Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Set Up

This blog has served two purposes. One was to experience creating a blog (ta da!). The other is to write about my experiences as an avatar in Second Life. I've been thinking about creating and experiencing a second life as an avatar for a couple of years. I now have the impetus to do both.

As a graduate student I am writing this blog and experiencing Second Life as the result of the class taught by Dr. Jennifer Stone called "Digital Literacies."

There are a variety of literacies on the internet that allow for the search of identity. Because of the amount of time people are spending on the internet, these literacies are being used as discourses in the shaping of identity. I am interested in what I call "recognition moments," those times when I consciously am aware that I have learned something or moved from one level of knowledge or mastery to the next. Within the context of Second Life I anticipated that there is the potential for informal and formal “identity shifts” or personal "moments of recognition" within this type of literacy. I looked for those recognition moments, either formal or informal, as my avatar moved from creation through learning to interacting with other avatars within Second Life. Because creating and using an avatar causes actions that are more observable than interactions in my First Life, this seemed to be an ideal method to look at how recognition moments happen and how I react to them.

What I have been most surprised about is how closely Second Life (SL) is structured to First Life (FL). This makes sense, considering the fact that SL was created by people to allow people to create, in virtual space, that which they want to have in FL but may or may not be able to own or produce. Within this structure so many of the FL social constructs have stayed. Appearance doesn't seem to matter, but most avatars I've seen are all thin and, in their own terms, beautiful. Ugly and overweight does not seem to exist in SL or at least where I've been (I've not been everywhere). The variety of research on the topic of avatars and how they reflect their creators point out that avatars are normally better looking than the original models and that this is reflected in how they act as well.

I was also surprised that recognition of learning success was automatically programmed into SL at the beginning. Once you are "off the island" (help island) then you are mostly on your own, although you can find people from Linden Labs to help or go to the help portion of the website for anything.

Once I worked my way off the island, the recognition moments have been few and far between. I've mostly been frustrated with knowing how to move my body when interacting as well as where to go to find people who share interests. But, like FL, that all takes time and is happening. I'm waiting now for the next recognition moment - and I don't know what that might be, since this is much like FL and I don't know at any given moment if that will be a recognition moment for me or not. It appears that recognition moments can (at this point in my research) be separated into three types: within the construct of the system (for example what Linden Labs has programmed into SL), external recognition from other avatars, and internal recognition by me personally. As I continue to research recognition moments it will be interesting to see if they sort into more categories as well as which categories have the most recognition moments.

In terms of educational uses there are many things about SL that could be utilized. SL has thought of most of them, since they do have a Teens SL for the under 18 set and there is an Educational SL section for both under 18 classes as well as the potential for universities to purchase land and build in SL. You can have a secure place to learn, build learning spaces, manipulatives, and, in the process, help students of all ages understand who they are and what their recognition moments are - whether internal or externally acknowledged. The potential is there to help learners understand the time and effort required to master new learning, including new discourses and how SL is rife with interextuality. To see what one digital literacies professor is doing with SL and how they are blogging professionally with this (as an auto-ethnography, as is this), please see Angela A. Thomas' blog. It is the best professional blog covering digital literacies that I've found, although my search is not exhaustive. She is doing much of what I'd like to try out in SL, although with a different focus. She teaches in SL, attends and presents at conferences, and is working through all this as an auto-ethnographer, but could include research with other subjects as well.

Another site to visit if you are an educator is called VLearn 3D. The site searches for educators who are engaged in digital literacies and provide a space in which sharing, encouragement, and interaction may happen to help everyone with education in virtual spaces. They are engaged in everything from helping educators and students work in virutal worlds/classrooms/etc., to assisting in grant writing for educators wanting or working in virtual environments.

One of the groups we studied in our class was the New Media Consortium. They have been busy in SL, holding a conference on creativity in August 2007.


I will continue to blog about all kinds of things (since that is the title of the blog). While I will spend time in SL, it has taught me that my FL is more important to me than SL and that recognition moments are everywhere if we are aware.

Groundhog Day (Apologies to Danny Rubin)

How many times do you attempt a thing (create an effect on the computer, learn to play a song on an instrument, try to use a computer keyboard to manipulate your avatar,...) before you become aware of what you are attempting?

Does it depend on what you are doing? Are you aware from the first try that you are wanting a certain effect created since you started with the intention to create the effect? Are you aware of each keystroke and mouse click, or is some of it already so automatic that you don't pay attention to each moment of the attempt?

If I (or you) are not aware of the attempts at mastery, then will I (or you) be aware of the recognition moment when mastery is attained? Must there be both for internal motivation to move from wanting to having?

