Different aspects of Being There Together

On February 1oth Dr. Ralph Schroeder of The Oxford Internet Institute will be giving a talk entitled ” Being There Together: Social Interaction in Virtual Environments” on the CAVE island at 9AM SLT.

The talk is organized by the Applied Research in Virtual Environments for Learning Special Interest Group (ARVEL SIG) as part of their ongoing in-world discussions.

This talk will be of particular interest to me given that different ways of being there together are some of the core concerns in my PhD, and the first book I read in relation to my PhD research was in fact “The Social Life of Avatars” (2002) edited by Dr. Schroeder. Since then I’ve been following Dr. Schroeder’s work, and especially some of the articles he has published in The MIT Journal, “Presence – Teleoperators and Virtual Environments“. In my opinion the different ways of being there together are closely connected to different perspectives of the perception of presence that humans potentially get when interacting with computers (the HCI perspective), and in this regard I think it is possible (at least in an analytical sense) to distinguish between

  • a sense of being – related to self-presence
  • a sense of there – related to tele-/or virtual presence
  • a sense of togetherness – related to co-presence

In so far as you define a “virtual environment” to include the affordance of creation, I would add a sense of doing, which then in turn also could relate to doing together (co-creation), and then could relate to social presence. However, these are my preliminary thoughts, and it is important to stress that there is no consensus in the literature as to neither definition nor use of the terms of presence. When I’m done with the final analysis of my data, I’m hoping to be more articulate on this matter. An interesting challenge here is also that I’m hoping to connect Wenger’s (1998) 4 components of learning (practice, community, identity, and meaning) to the different aspects of presence, and this will be tested in my analysis. Regardless of this outcome, I find it important to emphasize that when dealing with virtual environments such as 3D virtual worlds doing together becomes just as – if not more – important as being together. And I have a strong feeling (not very academic yet, I know ;-) that becoming together may be even more important … anyways, these are some of the issues I’m currently struggling with in my PhD-work.

As I understand it, Dr. Schroeder will focus on results from his latest 2011 book (with the same title as the talk) “Being There Together. Social Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments“, which I haven’t read yet. Nonetheless, Dr. Schroeder’s slides for the talk have already been put up for viewing on the island, and judging from these, the talk will include some of the ideas Schroeder expressed in a 2007 paper entitled “Virtual Environments and Other Media for Being There Together: Towards a Convergence of Technologies, Uses, and Research Agendas.” In this paper Schroeder compares “virtual environments” (VEs) with three other technologies: 1) videoconferencing, 2) online spaces for socializing and gaming, and 3) online awareness and social networking technologies. One of the things that puzzle me about this is the way Schroeder defines “virtual environments”:

VEs are defined as providing the sensory experience of being in a place other than the you are physically in, and being able to interact with that place [1, 2] A shorthand is to say that these are technologies for ‘being there’, and multi-user VEs for ‘being there together’ [3]. (Schroeder. 2007: 1 – see original for references)

And in the video below Dr. Schroeder repeats at least the first part of this definition of VEs :

It is in fact not so much the definition that puzzles me, but rather the way Dr. Schroeder uses it to differentiate between VEs and other media. In the 2007 paper Schroeder summarizes his comparison of the four technologies in this table below:


Figure 1 from Schroeder. 2007:5

When looking at this table actually a couple of things puzzle me. First of all, I’m wondering what kinds of technologies Schroeder would label as VEs? In the above mentioned 2002 book Schroeder links VR and VE tech closely, and that could perhaps explain the “face with limited expressiveness, and body” in the Appearance cell, but I’m honestly not sure … Secondly, when I look through my SL-avatar-based glasses, I guess a medium like SL would best fit in the column of “Online spaces for gaming and socializing”, but again I’m not sure. However, if this is where Schroeder would place SL it brings forward new questions/comments. As a general comment I would say that SL fits the definition of a VE in that it also gives the user the experience of being in another place, being able to interact in this place, and of being there with others. Schroeder does in fact point to an increasing overlap between different technologies, and so I wondering why he doesn’t reserve VE as an overarching concept or definition. In more specific terms related to SL I would comment on some of the claims in the column;

  • ad. Realism: judging from the rest of the paper I think Schroeder mainly refers to fidelity here, which would explain the “low” claim. However, whiter or not something is perceived “real” in psychosocial terms remains highly controversial.
  • ad. Object and environment interaction: here I’m simply not sure what Schroeder means by “restricted field view” – at least not if it refers to the user’s control over different POVs?
  • ad. Communication and interaction: while it is true that much communication in SL is synchronous (text/voice chat), the asynchronous aspect should not be neglected, and this is something that has improved with the Shared Media feature that enables users to communicate in web-based systems outside SL from inside SL, and this of course does not have to real-time.

