The fifteenth installment of The Drax Files Radio Hour takes a look at Ebbe Altberg’s comments and Q&A session at this years Virtual Worlds Best Practice in Education conference which took place in both Second Life and OS Grid between April 9th and 12th.
The VWBPE session, which lasted a little under 90 minutes, featured some initial comments from Ebbe, followed by a wide-ranging Q&A session which many found both positive and perhaps a little revelatory (particularly given concerns ahead of his arrival at LL about him coming from “outside” LL / virtual worlds). Mal Burns videoed the session on behalf of VWBPE, and I have a full transcript for those who prefer to read rather than listen.
For those wishing to cut to the chase and jump to the clips from Ebbe’s presentation in the podcast and the discussion which follows, it starts around a quarter of the way into the show (14:19).
Some 15 minutes of Ebbe’s opening comments and the Q&A session are presented. These include his remarks on revisiting the Linden Lab Terms of Service (“we’re working on some simple tweaks to the language to make that more explicit”); his views on LL / SL and its position in the metaverse as a whole (“I think for starters, I’m mostly focused to get the ‘verse’ part right, and then we can think about ‘meta’ later on”); Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift and more.
The excerpts are followed by a joint interview with Liz Falconer, Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of the West of England (UWE), and Stylianos Mystakidis, E-learning Manager for the Library and Information Centre at the University of Patras, Greece.
Intended to be a discussion of Ebbe’s VWBPE session, this actually covers much broader ground, from why issues such at the Lab’s bikini banner ads, can reinforce negative views of Second Life within the education sector, even though real life can be a lot more risky (and risqué) for students, through to the advantages of experiential learning and the potential of virtual worlds where such narrative styles of teaching are concerned.
At close to 24 minutes in length, the interview has to be listened to in order to be fully appreciated; Stylianos and Liz offer a considerable amount of food for thought – so much, in fact, that it is hard distill everything down into an article like this without either failing to do the various elements of the discussion justice or presenting you with a wall of text to read. This being the case, I’m going to focus on those aspects of the discussion which particularly struck one or more chords in me, while urging you to listen to the interview in full, if you haven’t already done so,
The first thing that particularly caught my attention came when Stylianos asked what is the one question that seems to be most easily avoided or ignored when people talk about virtual worlds achieving mass adoption – and that’s the question of why should people turn to VWs rather than continuing to use all of the familiar tools and options they have at their disposal and which offer convenience and ease-of-use: Minecraft, Facebook, Skype and so on?
While it is true that access to a complex virtual world like SL does need to be addressed and simplified in order to make it easier for people to access such environments, and it is equally true that things like VR headsets will offer additional means of appreciating and enjoying VWs for those using them, I am far from convinced that technology and technical solutions alone hold the key to VWs achieving mass adoption. This is something I touched upon in reference to Philip Rosedale’s keynote at the VWBPE; as Botgirl Questi eloquently and succinctly put it following that particular keynote:
Mainstream use of virtual worlds requires compelling mainstream use cases that clearly trump other options. Better technology doesn’t matter to people who don’t know why they’d want to use a virtual world at all. That’s the challenge that no one has successfully addressed.
In terms of LL’s relationship with the education sector, Liz offers some very sage advice – and I do hope LL are listening. If the Lab really want to help educators to effectively leverage SL, and to become – in Ebbe’s words – evangelists for the platform, the Lab cannot afford to be hands-off in their approach to the sector or treat the relationship in purely commercial terms. While the return of the tier discount or educational and non-profit organisations is undoubtedly welcome and a good move, the Lab need to ensure there is a close working relationship between themselves and the education sector. In this, communication is very and essential element, as Liz points out:
He was very clear that some things will be prioritised and other things may not be such a high priority. For us as educators, is what I need to know is that. Not to get my way on everything … I need to know where I am now, and where I’m likely to be in the future. Because course planning and activity planning in education … takes a year to plan anything; and then when you’ve planned something and it’s running, it’s running for two or three years before it can stop again. So the momentum in education is … perhaps different to some of the momentum in industry.
It’s vital that the Lab understands the differences in momentum that might be found within education institutions compared to the momentum they’re familiar with within the tech industry, where 18 months can often be a lifetime.
Another aspect of the discussion that particularly caught my attention were the comments around the role of narrative teaching and the benefits it can bring. Also referred to as experiential or situational learning, narrative teaching has been shown to significantly improve people’s ability to retain and re-use information and lessons by couching them in terms of stories or narratives which encourage involvement and identification on the part of the student. That this is a productive means of learning shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone, as Stylianos points out a little later in the discussion, a good portion of human teaching and lessons of history was passed between generations through the medium of stories and so on; so you could say that it is hard-wired into us at some deep level.
And this is where virtual environments do have a value proposition for the education community, because they present an unconstrained means of presenting almost any situational learning activity one might care to think of, and they can do it in ways that are faster, better, more flexible – and even safer – than might be attempted in RL (indeed, many scenarios would doubtless be next to impossible to achieve in RL). Second Life is potentially very well placed to capitalise on this through capabilities such as immersive VR, pathfinding, the current advanced creation tools and – possibly – the upcoming experience tools / capabilities.
In this, it is fascinating to hear Liz’s comments on how she has witnessed far greater social and creative bonding among those participating in the UWE’s the MA Education in Virtual Worlds distance learning opportunities in SL than she’s seen with groups of students in the real world. There’s a lot to be explored here in and of itself, These include things like why and how the virtual does encourage what appears to be greater trust and openness among people than might naturally occur among a similar group restricted to the real world, what are the contributing factors of the environment, and how can they be leveraged to help VWs gain wider acceptance in general.
It’s interviews and discussion like this where The Drax Files Radio Hour really shines – and in this respect, this kind of round table discussion is something I’d personally like to hear more of in the show. While the one-to-one interviews are always informative, there is a much greater dynamic evident in the more round table discussions of this kind, where the input can be varied as participants fire off of one another, reflecting or extending one another’s views or offering different perspectives on the same point. As such, I’d strongly encourage the show to move more in this direction wherever possible as well as continuing with the more traditional one-on-one interviews.
Beyond this there’s the inevitable VR nattering with some interesting bits buried within it on binaural sound and some musing on the need for VR / AR to converge. To this latter point, I can only again wave a hand and point to Technical Illusions and the castAR, which already offers AR, interactive projected AR and VR, and which will apparently go on sale in Q4 2014 at a cost of around $300.
Congrats to Bine and to Neo Cort on winning the Leap Motion controllers. If you’ve not already visited Bine’s Binimist region, I heartily recommend it!