Jan 01

7 facts about me

I’d been reading about “7 things” and “7 memes” on Twitter but hadn’t followed any of the links. Now that I’ve been tagged, too, by Cristina Costa, I’ve followed back some of the links to find out what this was all about. It’s a kind of “getting to know people in my network better game” or “give people a chance to talk about themselves” 🙂 Here are the rules:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post – some random, some weird.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

So, here I go:

  1. Besides for one year as a photography apprentice in 1987, I’ve never had a boss. I’ve been self-employed since I was 22. My first business was a digital imaging business that I co-founded, with a photo studio and lots of the latest digital technology like Barco monitors, High-End scanners, graphic tablets and several Macs. I was very good with Photoshop. Unfortunately, I don’t have Photoshop anymore and would have to learn how to use the latest version all over again.
  2. I love outdoor photography. So, when I was travelling or on weekends, you could see me with a huge photo backpack with my Pentax 645, several lenses and tripod often crawling on the ground trying to “shoot” some butterflies, spiders or other bugs 🙂 I’ve given away my Pentax as it was quite an expensive hobby having the role films developed, etc. I am planning to buy a new equipment but this time something smaller and more practical and of course digital.
  3. In 2002, I read an ad in an online newspaper that an organisation was looking for volunteer teachers to teach Afghan refugee women in a border city in Pakistan. I’m a bit adventurous and really did want to talk with refugees from Afghanistan to learn first hand about what had been really going on in Afghanistan (I’m extremely sceptical of the media and official government news). So, I immediately replied and was accepted as English teacher. To my dismay, I got terribly ill in the first week I was there and I had to return home. The good thing was I could fly back first class and had a one-day stopover in Dubai. 
  4. Three years ago, I went to Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah. I made the decision to reduce communication with the “outside” world to a minimum because for once I wanted to concentrate on one thing and wanted a real break from “normal life”. I used my mobile phone only to let my people know I was safe. I didn’t watch TV and I didn’t search for an Internet café. I didn’t take a single camera with me as I wanted to experience everything first hand and not through a lens. It was the most amazing three weeks of my life and I haven’t been quite the same person after that. I could have stayed there for the rest of my life 🙂 Well, a couple of weeks longer 😉 And they did have Pizza Hut right across the street…
  5. A short one: I dislike shopping for clothes or food but I could camp all night in an Apple Store 🙂
  6. My first experience with a computer was with an Amiga. It had to be booted from a floppy disc. Right! But it did already have a desktop with icons for folders, trash can, etc. so I didn’t have to learn any command lines. This was in 1992 when some of you probably were already computer and Internet veterans. I remember I would accidentally hit the return key when practising writing in a word processor and wouldn’t know how to go back. But I’ve learned it, didn’t I? 😉
  7. I once gave part of a Sunday sermon in a Protestant church in Germany. This was quite daring for both sides and, as you can imagine, not everybody approved of it but the congregation liked it.

So, who am I going to tag now? Minhaaj, Frank, Carol Rainbow, Seth Dickens, Margarita Perez, Andreas Auwärter, Nelba Quintana.

All the best for 2009.

Dec 23

Communication and interaction tools

muvenation logo

What is the task?

Activity 6 of session 3 asks us

  • To collect, describe and comment on a number of tools that are suitable for teaching and learning in Second Life based upon a chosen theme
  • To design an experience-based, interactive and playful activity for a teacher to discover these tools in Second Life, such as creating a tour guide.

The themes are

  • Delivery of learning material
  • Communication and interaction
  • Cooperation
  • Creation of content
  • Individualisation of learning paths
  • Assessment, feedback and tracking
  • Self-organisation and group-organisation
  • Reflection and meta cognition

I decided to join colleagues to collaborate on finding tools (in the broadest sense) that help teachers to manage social interaction and communication with their learners. As I mentioned in a previous post, effective communication can be a challenge in SL for many reasons but is  very important and can decide about the success or failure of a session or even a course. 

Which tools are essential?

