Archive for March, 2008

The Habitat Project Launches

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

No, not an opportunity to test stylish yet knowingly kitsch home furnishings but a research project piloting the use of Multi-User Virtual Environments (think Second Life). TALL heads up a large project team on the project which runs until March 2009. Read the official blurb below or visit for more info.


The JISC funded Habitat project is a collaboration between TALL at the University of Oxford, Leeds Metropolitan University, King’s College London, Essex University and Dave Cormier of Prince Edward Island University. It will take an innovative approach to encouraging creative online collaboration in Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) – the online 3D spaces in which each user is represented by an ‘avatar’ or 3D character.

The project will generate solutions to the challenges of teaching, learning and collaboration in MUVEs. These solutions will be primarily in the form of guidelines, models and exemplars but will also be supported by the development/appropriation of software tools and services in and around the MUVEs themselves.
During discussions with members of the Emerge community, teaching staff and students, it became clear the MUVEs offer a number of interesting opportunities for teaching and learning. These include the ability to collaboratively design and build objects/structures and the sense of presence or ‘being there’ that comes across when interacting in an MUVE.

The Habitat project will build on these principles by running a number of pilots which are integrated into the teaching of art & design and philosophy.

A competition to build a structure in the Second Life MUVE which reflects their current practice will be set as part of the first year art & design undergraduate degree based at Leeds Metropolitan University. Parallel to this the project will facilitate discussions in an MUVE with students who have attended one of the University of Oxford’s online short courses in philosophy. The art & design students will have the opportunity to meet face-to-face during the pilot in contrast to the philosophy students who are distributed around the world.

The pilots are designed to explore the effects of working in an MUVE on collaborative group work and on the effects of being represented as an avatar over and above using text, sound or video to communicate. In addition to this the pilots are designed to encourage communication between the two disciplines to assess the potential of MUVEs to bring together diverse student groups.

Habitat will predominantly be using the Second Life MUVE because of its ubiquity and relative stability. The project will also be experimenting with OpenSim, an open source MUVE and a MUVE provided by IBM. These are representative of the widening range of 3D collaborative environments which are emerging across the web and which afford intriguing opportunities for teaching and learning.

Lying and telling tales

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

“Kids lie early, often, and for all sorts of reasons—to avoid punishment, to bond with friends, to gain a sense of control. But now there’s a singular theory for one way this habit develops: They are just copying their parents.”

Really interesting article in the New York magazine: Learning to Lie.

Finding reusable content

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

I have been looking at online resources on the pedagogy of online distance learning, and portals to accessible, free educational material. Some of them are a little disappointing. Many lead to broken links, or to chains of other lists of links, many of which turn out to be dead ends. Online resources for Anglo-Saxon culture and history, and Old English texts, however, have proliferated, and many are very good indeed. Catherine Ball’s website, formerly hosted by Georgetown, which I hoped to suggest that we incorporate, has gone, but Peter Baker’s Introduction to Old English has a range of resources ideal for our purposes, and Dr Stuart Lee, of Oxford University Computing Services, has produced a wonderful and accessible online Old English coursepack , and has posted a lecture series as webcasts. There are also readings of Old English texts and a good selection of translations for comparing and contrasting, and some stunning photographs of artefacts and archaeological sites. The difficulty (aside from obtaining copyright permissions)will be in choosing between them. I hope that the authors of the sites I ask to include will see the value of bringing the information and teaching together, and making it freely available.

Mosaic – an authors perspective

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

TALL has invited me to be the author of a short online course for a new project, MOSAIC, which will bring together, reuse, and provide guides to, existing material on the web. This seems like a very worthwhile project, as there is so much material online now that looking for specific information, and distinguishing between authoritative and unmoderated, and useful and less useful, sites can be daunting, and I’m guessing that a lot of very good sites which happen not to come up close to the top of a Google or other search are left languishing and unvisited.  There are excellent portals, lists of links, and bibliographies, but in the case of the subject of this course, Anglo-Saxon history and culture and Old English literature, the more accessible and unscary to the non-academic or non-specialist they can be, the better.

I’m very pleased to be asked to write this course.  Old English is very popular with those undergraduates and graduates fortunate enough to be able to study the subject (even with those who initially resisted but, in the days when it was mandatory, had to read it), but I think is considered difficult and obscure by those who have not read English, and even by English students whose institutions’ courses begin after the period.  This course will be accessible in all ways: it will not require prior knowledge; it will provide translations in Modern English of Old English texts; it will stake participants through the history of the Anglo-Saxon peoples in England (to use modern terms) step-by-step; it will allow participants to work at their own pace; it will bring to participants’ attention websites they might not otherwise have discovered, or have had access to; best of all, it will be free for anyone to use, anywhere, anytime. 

I hope that the course will dispel some of the myths about Old English literature that seem to linger among people who haven’t ha d the chance to read it, such as  that it is all about fighting or swilling mead after fighting. Old English literature is so varied, and the language of the texts so powerful , vivid, and evocative, that it should be available to everyone. Of course, translations and modernisations are not the same as the texts’ original language, but there are a number available for free legal download which give a sense of the metre, alliteration and other sound-qualities of the originals. It will be important to offer a selection of translations, and to encourage participants to think about the issues involved in translation.

Since Old English grammar is usually cited as the thing that puts people off trying to learn to read the texts, it will be important to make very clear that this is not a course that requires participants to learn the language. Equally important, however, will be offering participants the opportunity to have a taste of the language, and to get a sense of the ways in which it differed from Modern English (as well as the ways in which dialects spoken in Saxon England differed from one another). Fortunately, there are recordings of readings of Old English texts online, and I’m hoping it will be possible to commission a short recording of our own of the sounds of the alphabet. Obviously, our knowledge of the sounds of Old Englishes is a matter of scholarly surmise, but in discussing a culture that was largely oral rather than literate, it is vital to have a sense of the forms in which the narratives of that culture were transmitted.


Using online resources will mean that the website can be illustrated with and contain links to some of the fabulous artefacts and art of the Anglo-Saxons, some of which (such as the carved crosses and other religious artefacts, and the weapons and armour) illuminate elements of the texts. It also means that we can show what the manuscripts looked like when the oral narratives were committed to written language.

The books and more recently films of The Lord of the Rings, and the recent film of Beowulf have brought some elements of Anglo-Saxon culture into modern popular culture.  I hope that will lead people to our website.