Saturday, August 2, 2008

Opportunities on offer - NMC virtual learning prizes + JVWResearch call for papers

In my 'travels' I noticed a couple of opportunities on offer. I've copied some scant details from the respective sites just to pique interest.

NMC still has Virtual Learning Prizes on offer for 2008-2009

The New Media Consortium will continue to award Virtual Learning Prizes until the $100,000 pool for this 2008-2009 initiative is fully dispersed. Visit the following page for details:

These are "intended to create a collection of innovative open-source learning experiences that make use of the unique attributes of a virtual learning environment"... with this year's focus on Second Life and Project Wonderland.

Each of the US$5,000 awards will provide a cash incentive paid to the awardee of $500 as well as $4,500 in expert development assistance from the NMC Virtual Worlds team to create the learning experience. The range of inworld services available to awardees to actualize the proposed ideas includes professional building, scripting, design, animation, avatar design, and/or related services.

I really like the philosophy of the NMC: all materials and content produced through these funds will be "licensed for broad use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Proposal authors will retain full copyright to finished products, and all funded materials will be made available to educators and educational institutions at no cost via either the NMC's Educational Resource Center on Learning in Second Life or via the NMC's website, as applicable".

Another opportunity - Call for Papers
Mia Consalvo, one of the team of authors for the TerraNova blog, has posted a call for papers to be published in the The Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. Visit the following site for details:

Journal of Virtual Worlds Research
Special Issue: Culture of Virtual Worlds
Deadline: September 30, 2008
Publication Date: November 20, 2008

Guest Editors
Mark Bell, Indiana University
Mia Consalvo, Ohio University

This special issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is dedicated to exploring the issue of culture in virtual worlds. We welcome articles from academic researchers and practitioners in areas such as communications, sociology, psychology, anthropology, information systems, political science, game studies and cultural studies.

Topics of interest include (but not limited to):
• Definitions of Virtual Cultures
• Ethnographies of Virtual Worlds
• Social mechanics and networking in Virtual worlds
• Historical development of Virtual Worlds
• Identity
• Differing goals of play versus non-play centric spaces
• Emergent practices, player-generated content, activities
• Dynamics of economies
• "Serious" uses of Virtual Worlds
• Transnational game spaces, player groups

Guidelines and Deadlines
We welcome submissions in the form of essays, papers, original research, interactive online exhibits with accompanying detailed descriptions, and other forms of scholarship. For specific submission instructions visit:

These opportunities look to be well worth exploring,


Sunday, July 6, 2008

An invented self - Rilla Shan in Second Life

In virtual worlds you invent another self, and reinvent again and again if you desire. You can have multiple virtual identities, transform your avatar at the click of a button or two in your inventory menu, and then head out to interact with other invented selves, objects and places, when and where you like. There's great freedom in virtual worlds and these masquerades: there are also great challenges and much food for thought.

The moment you create an account you are asked to create a name for your avatar, in most cases, selecting the last name from a drop-down list provided by Linden Labs (the company behind Second Life). You also select your first avatar from a generic menu before you even set your pixel feet in-world. It's also a certainty you will see your multiple birth identical siblings during the first visit, and beyond, depending on your capacity to purchase or ability to find, possess or script objects to personalise your avatar. It's easy to spot a newbie in Second Life - they just haven't got the moves, literally, and are of clone origins.

Rilla Shan, one of my invented selves in Second Life, is now just over a year old. She's reinvented herself, (or been reinvented by my real world self), but the profile image in this blog is a snapshot taken in the first couple of weeks as a resident. She’s not as sophisticated as many avatars, although being operated through a free account is no excuse for that. It takes resourcefulness, time and commitment to explore all the options and truly play with your virtual identity. It can be frustrating as a ‘player’, and embarrassing at times in my experience, (which seems silly somehow, but it’s so easy to identify with your avatar and the extended image of you they project). Did I mention it’s fun, and fascinating?

It isn’t a level playing field however. People do participate through dial-up connections I believe, but it would be a limiting experience for ‘rezzing’ the avatar, its clothes, and all in its surroundings. Good bandwidth is needed for voice chat, viewing media in-world and running some scripts that can augment your social presence. There are minimum requirements for a graphics card, and there seems to be a slow upward creep in the recommended hardware specifications as the software continually advances in features and capabilities. Did I mention how amazing the visual detail is?

Rilla often goes in-world to work these days, is always learning, and sometimes gets to explore, experiment, socialise and play. All of these activities converge at times. She can also switch roles easily in a single log-in session, carrying out some island administration duties for a while, but diverting attention easily to IM someone on her Friends list and either ask them to offer her a teleport to their location, or find them on the map and teleport her own avatar. That could mean landing on a dance-floor or taking off on a ride in a hot-air balloon! She could attend a class on scripting or search for free hair, clothing, accessories, gestures (animations), vehicles, buildings or plants. She’s also likely to meet new avatars, (and perhaps gain a sense of the people operating them), and have random, often serendipitous conversations and adventures.

It's recreation/re-creation manifest! It can be a 'serious game' for engaging educational experiences, but there are also serious concerns about equity and inclusiveness. The potentials and the pitfalls make for lively conversations among educators and learning designers. I hope to connect to some of these and aim to share them here.

Will Second Life remain the popular ‘destination’ it currently appears to be for vocational and higher education sectors? Is it just a fad or will there be real benefits for learning that are difficult to gain in other ways? Where might this 3D journey end up?