I’m fully aware that a general comparison can’t and shouldn’t capture more system specific nuances, and Schroeder recognizes that this comparison may “be drawn too sharply – in reality many of them overlap” (2007:2). Even so, I’m really looking forward to meeting Dr. Schroeder in-world later this week, and I’m hoping that I get the chance to ask him to elaborate on some of these issues – and meanwhile I’m impatiently waiting for his new book to arrive :-)

/Mariis

Reference

Schroeder, R. (2007) Virtual Environments and Other Media for Being There Together: Towards a Convergence of Technologies, Uses, and Research Agendas. Proceedings of Presence 2007, Barcelona, Spain, October 2007.

#vwbpe 2010 – 1st day impressions

On March 12th and 13th I participated in the 3rd Annual Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education conference – a 48 hrs. around the clock/world event mainly taking place in Second Life (SL).

The goal of the conference was “to bring together educators, researchers, academics, and business professionals from around the world with a focus on 3D virtual collaborative environments and how they can best be used to support education” and according to the official website there were 170+ presentations/sessions.

Despite some technical difficulties and the fact that I only participated in 13 sessions, I was overwhelmed, learned a lot and met new interesting people. So in this first post, I want to start out be sending a BIG thank you to the organizers; Zana Kohime, Phelan Corrimal & Marty Snowpaw and their truly amazing crew! :-)

The first session I attended was a presentation by Briarmelle Quintessa; “Building the foundation for Second Life learning in New Zealand”.

Briarmelle spoke about a pilot project on Foundation Learning conducted as part of the Second Life in New Zealand (SLENZ) project where the main goal was to show “the educational strengths or otherwise” of using a virtual world as means for students to practice interview skills, and according to Briarmelle students who used SL as compared to those who didn’t ended up with better assessments as shown in the slide below.

In designing their in-world environment, Briarmelle and her colleagues had been inspired by John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design, which addresses attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction. Log-in to Koru Island and explore this and many other designs for teaching and learning.

UPDATE: on March 16th the SLENZ Project’s Lead Developer Isa Goodman announced that a free copy of the Foundation Build is now available on the neighbouring Kowhai Island under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license, and a new SLENZ blog has been created for discussions on technical issues and further developments.

Next up was Logos Sohl who spoke about “Enablers and inhibitors of innovation and creativity in virtual world educational projects”.

Logos had made some interesting observations on enablers and inhibitors, and I’m hoping she’ll put her presentation in the vwbpe-slideshare. At a certain point, Logos asked us to state our geo positions and this really manifested the international nature of SL:

A one minute tour around the world:
[4:57] Hotaling: New Zealand, here. [4:57] Kayo: Oklahoma [4:57] Wozniak: Orlando, FL [4:57] Mills: Denmark [4:57]  Flatley: Newfoundland, Canada [4:57]  Jenvieve: UK, England [4:57]  Darbyshire shouts: NY [4:57] Congrejo: lol Euro [4:57]  Neximus: Germany [4:57]  Lowtide: UK atm [4:57]  Halostar: Germany [4:57] Baroque: Syracuse, NY [4:57]  Congrejo: Texas [4:57]  Jameson: i am in usa, i live in germany [4:57]  Alchemi: Leicester, UK [4:57]  Blogger: Belgium [4:57]  Camel: UK (devon) [4:57]  Bookmite: Georgia, the state [4:57]  Tigerfish: Indiana [4:57]   Hubbenfluff: Pennsylvania [4:57]  Frequency: i’m from singapore [4:57]  Lexenstar: West Virginia, USA [4:57]  Inventor: Czech rep., Europe :) [4:58] Bramlington: Sweden.

After a break, I returned in-world to my 3rd session, which was on “Networked Connectivism, Distributed cognition and PLNS”.

In this session hosted by Michigan Paule, Labatt Pawpaw (one of the founders of Connectivism) gave his thoughts on connectivism, learning and the pedagogical foundations that the technology provides.. Before the session started slides showed nicely on my screen, but during the session my computer started acting up and I ended up logging out due to lag. Labatt later posted an audio of his talk.

As I logged back in it was time for the official opening remarks of M Linden. Sadly my troubles continued and this is how M looked on my screen during the whole talk … um, not really becoming for a CEO ;-)

For those interested it is possible to hear (and see!) M’s talk here on BusinessTreetTV, where other sessions also will be archived.

I finished this first conference day by participating in Claudia Linden’s session on “Educational trends in Second Life”.

