Archive for the ‘Wales Wide Web’ Category

More on Second Life – Convince Me

December 20th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

Dear oh dear – my post yesterday on Second Life seems to have created a bit of a stir. Here’s a typical reply from Sean Fitzgerald entitled Graham Attwell Needs to Take a Closer Look at Second Life.

Now lets just clarify a couple of things. I most certainly was not complaining about the compelling nature of Second Life. Just the reverse – that is what impressed me so much. And that is why I think there is a big future in such immersive environments. Would I rather go to a university run Blackboard site or to Second Life. No competition.

I have two big reservations about SL. The first is the limitations on creativity. Sean reckons there is loots of room for creativity – even on a free account. I can’t get it – and neither did my students last week.

Secondly I remain unhappy about turning over big chunks of our learning infrastructure to Private companies – look what happened to Blackboard. Companies are there to make money. We are in big danger of education becoming just another commodity to be bought and sold and I think education is more important than that.

Anyway – just for the record – here is my students first impressions of Second Life after about three hours….

General first impressions

  • I was fascinated by creating my own charater – you can have your own life on the internet – you can get lost in it fast

    You forget you are in the internet – you take it for real – no one knows I am a girl when they see my charater in this game

    My computer was very slow – lot of fun – takes some time to learn how to move the figure

    I dont understand what it means for art – I am sitting here speaking with myself

    I know already role playing games off line and this is not so different – but with this one you can chat

    Control of the avatar is difficult to discover – it took quite a while to find people to talk to


  • I know many graphic programmes – it is not enough to just create some clothes – this is not enough for art (is this a problem that you have to pay for more functionality?). Can you integrate file formats from other programmes?

    You need to be able to design off line.

    The potential is to make experinces without real consequences. Can test and try things out – no physical laws – and destroy things without consequences in reality.

    Time changes – real time much faster


  • Communication is not very intelligent ….. the shyness of your real character is transferred to virtual space and applies there as well.

    Is this true (referring to previous point) – because it is not the real world people are more likely to talk. You can leave if you are not intersted in what people say – you just fly away. You dont have to give a good impession of yourself in a virtual world…

    Why am I there – I want more than just talking for the sake of it.

    You can just talk trivia but you can also talk more in depth.

The attractions

  • You can try to be someone you are not…….you can always create someone new.

    If I create my own virtual world in a closed community leaning takes place but not in this case where anyone can take part – triviality of chats show is like this this.

    Immersive environments will be an additional place to learn. In the future there will be a virtual achool where I can go – I can stay at home – but do we want people to stay at home and not have social contact (face to face). It doent replace real life.

    Do we want to mirror our models into virtual reality or do we want something different?

    This is a community of users but not a community of communicators – but there may be interesting closed communities within Second Life.

    It is better to deal with issues as a real person – easy to do in SL but it is not a real challenge

I should add that at the end of the workshop we did a quick scenario game called ‘Headlines of the Future’. And they all saw SL or an SL type environments as having a big future to play in teaching and learning in the future.

I am still open to convincing. My SL moniker is Graham Lightfoot. If anyone wants to meet me in SL and try to convince me I am happy to come and fly with you. I’m off line until Sunday but just send me an invite for after then. Hey, Christmas in SL must be less commercialised than in Pontypridd.

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Creativity costs money in Second Life

December 19th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

This is a long overdue post on Second life. Honest – I was there before all the hype. And ten days ago I ran a workshop as a semester course for art education students at the University of Flensburg on using games and immersive environments in education. As part of that workshop we asked all participants to establish an account in second Life and developed a number of exercises and activities for them. The main aim was for them to evaluate the potentials and drawbacks of Second Life and immersive environments for art education.

I will write another report on the planning and processes of the workshop itself. In this post I will provide my own thoughts on Second Life – although my ideas are very much based on the feedback, exercise and comments of the students.

Firstly Second Life is compelling. The major problem was getting the students to stop ‘playing’ in order to have some feedback and discussion. However I am not so sure that is not just due to novelty value – it may well be less compelling after ten or twenty hours.

Second Life and other such environments raise interesting questions about identity. It may be because they are art students, but all the participants on the Flensburg course spent a long, long time designing their avatars – getting their hair right, doing their makeup and worrying about thir clothes. And  I think having an avatar and being able to change its appearance does help in developing and projecting an on-line identity and presence that is often lacking in text based on-line communication. Having said that I worry about the idea of a second identity. I think we should be encouraging learners to see their on line identity as part of themselves – not something separated. I said this at the plenary session on informal learning at Educa On-line and was criticised by some of the games people who pointed to the importance of play in learning. I take their point, but am still unconvinced by the subtext in SL which is that you can be someone completely different than yourself (despite being in a world which attempts whenever it can to copy western capitalism as a model).

