As I continue my work with the model for 3D remediation strategies, I’ve decided to replace the numbers in the four quadrants with indicators of the four corners of the world thinking they don’t imply a fixed sequence in the same way as numbers or letters tend to do. Having done this, I’ve also abandoned the idea of merging my model with Kolb’s learning cycle. Though I do believe that Kolb’s model has been subject to misinterpretations over the years, I’m not interested in forcing one specific learning theory upon my model. Indeed, I think one of the major affordances of 3D user generated VW, as compared to conventional proprietary 2D CMS/LMS/VLE, is the fact that you can design for teaching and learning based on any theoretical foundation. Diversity and countless possibilities are keywords in platforms like SL and with my model I aim at showing this diversity. When you first enter SL it appears to be pretty uniform with lots of beautiful Barbie-Ken-avatars and by and large respectfully remediated places, which unfortunately also is the way the official Linden Lab prefers to promote SL, but there is so much more to this wonderful world …
In connection with my analytical unit, People I’ve identified four archetypical ways of customizing the avatar:
- Avatar as Real Life-human – respectfully remediated based on an augmented approach.
- Avatar as Non-human – respectfully remediated based on an immersive approach.
- Avatar as Pseudo-human – radically remediated based on an augmented approach.
- Avatar as Sentient object – radically remediated based on an immersive approach.
I’ve also identified a number of seeming dichotomies that one should be aware of when contemplating using SL for teaching and learning. With the addition of these elements in the red People’s sphere the model now look like this:
I don’t mean to imply that the possible tension between e.g. professionalism and play only occurs between the NW-SO corners – I believe this tension (as well as the other tensions) can be identified within the whole sphere. Being a work in progress I’m currently settling for identifying key elements and placing them in the model, but if thorough investigations prove these elements to be relevant and viable I will improve the graphics.
As a preliminary demonstration of how the model can be used, I’ve identified four examples of the avatar types within my current research cycle, the MIL09 case:
NW: Mariis Mills, my main avatar who is a respectful remediation of my real life person. Though I have to admit, that she looks both younger and cuter, I do sense that my students recognize her as a reflection of me.
NO: Mew Aeon, my co-facilitator who at present chooses to represent himself as a cat because it goes well with his first name and playful nature.
SW: Mariis Placebo, my main alt who is currently a humanoid super heroine with butterfly wings and special powers. I use her when I need to work undisturbed in-world and she’s also member of a number of groups that are only peripherally connected to my field of study.
SO: At a certain point MIL student, Jorn Jinx showed up as the – in Denmark – very famous teddy bear, Bamse. Though Bamse clearly is an object, it is usually referred to as a male persona and associated with the ability to feel and perceive subjectively.
I think the avatars above represent the more moderate examples of the four achetypes, but it will certainly be possible to identify more extreme cases as in this excellent interview moderated by Hydra Shaftoe (a wolf) for Nokia on the topic of Perceptions of Non-human avatars or as in this Orange Island Identity Summit, where e.g. qDot Bunnyhug is represented as a sentient rectangular box.
By definition a model is a simplified summary of reality designed to aid further study, and I really do not perceive the world of SL to be as simple, clear-cut and uncomplicated as the model may give the impression of. I do, however find it useful in trying to identify different aspects of possible remediation strategies. With a final example of an avatar remediation that fluctuates between Real life-human and Non-human I’ll finish this post with a photo of my centaur friend, Birkenkrahe:
Preparing for a class next week I’ve been revisiting some of the resources that I’ve recommended for my MIL students. One of the articles, Jolly (2006), I’ve chosen because it describes the multiple roles of the in-world teacher. Based on a triple case study conducted in-world during term three of 2006 at Central Gippsland Institute of TAFE (GippsTAFE™) in south-east Victoria, Jolly has identified several roles of the teacher – here listed numerically to ease my reference:
- Teacher as explorer
- Teacher as a learner
- Teacher as avatar
- Teacher as a client
- Teacher as inductor
- Teacher as guide
- Teacher as planner
- Teacher as innovator
- Teacher as debriefer
- Teacher as an industry expert
- Teacher as preparer
- Teacher as facilitator
- Teacher as communicator
Besides the roles 4 and 10, which are directly linked to the subject matter in the cases and 3, which of course is distinct for teaching in virtual worlds, I don’t think the identified roles differ that much from conventional teaching – at least not when I compare the list to my own and my colleagues teaching at E-Learning Lab in general, and at MIL in particular. Teaching in an age heavily influenced by new technology and the Internet, in my opinion, naturally calls for multiple roles of the teacher, it is however interesting to see the roles listed, which also is one of the reasons why I recommend this article to my students.