Again, I found the outlook to be somewhat grey, but it was nonetheless an interesting session, where Claudia asked us to share “aha-moments in SL”. There were many great, fun, thoughtful examples such as;

  • [13:13] Underwood: When my superintendent starting flying during our orientation,
  • [13:15]  Clawtooth: My “Ah ha” moment in SL was visiting Sistine Chapel and realizing when I saw the Sistine Chapel on TV that I had the same feeling as if I had actually been there in real life from my SL “visit.”,
  • [13:16] Bookmite: My student emailed “I hate second life.” Two months later she spent her summer exploring and learning how to build,

and not least [13:20] Tuque, who so eloquently summed up my first day impressions and the main reason why I enjoy SL so much: I guess that is MY Aha moment – when I realized I could meet, learn from, and work with colleagues from ALL over the world.

/Mariis

Connective models for Didactic Design

As previously described my PhD-project is aimed at improving Blended Learning within Higher and Further Education through remediation and redidactization. Through a process of designing and redesigning two specific Blended Learning courses within 6 research cycles the aspiration is to enhance learner experience and learning outcome by using new augmented/immersive 3D media and a learner centered Problem Based pedagogical approach. In both cases the target group is adult teachers/ trainers from the educational and the private/industrial sector from different countries. Having teachers/trainers as target group has made it quite natural to situate my work within the field of Didactics.

Especially in Northern Europe Didactics refers to a field of research and practice concerned with reflections and actions related to teaching and learning. Historically the field has been teacher-, goal- and/or content-centered, but since the mid 1970’ies we have – at least in Scandinavia – seen an almost paradigmatic shift to a more learning and learner-centered approach.  In Denmark this shift was above all initiated by the establishment of two new universities, in 1972 Roskilde and in 1974 Aalborg (where I work) that were founded in clear opposition to the “Old(fashioned)” universities by using an overall pedagogical approach based on Problem Based Learning and Project Organization in an attempt to amplify student motivation, engagement and learning with higher relevance for the surrounding society.

Within teacher/trainer education Didactic Analysis, as a means to learn how to plan, act, observe and reflect on didactic practices, has been a core component of the curriculum, and especially one model for didactic analysis has gained widespread use, namely the so called “Didactical Relationship Model” by Norwegian education researchers, Hilde Hiim and Else Hippe. Building on the work of fellow countrymen, Bjørndal and Lieberg (whose original model was more teacher-centered), Hiim and Hippe developed the model to show some important relations between different elements in Didactics using a learning theoretical approach. An English description of the model and the use of it in developing an online tutorial for Information Literacy can be found here.

In my PhD-project I currently have data from 4 completed research cycles and I’ve decided to use modified versions of the Hiim & Hippe model as part of my analytical strategy, which will consist of several phases progressing from a general to a more specific focus on didactic elements I find relevant in my particular case. Throughout the different phases I will be using different models, but as I find Hiim & Hippe’s model useful in depicting important relations and elements for general analysis, I’ll start by presenting this model briefly.

As mentioned above the model shows 6 important elements in a teaching/learning situation, these elements are interrelated and so influence each other in various ways and to various degrees. Even though I find the concept of depicting interrelated elements valuable, I don’t agree on the chosen elements, the description/content of the elements and the semantics in general. In my dissertation I will of course elaborate on this, but for now I will turn to my own revised models.

At the Master Programme in ICT and Learning (MIL), where I conduct most of my teaching and research, my colleagues, Bo Fibiger (1945-2008) and Birgitte Holm Sørensen originally conceived the concept of Didactic Design and combined with the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Sørensen today defines it as: “The process by which the purpose, the goals and the content is determined, and where the planning, the organization and the arena for teaching and learning is shaped based on theories and in relation to ICT-based practice in a context.” I agree on the essence of the definition, but I also see Didactic Design as a result/product and sometime down the line I will also work on revising this definition. For now, the important point is that I consider my work to be part of the emerging field of Didactics combined with ICT and as a consequence my revised model is aimed at Didactic Design as depicted below:

In line with Hiim & Hippe’s model, my model also portrays important didactic elements, but I have chosen to add a few more elements, substitute one and rename some of them. I also prefer to speak of connections instead of relations, while the latter to me implies some sort of personalized bond that I don’t see between all the elements that are interconnected. I suspect that the major reason as to why Hiim & Hippe’s model has gained such popularity has to do with the fact that the elements are quite generic and thus enable the user of the model to define sub-elements depending on own needs and purpose.  One could argue that the elements I’ve added already are part of Hiim & Hippe’s model as sub-elements, but by highlighting them I believe greater emphasis can be obtained. While I do consider the elements in my model to be generic too and that my work with the model will refine the content/sub-elements, I do have some preliminary reflections.

