Dec 13

Writing Arabic in Second Life

Although the Arabic speaking community in Second Life is quite large, Second Life is still not capable of “understanding” Arabic. It does display Arabic letters but they are not connected so that it it almost impossible to read. The community has campaigned a lot for this feature to be implemented but to no avail.

So, most have resorted to writing Arabic based on a mixture of Latin letters and some numbers that represented those Arabic letters that are not in the Latin alphabet.

One Arab SL user, however, developed an online flash converter that converts Arabic text into Arabic which Second Life displays correctly. These are the steps:

  • copy a text written in Arabic into the first box,
  • click the convert button (the orange button between the two text boxes),
  • copy the text displayed in the second box (the converted text),
  • paste this text into the Second Life text chat window or a notecard.

Of course, this is not an ideal solution for live conversations, but it’s great for Arabic language lessons and for notecards when one has time to prepare the text in advance.

Feb 25

New SL viewer opens new possibilities

Yesterday, I tested the new SL viewer with some SL colleagues. I have to say I really like what I have seen so far. Of course, it will mean that we have to relearn some things. But so far it has been relatively easy to find what I was looking for and Linden Lap has already provided short video tutorials showing the new features.

The main novelty and something many SL educators have long been waiting for is the “web on prim” feature. And this is really brilliantly solved now. Not only do we not need any parcel media settings anymore to show websites or stream audio and video, websites are completely interactive: links can be clicked, websites synchronously browsed, pages can be scrolled, one can even log in to Ning, Twitter, etc, and update once status… Collaborative writing tasks on Etherpad are possible. And all of this is set up very easily. It is even possible to play online flash games or use other flash-based tools for more serious work. I also like the fact that we can now not only watch youtube videos directly without any conversions but also many other video types. I have my own videos on vimeo and can show these in SL now!

This will not only make educators lives much easier but will make many tools like clunky whiteboards and slide presenters redundant. Uploading of slides will also not be necessary anymore, except if one wants to use the textures for building. This will make it much easier to assign tasks like having learners do presentations or talk about pictures/snapshots. So far, it cost money to upload their slides and meant they had to learn how to do this or send their slides to the teacher who then had to upload them —  a waste of time and money.

(Click the icon on the left of the word “vimeo” to watch it fullscreen.)

I am sure once we have gotten used to the new viewer, we will come up with many other activities that can be done more easily now or that were not possible at all in the past. This will, however, only be possible when everybody in a class uses the new viewer.

Having said that, just because we can browse the web in SL and do all that cool stuff does not mean we have to. I often use no tools at all in my classes as SL has to offer a lot on its own. However, I do occasionally miss a good writing tool. So, being able to do that now with Etherpad, is one of my favourite new functions of this new viewer.

I believe that the new viewer is indeed easier to learn to use for new users. This will make it easier to bring learners into SL without having to spend too much time explaining the User Interface.

I am sure there are still some things that need to be sorted out (e.g. with the old active speakers list it was faster to mute several people), but this is the beta version and we have the chance to provide feedback before the final version is released.

Anyway, these are my first impressions. Have you tried the new version yet? Seeing what you can do now, can you think of how to use these for language teaching/learning activities? Will these change the way you have taught or do you use the Second Life environment without any such tools anyway and it won’t make any difference?

Feb 06

Recording video in SL – copyright issues

As I mentioned in part 1 of the recording video blog posts, I have only recently started recording in Second Life. It had never crossed my mind that I might need to worry about copyright when making recording in SL. I had simply not thought this might be something to have to consider. I was made aware of this when I came across a video tutorial about copyright by David Miller, who had left a comment on my part 1 recording post.

The question of permissions cropped up again after my kitchen fire simulation demo lesson when a TLVW participant asked the following question:

“When you plan a lesson in a site other than your own, do you have to ask the owner for permission? What is the best policy in this case?”

Marian Heddesheimer, who is experienced in making machinima in SL, gave the following advice:

“The permission questions is a good one. I made machinima in Second Life (http://blip.tv/file/835879) and I had the same problem.

