Apr 11

Building holodeck scenes in Second Life

muvenation logoNow, some of you might ask: “What on earth is a holodeck?” Those who have watched Star Trek are familiar with the term and this is how Wikipedia explains it. The article mentions several uses for holodecks (see Application) one of which is training. So, even in Star Trek, they had educational value 😉 Holodecks in SL, can be simple to complex scenes, built in advance and packed up which can then be created “on demand” by one click in a limited space. Unfortunately, the SL versions lack the function of simulating smell… Well, not yet… And, well, yes, it could be a disadvantage, too, but would definitely add to the immersiveness 😀

OK, back to the seriousness of this task. Here is a definition of Second Life holodecks, what they are used for and links to different kinds of holodecks. Loki Clifton, who introduced himself as “the grandfather” of holodecks in SL, was apparently the first person who invented holodecks for SL. He was kind enough to show us different types of holodecks and explained how they are used and demonstrated how to build a scene with a production holodeck. As our task would include building our own scenes, Loki generously agreed to give us all a copy for testing purposes – a 2in1 production holodeck.

Holodecks can be quite expensive compared to other tools in Second Life. There are some free or inexpensive ones but usually with very limited functionality. In most cases, they do not allow the owner to build new scenes, which is what we wanted to do. It is also possible to buy scenes for some holodecks. Again, this depends on the type of holodeck you have (here is an example). A free simple alternative is the Builder’s Buddy script, which functions in a very similar way.

Due to lack of time 🙁 , I have only been able to play around a bit with Loki’s holodeck but built my workshop scene for the MUVEnation task with the free Builder’s Buddy script. You can see the scene below.

Workshop scene packed - Builder's Buddy

Above: This is the box in which the whole scenes is packed. I can take drag it from my inventory on the ground anywhere I am and rez (= create) the scene with a click. I can also allow others to rez my scene. With the BB script, every scene is in its own box (or any other object used as base).
Workshop scene - Builder's Buddy

Above: Here, you can see the rezzed workshop scene (and the green box). The scene normally rezzes within seconds. I can reposition the scene by simply dragging the green box. All other objects then reposition themselves accordingly keeping their distances to each other. One click and everything is cleaned up and back in the box and the space available for other things.

Here is a short video showing how the above scene is being rezzed (built) and then, cleared with one click:

Besides the MUVEnation task, I am also working with a group of colleagues on a holodeck project. Actually two projects joined togehter now, one initiated by Kip Boan who shares his holodecks with the SL English group, the other by Leon Cych. The aim is to explore its uses for educational purposes. Leon has kindly provided me with a professional Horizon holodeck. So, after building simple scenes with the Builder’s Buddy, I will try my hand at building a scene for a holodeck. Here is a short video of Leon demonstrating a holodeck:

And here is another video showing some scenes of Loki’s holodeck:

Language learning and holodecks

The first use of holodecks for language learning that springs to mind is scenes for role-plays (checking in at a hotel, ordering food in a restaurant, etc.). Scenes could also be used for students to learn the names of objects (furniture, plants, animals, kitchen utilities, …). But one can also imagine creating different cozy places for more undisturbed meetings with students or different spaces for students to work in groups. The settings could be changed according to the topic the group is talking about. Students can also be asked to build their own scenes as a kind of project work. One interesting project I have come across is the Literary Holodeck Project where educators built scenes to represent different literary works.

These are only some initial thoughts. I hope working with my colleagues in the projects mentioned above will bring about more ideas. If you have ideas on how holodecks could be used for language learning (or learning/education in general) or you know of other educational holodeck projects, I would be very happy to read your comments.

—> Link to all blog posts related to holodecks, Builder’s Buddy and language teaching ideas.

Mar 20

Conducting a hands-on workshop in SL

muvenation logoIn module 2, section 1, we explored hands-on workshops in Second Life. The activities consisted of

  1. Analysing hands-on workshops using an analysis grid and coming up with a list of key factors for the design and delivery of successful SL workshops. My personal list is here.
  2. Designing and implementing our own hands-on workshop
  3. Peer-evaluation of the workshops using an observation form based on the key factors that came up in activity 1.
  4. Writing an analytical “story” of our experience with our workshop using the STARR template for storytelling which was provided.

Peer evaluation

Constructive feedback from peers can help tremendously in helping a teacher to improve their teaching practise. Peer observation and evaluation can be rewarding for both sides, the observer and the teacher being observed. Having read most evaluations, in this workshop activity peer observation did not work well in my opinion. One reason might be that the observation form had not yet been complete before some of the observations started. Another reason, I suspect, was that peer feedback was “public” and could be viewed by all course participants and coordinators. This might have been a dilemma for some who might not have wanted to be critical openly. Additionally, as many of the participants are still very new to SL and this was the first workshop they had conducted in a virtual world, peers wanted to be encouraging. This is perfectly fine but for feedback to be developmental, there should also be suggestions for improvement.

