OMG! SL made it to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA) report

Hat tip to Ener Hax for pointing to this report made by The National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) who prepared the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA) that examines emerging gang trends and threats posed by criminal gangs to communities throughout the US. It comes as no surprise that “gangs are becoming increasingly savvy and are embracing new and advanced technology to facilitate criminal activity and enhance their criminal operations”:

According to NGIC reporting, gang recruitment and intimidation is heavily facilitated through the Internet. Gangs use social networking sites such as Facebook to promote their gang, post photos of their gang lifestyle, and display their bravado, which ultimately influences other youth to join gangs. (NGTA, 2011:41)

Following this line of thoughts, nor should it come as a surprise that Virtual Worlds also are mentioned, but I admit that I was in fact surprised to see SL highlighted in this context:

NGTA, 2011:41

Of course it makes perfect sense; the military has been using virtual reality/virtual worlds to simulate and train for decades, so why not gangs. Yet, for someone who has been using SL for years, this perspective does come off as a bit exaggerated, and I admit that it made me chuckle over the morning coffee. I tend to agree with Maria Korolov‘s comment on this:

I mean no disrespect; I know that gangs pose a serious and oftentimes lethal threat to many, many people all over the world. It’s just very interesting to see a different perspective on one of my favorite technologies. Paraphrasing McLuhan; “We become what we behold. We shape our technology, and then our technology shapes us.” Context always matters!


BTW; according to the above-mentioned report OMG is not an expression of surprise, but stands for Outlaw Motorcycle Gang … context, context …

Student perceptions of Presence in a Virtual World

Together with Ross McKerlich, Terry Anderson, and Bard Eastmann I have a paper out in the Journal of Online Learning and Technology (JOLT). The paper is entitled Student Perceptions of Teaching Presence, Social Presence and Cognitive Presence in a Virtual World, and is based on research collaboration we started back in 2009. Back in January 2099, I participated in a Master Class on Learning 2.0 and Knowledge Media at Aarhus University, where Terry Anderson (Athabasca University) was one of the guest lecturers. When Terry learned about my research in SL, he invited me to participate in a research project that was aimed at investigating the use of the Community of Inquiry (COI) model in 3D environments.

The COI model was developed in the late 1990’s as framework for evaluating educational experience in text-based online environments by D. Randy Garrison, Terry Anderson, and Walther Archer. Given the COI model’s wide spread use in different educational settings it is by no means coincidental that one of the original founders, Terry, has found it important to explore the applicability of the model in new online environments such as the 3D virtual world, SL. Together with Ross McKerlich, Terry conducted a preliminary, qualitative exploratory study in SL in 2007, and basically confirmed that the model also can be used in assessing educational experience in 3D virtual environments (McKerlich & Anderson. 2007).

As part of our collaboration, Terry & Ross, participated in one of my in-world classes with the MIL09 students – something both the students and I appreciated very much.

Terry explaining about the COI-model in the MIL09 class

Discussing different COI concepts in the MIL09 class

Anyways, after such a long time, it is great to finally see our paper published, and I want to thank Ross, Terry, and Brad for the collaboration – it was a very good experience :-)

Here’s the abstract of our paper:

Presence – or having a sense of active participation – in distance education has increased with the expanding use of and affordances of communications technologies. Virtual worlds have been on the forefront of popular and education technology in the last three years and innovative methods of teaching and learning are emerging in these contexts.  Using the recently validated community of inquiry (COI) instrument, this study focuses on students’ perceptions of teaching, social and cognitive presence in virtual world contexts. The authors examine whether the COI Instrument can effectively be applied to virtual world learning events. The results are exciting: in a diverse sample, virtual world learners perceive teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence.


In-world kick-off session with technical challenges

Yesterday, my colleagues Inge Qunhua, Heilyn Abbot, and I were ready to kick-off the first in-world session in the UNA-AAU course. As part of the course, we have designed for two kick-off sessions in SL, before Heilyn and I go to Costa Rica and start the course with a 2-day f2f-workshop at the Universidad Nacional. As far as, we had understood it, our two Costa Rican colleagues, Ena & Wica did a f2f-session with the course participants last week where they created the SL-accounts and settled possible technical challenges. Therefore, the main purpose of the in-world kick-off session was to socialize (make friends, and join our group) and to familiarize the participants with the sandbox and the island where the majority of the course activities will take place. However, another important reason to have sessions before we go to Costa Rica, was to see how the participants would manage to get into/and navigate in SL from a technical point of view – how would the participants’ user experience turn out? In planning the course, we have been discussing the technical challenges that may occur, and we have been somewhat worried about this aspect – and sadly, we did experience many technical difficulties in yesterday’s session.

