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. 


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)

9 thoughts on “Communication breakdown

  1. To your list of resources one may want, specially when designing a learning space, is a circumference of 20mts of diameter with a visual aid (kind of red line all around) that you can position on the floor to *see* the limits of the natural chat range. So you design your space within. After using it, you take back to your inventory!

    Within the findings of the OpenHabitat project, we have also that ‘large groups will require repeaters for overcoming the limitations of the chat range’.

    ‘For synchronous distant interactions in-world be sure to set up ad-hoc communication channels taking advantage of Second Life inbuilt tools for group communication, like group IM and group notices. Always have a method of communicating to the whole group not-based in proximity. And if possible, a method of gathering the group as well’.

    Controlling the flow of a discussion is of most importance. ‘There are a variety of strategies for controlling the potentially chaotic flow of discussions that can emerge in a synchronous session. These include argumentation codes (use of short sentences), textual codes (use of textual indicator like the ellipsis (…) to let know that the discourse continues), interaction codes (organisation of interaction, questions), acronyms (AFK) and finally emoticons’. Lately, I’ve seen the use of gestures, associated with particles and drawings in ascii to gather the attention of the audience and to *show* who control/animate the meeting.
    I find more complex to control a meeting that is voice-based or mixed. Is important ‘ to avoid confusion surrounding the dominant communication channel, cognitive overload, dilution of meaning and unequal abilities to multi-task amongst newer users’. I’ve experienced this last situation: typing while others where in voice. I felt completely diminished by the medium. ‘Typing takes time’.
    Finally I agree about the lack of status indicators. I’ve been playing with a flip title as a mood/status indicator to give to my friends a better idea about how do I feel or what I am doing when I am inworld. Also I’ve seen a twitter wall inworld. Using twitter inside second life may help for giving cues about people’s paralanguage or non-verbal communication, when twitter is over their heads, for example!
    PS: Text into ” comes from the report evaluation of the OpenHabitat project that I’ve written with Steven, based on the analysis of cooperation experiences in art and design and in the analysis of dialogic interaction in philosophy.

    • Marga, thank you for your detailed comment and all the suggestions.
      Some kind of indicator (circle, chat range tool) is an essential tool to make avatars aware of the 19m chat range.

      I like your ideas of conrolling the flow of a discussion by using codes. Another code would be to start one’s sentence with capitalised words to indicate QUESTION: IDEA:, etc.

      I am not sure how the Twitter wall is supposed to help with in-world communication. Could you elaborate on this?

  2. I’m glad you are able to gather huge groups in your classes and can easily imagine the difficulties to handle the complete communiction as you describe. When I once started BABEL Language School, I didn’t know, how many sudents in class at a time I would be able to “collect” for lessons. Therefore I organized all classes and teacher conferences in groups, which gives a better possibility to manage the access and the distrubution of learning materials.
    Groups aren’t such expensive to establlish and they can carry out group im’s and notices to all enrolled.
    Good luck with your further development of methods and contents of virtual language teaching!
    Michael Großpietsch

    • Thanks for your suggestion, Michael!

      As a matter of fact, I do create separate groups for my classes, too. I agree that this is very important and helps with communication and class management.

  3. Hello:
    To add to the comments above, I have found that group discussions work best if there is common understanding about process. One of the best I have found for facilitating discussion is the the use of a seating area — I use the Mysti table rezzer. With this there is always one more seat at the table and everyone is within chat range.

    If using an amphitheatre venue, ensure that everyone knows how to use the communication tools. some sites have a info boards with the basics:
    Text chat range and chat history feature — very important!
    How to use voice chat — set up, adjustment by avatar, voice by camera

    It is easier to have a moderated discussion, just like in RL. Consider the purpose and set up accordingly. Have questions sent to the moderator via IM. Moderator then repeats these in order. Recognize that there will almost always be one more question after the call to close — chat lag is often the culprit for this.

    Voice to chat and chat to voice transcription might be needed. It is also possible to record text chat for later distribution. Someone may have to take notes on voice chat. There are tools that facilitate this and also get permissions as each avatar must touch the recorder. This also gives you a count of those present.

    I give my students and staff information about the free mysti tool and a basic orientation on use, especially the chat range. Newcomers also need orientation on preference settings and how to use camera effectively. In large gatherings it is less overwhelming if the avatar name feature is turned off.

    Hope this helps!
    LoriVonne Lustre (SL)

    • Lorraine, you mention some very good tools and strategies. Thank you!

      I have recently bought the full version of the Mysti tool and find it very useful. You say that there is also a free version? I’ll have to find out about that to give it to my students and colleagues.

  4. Set a semitransparent hemisphere rather than a line – easier to see and know exactly where the chat boundary is.

    Ditto Mysti table etc – or have you seen the horizons – holodeck or paradise blanket rezzers where you can transport / rezz rooms/ environments specifically for meetings ARGs etc with logins?

    • Thanks for your suggestions, Leon!

      I know about holodecks but haven’t seen the horizons holodeck or paradise blanket rezzers. Can you tell me where I can find them?

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