual happening: I've put my foot down with my two loves (both of whom play CoH religiously), and said when our bills equalize out to where we can afford three monthly memberships to the game without sacrificing anything important...I'm in.

Miss Neome is thus carefully reviewing all budget items with that eventual goal. I expect I'll be a neophyte villain (or hero) by next January at the latest.

Emilly Orr said...

Miss Kamenev,

And see, I have no problem admiring and esteeming the man--he seems very savvy, very aware, and a scientist who also deeply cares about the planet and the people on it. I haven't heard him speak (perhaps I should), but I'm all for being a fan of him.

It's just...raising him to the level of godhood...when he's not the one asking for it? Seems terribly odd. And the fact that part of what makes him the Messiah is that he denies being the Messiah...that just makes my head buzz in odd ways.