As a result, I think peer observation and giving constructive feedback is a skill that needs to be practised. Also, as trust is an important factor in peer evaluation, these should not be made public. Instead, in a course, where all could benefit from reading about others’ evaluations, participants could be asked to collect main points they observed together with suggestions for improvement in a separate place without names, kind of like a  teacher who gives general class feedback at the end with relevant points that they observed while monitoring a class activity.

My STARR story: Building a Board Game with Daffodil

Summary
A beginner Second Life builder trying her hand at giving a hands-on building workshop.

Situation
What was the setting in which this case study occurred?
After having observed and analysed hands-on workshops, we had to plan and deliver our own. It was difficult for me to think about a topic for my workshop. I had thought about and discarded several ideas due to time, space or other constraints. My building and scripting skills are limited but I decided I could manage a beginner building workshop. I knew I wanted it to be useful to my peers and fun.

Task
What was the problem to be solved, or the intended effect?
To plan and deliver a workshop for beginners to build a simple interactive board game within a time limit of 60 minutes. The number of participants was limited by the number of building spaces provided to a maximum of 12.

Actions
What was done to fulfil the task?
When I had decided on building a board game, I first wanted it to be a collaborative building task but in the end I didn’t dare to do it. I was not sure I could handle all the problems with permissions that might come up, especially with beginners. So, I decided every participant would have their own building space which would be their game board. This meant that there was not enough space nor time for everybody to build a complete game that we could play together at the end but it would be enough to demonstrate the skills and the concept.

Preparation: I prepared 12 boards/building spaces for participants. This meant some of them would be out of normal chat range. I modified my SpeakEasy HUD script to make it shout the instructions (suggested by a friend) but we would also communicate and needed a save means for this. Not everybody knows how to shout. I thought of putting up a sign but participants might forget to and by habit simply hit the enter key. A friend came up with the idea of chat relay but an experienced workshop tutor said it caused lag. Another friend suggested I use group IM. Why didn’t I think of that? Sometimes, in a stressful situation (and preparing the workshop was stressful for me because I had no time), we forget even what we know.
I wanted to announce a demo of my workshop in another group of educators to test it, improve the instructions but again because of lack of time, I could not do that. On the day of the workshop, an experienced friend asked me on Twitter whether I wanted to do a run through. It was only three hours before the actual workshop but I agreed and am so happy I did. As a result, I simplified my instructions, deleted some slides and additional information and most importantly found out and solved some issues with permissions.

Another issue that came up in the run-through was that participants would have several windows open at certain times in the workshop (edit window, notecard, group or local chat window) plus needed to look at the slides and back at their objects. I could not avoid any of these but I decided to tell participants this would happen and gave some tips at the beginning (making windows smaller or minimising them when not needed).

Multi-tasking for the tutor can be challenging, too. In other lessons I taught in SL, it often happened that I received several IMs from friends who did not know I was teaching, from students who wanted to be teleported (instead of asking peers or finding the LM in their inventory), IMs from students present who preferred to ask a question privately than in local chat plus group notices or IMs from groups I belong to. At the same time having to deliver the lesson, change slides, take notes, chat with students in local chat, etc. can be quite demanding. And I am usually much more exhausted after a SL lesson than a Real Life one. In regular classes, I establish some rules with students (e. .g “send teleport requests to peers not the teacher”, “don’t IM teacher during the lesson except when it is required in a task or absolutely necessary”, for friends: “when I am in busy mode, it really means I am busy and will not reply”. This was not possible really for this workshop because it was a one-off session.

Tools can be of great help in delivering lessons but they can be a real pain, too. I rarely use more than two teaching aids or tools in a session. Of course, this depends a bit on the situation. The same goes for the actual topic and the lesson plan. For the workshop, I decided a slide screen, a material giver and (the invisible) SpeakEasy HUD was enough. I had prepared slides of the different steps to avoid having to give long-winded instructions. I used a screen that I had recently be shown by a friend on which you can highlight areas. Very useful indeed! I also printed out the instruction text and crossed off what I had already said with the SpeakEasy HUD.

I was a bit worried that my workshop might be too simple and my instructions too detailed. However, it was declared as a beginner workshop and details can always be ignored by those participants who don’t need them 🙂

At first there were only the two participants who had also signed up as criticla friends. But then two more came. The session went smoothly and participants could follow the instructions easily. I have to say, however, that several were not beginners. A late-comer started on his own and was able to catch up. One participant had frequent crashes and fell behind. Another participant did something I had not expected and this caused her problems for the later steps. I helped by giving her additional instructions in IM to remedy the situation. I am still not sure what caused this: my instructions, language issues or the participant being distracted by private IMs (which I suspected).

