Thursday June 11th a former MIL student, Cecilie Aurvoll had invited me to present my SL project at the UNINETT 2009 conference in Norway. Unfortunately I was unable to attend IRL, so we decided that I should do my presentation from within SL.
Obviously to make such a presentation you need an on-site mediator who’ll be able to log in-world and interact/communicate so that the audience gets an impression of the real time possibilities and challenges. It was the second time I presented SL at a conference in this way and even though I think it it’s a good idea, I also think it’s easier said than done – at least I’ve learned a few valuable lessons.
The first time I did this kind of presentation one of my students, who together with the rest of his group had been studying SL for several months and therefore had quite a lot experience with SL and its functionality, acted as mediator. During this session we had an ongoing voice conversation and I knew that I could easily direct/instruct him (e.g. ask him to interact with objects) and just in general ask him to show the audience different things on his screen. The in-world locations we visited were places where the student and I had been before and he instinctively knew where to place his avatar and how to use his camera for the audience to get the best view. From the feedback we got on this session it was evident that especially the ongoing voice conversation and the interaction between our avatars and in-world objects left the audience with a reasonable impression of SL.
The scenario for the second presentation at the UNINETT conference was somewhat different. The mediator was a local technician whom I didn’t know but only met shortly in-world the day before where he told me that his experience with SL was limited. This is by no means a critique of his work during the session – I actually thought he did very well, but there were some differences compared to the first session. During the session we were accompanied by Cecilie and one of her friends, and since they both were located in different RL locations I hope we managed to show how SL can be used as an alternative to more conventional meeting tools. However, because I was unsure of the mediators ability to use different functionalities I hardly asked him to do anything, which in hindsight made his interaction (projected to the audience) rather passive. Ideally the session could have been rehearsed in real time beforehand but how often is that realistic? I’d made a manuscript, including landmarks and points to be aware of for both sessions, and for future presentations it probably would be a good idea to share this with the mediator in advance instead of just verbally expressing my intentions.
Another difference was related to the communication. Not entirely certain that I would be able to understand all their Norwegian I’d recommended that they communicated mainly by text, while I used voice. I also thought it would be interesting to show how the voice-text combination usually works very well. Voice presentations with texting audience are common in-world, I’ve attended many such sessions and so far I’ve found it to be both satisfactory and engaging. I did forget one crucial point though; the difference in perception when you’re immersed respectively nonimmersed. When I watch the recording of the session it strikes me as being pretty boring listening to my avatar talking, while text pops up occasionally on the screen. From the view of the outsider it almost comes across as traditional one-way communication – at least that’s my sentiment and even though I don’t know how the audience perceived it, I would recommend mutual voice in the future.
Despite these challenges I do find this way of presenting SL to be a viable alternative when RL presentation isn’t an option – I still just have a lot to learn ;-) In fact I think presenting SL via SL often is better than flat 2D presentations, but it depends on the purpose and it is a different story …
BTW; for those who understand Norwegian, Cecilie and her colleague, Kristine Sevik wrote an interesting article on the educational potential of Virtual Worlds for the conference.