Is the role of mentors (parents, teachers, bosses, mentors of all kinds) or even society to point out the steps towards accomplishing mastery? If I am not aware of a recognition moment, if it comes from a mentor as an external indicator, will that help move me towards an internal recognition or do I become dependent on the external and never develop the internal?

The reason for asking this question is to open dialog and thought regarding how this can be used in interactions with others, especially when teaching. Note that everyone is a teacher at some point when interacting with others, so it can apply to anyone.

If a mentor or teacher can see the recognition point within a student, or close to when it happens, would that help both in how they work towards mastery? Because of how a recognition moment works for me, it is different from a teachable moment - that time when I'm ready to learn something in such a way that it becomes a part of who I am. A recognition moment is when I KNOW that I have mastered something and am ready to move to the next unknown to master. I have had the experience of having a mentor recognize my accomplishment before I felt I had done so. When this happens the recognition moment for me internally, may be when the external acknowledgement happens or it may be much later, after I internally know that I have the mastery I was working towards.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Second Life as a Digital Literacy?

Second Life is continuing to develop. Everything about it is constantly being either refined or created, just like First Life, only cheaper. The only barrier to joining is finding a computer with enough bandwidth to support SL. Theoretically you could play from the library, which means that anyone has access. Research would need to be done on how this would work and if it is being done, though.

As a Digital Literacy SL encompasses just about every aspect of what digital literacies represents. Creating an avatar and identity is just the first part of how this is a complex digital literacy. Being able to negotiate through the creative process, learning how to use the multimodalities that are automatically installed on the screen as tools to use to navigate in SL, and eventually being able to find where you want your avatar to be involved socially, professionally, as a student; the choices are seemingly endless because if you don't find what you want, SL encourages you to create it for your use or to sell to others. (Yes, there are people making money in SL to support themselves in FL, both as normal entrepreneurs and even as celebrities).

As Colin Lankshear and Michele Knoble note in chapter one of their book A New Literacies Sampler titled "Sampling "the New" in New Literacies", Peter Lang Publishing: New York 2007:

"Understanding literacies from a sociocultural perspective means that reading and writing can only be understood in the contexts of social, cultural, political, economic, historical practices to which they are integral, of which they are a part. This view lies at the heart of what Gee (1996) calls the "new" literacy studies, or socioliteracy studies (see also Hull and Schultz 2001, Knobel 1999, Lankshear 1997, Street 1984, 1995). The relationship between human practice and the production, distribution, exchange, refinement, negotiation and contestation of meanings is a key idea here. Human practices are meaningful ways of doing things or getting things done (Scribner and Cole 1981; also Franklin 1990, Hull and Schultz 2001). There is no practice without meaning, just as there is no meaning outside of practice. Within contexts of human practice, language (words, literacy, texts) gives meaning to contexts and, dialectically, contexts give meaning to language." (1-2)
What a mouthful to state that Second Life is constructed to represent what the owners and players consider to be the best of what is offered in a context that is intertextually playful but, because of the community standards, is a serious social construct.

"To play a role, be a particular identity, etc., is a matter of both "getting coordinated" as an element in a Discourse, and of coordinating other elements. Lanugage/literacy is a crucial element of discursive "coordinating," but it is only one aspect, and the other elements need to be "in sync" for fluent performance - literally - to be realised." (3-4)

If having to learn how to manipulate your avatar in SL doesn't help you learn more about both the discourse you are portraying and how to read and understand the multimodalities of how to navigate in SL, then you are not paying attention. SL is the perfect tool to showcase and examine these literacies as they reflect FL and the player.

Shouting into the void

At this point I've not "made friends" in SL. I've met and interacted with others but only in an informational manner. The main method of interacting is through typing text. SL has set it up so that when you are typing the avatar imitates the look of typing to ensure that there is a social cue to "show" that someone is engaged and not waiting for an answer or to move on to something else.

Alessandra Talamo and Beatrice Ligorio discuss the use of text based interaction in their article "Strategic Identities in Cyberspace" in CyberPsychology & Behavior Vol. 4, No. 1, 2001, 109-122, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. They are "describing how identities are perceived and constructed in cyberspace" (109). Their view is that as long as interaction is text based, and does not involved sensory interaction, then there is more room psychologically to play with identity (111). In their study of interaction between international classrooms, the teachers normally chose one avatar appearance and stayed with that look throughout the eight month interaction time. This allowed for recognition by others as well as the ability to set themselves up in a particular discourse and have continuity in that setting. The students, however, not only experimented with all the avatars available to see which one they liked to inhabit, but they would also change clothes as well as avatars depending on what they were doing and where they were. There was no consistency of discourse with the majority of the students - they were trying out a variety of looks to see what worked in each situation (111 -112).