Another argument for introducing the students to this article is much more important though. I think this article invites (even provokes) for discussions regarding the teacher’s ethical responsibilities. Returning to the 3rd role, teacher as an avatar, Jolly states:
It is important that the teacher has a number of avatars, each performing a different role. Their appearance, character traits, language, ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ may vary significantly. The students may not know who is behind any given avatar. (Jolly, 2006:8 – my highlight)
And Jolly continues explaining:
In the real world, the students clearly knew myself (Malcom Jolly) and fellow project team member Glenda McPherson through a range of face-to-face meetings/discussions with them. When we were in Second Life as Malcolm Dalgleish and Glenda Arrow, the students knew that we were behind the characters and this served an important role. As Glenda and Malcolm, the students knew that they could always turn to us for support/assistance. For some students this was very important and reassuring. (ibid: 8 – my highlight)
However, at other times Jolly played out the role of a different character:
As GippsTAFE Gonzales, the owner of GippsTAFE Island, my attire was more formal; I acted differently and exhibited different characteristics to Malcolm Dalgleish. I didn’t offer assistance unless specifically asked for it. From the student’s perspective, all they knew was that I was one of the project team. (ibid: 8 – my highlight)
Continuing the role-playing, Jolly sometimes acted as 4) a client in the “painting and decorating” class:
My role was to be the client, meet the student and discuss with them the type of refurbishment I wanted in my house. The students did not know who I was or where in the real world I was located. I was simply ‘the client’. In order to get to know me the student had to question me, ascertain my ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ or form assumptions based on my appearance or mannerisms. (ibid: 9 – my highlight)
Jolly sums up the experience of using different avatars/identities:
It is important that students know support is available through particular people (avatars) but it can also be extremely powerful for the teacher to assume other identities. These characters may simply be people passing by or standing around observing – their use provides the teacher with wonderful material when conducting a debriefing session. (ibid: 9)
I do believe that one of the great pedagogical potentials in avatar-based teaching and learning lies in the possibility to role-play, and I suppose Jolly and his colleagues were trying to enhance authenticity by acting out different characters. Want I don’t understand, is the need for anonymity, and I have to say that this example oversteps some of my personal ethical boundaries. Wouldn’t it be possible to role-play without anonymity, I mean, doesn’t acting exactly entail that you assume a different character? To me one of the most important roles of the teacher – if not the most important – is to be trustworthy, and that simply doesn’t align with acting anonymously in my point of view.
I’m greatly puzzled by this, since Jolly in so many other parts of the article expresses some very emphatic and sympatric thoughts. The 3 cases were conducted mainly at closed islands in-world, and I realize that the students were aware that they might encounter anonymous project staff members, but I still find it problematic to use anonymity like this in an educational context.
Nevertheless, the article makes for interesting discussions on the whole anonymity issue of online teaching and learning, and I’m looking forward to hearing my students’ responses to this.
In my post on lessons learned from the CCK08 course last week I posed the question where the Body is in Connectivism, and one of the CCK08 facilitators, Steven Downes, commented and so did my PhD-supervisor, Janni Nielsen. This has inspired me to do some preliminary reflections on the Body in online learning in general. Since embodiment is a core concept in my PhD, this is something I’ll return to again and again, but I do have to start at some point …
I think Downes, Nielsen and I agree that technology can provide a perception of embodiment, and as I commented to Downes, that’s why I dare claim “that 3D representation e.g. in SL, offers a unique opportunity (especially in distance education) for users to feel part of an authentic or real context even if it is mediated through technology.”