The first participant to turn up in the sandbox was our Costa Rican co-facilitator, Ena. However, as the picture below illustrates, Ena’s avatar did not rezz well, and in the text chat she managed to tell us that everything looked grey, and that she had no voice/audio.

Ena’s grey avatar in front of Heilyn, me, and Inge

Technical difficulties in SL can occur for a variety of reasons one of which can be incorrect settings (e.g. for audio and graphics), so Inge quickly decided to put up a board explaining how to set the audio settings properly.

Inge sets up a board explaining audio settings on the fly

However, as Ena also had problem with an unrezzed (grey) environment, she couldn’t see this properly, so Inge ended up calling her on Skype. Meanwhile, Heilyn and I were waiting for more participants to arrive, but we soon realized that most of them apparently experienced technical difficulties. Two more participants did show, and we all got into a Skype call, and even though advice on how to set audio and graphics correctly helped the participants a bit, we did not manage to settle all the technical difficulties, and finally decided to cut the session short.

Our 3 Costa Rican participants – all dressed in grey :D

Our next kick-off session is planned for next week, and before then we hope to settle the technical problems, but we have also started to discuss alternative plans; a) we use Skype instead of the built-in SL-voice (and hope the problems with graphics can be solved locally), b) we use an alternative viewer (for some users this does seem to help in terms of graphics). None of these solutions are perfect, and if the problems stem from insufficient bandwidth, I’m not sure how we will solve it.  This UNA-AAU course is envisioned as a pilot-project where the main goal is to investigate if it will be possible to run bilateral courses between Aalborg University and Universidad Nacional through SL and Moodle in the future, and so we are already gaining important information about some of the possible challenges. I’m confident that we will solve the problems somehow, but I also can’t wait to actually go to Costa Rica to experience the challenges first-hand – some problems can simply be to difficult to solve on a distance …


Upcoming PD course in SL for teachers at Universidad Nacional, Heredia Costa Rica

In September, I’ll be kicking off a new PD course in SL. Participants will be teachers from The Computing School at Universidad Nacional (UNA) in Heredia, Costa Rica. The main objective of the course is to provide the participants with a combination of conceptual, theoretical, and practical (in-world) strategies with regard to designing, implementing, and teaching/learning courses of different duration using SL as main medium/approach. Unlike most of my previous courses in SL, I will not work alone in this course, but will be joined by an amazing group of co-facilitators;

  • Inge Qunhua – Danish Instructional designer and teacher in SL since 2007
  • Heilyn Abbot – Costa Rican colleague, Post Doc at e-Learning Lab, Aalborg University (AAU), co-facilitator in the COMBLE course
  • Wica Sorbet & Ena Adjani – new Costa Rican colleagues from UNA

In-world the majority of the teaching activities will be taking place in a region with 3 Danish islands; Region Denmark, Innovative Learning, and Danish Visions.

In designing this course, I’ve naturally been drawing on my experience from previous SL courses. However, our Costa Rican colleagues are also interested in learning more about the particular PBL model we have implemented at AAU, the so-called Aalborg PBL-model. Further, during my PhD-research in SL, I’ve found the “Communities of Practice” (CoP) ideas from Wenger, 1998 to be particularly useful when teaching new technologies/media. The goal of the design is to try to establish a pedagogical Community of Practice, wherein the teaching and learning processes will be situated. Core principles in this design strategy therefore are:

  • A strong and ongoing focus on learning as transformation of identity and negotiation of meaning
  • Focus on Legitimate Peripheral Participation
  • A socio-cultural, constructivist perspective on learning
  • Learning is participant-centred
  • Focus on problem orientation where learning combines theory and practice
  • Learning is usually realized in pairs/groups
  • Responsibility of the learning process is mutual – both between learners and learners/facilitators
  • Self- and peer assessment through reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action is central

An important part of this strategy is to respect the newbie experience of the participants. The ontological challenge that is to become an avatar should be acknowledged and designed for. In practice, this means that Inge and I, who will be the main in-world facilitators, will focus on creating a safe learning environment where the newbie participants will be able to learn some of the most important basic SL skills before we actually proceed to focus on the subject matter. Today, Inge invited me in-world to see the sky sandbox, she has designed for the initial stage of the course:

Overview of the sky sandbox

The participants will learn how to navigate their avatars in trying to get their teams across the board that includes invisible holes.

For the building exercise the participants also will have to work in teams.

In the presentation and discussion area all sorts of media can be used; Slide shows, Type-with-Me, videos, and websites are included.