From MUVEnation hands-on workshop

Latecomers can cause havoc in a workshop. I did not observe enough workshops in SL to know how experienced tutors deal with them but having planned to deliver my workshop in the MUVEnation sandbox, I knew I could expect latecomers and guests and this was to some extend even welcome. I did say how I would deal with them in my workshop description (observe or take the worshop material and try on your own) but, of course, not all would have read it. Some just popped in to do something in the sandbox, saw that something was going on and started chatting with me: “Long time no see” 🙂 I was determined not to have the flow of the workshop be interrupted too much by these but I didn’t mind observers and I didn’t want to sound unfriendly or unwelcoming. So I said a few words but indicated in local chat that we were going back to the instructions.

Surprise guest: At some point, a former SL student of mine suddenly materialised on a participant’s board. He was one of the students who were on the slide that I had shown at the beginning of the workshop showing him and peers playing my first board game. I thought I was dreaming and tried to make sense of it. I know a lot can happen in SL but I started thinking “my showing a slide of him can’t have made him appear in my workshop. Yeah, after being in SL for a longer while, you start believing such weird things can happen 🙂 It turned out that he had been teleported by the participant on whose board he arrived. I had introduced them some time ago and apparently they had developed a friendship.

All participants were able to finish their game. Although, none of them had prepared questions in advance (I had asked for this as preparation for the workshop). Nobody seemed willing to spend the time to write all the question notecards but they did write some so we could test the games. When taking their objects (the board with the tiles) into their inventory, they could not take the boards although I had set permissions to copy/mod. I had forgotten to tick one more box and when I did, participant were able to take them.

Lessons learned
What did you learn from the experience?

  • Instructions can never be detailed enough
  • Talk your ideas through with someone
  • Always do a run-through before you do the workshop for the first time
  • Don’t expect participants to have read through your announcement and have prepared for it.
  • Be prepared to do shortcuts and don’t force participants to do all the steps if it is not absolutely necessary.
  • Always double-check permissions of your material.
Feb 12

Key factors for the design and delivery of successful Second Life workshops

muvenation logoAnother MUVEnation task after a long break. This is for module two, activity one: Analysis of hands-on workshops. We were provided with a very comprehensive analysis grid which was very helpful in compiling the list of factors. Factors I found missing were 

  1. Importance of announcements (clearly defined task, aims, level, duration, prerequisites, …)
  2. Pace of delivery (too fast can cause stress, too slow can break the flow or bore participants)
  3. Motivation (to come back, continue learning, finish the task, …)

This is by no means a complete list but what I have collected through attending in-world workshops, chatting with experienced workshop instructors and adding a bit from my own SL teaching experience where appropriate. I have not numbered the lists because the factors are not in a particular order and there is no specific number of items. Also, this is related to SL skills workshops. Other types of workshops, seminars or lessons will call for partly or completely different approaches.

 Postcard from Second Life.

Workshop design: planning and preparation

  • Detailed/accurate instructions and supplies prepared in advance and handed out at the beginning of the session. The folder should include all the material needed, like textures, scripts, and sounds, slides, but also a notecard with the instructions so that latecomers or those falling behind can catch up (Copyright: This might lead to the instructions being used by others for their workshops but they can be copied from local chat anyway.
  • Announcements to tell participants about prerequisites needed (level, pre-knowledge, objectives, duration…)
  • Limit the number of participants to be able to be able to provide sufficient individual help.
  • Picture/slide or in case of building, a finished version of the object that participants are going to build placed visibly.
  • Improving/adding to instructions (clarification about questions asked during a session can be added to the instructions for future session.
  • Interesting topic (obviously there isn‘t always a choice but even though the learning aim might be fixed, like „basic building“, „how to build a box that hands out content“, the instructor can make it interesting and timely „Gift box building“.
  • Spacial design: In most building workshops, the space seems to be designed very traditionally with neat rows for participants (though often with cushions instead of desks and chairs) and instructor sitting/standing in front facing the group. This means, the instructors have to shout instructions. Asked whether it has any advantages, I was told that it didn‘t. I discussed other options with instructors: A circle of a 20m diameter would eliminate the need to shout. On the downside, some students would face the instructors back and and would need to use the camera controls more to see the slides used for the class. A semi-circle might be the best option.