SL – like other such environments – raises interesting question about gender. The students in my workshop were all female (interesting in itself that only female students signed up for the course). One chose a male identity in SL and was interested in the different ways ion which others reacted to her.

We were using 2 year old IBM Thinkpads for the workshop and had considerable hustle getting round the university firewall. SL was slow on the Thinkpads though notably faster on my Dual Core MacBook. Furthermore the search engine was broken all of the Friday and in general the performance of SL leaves something to be desired. Rendering can be very slow when going to new locations and text is often difficult to read.

Although in theory you can meet interesting people and talk to them the reality is that communication is as perfunctory as on some of the better populated bulletin boards. The main topic of conversation is sex and most comments are fairly crass. I guess for any real communication you need to meet your own friends. SL dies of course provide many social areas – bars and clubs but after the first five minutes novelty of watching our character dancing in a sleazy bar and having a few drinks it soon gets pretty boring.

So – education. Well the main education areas are pretty peaceful – no-one but me ever appears to be there. And pretty dull – a few notices and advertising for on-line courses -what is innovative in that. OK – I see some of the universities are developing on-line classrooms. But why? There is no more interest in having my icon sit down to an on-line lecture than there is in sitting down to a lecture myself. And considerably less contextual interest. Why oh why do we keep trying to copy traditional pedagogies in different on-line environments.

But my major reservation is the limitations on creativity. the students in the workshop are used to creating and wanted to create their own ‘exhibits’ in SL. Now you can make some squares and triangles and other basis shapes and can give them some texture. But its not much and not enough. Of course I suspect you can do much more if you pay but there is the rub.

The whole model of SL is a capitalist model and doing anything costs. This is not a tool for free public education. I am also amused to see the developing national identities and especially in the appearance of German BierKellers and German flags all over the place.

Having said that I do see a future for such immersive environments. But such places need to be outside the control of the Linden Corporation and need to be designed to allow real creativity for learners. In Europe there is particular interest in ‘virtual exchanges’ between learners in different countries and I think such an environments could be brilliant for this. But the learners must be able not just to select form a selection on Linden sanctioned appearances and names but to really shape and develop their own environment and to collaborate in the development of its social norms and social environments. OK – it might end up like SL – dominated by sex clubs,  and strictly based on wealth. But I am still optimistic that there is an alternative.

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Social Software, Personal Learning Environments and Lifelong Competence Development

December 11th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

I’ve submitted a paper for the Ten Competence project Conference to be held in Manchester in January.

The paper brings together previous work on Personal Learning Environments with research into the use of ICt for learning in Small and Medium Enterprises. The following extract is from the summary and the full paper can be downloaded below.

“In terms of the development of ICT for supporting lifelong competence development there is the need for a fundamental policy revue. Past models have focused on the extension of the largely consumer driven model of developing standardised learning materials and component qualifications to be delivered through a Learning Management System or Virtual Learning Environment and of targeted marketing campaigns towards enterprises. This model is not only costly but has made little impact and is unsustainable. If learning is best developed through communities of practice then the focus for programmes and projects seeking to provide e-learning for SMEs should be refocused on the provision of applications and support for distributed communities of practice for SMEs.

In terms of software applications this requires the use of social software rather than more traditional e-learning programmes and applications. Rather than subsidise the development of professional learning materials the emphasis could be on the sharing of peer group learning materials through networks. Aggregator applications allow advanced searching and the bringing together of materials from different sources. The refocusing of programmes and projects in this way allow the vision of an ecology of learning materials, rather than the present unsustainable pilot applications.

Thus the development and implementation of Personal Learning Environments for lifelong competence development requires not just a new approach to learning software and architectures, welcome though the Services Oriented Approach is, but the shaping of technology and the co-development of enterprises and business development policies, new pedagogies as well as educational services to facilitate learning and knowledge development.”


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The need to keep showing

December 11th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

Great gig last week at the danish Knowledge Laboratory. Thanks to Niels Henrik Helms for inviting me – thanks to everyone else for interesting discussions. It really is good to be in the Nordic countries – the understanding of links between knowledge development and learning in communities of practice is stunning. I think it is in these countries that we will start to see more generalised movements away for Learning management Systems towards Personal Learning Environments. I can remember six years ago being in Tampere University in Finland and be stunned to see the students accessing their email on open access computers using the Unix command line!

And whilst it is no longer trendy to talk about Action Research, that tradition still exists albeit in rarified forms.