And so, now that Inge has done all the hard work, all I need to do is to take some time in front of the fire to reflect on more fun, engaging, and interesting activities :-)

The dubbed UNA-AAU course starts in-world on September 12th, and I’m sure it will generate some future posts …


#GRCviz2011 – selected resources on visualization

At the Gordon Research conference on Visualization in Science and Education, I was invited to talk about some of the findings from my research in SL.

For unknown reasons slideshare changes the colours and parts of the format, so here’s a pdf-version MariisTalk-GRCviz11. Judging from the feedback, my talk went very well, and I got some highly useful questions, comments, and suggestions. Since the deadline for my dissertation is in September, I’ll not be able to incorporate new ideas, but I did get a lot of inspiration for future research in SL. Even though this blog so far has focused primarily on SL, I do teach other subjects, and based on the other talks from the conference, I also got lots of inspiration for new directions in other areas both in terms of theory, methods, and tools. Below I’ve listed some selected resources – all focusing on bringing forward different types of visualizations in education.

The Mars Expedition Strategy Challenge is a research project on “Immersive Reality Challenge to Explore Strategies for Human Spaceflight Beyond Low-Earth Orbit”. The Mars Expedition Strategy Challenge learning simulation is private. However, FVWC reviewers may contact SL residents Apollo Segall, Spinoza Quinnell or Lyr Lobo to request a guided tour during the evenings.

Medical Illustrator, Graham Johnson‘s youtube channel displays some amazing visualizations, such as the one below on muscle anatomy.

Further, Johnson’s website offers lots of resources, incl. tutorials and plugins for creation of complex visualizations in ePMV.

Virulent is a new game for iPads on virus infections and the way our immune system fights them off – developed by Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery.

Cell Press also has a youtube channel with so-called video abstracts.

GigaPan is a site where users can upload, share, and explore gigapixel panoramas – best way to describe it is: Wauw! With the possibility to annotate, we were shown some very interesting potential educational uses. Further, the GigaPan Time Machine is even more impressive.

Cartoonist, Larry Gonick creates comic books, which according to some of the conference participants had helped them learn the basics of especially chemistry and genetics.

The Best Illusions of the Year website offers a lot of intriguing videos of different kinds of illusions. In a similar vein, the video below on attention caused many laughs and lots of puzzlement – how attentive are you, really?

Kongregate was mentioned as an excellent site to find free online games and connect with a community.

“How NOT to lie with visualization” (Rogowitz & Treinish,1996)  is an article recommended by several of the conference participants, and so is another article by the same authors “Data visualization: the end of the rainbow” (Rogowitz & Treinish, 1998).

Continuing the challenges in visualization, “How to lie with maps” was also recommended. In this book, the author, Mark Monmonier, explains the methods cartographers must use to distort reality in representing a complex, three-dimensional world on a flat sheet or screen, and how they exclude information and geographic features in order to create a readable and understandable map.

Cynthia A. Brewer’s website Color Brewer 2.0 also offers advice.

The Explaining Climate Change website offers a set of peer-reviewed, interactive, web-based materials to help learners visualize and understand the underlying science of climate change.

NARC’s Color Tool is designed to provide the designer with views of the perceptual relationships among the possible color choices. It improves on previous tools by more clearly representing the constraints imposed by the physical display and the structure of human color vision. 

The National Academy Press has published an interesting review of available research on learning science through interaction with digital simulations and games. The book considers the potential of digital games and simulations to contribute to learning science in schools, in informal out-of-school settings, and everyday life, and the book also identifies the areas in which more research and research-based development is needed to fully capitalize on this potential. Get a free copy here.

Another book, Visible Learning by John Hattie, was also recommended and looks like a must-read.

The final resource, I want to point too is actually not directly linked to the conference, but still deals very much with visualization. Whenever I travel internationally, I have a habit of buying a hard copy of Wired magazine, and the August 2011 edition features an article on Khan Academy.

The article gives a very good overview of the Kahn Academy, it’s history, activities, supporters, and opponents. Even though the “skill and drill” approach to teaching and learning is far from my own approach, I do think it can be useful for certain topics and in certain contexts, but in terms of reforming education, I’d hope for a broader strategy incl. more social constructivist methods.

From a personal point of view, the best part of the conference was to get the opportunity to spend extended time with two of my favorite SL friends, Chimera and Spiral. I’ve had the great fortune of meeting Chimera several times f2f, but it was the first (and hopefully not last) time I met Spiral RL :-)


… and yes the format of this post is horrific, but Code is King … and sticks to autocracy :-(


One of my Danish SL friends, Charlotta Jenkins, just directed my attention to the Montage tool, which enables you to curate self-chosen topics, so here’s one on Visualization in Science and Education 2011.