One of the classes I’ve been teaching this spring has been dealing with interpersonal CMC, and as part of this I have of course been talking about avatar-based communication. Based on my experience with bringing newbies into SL, I knew that I had to find another example of a 3D Virtual World to use with this particular class that had 89 students. During the 5th annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education Conference (March 15-17, 2012), I ran into John “Pathfinder “Lester, and I was reminded of the Jibe platform created by ReactionGrid .
Pathfinder is currently Chief Learning Officer at ReactionGrid Inc., but worked for LL/SL for five years where he led the development of education and healthcare, and I’ve actually met Pathfinder a couple of times in RL too – even here in Denmark :-) I’ve been following Pathfinder’s work with alternate Grids/worlds since he left LL, and I consider him a true innovator and visionary within the field of 3D Virtual Worlds.
So on March 19th, I decided to try to bring my class into Pathfinder’s Jibe world. Being used to many technical obstacles with SL, I did not know exactly what to expect. As it turned out only a few of the students had any experience with 3D Virtual Worlds (and only from WoW and The Sims), so I was admittedly a bit worried. However, from a technical point of view things went very well – I was really impressed with just how easy it was for the students to start using Jibe! Some of the students had to install a Unity3d plugin (the player), but that didn’t cause any problems and within minutes from showing the students the url, they were in-world gaining their first experiences with navigating a 3D-avatar. I have rarely heard students laugh this much in class!
All the students on laptops managed to get into Jibe without any problems, but a few of the students use iPads, and sadly Jibe/Unity3d doesn’t work on those yet. I did try to see if I could access Jibe via Chrome in the AlwaysOn PC app, but no ;-) In user forums on Unity3d I’ve read about attempts to jailbreak the iOS and work around the plugin need, but this is not a solution I’m going to pursue or even recommend to my students, so for now we’ll have to settle for using laptops, and that’s ok.
These 2. semester students had a very limited knowledge of 3D Virtual Worlds, and even though I did demonstrate SL, being able to access and play around on their own in such a world really enhanced their understanding. They did find the whole idea of using 3D Virtual Worlds for serious purposes quite exotic, and it will take much more time (and practice) to convince them of the virtues of such communication media. However, based on this very positive (especially from a technical point of view) experience, I will try to learn more about Jibe and consider if I can somehow use it in my future classes. Compared to SL, Jibe has three very important features that makes it an interesting platform in relation to my (often times very large) on-campus classes:
- The platform easily holds 100+ participants
- The platform is browser based
- The platform is very user friendly – at least in terms of initial UX
For demonstration and first hand experience of avatars and 3D virtual environments, this makes Jibe very interesting. Further, Jibe supports industry standard 3D modeling programs and scripting, and that could also make it an interesting tool to use for some of the more advanced classes where our students have to learn this, and perhaps this could mean that more colleagues would take an interest in this type of technology. As much as I love SL, I really think that the future of 3D Virtual Worlds will be browser based, and to further enhance interoperability standards are a must, so Jibe really seems to be heading in the right direction.
Here’s a short introduction by Pathfinder, and be sure to follow his blog, if you want to learn more :-)
On ReactionGrid’s own blog there were some interesting news today;
- An open source version of Jibe is underway officially today. LearnNC & ReactionGrid are partnering to allow teachers and students to qualify for no cost editions of Jibe.
- Jibe-Enterprise is now available for corporate training, meetings, collaboration and more.
- Jibe-Blend is also underway. Jibe-Blend is a real-time shared collaborative building system which allows users to model in Blender and stream their work live into a Jibe/Unity3D world.
Since December 5th, 2011 I’ve been running a PD class with students from the Master’s Program on ICT & Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University, and in order to pass the course, the students were asked to do in-world team presentations on the teaching and learning potential of SL. On Wednesday January 25th, Team E had to do their presentation, and this is the final post describing the students’ presentations. Background information on the course/the presentation task can be found in the post describing the first presentation, and here are links to the second, third, and fourth presentations.