According to Sharon Begley's article in Newsweek about avatars, research shows that if you have an avatar that you and others see as attractive or not will affect how you interact with others. As in real life attractive avatars were more outgoing, friendly, assertive, and even had smaller personal space when interacting with other avatars. Less attractive avatars created within the person directing them a more introverted personality, more cautious with a larger personal space. In other words people saw the avatar as themselves on screen and acted with real world responses to how they physically appeared to themselves and others. This expands on an earlier post called ""Male or Female? Will it matter?" At this point in SL it has not mattered in my interactions because they have all been informational. I have noticed that everyone is thin and fit looking, though. I can't believe that all the FL person of the avatars are thin and fit. While I haven't seen all of the over 13 million members I'm sure that many do not match their FL look.

The other point in Begley's article that is intriguing is that if a person has an attractive avatar it makes them feel more attractive and act as if they are more attractive even when they are not playing the role. In other words the effects spill over into their actual lives. Hopefully there will be more research done in this area. It would be especially interesting to see how this affects teenagers perceptions of themselves as an avatar and in their real life interactions - does it help them feel more confident so that their social and school interactions become more positive for them?

Kate Khatib in her article "Auto Identities: Avatar Identities in the Digital Age", printed in Thamyris/Intersecting No. 15 (2007) 69 - 78, discusses the idea that we cannot "approach our online avatars as purely virtual manifestations of physical subjects, it is my contention that we must approach these online identities in a more mystical sense - as manifestations of idealized vision of the self." This matches what I've seen in SL as well as read on other SL member blogs when talking about how they view themselves in SL. They are able to create not only a more appealing self in SL but some create a SL that earns them money and fame in both SL and FL.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Click Your Heels

The learning curve in SL is pretty amazing. Not as long as in FL when moving from birth to full fledged membership, but it is similar to learning to play a new instrument or learning any new discourse - the basics come pretty fast but to finesse them can take forever.

Surprisingly, my first recognition moment in SL came before SL confirmed that I had learned how to make my avatar move around physically. When your avatar is created SL takes you through a series of exercises to 'take yourself for a test run.' These include learning how to use the keyboard and mouse to do a variety of items. There are four of these to 'master' before you get a "key" that allows you to move to the next phase. I wasn't sure how this would work. But, once I mastered the first of the four items, I exhaled in relief because I knew that I'd get the other three without any problems. That was my recognition moment for mastery - I can do this! Then my surprise. When I'd completed all four tasks, my avatar jumped into the air and pumped her arm! How did that happen? Are there other gestures? How do I make them work?

I don't know if the avatar response is programed in at that point to get you interested in learning more, but it brought about a few responses from me. One was - do I really have control of my avatar? Another was, as noted, how did that happen and how can it happen again? Learning had taken place and the 'bait' to move onwards had been put before me. All teaching encompasses this - set out tasks that, once successfully completed, lead to other tasks. Unlike my SL experience, I do not recall a teacher 'previewing' their lessons for the next day until I received a syllabus for classes in college. I don't want to assume that a book is a preview of what will come next since it normally is not. Like SL, FL can be seen this way if we see everything we do in terms of one step leading to another. Yet with so many choices, what to do next can become paralyzing in either place. I suppose that this is where mentors come into play.

Speaking of mentors, in SL anyone with the last name of Linden (for Linden Labs) is considered someone who can mentor anyone (answer questions, I would assume, is their main function). After being away from Help Island for a few weeks (I hate to admit that), I was "moved off the island" by a Linden Labs person when I went back after being gone for awhile. When I logged on again, there was an update, so I updated. When I did, the graphics had changed and I was slightly confused as to what I had/had not done. When I tried to make sure I'd seen everything, a very official looking female (in a blue skirted suit, shoulder-length blond hair, and high heels no less!) came up to me and basically told me that Help Island was for newbees and I was no longer a newbee. I was taken aback at that and forgot to ask some of the questions I'd been wanting to know. She basically told me that I needed to be moving into SL and leave Help Island. Wow. There's a built in monitoring system that didn't seem to work as well as I'd hoped - she didn't have any idea that time had passed and updates had been made or that I might need to get my bearings again. Each time I log in the system tells me when I was last logged into SL - I would assume that any Linden employee had this info. But, being told it was time to leave was a recognition moment that many times we ask people to move along on our timeline, not theirs. From an educational standpoint this must be what students feel like who do not feel like they have mastered the content yet but are still moved along into a new arena to learn more - the questions are still there, but now it is more difficult (in their minds) to find the answers, sort through the information and process how to use it all in a manner that makes sense to themselves.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Female or Male? Will it matter?

