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An ethnographic look at how people behave online in virtual worlds compare to who they are in the real world

I went to Oxford to attend a lunchtime lecture hosted by the Oxford Internet Institute and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology – anyone can attend.

I stumbled upon the talk, I asked, they said come along.

Everyone else was an OII doctoral research student.

My interest was in the explorative method, a reminder of how anthropologists study ‘in the field’ and as much as anything else its an opportunity to talk to and meet people with similar interests.

Three years online and if I continue it will be lectures and face to face – or blended.

I gave myself three hours to get there – just as well as there were accidents on both the M23 and M25. Coming back … more accidents, a 40 mile tailback. I pulled into a service station for 90 minutes sad

The M25 was designed as a river, it’s turned into a glacier.

Dr William Kelly is Research Associate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Studies and Professor at the School of Global Studies, Tama University (Tokyo). He gave a talk on what he is learning about Japanese Virtual Worlds by talking to the creators of specialist niche environments for Japanese people.

QUESTIONS

How to study expressions of culture in a virtual space.

THEMES

Started to think about questions on:

  • expression of identity/self–hood –self–presentation,
  • fashion/adornment, body type.
  • concepts of utilization of space, as building things – how after work group socializing, what some of patterns do they replicate.
  • patterns of social interaction

Culturally specific venues and services – Japan for Japanese, Non–Japanese for Japan, and enthusiasts.

ISSUES

Identifying field sites

Handling offline and online – Japanese write nothing of their offline world.

Ethical

Protection of privacy and permissions.

METHODOLOGY

Company visits and interviews

Contacting producers, visit Tokyo

What is their business in Second Life.

How do they contact and interact with consumers

FINDINGS

People who are very well socialised in the online world, and well socialised in the offline world, which is where my interest took me. (Anthropologist). i.e field study.

Are people being themselves or schizophrenic online … and where is the development of the person occurring? Between the two? WK thinks between the two. Many typing v fast, not speaking. Like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever? Are deceptions successfully played out in VW.

A given in Second Life that everyone is an avatar. Everything is a pseudonym. e.g. an architect in real life who is extremely active and fast in Second Life too. Some have a strong professional engagement, for others it is clearly escape from hard lives.

Two Virtual Worlds (VW) were studied and two specialist creators of content for these VWs. The worlds were the Japanese world within Second Life and a VW recreation of Tokyo called ‘MeeToo’.

It was a lesson in Japanese culture, mannerisms, personalities and behaviours.

Japanese did not like the orientation part of Second Life and were quickly put off. The first company built an alternative that would suit Japanese rather than US sensibilities.

The answer has been to mimic online the most detailed of Japanese habits, from how they greet and how they gesture, to recreate in.

Thoughts on ethical issues surrounding studying younger students in virtual worlds and online

Who?

Young people

Why?

Their use of mobile phones and networked devices

What?

Immersive Virtual Worlds and virtual inhabitants (not everyone’s cup of tea)

  • Informal learning settings

  • Ethical challenges across the full range of contexts

Suggestion

  • Keep ethical questions open given the changing environment.
  • A participatory and iterative approach (Lally et al. 2012 : 02 )
  • Assumption that ‘developments in mobile and networked technologies change young people’s culture landscape, allowing them to communicate, socialise and collaborate on their personal projects in new ways’. (Lally et al. 2012 : 02 )
  • Indeed, outside the formal education system (Sharples, Graber, Harrison, & Logan, 2009)

Context

  • Outside the classroom
  • How to research
  • New ‘ecologies’ of learning (Looi, 2001)
  • Hanging around the changing rooms after a swimming session – banter that leaks out into the general public.

PROBLEM

  • Integration of these platforms/worlds into learning design.
  • Merging formal and informal.
  • Bridging formal and nonformal/informal contexts (TEL-TLRP) projects – ‘Inter-Life’ and ‘Personal Inquiry’  (Lally et al. 2012 : 04)

‘The projects have to negotiate territory that by its very informal and collaborative nature requires ethical and educational processes to be negotiated and distributed amongst participants, rather than pre-determined by their institutional context’. (Lally et al. 2012 : 04)

Like bringing a game of British Bulldogs or ‘Kick the can’ into a teaching setting, like boy scouts … and killing it off in the process. Kids would run a mile if they spotted a teacher. Even at university, extracurricular that had nothing to do with the course … and faculty associations which did.

Ethics – and Aristotle and ‘phronesis’. (Unnecessarily pretentious or a valid grounding in ethics.