For legal reasons, you usually have to ask creators of buildings, clothing or attachments if you may use it in the movie. I think for school it’s not as important as for the movie (since you don’t publish it worldwide). I personally would just ask the owner of the place. In most cases they will be delighted if you like their place for a class.

I would also check if a place will be used by other people on a regular schedule. For example, most SL schools are open for everybody to use their sandboxes and classrooms, as long as your class don’t clash with one of their scheduled classes.

From my experience, most of the owners of SL places like people to come and use it, because they will benefit from the traffic (it will increase their search rank in the SL search). And technically, you cannot break anything in SL accidentally and sandboxes have auto-return so that you won’t harm anybody if you forget to pick up some of your prims after class.”

Now, this answered some questions but also raised more for me. So, I asked Marian:

“I am a photographer in my first profession and I know a bit about copyright issues but was surprised to find that I would have to ask creators in SL when making recordings. I mean, in some cases, I would do it. If an object, house or island played a major role in my recording, I would certainly ask for permission. But the house may be full with objects (e.g. furniture, deco) from all kinds of creators. Would I have to go and ask all of them for permission? In RL, you wouldn’t need to, would you?”

Marian’s very informative reply:

“Yes Nergitz, that’s right. You won’t ask in real live if you have a desk, a chair or a suit in your picture or movie. But it’s different if you see the label “Armani” on the suit or if there is a bottle “Pepsi” somewhere in the picture. You definitely would better get permission to use these brands if you want to publish photos or videos showing these brands.

In SL, you usually don’t ask for every desk or chair, as long as it is nothing special. But if you do a scene in a fancy castle for example, and the creator of this castle will recognize it in your photo/video, they may be able to sue you because you used their creation to create a work on your own and you publish it. It’s even worse if there is a brand name on the object. For example if you buy Nike shoes in world, you cannot be sure the creator has Nike’s permission to sell their brand in SL. So if they will see your photo or video, they will first come after you because you used their brand in a photo/video without written permission.

For me as a director and producer, this was the hardest part in machinima to get all these permissions, because I needed to get them in writing. Technically, I should have sent out papers to sign, but I just used notecards and kept the returning notecards so that I had a proof that I’ve got permission. After the first movie, we decided to use only material that we created ourselves because it’s sometimes too difficult to contact the creators.

This usually is not so important if your photos/videos will be viewed in a small community like in your classroom. But if your video becomes famous on youTube for example, you can face the risk of a very expensive lawsuit if you overlook something.

In my movie “the future is hear” you see some Pepsi-Machines in the background that I have blurred out. The producer who took the job in the first place wanted to get permission from Pepsi (she claimed that she know some people there, but in the end we found out that these people did not exist), so after we could not get the written permission, I decided to remove all brand names form the movie. I think it took me one or two full days to accomplish that for the already finished cut 🙁

For school projects, it might be less difficult, because some countries have the concept of “fair use” which protects educators from being sued. In Germany we don’t have this, so we have to be extra careful :)”

This makes perfect sense and is not that different from RL then.
I can imagine how much work it must have been to find and get permissions from all the creators (or blur the brand names).

I’m not intending to make machinima myself (although there is such a project at the school I occasionally teach) but I have started making tutorials. So i’ll keep these things in mind.

Another related issue is asking for permission when recording students, trainees or anybody else who happens to be around when recording, like I did in the first recording here . Again, this is similar to real life and permission has to be asked before recording and especially before publishing them. I also try to remember to hide avatar names that normally show above each of them but it is still often possible to recognize who they are and it is safer to ask for permission.

This is what Graham Stanley has to say about recording students and getting their permission:

“When we filmed (and recorded) students during the AVALON Business English course, we asked for permission to do so and received it verbally. But we also asked all the students involved to sign permission forms too just in case. Even though the machinima is only intended for use with teachers in the Teacher Training course, it’s only ‘fair’ that you do what you can to get permission from those people involved”

Jan 15

Accessibility of video tutorials and Second Life

Through a comment by David Miller on my blog about recording videos in SL, I came to this blog with a video tutorial about how to make animations for SL. My first reaction when watching it was “Why is there no sound?” I even checked my sound settings on my computer to make sure volume wasn’t turned down. I had a strange feeling that something was missing and “craved” to hear the person making the tutorial speak to me.

