Archive for January, 2009

Launching Ancestral voices: the earliest English literature

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

After months of work we are finally launching our Ancestral voices: the earliest English literature course today with actual students!  This course has been developed using almost entirely existing content as part of the Mosaic project funded by JISC.  The course as a whole learning experience with tutor will be running for the next 10 weeks, and hopefully for many terms to come.  However as part of the Mosaic project, all the course materials will be made available more widely in the near future as well – more information about that to come.

Eddie Izzard brings Old English to life

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Just two days before we launch  our Ancestral voices: the earliest English literature course as part of the Mosaic project, we are still finding excellent content we want to use.  As our author Sandie Byrne said, “I wish I had found this before”

Because of the specific approach we have taken to licensing and incorporating content into the course for JISC we are not going to be able to use this for this run, but next time we’ll do what we can.


Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

Following on from my ‘That Was an Interesting Experience’ post I got to thinking about how to define what makes MUVEs distinct from other online spaces. The diagram below is my attempted answer, a diagram which I ‘trailed’ in my presentation at the Eduserv+JISC/Cetis Virtual Worlds event last Friday. (slidecast of the presentation at the end of this post)

Eventedness and Co-presence

During the JISC funded ‘Open Habitat’ project we piloted Second Life with art & design undergrads and with lifelong distance learners studying philosophy. The axes of the diagram represent two of the major effects we saw across the pilots that are central to what an MUVE provides.

Eventedness: This goes beyond a shared experience which could be aimless in activity terms and assumes that everyone involved is heading towards a particular goal even if this goal does not involve close collaboration. For example, a themed philosophical discussion which, if it goes well, should have a shared direction as the learning moves forwards.

Co-presence: As well as the Co-presence that comes from being embodied as avatars this definition includes what is experienced when an individual is certain that their contribution (usually in text form) will be read and responded to by others. For example it is possible to get a strong sense of the presence of others when microblogging because the exchanges are often frequent, they often reference each other and the response time can be a matter of seconds. Messages are linked to the particular point in time and their value erodes over time. There is a relationship between the speed in which the value of nodes of communication erode within a technology and the potential for Co-presence. In addition the individuals’ level of trust that their contribution will be understood and responded to within a particular technology has a large bearing on both Co-presence and Eventedness. It is of note that there is very little latent social presence in MUVEs. When you log-off your presence all but evaporates leaving almost no trace of your identity or that fact that you were in the MUVE. This is in contrast to social networking sites which are designed to extend your presence after you log-off. (See my ‘Visitors – Residents‘ post which discusses why this form of latent social presence is an important issue)

So, the green areas are not a quantative mapping of a range of functionalities but the qualitative potential of a technologies ability to provide a certain type of experience. The greater the chance of Co-presence the greater the chance of Eventedness and vice versa which is why the green areas have diagonal tops.

I should point out that the relative mapping of the technologies in the diagram could be debated until the cows come home because the axes are dealing with subjective terms. Individuals encounters with these technologies will vary greatly in the context of these terms hence the use of ‘potential’ which allows for a latitude in experiences.

A key point here is that the MUVE has the potential to support a huge range of experiences. This is partiality because of the effect of avatars but also because an MUVE is not a single technology but a cluster of tools gathered around a 3D environment. To tie this down a bit I will run through the types of experience that I think take place at points ‘a’, ‘b’ and ‘c’ on the diagram.

‘a’: At this point an individual feels isolated from others and alienated by the environment. They are directionless and have not discovered the ‘point’ of the environment for themselves. This sense of isolation and alienation is amplified by the knowledge that there are others in the MUVE who are enjoying being part of a social group that they are excluded from (either socially or because of a lack of technical skills). It is also amplified because they can see other avatars who appear to be much better looking, better dressed and with more elaborate hairstyles. They begin to fell anonymous, unskilled and lacking in a definable persona (they are part of the homogenous ‘n00b’ category). All of this is compounded by the fact that it is very difficult to ‘lurk’ in an MUVE. There a few opportunities to learn the in world culture(s) and mode(s) of communication that don’t involve social engagement. This is in contrast to other successful online social platforms have functionality such as an open chat channels (World of Warcraft) or the ability to see the flow of communication (Twitter) giving new users the opportunity to absorb the culture of that space before making their voice heard.