If we go back to Aristotle then why miss out all the philosophical thinking and development since, at least via humanists such as Hegel)

  • Quest for external and universal truths
  • Skills required to pursue a particular end

Elliot, (2006)‘disciplined conversation in which reasons for action are scrutinised, critiqued and modified’.

Phronesis – underpins the argument for iterative and participatory research.  (Lally et al. 2012 : 02 ) = practical wisdom (wikipedia).

Learning in informal and non-formal settings already constitutes the majority of educational interactions during a person’s lifetime (Livingstone, 1999)

Actually it starts in the womb as the brain forms in the foetus from around five months and never ends … a person continues to learn to the moment they die … possibly even moments after the heart has stopped and the brain finally shuts down and everything is lost.

I wouldn’t count on anything that is said by Marc Prensky (2005)

A more reliable source might be the OII Annual Survey for GB usage, Rebecca Eynon.

Emergent social network technologies (Selwyn, 2008)

Prohibition at school.

Skills learnt: online collaborative learning, development of skills in web-based social networking, occur almost entirely outside the formal education system. (Lally et al. 2012 : 04 )

  • The perpetual consumer (Lawson, 2004) and the net savvy adolescent.
  • Direct link between economic activities and consumption.  (Lally et al. 2012 : 04 )

AdBlocker, scrambling facebook, if you get ads in blogs pay to exclude, tape over screen, block pop-ups, move platform (e.g . AOL).

Edutainment rarely competes with the games that have 100m invested.

Novel ethical issues  (Lally et al. 2012 : 04)

The study of people’s personal use of digital technology for learning (Buckingham &Willett, 2009; Crook & Harrison, 2008; Sharples et al., 2009), and their engagement with digital technologies across formal and non-formal/informal settings for education (Vavoula, Sharples, Rudman, Lonsdale, & Meek, 2007), presents novel ethical issues.

REFERENCE

Davies, C., & Eynon, R (2013) Teenagers and Technology (Adolescence and Society)

Eynon, R (2009) Mapping the digital divide in Britain: implications for learning and education.

Kelly, D (Forthcoming 2011) ‘Karaoke’s Coming Home:  Japan’s Empty Orchestras in the United Kingdom’, Leisure Studies 30.

Lally, V; Sharples, M; Tracey, F; Bertram, N and Masters, S. (2012). Researching the ethical dimensions of mobile, ubiquitous,and immersive technology enhanced learning (MUITEL) in informal settings: a thematic review and dialogue. Interactive Learning Environments, 20(3), pp. 217–238.

Livingstone, D.W. (1999). Exploring the icebergs of adult learning: Findings of the first Canadian survey of informal learning practices. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 13(2), 49–72.

Looi, C.K. (2001). Enhancing learning ecology on the internet. Journal of Computer Assisted

Learning, 17(1), 13–20.

Prensky, M. (2005). Don’t bother me mum – I’m learning. St Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Selwyn, N. (Ed.). (2008). Education 2.0?: Designing the web for teaching and learning. London: Institute of Education, University of London, TLRP-TEL.

Sharples, M., Graber, R., Harrison, C., & Logan, K. (2009). E-Safety and Web2.0 for children aged 11–16. Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning, 25, 70–84.

Thoughts on ethical issues surrounding studying younger students in virtual worlds and online

 

Who?

Young people

Why?

Their use of mobile phones and networked devices

What?

Immersive Virtual Worlds and virtual inhabitants (not everyone’s cup of tea)

  • Informal learning settings

  • Ethical challenges across the full range of contexts

Suggestion

  • Keep ethical questions open given the changing environment.
  • A participatory and iterative approach (Lally et al. 2012 : 02 )
  • Assumption that ‘developments in mobile and networked technologies change young people’s culture landscape, allowing them to communicate, socialise and collaborate on their personal projects in new ways’. (Lally et al. 2012 : 02 )
  • Indeed, outside the formal education system (Sharples, Graber, Harrison, & Logan, 2009)

Context

  • Outside the classroom
  • How to research
  • New ‘ecologies’ of learning (Looi, 2001)
  • Hanging around the changing rooms after a swimming session – banter that leaks out into the general public.

PROBLEM

  • Integration of these platforms/worlds into learning design.
  • Merging formal and informal.
  • Bridging formal and nonformal/informal contexts (TEL-TLRP) projects – ‘Inter-Life’ and ‘Personal Inquiry’  (Lally et al. 2012 : 04)

‘The projects have to negotiate territory that by its very informal and collaborative nature requires ethical and educational processes to be negotiated and distributed amongst participants, rather than pre-determined by their institutional context’. (Lally et al. 2012 : 04)

Like bringing a game of British Bulldogs or ‘Kick the can’ into a teaching setting, like boy scouts … and killing it off in the process. Kids would run a mile if they spotted a teacher. Even at university, extracurricular that had nothing to do with the course … and faculty associations which did.