There are tens of communication tools and facilities in SL. We have selected only a few for this activity. The three I added to the book are the following:

1. Avatar Scanner (also often referred to as “chat range alarm”): Many avatars are not aware that what they say can only be heard within a certain distance and even if they know it is difficult to judge when one is outside the range. This can lead to communication breakdown and misunderstandings. An teacher or participant of a meeting might wonder why nobody or not all are following the conversation or instructions not realising that they are out of chat range. One solution that has been suggested to me in the comments of another post is using a kind of visual circle but that is limited to one place. This is good when the teacher or moderator wants to create spaces for group work or discussion. Another solution is a HUD that avatars can wear and take with them where ever they go. This Avatar Scanner HUD is user friendly, small and available for free. 
Avatar Scanner HUD

2. Another very common issue in meetings with a lot of avatars is the flow of conversation. Often many conversation threads and topics are interwoven and it becomes difficult to follow the conversation. Therefore, in some instances the moderator might want to control the stream of conversation. There are several tools available but some are too rigid and others too expensive. The Meeting control lights tool gives more control to both the moderator and the speakers and is more transparent (e. g. everybody can see whose next). 
Meeting Control Lights Tags SecondLife DaffodilFargis tools Muvenation mvn08

3. Static lessons are not good in Real Life but even less suitable for SL. With the Opinionator, lessons and meetings can be much more interactive and fun. Instead of simply replying in text or voice to discussion questions, participants can use the Opinionator, which is a 3D Likert Scale social graphing tool that collates votes. When a question is asked, avatars walk into the different sections of the opinionator to show their vote or opinion. The total number of avatars and the percentage is calculated and shown immediately. Great before or after discussions. Very interactive and good for visual and kinaesthetic learners.
Edu Tools - Opinionator

The rest of our list is here (work in progress). If you think we missed a good tool, especially if it is a free or reasonably-priced one, let me know.

How will we present them?

Book about SL toolsBook about SL tools
We discussed two options to present our tools, a tour HUD or a book. Personally, I did not like the free tour HUDs that were available. The text field and the font itself was too small and I have tools which are not available in an in-world shop but only online and the HUDs we have do not provide URLs.

I finally found a book that can also be worn as a HUD. I provided the Slurls and URLs in shortened form and we added a notecard with the Landmarks and a notecard giver script to the book. 

What can go wrong?

The problem with such a HUD tour and even the book is that tools, shops or other educational places and facilities can be moved to other locations or disappear completely. Only recently, one of the participants in our group has created a tour which includes Boracay, an educational island. However, two days later, the island was dismantled and will soon cease to exist completely after having been there for over two years. This is probably something we have to get used to although it is very sad to see such work disappear. Some tour or guide objects that provide lists of educational places take this into account and update their lists regularly. One such tool is the free Squirrel notebook which is available for free here.

Where?

Here is the Slurl to the location where you can get a copy of our book and the tool collections of the other groups are nearby, too. The exhibition is only temporary so visit it soon.

Dec 20

Thanks to the SLexperiments group

While this blog is about my personal Second Life teaching experiences, explorations and experiments, there is also a SLexperiments language teachers group, which I founded together with two wonderful colleagues of mine, Alicia Barbitta and Maru del Campo. We started to meet regularly in Second Life to help each other learn SL skills, share our resources and discuss language teaching and learning in Second Life.

While there are many educator groups in Second Life, the SLexperiments group focuses specifically on language teaching and learning. This has attracted many language teachers and also some teacher trainers, scripters and researchers. We have grown to over 80 members and have met regularly every Friday at 11am SLT since spring 2008. 

We have had many good discussions, helped each other acquire SL skills, gone on field trips and shared many tools and resources in-world and on our wiki.

SLexperiments 19 Dec 2008_005

I want to thank Alicia, Maru, Carol, Dennis, Steve, Gavin, Daf, Nelba, Graham, Ismail, James, Michael, Birgit, Minhaaj, David, Nellie, Vance and all the other members, regular and irregular participants for making the SLexperimens meetings such a pleasurable experience where we not only learned a lot together but also socialised and had lots of fun. You have all made my Second Life richer and I have learned a lot from and with you.

I wish you wonderful holidays and hope to see you all again next year.

SLexperiments 19 Dec 2008_001

Dec 15

St. Catherine Monastery in Second Life in danger!

This post is a bit unusual for my blog because it is not related to teaching languages in Second Life but it is definitely related to education in SL. So, please, bear with me and read the rest. My hope in writing this post is to raise awareness of what the St. Catherine Monastery in Real Life stands for, why it should remain in SL and hopefully to find a new home for it in SL.

