The Identity Maze – showcasing some PhD findings

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.


The Identity Maze – as of December 31st, 2011

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 theoretical foundations of my PhD-work is showcased on the sides of the maze.

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.


Some important aspects of the 3D virtual body experience.

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.


lnge lets me have a small sky-sandbox that I use to experiment, and this was where I started 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!


When the foundation of the maze was done, I moved it to the common sandbox, we use for the course.


Determining where to put posters, pictures, and questions for reflection was very much a work based on intuition.

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 …


Inge’s rebuild next to the original.

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 :-)

/Mariis

#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 :-)

/Mariis

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

UPDATE

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.

Reality – the worst g/Game ever?

Many of the presentations at the Visualization in Science and Education conference that I’m currently attending have evolved around games, simulations, and virtual worlds, and in one of today’s talks the presenter showed us this picture:


Picture from “Motivate Us Not”

In this particular talk, the “problem” with reality was linked to the complexity of the world’s many challenges, e.g.  in terms of risks we’re facing – which evidently can be quite overwhelming and most likely will cause some people to withdraw from the “real” world, and ultimately leave it to others to try and meet these challenges. However, the picture also pointed to a theme that has been recurring throughout the conference, namely why we need virtual games, worlds etc. in the first place – why not stick to (the reality of) this world? If the skeptics at this conference leave with the impression that those of us in favor of such immersive/augmented technologies want to replace Reality, then I think we have failed (and note that was not the view of the presenter).

Both I, and the colleagues I know who use these technologies in education are not trying to replace, but rather to supplement and work with mixed realities in a re-situated perspective, drawing on the best affordances from each. In another talk, the presenter distinguished between the “game” understood as software, and the “Game” understood as the social context; the community, the practice, the artifacts, and the interactions surrounding the game. I found this to be an important distinction, which could be applied to my own work, and while as an educator I also have an inherent interest in the nature and development of the software (from an instructional POV), I do believe that the context is crucial – and probably could make the difference as to whether people would use these new types of technologies to escape or improve our reality … regardless of how we choose to define it. I’m not done thinking about this, but this morning’s talks provided really good food for thought, and proved that Reality isn’t such a bad Game after all ;-)

/Mariis