Ethics – and Aristotle and ‘phronesis’. (Unnecessarily pretentious or a valid grounding in ethics.

If we go back to Aristotle then why miss out all the philosophical thinking and development since, at least via humanists such as Hegel)

  • Quest for external and universal truths
  • Skills required to pursue a particular end

Elliot, (2006) ‘disciplined conversation in which reasons for action are scrutinised, critiqued and modified’.

Phronesis – underpins the argument for iterative and participatory research.  (Lally et al. 2012 : 02 ) = practical wisdom (wikipedia).

Learning in informal and non-formal settings already constitutes the majority of educational interactions during a person’s lifetime (Livingstone, 1999)

Actually it starts in the womb as the brain forms in the foetus from around five months and never ends … a person continues to learn to the moment they die … possibly even moments after the heart has stopped and the brain finally shuts down and everything is lost.

I wouldn’t count on anything that is said by Marc Prensky (2005)

A more reliable source might be the OII Annual Survey for GB usage, Rebecca Eynon.

Emergent social network technologies (Selwyn, 2008)

Prohibition at school.

Skills learnt: online collaborative learning, development of skills in web-based social networking, occur almost entirely outside the formal education system. (Lally et al. 2012 : 04 )

  • The perpetual consumer (Lawson, 2004) and the net savvy adolescent.
  • Direct link between economic activities and consumption.  (Lally et al. 2012 : 04 )

AdBlocker, scrambling facebook, if you get ads in blogs pay to exclude, tape over screen, block pop-ups, move platform (e.g . AOL).

Edutainment rarely competes with the games that have 100m invested.

Novel ethical issues  (Lally et al. 2012 : 04)

The study of people’s personal use of digital technology for learning (Buckingham &Willett, 2009; Crook & Harrison, 2008; Sharples et al., 2009), and their engagement with digital technologies across formal and non-formal/informal settings for education (Vavoula, Sharples, Rudman, Lonsdale, & Meek, 2007), presents novel ethical issues.

REFERENCE

Davies, C., & Eynon, R (2013) Teenagers and Technology (Adolescence and Society)

Eynon, R (2009) Mapping the digital divide in Britain: implications for learning and education.

Kelly, D (Forthcoming 2011) ‘Karaoke’s Coming Home:  Japan’s Empty Orchestras in the United Kingdom’, Leisure Studies 30.

Lally, V; Sharples, M; Tracey, F; Bertram, N and Masters, S. (2012). Researching the ethical dimensions of mobile, ubiquitous,and immersive technology enhanced learning (MUITEL) in informal settings: a thematic review and dialogue. Interactive Learning Environments, 20(3), pp. 217–238.

Livingstone, D.W. (1999). Exploring the icebergs of adult learning: Findings of the first Canadian survey of informal learning practices. Canadian Journal for the Study of Adult Education, 13(2), 49–72.

Looi, C.K. (2001). Enhancing learning ecology on the internet. Journal of Computer Assisted

Learning, 17(1), 13–20.

Prensky, M. (2005). Don’t bother me mum – I’m learning. St Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Selwyn, N. (Ed.). (2008). Education 2.0?: Designing the web for teaching and learning. London: Institute of Education, University of London, TLRP-TEL.

Sharples, M., Graber, R., Harrison, C., & Logan, K. (2009). E-Safety and Web2.0 for children aged 11–16. Journal of Computer-Assisted Learning, 25, 70–84.

 

Working in the clouds

Fig. 1. Study of Clouds, John Constable. Inscribed 31 Sept.r 10-11 O’Clock.

Constable did little else but paint the weather from July through to October 1822, which is why curators can accurately say that the artist did this painting on the 1st October.

I’ve shared my frustrations with Cloudworks from the start of the OLDS MOOC 2013 … and had some experience a year ago on H807 Innovations in E-learning … so entered the cloud with a sense of dread.

I stuck at it and found some odd ways in.

What mattered was the contact with people I got to know – as they gave up it became inevitable that I would do so too, not least because I had more pressing matters. H809 a postgraduate module, partially produced by the same team as it comes from the Open University stable, but a very different beast.

More like getting on a bus with four to five stops a week.

A weekend for an assignment every five weeks and a longer sojourn to produce a short dissertation at the end. Four tutors groups each with less than sixteen people in each.

I liken my Cloudworks experience to Freshers’ Fair … every day of the week.