Pictures taken by Patricia F. Anderson

Some weeks ago, Marlyn Tadros, who built the SL version of St. Catherine Monastery, told us on the SLED list that the Monastery will disappear because of the costs involved in keeping it up. Although there has been some interest, unfortunately, no new home has been found for it so far. Personally, I think it would be extremely sad if the Monastery disappeared because of its huge historic and current relevance.

So, what’s so special about this Monastery and why is it important for it to remain in Second Life? The Monastery is one of the greatest examples of religious tolerance and peace and we need such examples more than ever today. Please read this article about the history and the importance of the Monastery. 

But why the fuss about the SL version? Because not everybody can go to the Sinai and visit the real one but everybody who has broadband Internet can access Second Life and visit it there. It’s been replicated beautifully and I especially like the library and of course Prophet Mohammad’s letter of protection that has ensured its existence in Real Life to date.

I was planning to take my SL students there when talking about peace and tolerance in our English lessons and was also hoping to visit it during inter-faith dialogues I am planning to hold with a church that is now active in SL. 

You can find the St. Catherine Monastery in SL here until the end of 2008.

If you know somebody that might be interested in giving the Monastery a new home in SL, leave a comment here or contact me and I will pass it on to Marlyn Tadros.

Dec 11

Communication breakdown

muvenation logoIn one of the meetings in SL that I regularly attend, there was a partial communication breakdown that let to a lot of confusion, misunderstandings and even hurt feelings the latter of which I wasn’t even aware of during the meeting.

As far as I can reconstruct what happened after looking through the chatlog and talking to the participants, the following seemed to have been some of the reasons for the communication breakdown:

  1. Some participants used voice some text
  2. Some of those using voice missed what was being written in text
  3. Some participants were not aware of the fact that the normal chat range is 19 m and what there actual distance to the others was. 
  4. Participants might have been confused about the roles and the agenda (Who is leading the session? What is the agenda?)

Because of number 2 and 3, some participants thought they or what they were saying was being ignored by the others.

Communication in SL, especially with larger groups, different members participating in the meetings, changing roles and agenda can be a challenge. Besides the issues mentioned above,

  • information overload,
  • non-linear discourse and
  • lack of body language

can cause disruption of a conversation.

Coincidentally, one of the new activities for section 3 is about collecting tools and building a guide for them (HUD, interactive book, bot, …) using the playfulness approach. Among the themes suggested is also one about tools for Communication and interaction. I’ve already been thinking of looking for ways of how to make group discussions more effective after having attended several (chaotic and ineffective) discussion with larger groups. Now, seeing what negative effects such communication breakdown can have on the rapport of a group, I want to look for tools and procedures that can help make such group conversations more pleasant and effective.

If anyone reading this knows of such tools or procedures in Second Life, I’d be more than happy if you left a comment and let me know. 

Tools

One tool I can already add to my list and can recommend to everybody in SL is 

  1. A chat range indicator (included in the Sloddle and Mysti tool) that shows a list of avatars within the chat range so that the speaker knows who can hear them.

 

Procedure’s that can help

  1. Explicitly mentioning/showing

a) who the moderator of the current meeting is

b) what the agenda is and in which order they topics will be dealt with.

(to be continued)

Nov 27

Second Life residents: Creative people

 muvenation logoIn activity 9 of this section, we were given a list of tasks to choose from. It is still about identity and appearance. I chose to interview a strange avatar and take pictures of them for a temporary in-world exhibition. I wasn’t sure whether it was about a “strange looking” avatar or a stranger to me, so I found two avatars who are both 🙂 Well, not any more.

Blogging about this task is not a requirement but I found what my interviewees had to say so interesting that I asked them for permission to post it on my blog to share this with all of you. I didn’t want to summarize the conversations as I think most of what was said is relevant and I couldn’t possibly say it better than my interviewees. I also didn’t want to take things out of their context. However, I highlighted the bits that are directly related to my assignment and the questions if you want to read only those bits. 

Interview with Schmilsson Nielsson

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Click to read the conversation:
http://docs.google.com/View?docID=dchqttbp_6hrkqkggn&revision=_latest

Interview with Exosius Woolley

Click to read the conversation:

http://docs.google.com/View?docID=dchqttbp_5gs2g8vcs&revision=_latest

Many thanks to Exosius Woolley and Schmilsson Nilsson for granting me these interviews and giving me permission to publish them on my blog. 