Recognition point for Karla: in an auto-ethnography everything is reported/discussed/reflected upon. Note to self.

Female or male? Animal or person? Why do I look like I do as an avatar?

In the article The Ideal Elf: Identity Exploration in World of Warcraft, Katherine Bessiere, A. Fleming Seay, and Sara Kiesler found that the avatars chosen by players have more favorable attributes than their own self-rated attributes.

Personally, I live with what I look like every day, just like the rest of the population of the world. Unlike the participants in Flemming, Seay and Kiesler's research, I wasn't interested in more favorable attributes than myself. I wanted a male avatar and to look as different as myself as possible. (As an aside, I took an internet test years ago to see if I have a male or female brain and found out that I have a male brain. That helped explain a lot about how everyone interacts with me - both men and women are confused!) But none of the looks I was presented appealed to me. I wanted my avatar to look as androgynous as possible. No androgynous choices except for the goth looks - mostly. The male goth had hair and clothes that didn't appeal but I could live with the female goth look, so I'm female. Maybe once I can manipulate how I look I'll change myself again.

The other part to wanting to look different is to see how others react and interact with my avatar Do looks really matter in a place like SL, like they do in First Life, or can you really look like anything you want with no discrimination for physical attributes? I'm betting that looks still matter and many of my recognition points when interacting with other avatars will be affected by looks to some extent. We'll see.

I thought for a long time about being a rabbit, but both the male and female rabbits were too steeped in North American male/female stereotypes.

Bessiere, Katherine, A. Fleming Seay, and Sara Kiesler. The Ideal Elf: Identity Exploration in World of Warcraft. CyberPsychology & Beharior, Volume 10, Number 4, 2007. (c)Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.

Why Second Life?

I learned about Second Life a few years ago (ok, about 3 or 4) listening to Ira Flatow talk about how to meet him on Science Friday in Second Life (SL). Within a year or two I was reading about job interviews taking place in SL as well as people beginning to make money - real money, not just Linden Dollars, the currency used in SL.

It all came together in my Digital Literacies class with Dr. Jennifer Stone. She asked us to choose a digital literacy as a final project. Besides wanting to start a blog (ta da!) I'd been reading about conferences and classes being held in SL and thinking about how to attend. The match was made and here I am. In addition to wanting to learn about both, I'm also fascinated with the idea of avatars and identity.

Second Life, as a virtual space, utilizes avatars as the public "face" of an individual to interact within Second Life. Because you choose your avatar's appearance you have the ability to also choose your identity in SL (you receive a selected list at first, but from what I'm seeing you can change your appearance if you have the tools, ability, and Linden Dollars, if needed). You can have more than one avatar if you so choose, although that needs a First Life or real world currency.

While the idea of avatars and identity have/are being written about, for the purposes of this class and the current writings in this blog, I am using an avatar to observe two types of interactions within SL. One is to learn about the SL culture and how the structure of SL forces my avatar into certain roles or interactions with the culture - either the physical landscape or in relationship with other avatars. The second is to focus on what I call recognition moments - those times when I personally and consciously understand that either I as Karla or I as my avatar - and is there a difference?- have gained mastery of any type (movements, being recognized by others, etc.) as well as when others within SL seem to have these recognition moments in relation to my avatar as well (within bounds. I will not record every movement that I make, when I breathe, etc. This will be those instances that I choose to report). Will my avatar's identity change over time with accumulation of mastery and will any recognition moment change as well? In other words, my avatar will lead a highly observed and reflective existence.

Identity and Discourses

A little housekeeping duty to catch us up: define the meaning of identity and discourses.

Within this blog the term identity is defined as who a person is from the mixture of the basic personality traits one has when born along with how they are shaped by life experiences as well as within the variety of discourses we inhabit.

Discourses is used to mean any group, whether one person or a multiple, of which we are a part, whether chosen (for example being a graduate student, or if you decide to marry, you become a spouse or if you decide to not marry you may be single or have a partner) or not chosen (a child - usually - has no choice as to the family they live with or you cannot vote in the US if you are under 18). I believe that within different discourses individuals tend to not only show different aspects of their personality, but for some they will speak differently or even act differently. How a person interacts with their parental unit (mother, father, guardian) is normally different than with their lover and may, depending on age and interests, be yet again different with friends, co-workers, teachers, you get the picture.

For a more in depth discussion of discourses as used to inform identity in both language usage and social usage, see Michele Knobel's 1994 book Everyday Literacies published by Peter Lang (see chapter 2) . Michele has a blog with Colin Lankshear called