  • ICT – in Hiim & Hippe’s model part of the setting. In my point of view the use of ICT has the potential of changing the Didactic Design quite dramatically and should as such not just be a sub-element. Furthermore the use of ICT has been written into the curricular of most educational practices from pre-schools to HE in Denmark.
  • Teacher(s) & Learner(s) – in Hiim & Hippe’s model people are absent at first glance. The Teacher is considered to be part of the setting and I guess that since the model is aimed at describing learning conditions and learning processes the student is somehow inherent. Based on my own teaching experience I, however consider the people involved in the Didactic Design to be the most influential element. This does not mean that I don’t consider the conditions (e.g. prerequisites) for teaching and learning to be important. On the contrary, but I think there is an acute need to focus on teachers’ conditions separately – especially when we combine Didactics with ICT.
  • Goals – in formal education goals are dominated by curriculum, but depending on theoretical foundation they can be formulated and attained more or less teacher-driven. One of the major advantages of a Problem Based approach is exactly the possibility of sharing the responsibility for this element between all participants in the Didactic Design.
  • Content – another element typically determined by curriculum and goals, but again within a Problem Based and especially Project Oriented approach this element can be based on collective decisions.
  • Contexts – teaching and learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Didactic Design is always situated, but not restricted to physical buildings or formal settings.
  • Activities – another very important element that shapes the teaching and learning processes possible and therefore also potential outcome.
  • Evaluation – Hiim & Hippe use the word assessment, which I think mainly relates to the learners and I do believe that a critical review on the teacher(s) and the teaching also is an important part of sustaining quality and I think that evaluation better covers this.
  • Time – is a crucial element, but is often missing in models and theories of teaching and learning despite the fact that there seems to be consensus on the fact that learning at a certain level actually takes a lot of time. Besides the time available for learners another sub-element could be time available for the teacher(s). In my experience many teachers/trainers find especially ICT-integration difficult and frustrating precisely because they don’t feel that they have sufficient time to learn to master the technologies and subsequent practices.

Besides revising the number and to some extend the content of the elements, I’ve also chosen to place the elements within a frame illustrating the point that Didactic Designs within formal education generally function as quite closed systems with very little permeability. Usually the influence from external factors (e.g. political, economical and other societal factors) is much greater than the other way.

In my PhD-project I’ve been working with 2 different cases. The MIL course (3 research cycles) and the COMBLE course (1 research cycle). In the MIL course the majority of the activities have been online, whereas the COMBLE course was 100% online, and I would describe the Didactic Design in both cases as having been ICT-remediated. In Bolter & Grusin’s original concept remediation refers to the process whereby new media refashions older media, but when we start to rely more and more on ICT/new media in our practices, I would argue that not only the media are refashioned, but there is a potential and in many cases a need to also reconsider and most likely revise the other elements in the model. These considerations have led to the next model:

It may come as a surprise that the model doesn’t appear that different, but that’s actually an important point of mine. ICT-remediation constitutes a potential for change, but it doesn’t happen automatically, and changes will depend on the various types of ICT. Walled Garden technology – like conventional LMS’/VLEs – is never pedagogical neutral. Different types of technology have different kinds of affordances and the user’s possibility to change or modify intrinsic ways of communication and content creation is usually very limited. As long as the majority of formal educational institutions choose to rely on conventional technology for remediating their practices, I personally see little prospect of real change. There are, nonetheless, some positive aspects in all of this. Regardless of the rest of the elements in the model ICT-remediation – especially based on Web 2.0 – will force the system to open up and connect more with the outside world and as both learners and teachers become more ICT literate as a consequence of ICT permeating our daily practices, I do expect changes to occur.

At the MIL education ICT is part of the curriculum and even though we also could do with more change, we do try to keep an eye on new media and their teaching and learning potentials. This was also the reason why my PhD-project became concerned with new augmented/immersive media in the shape of the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL). Based on my experience with remediating existing practice into SL, this kind of medium clearly has the potential of changing the Didactic Design. Without having gone thoroughly through my data, I do see some changes regarding especially teacher(s), learner(s), contexts and activities. These four elements will be foci points in my analysis of SL and are highlighted in the model below:

It is quite deliberate that I’ve maintained the ICT element in this version of the model, because the use of SL doesn’t diminish the need to consider ICT in general. Several kinds of 2D technologies are at play in-world, and as I still consider SL to be an emerging, and sometimes very unstable technology, I wouldn’t at this point in time recommend using SL as a stand-alone technology.

These models all focus on traditional didactic elements and I will use them (most likely in revised versions) for my general Didactic Analysis. The last version has a clear connection to another model I’ve developed, which focuses on People (teachers/learners), Places (contexts) and Practices (activities). Based on that PPP-model I’ll be able to focus on topics that are less common in Didactics and in this way I think the models will complement each other profitably.

/Mariis