Workshop design: delivery and instruction

  • Start punctually but plan activities/workshop in such a way that latecomers can catch up with the least disruption. Agree on and display (slides) rules of conduct for such cases (and also on how you intend to deal with questions, etc.).
  • Especially in beginner workshop, provide visual/textual help with SL user interface (e. g. how to zoom in on slides, use camera controls).
  • Most instructors, I was told, copy/paste instructions from notecard that has been prepared in advance (see planning and preparation). Although, this is already a much better solution than typing instructions life, I use a tool like the SpeakEasy HUD instead of copy/paste. The HUD automatically brings up the next step of the instructions typed in advance in a notecard with one click on its icon eliminating the need to have a separate window with the text opened. The HUD gives me enough flexibility to react to questions during a session or add personal (live) remarks to not make it feel impersonal.
  • Show slides instead of trying to describe things in text. A combination of both is probably the best to cater to the needs of different learner types.
  • Use slides and other means to show/tell first what participants are going to do next and then do it. This gives participants a sense of direction and confidence. 
  • Show the final product(s) and explain or demonstrate what it is good for and when it is used (knowing the purpose of what is being done.
  • Make the different steps visual (slides of steps or instructor building the object together with participants) so that participants can check whether they have done steps correctly.
  • When using slides, make sure the rez quickly (e. g. by pre-rezzing them on a small prim or using presenters that have this feature built-in).
  • Keep to the subject/topic (e.g. if a class is about basic scripting don‘t lecture about the history of programming) Participants usually want to to do something and have something to take away.
  • If too many participants have problems and need help, it is good to be able to call another instructor for help. Even better would be to always have a ”helper” there who help with technical or similar problems. After such a session ”problematic” session, it is important to analyse why the problems occurred and try and eliminate the cause as much as possible.
  • Personalize activities whenever possible even if it is simple things like choosing ones own textures, sound, text or colour.
  • Conversational flow/Communication dynamics: Allow participants to interrupt, ask questions and react to comments by them whenever possible during the session to make session less stressful and more light-hearted. Especially when the instruction text has been pre-prepared, it can sound very impersonal if nothing else is ”spoken”. Also, these mini-chats give those who have fallen behind a chance to breathe and catch up. This will create a positive atmosphere and lower the affective filter and thus enable better learning.
  • Whenever possible and if the nature of the workshop and time allows, allow participants to reflect on what is being done. A pure step-by-step instruction on how to build something or script might be time-efficient if only the result is important but will not result in real learning. For learning to take place, participants need to think about the process and reflect on their learning (if not possible during the workshop than outside of it by providing learners with questions). 

Implementation of the workshop: follow up and evaluation

  • Decide which questions to answer in local chat and which in IM (If one participants asks a question, replying in local chat might confuse others. However, even if a question has been asked in IM but could be relevant for all, it should be answered in local chat).
  • Monitor students‘ progress by asking how they are doing after major steps and if possible, by looking at their builds/objects and trying out if they function as they should.
  • Assessment depends on the nature of the workshop and what the expected outcomes are (An object with certain looks or function or a script can be assessed by their looks, accuracy or trying if they work. The process might also be taken into account. In other workshops like ”how to best use communication tools“, assessment could be by level of engagement, correct etiquette or relevance and nature of contributions), collaboration might be assessed if that was a requirement or completion of a task or solving of a problem. 

Implementation of the workshop: recall and transfer of learning

  • Recapitulation is important at the end of a session for better learning to take place. I haven‘t seen this done in any of the workshops I have attended. In my lesson, I always plan to show the sign-posts from the beginning of the  lesson again to help recap but often run out of time and can‘t do it.
  • Provide access to a network and/or forum where participants can help each other in between sessions. I use Moodle forum and created a Second Life group for my students.
  • Provide additional help, material, exercises and information after the class. These could be accessed in-world or on the web. I use Moodle (for chat logs, vocabulary lists, other material) and web 2.0 tools (for exercise, self-paced practice). The instructor of the scripting workshop I have attended, Simon Kline, provides video tutorials of the topics covered in-world.
  • Motivation: Providing a forum, in-world group and creating a network can also be highly motivating. Another way of motivation participants is to showcase their ”products“ and success stories. In my course I did this by making an exhibition of students‘ builds, a party at the end and framed SL certificates. The scripting instructor mentioned above compiles some successful stories of his students.

Note: It is important to keep in mind that this list of some key factors is for hands-on workshops like those for learning about basic SL building and scripting. Workshops can take very different forms and factors affecting success will vary and not all of the above will be suitable. A lot also depends on whether the workshop is one of a serious or a stand-alone one, whether participation is compulsory or voluntary and other such factors.

I found the workshops I have attended interesting and learned new skills plus took away a finished product and scripts and knowledge that I can use/apply for other tasks. I found one of the building workshops a bit stressful and the delivery a bit impersonal whereas there was more interaction in the scripting workshop. In both the scripting workshop and a gift box building workshop there was humour which I find essential in any learning environment.

I had the chance to talk to two instructors, Simon Kline and revochen Mayne, who I would like to thank very much for the extra time they spent with me to talk about their workshops and what they think are key factors for successful hands-on workshops.