Only when I read David Miller’s comment on that blog, did I realize that what I considered as lacking was actually something that made this tutorial more accessible for others like the deaf or maybe even speakers of other languages. I suddenly realized that, even though we have the tools and possibilities to make things more accessible we don’t always do it. Often this is not because we wouldn’t want to but because we are not always aware that we are settings barriers.

Coming back to video tutorials, I think ideal would be to create some that have voice and visuals (e.g. written text in the video highlighting keyboard shortcuts) and clearly visible step-by-step instructions. This way we could make them useful for more people. I can see that this is challenging because I’m sure we often mention important information in speaking in addition to what we actually show. Makes me think I should get different people to “proof-watch” my tutorials 🙂

Thinking about these issues makes me realize how wonderful environments like Second Life and other virtual worlds are for people with different abilities. In most cases you can choose whether you want to communicate in voice or in text or a combination of both. In addition to text and/or voice, you also have the visual 3D environment itself to help get across meaning. This makes it much more accessible than a 2D virtual class- or conference room, except of course, where sign language is used and it is important to see the real person via a web cam.

These are just some quick thoughts that came to my mind when watching the “silent” tutorial video. There is a lot more that one can say about accessibility and virtual worlds.

What do you think about accessibility of virtual worlds and/or tutorial material?

Dec 19

Recording video in Second Life – part 1

I am sure you have all watched some video tutorials or machinima recorded in Second Life. Up to version 1.19, the SL viewer had a recording feature built in but this is not the case anymore. So, if you want to make recordings, you need special recording software.

Several such recording tools are available for free (some with the option to pay for a version with more features or longer recording time). Some of these have to be downloaded to your hard disk (e.g. Jing) and others are online tools (e.g. ScreenToaster, Screenr, ScreenJelly). If you search for “free video recording software”, you will find many more.

I tried making video recordings in the past with freely available software (Jing). This was fine for very short sequences. However my MacBook was not powerful enough to make good quality or longer recordings and Jing produced very large files (see one example here).

When I bought my iMac two months ago, I finally had a computer that was powerful enough. So, I started to look for commercial (and more professional?) recording software that was easy to use and provided me with all the features I thought I would need. I asked some colleagues for recommendations and I found a list of recording software for the Mac here. I downloaded the trial versions of four of them and tested them briefly:

My idea of easy-to-use software is that I can create a basic recording without having to read any instructions. All of the above fell in this category except SnapZ Pro. I have read a lot of positive things about SnapZ Pro so may be it was just me. It was the last one that I tried and had pretty much made up my mind which to buy by then.

iShowU and CaptureIt were both inexpensive, offered nice features like instant exporting and automatic snapping to the window that I wanted to record. However, ScreenFlow was the easiest (for me) to use, gave me the most flexibility and had the most features (that I wanted). At the same time, it was also the most expensive but as I wanted to use it regularly for recording lessons and making tutorials, I bought it.

I have been using ScreenFlow for a couple of weeks now and I have to say making recording with it and the post-production is a lot of fun. It only takes seconds to understand how to record. Basic editing is also very easy and for all other cases there are good video tutorials available.

My first recordings were of role-play activities in language classes in Second Life to allow me and the students to watch and analyze them afterwards (I will write a separate blog post about this later). Then, I made my first video tutorials for a group of teachers who were doing an introductory SL course with me. The first one shows how to use a presentation screen*.

In all of these recordings, I used the text feature, which I like a lot. It can be used to highlight certain phrases that were used (in lessons) or to show shortcuts in tutorials to make it easier to remember them. Next, I produced a series of videos that show the different ways of communicating in SL.

One problem with all of these first tutorials which a colleague mentioned was that they weren’t easy to follow. I knew from other tutorials that I had watched that they zoomed in on details. So, this was the next skill I learned and which I used in this tutorial*.