Nielsen confronts my “to feel part of .. even if ..” phrase, which may seem illogical if you really believe that technology can provide a sense of embodiment. I guess this stems from my talks about SL. It’s my impression that 3D technology still is rather exotic to most people (even 2D!), and I think I might lose credibility if I started a talk by stating that this is real! Perhaps I underestimate my audience, but I do feel that if you’re not familiar with online behavior and haven’t been immersed in a 3D setting it may seem surreal … And I know that some people who actually are familiar with e.g. online learning do not feel the way I do.
I am very much inspired by phenomenology, and in preparation for my PhD application last summer, I revisited some of the great thinkers within that field, some of them being Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Hubert L. Dreyfus. According to Ajana (2005) perception in Merleau-Ponty’s terms is:
(…) a ‘system’ of meanings by which the phenomenological process of recognizing and ‘sensing’ objects takes place, and it is through the medium of the body that we get to ‘experience’ and ‘perceive’ the world: ‘Our own body is in the world as the heart is in the organism: it keeps the visible spectacle constantly alive, it breathes life into it and sustains it inwardly, and with it forms a system’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1962: 203).
This may be what Downes refers to, when he states that “we’re pattern recognition devices” though I’m not sure Downes would label himself as a phenomenologist.
Anyway, Dreyfus inspires me, because he is also influenced by Merleau-Ponty, but I have to say that we read and interpret Merleau-Ponty in different ways, and that forces me to reflect on my own position. In 2001 Dreyfus published the book “On the Internet”, and if I had to point to one single reason why I wanted to do a PhD on 3D-mediated teaching and learning potential this is it!
Dreyfus goes against the hype on the potentials of the Internet, and I do think that that can be quite appropriate, but I just do not agree with the majority of Dreyfus’ points and his argumentation. In the introduction Dreyfus writes:
(…) in what follows, I hope to show that, if our body goes, so does relevance, skill, reality and meaning. If that is the trade-off, the prospect of living our lives in and through the Web may not be as attractive after all. (Dreyfus, 2001:7 – my italics)
A short comment to this could be that our bodies do not go (anywhere!) when we engage in internet activities – like the heart in the organism we’re bodily grounded in the world regardless of how it presents itself to us. Furthermore I’m pretty sure that millions of Internet users find meaning and learn skills no matter how they perceive reality. But my intention in this post is not to review and comment on Dreyfus’ entire book, where he of course elaborates this and many other points.
First of all, I’m in the beginning of my research and I still lack insight and sufficient academic competencies to do so in a reputable manner, and I certainly do not want to seem disrespectful. That specific comment just triggered my research and for that I do feel appreciative to Dreyfus.
Second, other researchers have already presented arguments against the Dreyfus claims, and in this post I want to point the reader’s attention to Ray Land.
One of Dreyfus’ claims is that risk-taking is a necessary prerequisite for learning at a higher level and that especially due to the anonymous nature of online learning the learner and the teacher do not really take any risks. Land (2004) addresses this issue;
What is puzzling about Dreyfus’ analysis is how it seems to take no cognizance of the many risks to identity, confidence, emotional security and esteem that are encountered on a daily basis by participants within online learning environments.
I think both my MIL students and some of the participants in the CCK08 will recognize Land’s description, I know I do – even here as I write on my “own” blog. An interesting angle to this could be to explore Dreyfus (and Dreyfus. 1986) renowned taxonomy of learning. I do appreciate the methodic/analytical benefits of looking at the learning process this way, but I’m really not convinced that learning occurs linearly …
These will be my first public thoughts on the body in online learning – I will return…
If this caught your attention I really recommend that you read Dreyfus and the other below mentioned references :-)
Ajana, B. (2005): Disembodiment and Cyberspace: A Phenomenological Approach.
Dreyfus, H.L. (2001): On the Internet.
Land, R. (2004): Issues of Embodiment and Risk in Online Learning.
Virtual Identity and the Cyberspace