Team E and their focus
Team E’s members, Anina & Happytown are both K-12 teachers, and one of the challenges they have experienced in relation to teaching Physics in RL, is that the pupils often find it to be a boring subject matter, and so they wanted to investigate the possibility of using SL to design for fun and engaging activities, leading to the following investigation question:
How can physical activities be remediated in Second Life?
Well knowing that SL doesn’t allow for users below 16, Team E made a point out of explaining how their work should be seen as a pilot test for later exploration in a closed environment in Open Sim.
Team E’s sandbox
Just as the previous four teams, Team E also had a sandbox available from December 9th, 2011, and the pictures below reflect the progression in their work.
A couple of days later on December 19th this shape – looking like The COI model – appeared.
Just a few days before the Midway presentation Team E’s sandbox still looked quite empty on January 1st, but we were in for a big surprise :-)
During their midway presentation on January 3rd, Team E showed us examples of how physics can be applied in SL.
Team E’s presentation
Team E’s agenda looked like this:
- Reflections on our design – What have we been thinking?
- Visit to Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center
- A heavenly closure in the sky
Team E made extensive use of the shared media feature throughout their presentation, and chose to show their slides on one of the clouds. The tricky issue with shared media is that each user sees the displayed media individually and so the start and stopping point of a video differs. However, Team E had sent out instruction prior to their presentation and after further elaboration in-world, everybody seemed to be on the same “slide”. The team explained how they had wanted to investigate Bolter & Grusin’s concept of remediation and use it to redesign some exercises from an existing instructional design from a Physics class.
As part of Team E’s design strategy, they had chosen to remediate the activities in the exercises in a respectful manner drawing on RL examples, and then remediate the setting in a more radical manner based on a Heaven-Hell analogy. By drawing on different aspects of the remediation continuum, Team E wanted to design authentic exercises that would stimulate their target group’s learning and engagement due to the more fun and interesting surroundings.
After this brief introduction to their design ideas, Team E went on to explain about the exercises that the other teams had to do, and we were asked to follow the “highway” and enter Hell …
With some help from my co-facilitator, Inge Team E had designed four sound-proof rooms, one for each team, that all contained three different exercises. For each exercise, different information was displayed as text or videos, and the teams had to complete at least one exercise, and write the results in shared documents.
I didn’t manage to visit all teams, but all of them seemed to be fully engaged in the exercises, which was no surprise with the great designs and devilish teachers:
After the exercises, it was time to resurface and go back to Heaven.
The Stairway to Heaven.
Back in the clouds, Happytown and Anina returned to their investigation question and elaborated on some of the theories (Wadley, The COI-model) they had used to support their work. Based on Nielsen’s work, Team E spoke of the necessity of the users’ ability to use their imaginative powers to feel immersed in an environment such as SL, and about the need to design for active knowledge construction via in-world artifacts.
For the mandatory tour outside the team’s own sandbox, Team E had chosen Oddprofessor’s Museum and Science Center, and we were asked to go there and explore the many fine examples of interactive objects and activities for further inspiration. The place has been created by Oddprofessor Snoodle who uses it to teach Physics/Chemistry for deaf students, and the place is filled with fun and engaging learning activties.
Back in Team E’s sandbox, it was time for reflection and feedback.
Team E had wanted to show us, how SL can be used for teaching RL Physics, and I think they made a very convincing case. Their ambitious design impressed all of us, and it was a pleasure to witness such a good use of many of the features in SL. Anina & Happytown really have embraced SL, and their enthusiasm shone through their presentation, making many of us wonder what we could have learned, if only we had had the opportunity to learn Physics this way! In summary, Team E provided us with a very fine closure of this course on the educational use/potential of 3D Virtual Worlds :-)
Since December 5th, I’ve been running an in-world PD-class for students from The Master’s Program on ICT and Learning (MIL) at Aalborg University. It is my fifth course of this kind for the MIL Program, but this time around there are some significant changes. First of all, I have the great pleasure of running the course with my friend and kindred spirit, Inge Qunhua – a very talented Danish educator and in-world designer. Secondly, I will not be using this course for my PhD, but as a researcher I have of course set some research goals, and in this case I have been investigating the use of different classroom settings. As part of this, I have just finished a build I call “The Identity Maze” that I will be using in a forthcoming in-world class.