For all of these recordings, I used the built-in microphone of the iMac. Although, the quality is not bad, I think I will invest in a separate microphone next because the volume could be a bit higher at times and I have to remember to be close to the microphone all the time, which is not always easy when I have to do demonstrate things at the same time.

There is still a lot that I can learn to make these recordings better but I think it is a good start and, as I said before, a lot of fun, too 🙂

In another blog post, I will write how such recordings can be used in a language class and what type of activities can be done with them (other than creating machinima which I blogged about here).

Update

Torley has two tutorial videos in which he shows how to record and edit videos in SL with ScreenFlow: 1. Record in-world meetings 2. Edit videos.

*Edublogs.org has recently removed the possibility to embed videos on free blogs. Embedded videos in new or updated blog posts are removed. This is why I can only provide a link to the videos. I apologize for the inconvenience.
Related blog post: Accessibility of video tutorials and Second Life

Nov 15

How to communicate in Second Life

There are many different ways in which avatars can communicate in Second Life. We can distinguish between:

  • public and private
  • text and voice
  • all vs groups versus one-to-one
  • SL groups versus ad hoc groups
  • features that are part of the SL regular communication features or other tools and settings (parcel settings, sky tables, etc)

It is important to know which possibilities exists and when to use them whether you hold staff meetings in SL, do training or give lessons.

In order to be able to easily communicate with others, it is good (and sometimes necessary) to befriend them first so that they are in your friends list. It is also possible to IM (instant message) or call avatars who are not in your friends list by searching for them but there are limitations when it comes to group chat as an example.

How to add someone as a friend:

Here is a series of video tutorials on the different ways that avatars can communicate in Second Life.

I know there are already many Second Life video tutorials but often they don’t show exactly what I want, so I have started to create my own. I have created these for a teacher training course which I am doing at the moment.

I usually don’t use a script when doing these tutorials, so you might here the occasional “er” and other mistakes. Live with it! 🙂 I am not going to record them again so soon.

SL Communication 1 – Public Text & Voice Chat:

SL Communication 2 – Private Text Chat:

SL Communication 3 – Private Voice Chat:

SL Communication 4 – Group Chat:

SL Communcation 5 – Ad Hoc Group Creation & Friends Conference:

SL Communication 6 – Parcel Voice Settings:

SL Communication 7 – Sky Tables:

You can buy the Sky Tables online here or in the in-world shop.

Feb 09

Second Life Educational tools – What is missing?

Pollster Set I have been asked several times which tools I miss in Second Life. When I first started thinking about teaching in SL, I searched for some kind of whiteboard that I could write on because that is one of the most basic tools we teachers use in Real Life. Then, I started wondering whether I wouldn’t start teaching in a more traditional or at least RL way if I had a whiteboard. Why use Second Life if we teach there like we do in Real Life? 

I changed the way I think about teaching in SL and the tools I need. We only miss things if we have certain expectations. The expectations we have about teaching in SL often come from our RL experience. We have a whiteboard in RL and are used to using it so we want one in SL. Once I started seeing SL as a new tool itself and as a place that offers its own possibilities which often don’t exist in RL, I stopped missing tools and instead looked at what is there and how I can best make use of those tools.

Some tools that are there, can also stand in one’s way instead of helping deliver a better lesson. SL educators have to ask themselves the same questions like educators in RL: “Do I use this technology/tool because it is there or does it really benefit my students and improve my lesson delivery?” I do have a large collection of SL educational tools. However, I have only used a handful in my classes, mainly a notecard/landmark giver, a notecard displayer, picture boards and a slide presenter. I might use a different set in a different course if need be but I have to justify it to myself. 

Having said that, I have found several whiteboard tools and mash-ups with websites where I can write and even draw on 🙂 but I don’t think I will make much use of them for now.

Finally, I have to admit that there is one thing that I do miss. It is not a tool but a feature. If text in notecards could be formatted (bold, underline, text in different colours), I would be a happier SL teacher 🙂 

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 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)