Every time I came in I wondered around getting interested in what other people were doing, sometimes landing their by mistake. So a Fresher’s Fair with some 12 entry doors on several floors with the people behind each stall mostly changing too. Your brain gets tired of the overload, the lack of landscape and in this sense ‘Cloudscape’ is the right term, for the wrong reasons. A ‘Freshers’ Fair’ is when students invite the entire new intake at a university to come and see what societies are on offer – imagine the equivalent of several village halls, with stalls manned by students, offering everything from ballroom dancing to neuroscience, Pooh Sticks Society to the Conservative Association, Bikers to Chess.

I took some pictures of this Constable painting ‘Study of Clouds’ in the Ashmolean Museum when I was in Oxford on Friday.

What was I doing in Oxford. Hankering after ‘the real thing’ – a chance to meet and talk with some people in the flesh, this at a talk on Virtual Worlds in Japanese at the Centre of Social and Cultural Anthropology hosted by the Oxford Internet Institute.

After a while, all this online stuff has you eager to meet like-minds in person.

Virtual worlds cross dressing and role-play

I have an avatar.

In World of Warcraft.

My son took me through the set-up, vital for any software, have an informed and experienced teacher.

I wasn’t allowed to make one quick choice, I had to look at the options. He had views as well as information concerning all the characters. My wife joins in and we plum for a female as the way she poses and sticks out hefty butt when she shuffles about made us laugh. I think I am a night elf. Unable to give her a real name (all taken) I got for Val d’Isere … Which gets transmuted into Valdesire. This is a lady with attitude; I guess I see myself as a Lara Croft type 🙂

Aided by my son he insists we skip the intros.

Intermittently he reaches over and gives me a belt, boots and a sword. And were off. I know I am painfully slow for him but after while I can position myself in front of a hovering, dragon slug thing which seems about as easy to kill as standing on a snail. I gain pouts, collect stuff and go up a few levels.

I assume my son is off to the bathroom when he goes of, actually he has signed on a second computer and with delight says the person I am standing next to, my twin but wearing clothes is him and his (her) name is ‘Notvaldesire’.

‘Let’s have a dual,’ he says and knowing what he is like I get my sword out and put in a strike only to have some god-like voice/ figure berate us.

On returning from the shops I ask if anything had happened as my wife had taken over ‘Our Val.’

We had to sell all you clothes, he said, to buy a spell that didn’t work.’

Having no clothes has me think of the only campus Second Life I’m aware of at Sussex University where I understand that repeated calls go out for everyone in Second Life to take their clothes off 🙁

Thinking about role play as I wondered through Lewes I saw groups of language students in the same blue-tops and football fans gathering before going off to a match.

This is the town where a substantial part of the town dress up for November 5th, indeed I am in Commercial Square and dress up as a Confederate Soldier each year. We joined as newcomers to the town 11 years ago; as a social network it is extraordinarily effective.

 

Role-play and learning in virtual and made-up worlds

We role-play as children to make sense of the world, we take on multiple personas to some degree in real-life as well.

I am particularly taken by the way people with a disability can walk in a virtual world (Peachey 2010) or indeed how any of us can fly and do much more in these environments (die and repeatedly come back to life of course.)

At no cost my dentist, or rather our family dentist, made a set of dentures for me out of dentine that fitted over my teeth. This allowed me to sing. I foolishly sharpened the fangs and promptly punctured my lower lip. I learnt by the way that unless I could have dislocated my jaw biting someone’s neck is impossible. Vampires should bite the wrist or leg, but then all, or at least the obvious sexual innuendos are lost.

Was I living out a fantasy when I played Dracula in my teens?

I kept acting into my twenties until I decided that my mental state couldn’t handle the selection process (rejection) and my experience in front of camera and on stage left me bored senseless (I had minor roles).

Do actors, as in role-play, have to overcome or compensate for who they are?

Peachy raises all the points in a commonsense and everyday way. I can imagine or should research where stepping into the role of an avatar has life-saving qualities, for example is not learning to fly a commercial jet-airliner in a simulator not a form of virtual role-play? I believe firemen are trained in virtual set-ups too and believe the nuclear power industry do so too.

The trouble with doing this in a learning context is the huge development costs. i.e. It has to be better to use a ready made platform. I then ask though, what is wrong with using our imaginations, that improvising and role-play doesn’t require the disguises?

REFERENCE

Peachey, A. (2010) ‘Living in immaterial worlds: who are we when we learn and teach in virtual worlds?’ in Sheehy, K., Ferguson, R. and Clough, G. (eds) Virtual Worlds: Controversies at the Frontier of Education (Education in a Competitive and Globalizing World), New York, NY, Nova Science.

 

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