In my PhD-project, I have three analytical units; people, places, and practices, and the maze is based on some of the key findings regarding the people unit. In this sense, the maze is meant to showcase some findings consisting of impressions from the students that participated in my PhD-work from 2007-2010 combined with relevant theoretical input that I also refer to in my PhD.
The people unit deals with the avatar phenomenon, with what it means to learn through a virtual 3D body, and how this affects the identity of the learners. In my PhD, I use a combination of theories ranging from learning theory (primarily Wenger, 1998), media theory (primarily Bolter & Grusin, 1999) and theories from the field of tele-presence (primarily Schroeder, 2010 and the MIT journal on Presence). In Wenger’s Social Theory on Learning, Identity plays an important role in the learning process – learning is basically an ongoing identity process, a process of becoming. Since the beginning of my PhD-work back in 2007, it has been evident that a medium such as SL challenges the learners’ identities in a manner I’ve never seen in more traditional 2D Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), and so it makes perfect sense to focus on Identity when learning in and about 3D Virtual Worlds.
I’m definitely an amateur when it comes to building in SL, but I do build from time to time, and the process of visualizing/materializing your thoughts and ideas, is really what sets SL apart from other VLEs. It can be fun, engaging, frustrating (where’s the undo button!? ;-), and sometimes very rewarding. The pictures below show the process of building the maze.
I did create a paper-draft with measurements of the maze, but as usual when it comes to creative work, the work itself tends to rule on its own, and standing in the build, feeling it so to speak, forced me to reconsider parts of the maze. Once again, I was reminded that what works in theory, doesn’t necessarily work in practice!
I decided to use a mixture of textures, most of which are transparent (blank, red, and white). Walking in a maze can be quite claustrophobic, so I decided to make all walls transparent. I also think the transparency gives you a nice feel of the surroundings and of other avatars. Because of transparent textures, the maze looks different from different angles/POVs – and I think that aligns well with the whole identity issue. Some of the transparent textures are deliberately white, indicating that there is more to be seen, and hopefully this will poke the curiosity of the visitor. Evidently, skilled SL-users can overlook the whole maze with their cameras, but still …
Anyways, being an amateur isn’t always easy; when I wanted to share the build with Inge, I somehow messed up the permissions, and now this original is copy only – no edit :-( So, Inge has kindly offered to rebuild the maze (based on my blank prims), and hopefully we’ll soon have a fully editable copy …
So, what’s the point of all this? Well, I intend to use the maze in a class on Thursday, 5th of January. In this class the theme is Identity, and we will focus on the students’ impressions of being avatars, and what this means in relation to learning. On our regular classroom platform, I’ve set up a couple of slides that focus on some theoretical issues (based on the course literature). After this short introduction, we’ll walk-and-talk in the maze.
Back on the platform, I’ve created a 20-question-board. For now, when you click on the question marks, you’ll see a Joker, but on Thursday, 17 of the Jokers will be replaced with relevant questions (there are 17 students). If the student chooses what turns out to be one of the remaining three Jokers, the student can talk about anything in relation to the theme, otherwise there’ll be a tricky predefined question.
And so, on this final day of the year 2011, I leave you to pause and reflect on this quote by Chuck Palahniuk:
“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.”
Happy New Year to all of those who have shaped me; especially my precious in-world friends who appreciate mixed realities and thus mixed identities – I cherish you all :-)