Update 2 Dec 2008

The exhibition

Originally, we were told to build a square prim and put a picture of the avatar on one side and a picture of the text on the other. This wouldn’t work with my two interviews, long texts and many pictures. We were then told that we could be creative. So, I build these frames. On the left and right are the chatlogs of the interviews. When clicked, they give the link to the original Google document in case that zooming in to the text and reading it in-world is too difficult. The two frames in the middle contain the pictures. To be able to show several pictures without making them too small or taking up too much exhibition space, I used a picture changer script. Finally, I made an “information cone” with a hovering text that tells visitors whose work this is, gives them instructions and hands out a notecard with a description of the process and a link to my blog post.

Texture: Normally, I like simple patterns or plain colours. But on the day that I created my exhibit, I was in a playful mood 🙂

Building is not yet something that I do very well in SL so building this relatively simple exhibit took me disproportionally long.
MUVEnation Exhibition

Nov 26

All about my avatar: Daffodil Fargis

 muvenation logoNo, I’m not obsesses with my avatar 🙂 If you are wondering why I am writing so much about my avatar and her appearance it’s because section 2 in module 1 of the MUVEnation course is all about appearance and identity. In activiy 9, we are asked to tell about our avatar’s history, motivations, characteristics, main activities and what effects we’d like to produce with our appearance. So, here i go:

My rezday is 28 August 2007. Nergiz signed up for SL and created me because she was curious about how educators were using it. I have to say I looked horrible at the beginning because Nergiz was determined not to spend any money on my looks and outfit. She didn’t know how to make clothes for me, either. I had to walk around like one of those newbies for quite some time. I was so ashamed of myself. I could feel that Nergiz wasn’t very impressed by SL at the beginning and she didn’t feel any relation to me. I am glad she didn’t know how to make snapshots at that time so there are no pictures of my pitiful state.

Then, finally, she met some generous people who gave her some free items for me, clothes, headscarves and even a new shape and skin. Now I looked a bit nicer and could even change my outfit now and then.
SL Daffodil in Central Park Dreamland 29 July 2008_001
My looks were more coherent and I resembled Nergiz a bit and she started to like me. We made some more friends and socialised. I quite liked that but Nergiz’ motivation was to find out how to teach languages here. So, we went on a search for educators and educational places. It wasn’t easy but slowly we were getting more connected.

Nergiz and I learned a lot during these days, weeks and months. She found more friends who gave her more freebie clothing for me and then she “earned” her first Linden dollars and we went shopping for the first time. It wasn’t easy to find something modest so she bought me a traditional Turkish outfit and even a Kimono (for free). Well, it wasn’t our style but it did fit in SL. 
Dressing up
Dressing up
After a while, we learned how we could modify some of the outfit we had found and I think i look quite all right now. Nergiz wants me to look similar to her, dress modestly and look friendly. She also wants me not to look too serious but also not too flippant. She doesn’t like formal outfit in RL and thinks it creates distance, which she doesn’t want between our students, colleagues and ourselves.

By now, we had met colleagues of Nergiz’ and formed a group for language teachers. Since then, we’ve been meeting every Friday. I even got my own classroom and house, which makes me feel more like a real SL resident.

We do socialize quite a bit in Second Life and have made many new friends. Finally, last summer, we felt ready to offer our first English course. It was so much work and we were excited but it was also a lot of fun, too. We and our students liked it a lot. I am happy because Nergiz has decided to keep me and continue teaching in SL and she can relate much more to me by now. That’s why she has filled in my profile and told people who we are with links to her Real Life activities.
Daffodil at her desk
 

Nov 25

What makes an Avatar look professional?

muvenation logoIn activity 7 of the current MUVenation session, we are asked to reflect on an consider our and our students’ perceptions of appearance in Second Life teaching settings. I answered some of the questions in my previous post as a reaction to a forum discussion but will address some of the questions given in this activity.

Do you think avatar appearance is an important aspect of educational activities that are being undertaken in Second Life? What is a appropriate professional avatar appearance for education? 


A lot depends on the nature of the course. Appearance in an art or design course, will matter more than in a language or philosophy course, I assume. But even in courses where appearance is not the focus, out of the ordinary outfit or avatar shapes might not be appropriate. They might be simply distracting, seen as immoral, not serious looking enough, too serious looking or unfitting in an educational setting. Reasons for seeing a certain appearance as unfitting can be related to different cultural norms, religious believes or expectations about and knowledge of Virtual Worlds (game? serious?). In general, I would say that extremes in whatever direction should be avoided both by teachers and students and more so at the beginning of a course or with participants who are new to Second Life.
Does your avatar have a professional appearance for educational contexts? Yes, no? Why? 