‘b’: At this point the individual feels like they are contributing to a shared endeavour, that they are part of a relevant activity. They have come to know and trust the other participants in their group and enjoy both the learning and the social aspects of the experience. This is only likely to take place if a member of that community has organised an activity. Or, to put it another way, the tutor has planned a relevant session. (The implication here being that the tutor needs to be part of a community of learners not above it in the MUVE space)

‘c’: At this point the individual is probably spending time with people they know and trust. They are socialising within the MUVE but are not attempting to achieve anything beyond simply being together. They are likely to feel part of a community but not that they are communally working towards a goal.

In terms of teaching and learning this huge breath of potential experience is what makes using MUVEs a high risk option. The better designed a session and the more responsive the tutor the higher it will map against Eventedness but a strong sense of Co-presence will only grow over time. Initially this happens as people get to grips with the technology then increasingly as they form relationships and trust grows. This breath of potential is in my opinion why a bad session in an MUVE leads to the suspicion that it would have been more satisfying and more effective to have simply used a straight text chat format or in some cases a traditional forum. This is compounded by the fact that MUVEs really lock you in and if a session breaks down it is complex and disruptive to sidestep to another format. Nevertheless, some of the most engaging and exciting online teaching and learning I have experienced has taken place in an MUVE.

As the diagram makes clear MUVEs do have the potential to outstrip many other technologies in their ability to provide a sense of belonging and purpose. However, if you don’t feel that words such as ‘belonging’, ‘communal’ or ‘experience’ are relevant to your practice then MUVE are probably not for you. Even for those of us that do think these aspects of learning are important MUVEs are a high risk option which require teaching sessions that are both well organised and highly reactive. We hope that the guidance and advice that comes from our experiences in the ‘Open Habitat’ project (to be published in March) will reduce this risk but it is like so many things in life MUVEs will remain a challenging option with the potential of great rewards.

Below is a slidecast of the my presentation at the Eduserv + JISC/Cetis Virtual Worlds event on 16/01/09 in Glasgow. Thanks to Rowin Young for providing the slidecast.

Misconceptions about reuse

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

Over the last week I have been participating in a critical friends exercise as part of the Mosaic project with our partners from the RECITE and REGEN-1 projects. It has been interesting to start to see consensus about the realities of reuse, how it actually works in practice and what the opportunities and constraints really are.  As our final reporting for JISC is due soon I will be writing a lot more about this in the next couple of months.  In the meantime it is interesting to see Juliette Culver, who I know from her excellent work on Cloudworks give her take on it all here.

Mosaic Author Diary

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Here are some more reflections on the Mosaic  project from the course “author” Sandie Byrne:

12 August 2008
Marion and I spent some time looking through an online archive of images from the Ashmolean’s Anglo-Saxon holdings, looking for illustrations for the course material. We selected some reliquaries, jewellery and weapons, but the archive didn’t include the really spectacular artefacts I would like participants to be able to see, so we shall have to widen the net. I hope that the British Library will grant permission for us to include links to its holdings.

30 September 2008
TALL have been busy with the development of other projects, and the obtaining of permissions is turning out to be a mammoth task, so the course isn’t built yet.

15 November 2008
I’m so pleased that Nicolay Yakolev has agreed to be the tutor for the taught version of the course. His doctorate was in Old English, and he has published a lot of interesting work on the subject, but more importantly, I think he will be friendly and accessible, understanding of the way some people feel intimidated by Old English, and sensitive to the needs and learning methods of different students. I think he will appreciate the course, and I hope will enjoy teaching it.

20 December 2008
Sarah Mann has sent me a link to the course on DevMoodle, so at last I shall be able to see how ‘Ancestral Voices: The Earliest English Literature’ looks on screen. The web content has not been embedded yet, so will appear as links, and there will be instructions and reminders for TALL on the course build, so I won’t quite be seeing the final form – the way users will see it – but I should be able to get a good idea. The Oxford, taught version of the course launches on 14 January, Sarah is away until 5 January, and other courses launch that week, so she and other TALL colleagues are going to have a busy 9 days.

26 December 2008
The course is looking good, with a very few minor errors that can easily be rectified. With the online material linked rather than embedded, it’s hard to imagine the effect that will be created by, for example, the full-page illustrations of Saxon homes and dress, or artefacts such as weapons, and the amazing gold- and other metal-work. Having those on the pages of the units that users first come to will, I think, make such a dramatic impact, and bring home the point that Anglo-Saxon culture was much more rich, diverse, and sophisticated than we might think.
The audio files in the course will, I think, make a big difference. I remember how difficult it was to get a sense of Old English from books alone, and poetry should always be heard as well as read. The inclusion of Stuart Lee’s film is a bonus, too. In a sense, the more media the merrier, in the cause of making Old English literature accessible.