The one thing I left out of my presentation was licenses. talking to people at lunch time, they were concerned about the licensing mess but had not heard of Creative Commons. Its a mistake to assume that just because the people on the Ed Tech speaking and conference all use CC licenses the rest of the world knows about them too,. We need to continue to show and explain how Creative Commons works.

Anyway – for any of you reading this blog who were at the conference last week – here – as promised – is the link to Creative Commons.

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Learning Landscapes

December 7th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

I’m in Odense in Denmark for a conference organised by the Danish Universities Knowledge Lab on the future of digital technologies and learning. The title of my presentation is ‘Learning Landscapes’ – charting the move from the ‘walled garden’ of the institutional Virtual Learning Environment to Personal Learning Environments.

At the end of the presentation I will be taking participants for a quick spin around the ELGG application.

It’s a long presentation – fifty minutes. I wrote it on the plane from Barcelona yesterday – sadly I don’t have any photos on my new computer so have reverted to my old style of a lot of slides with (hopefully) not too many words on each slide (and white text on a black background.

You can download the presentation here in Powerpoint (3.1Mb) or PDF (black on white if you really do want to print it) – curiously also 3Mb.



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More thoughts on Educa on-line

December 5th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

Last Friday I chaired one of the morning plenary sessions at Educa on-line.

the session was on informal learning and was packed out – about 700 ‘participants’. At least informal learning is now being taken seriously – although I have to say this was not perhaps the ideal setting for learning to take place – formal or informal.

there were four speakers. I was a little disappointed with Jay Cross – who – although he said it nicely – seemed to say little or nothing new. I was greatly impressed with Kevin Wheeler from ‘Global Learning Resources’ – in general I am pretty cynical about consultants but Kevin knows what he is talking about, is reflective and challenging.

Then there were presentations form Yael Ravin from IBM and Mike McKeown from Cisco (I have to say this is not my normal setup or company – but I kind of enjoyed a glimpse into the corporate world). Both gave competent presentations, as one would expect. Both showed off what their companies were doing in terms of using ICT to encourage informal learning.

Neither really gave any indication of how successful such activities were (even more useful would have been what is not working and why) – rather they focused on the different platforms they had developed. I am quite sure they had put much time and expertise into developing these platforms but i saw little that could not be hacked together in a day or two using open source and a little ingenuity. perhaps that is just a sign of how fast social software has advanced!

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December 4th, 2006 by Graham Attwell

The Wales Wide Web – first with all the news that matters.

We are happy to be able to inform readers that Sara Zondergeld is expecting a child. The baby is due in May. Sara says she does not mind whether it is a boy or a girl.

Best wishes to Sara and Ray.

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Educa On-line Berlin

December 1st, 2006 by Graham Attwell

I’ve been in berlin since Tuesday for the annual Educa On-line conference. Pretty hectic but I’ve sneaked off for a few minutes to write a quick blog entry.

Educa On-line is a funny conference. the main reason people go to to meet other people and others go for the same reason. About 2000 delegates – it is a great social occasion. Having said that with so many people it is not so easy to find people – I chaired a workshop on Communities of Practice on Wednesday and haven’t managed to find the other participants since the event.

Educa is not really an research conference – it is more of a corporate event. Having said that I have attended some great presentations of which two stand out. The first is Peter Rees Jones’ presentation on e-Portfolios and Service Oriented Architectures in education. At last – someone has broken down the ‘wall’ of different services and shown what services mean form a practice point of view. If you can find it – watch this presentation. And I went to a session entitled “A conversation with George Siemens’. Great session – george just sat on the table and answered questions for an hour and a half. Thoroughly enjoyable and a great e-learning experience.

It is encouraging to see much more attention being paid to learning taking place outside the formal learning environment and context – be it school or work. There is a minor buzz over informal learning and communities of practice and signs of some progress in this area.

The second trend is a bit harder to read. All the big companies are embracing in rhetoric web 2 and e-l;earning 2.0. Blackboard even had teh cheek to cite Stephen Downes (and to wrongly attribute Scott Wilson’s well known diagramme to Stephen!).

Fronter have in their promo material that their produce is ‘e-leanring 2.0 ready’, whatever that might possibly mean. This is just bullshit. The reality is that they are incorporating blogs and wikis as part of their software but their is no change in the overall approach to learning, or indeed in the overall functionality. Then of course they will be able to go along to institutional policy makers and say you do not need social software because we already do it.

Fronter themselves even claim to be Open Source, when it is patently obvious that by any normal definition they are not. Still, this represents a sea change in that it is now seen that being open source is a positive marketing feature!

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