Dressing up


Again, what professional is depends on the kind of educational context. As a free-lance language teacher working in-company as well as doing private tutoring, I am very flexible regarding my outfit and usually wear more casual clothes, which is seen as appropriately professional where I taught/teach. This is also the way I dress in Second Life. Although, in SL I often tend to look more formal and often wear dresses which I almost never do in RL. This has partly to do with my not being able to find the kind of appropriate clothes that I am looking for.
Is there any appearance you would never use to teach in Second Life and why? 
Yes, I would not appear in anything that reveals (too much) skin. This is based on my religious believes but also on what is considered inappropriate for teachers in Germany as well as Turkey. I would also not appear as a very unusual avatar (animal, robot, etc) if it is not part of the lesson, in order not to become the centre of attention as the teacher.

The ability to change avatar appearance could be described as an affordance of Second Life. How can the ability to alter avatar appearance be used as a teaching tool? 


Looking at it from a language teaching/learning perspective, being able to change the avatar’s appearance is a wonderful “tool” for role-play activities to make avatars feel and look more real and thus help to find into one’s role. I can imagine many activities like “describing an avatar to practise colours, shapes, and other adjectives and descriptive language”, “showing one’s favourite outfit and telling why – similar to “show and tell” activities at schools”, etc. I could even imagine to have a session about “What is an appropriate outfit for a student/teacher in SL/RL” kind of discussion like I am writing here about. I would have such a session at the beginning of a course to find out what expectations students have and might try to dress accordingly within my own limits and comfort-zone.

Nov 23

Can dragons be professionals?

muvenation logo

A discussion about identity and trust in Second Life has come up in the MUVEnation forum. Is it OK to ask for an avatar’s Real Life name? Is it important to know who is behind an avatar in an educational setting? Can I have a professional relationship with an avatar without knowing their real identity? Can I discuss educational topics with a  dragon? Shouldn’t professionals look professional?

My avatar is I

Personally, I very much identify with my avatar. My avatar’s name is a translation of my Real Life name, my profile is full of information and links leading to my Real Life identity and activities, which are, by the way, the same as in my Second Life. For me Second Life is part of my Real Life professionally and socially. But I respect when this is not the case for others or when people have different avatars, one for their social life in SL and a professional one. (added 12 Dec 2008: This might even make sense if you have many friends in SL and don’t want to be bombarded with IMs during meetings or classes).

SL etiquette

I have to agree with Anna, who says in the forum  that in general it is rather rude or impolite to ask an avatar what their Real Life name is. I would not even do that normally in a professional setting if it wasn’t necessary for our work or communication. I can understand people not wanting to be identified because you never know what people can do when they have your Real name. After all, there are people with good and bad intentions everywhere. This does not mean that they are not trustworthy. I would compare asking for a person’s RL name in SL to asking somebody in RL how much they earn or their political affiliation. You just don’t normally do that in many cultures.

In the English course I gave in Second Life, I worked with my students for six weeks, but I never felt the need to ask them for their Real Life names. Some even created e-mail addresses and signed up for Moodle with their avatar’s names.  Only two students wanted to have their printable certificates with their RL name. Does that mean I didn’t know my students or their needs and personalities or  didn’t trust them? No, it doesn’t. People always present themselves the way they want whether this is in RL or SL. And we figure out who they are as much as we can by interacting with them. Do we know in RL who somebody really is? We might know one or several facets of that person but usually not all. This does not mean we cannot work together professionally or be good friends.

It is, of course, a different issue when you are participants of a course, like MUVEnation, were the whole purpose is learning about Virtual Worlds and helping each other create our avatars or in a course where students will be graded in RL for their work in SL. Then, there is a need to know who is behind an avatar.

How important is looks for professionals in SL?

I think we attach too much importance to looks in RL instead of looking at what this person has to say. I hope that SL will help us overcome this “judging by appearance” and to listen more to the person. In SL, there might be many reasons why people dress in unexpected ways. It might be another part of their personality which they do not show in RL; it might also be simply playfulness (like dressing a doll) or an experiment to see how people will react to name a few reasons.
SL Daffodil Fargis Webquest presentation 9 August 2008_006

Picture: These are all educators attending a presentation about Webquests.