Produser Etiquette in Social Media and Virtual Worlds

Social Media
I left the way of having my students emailing one to one in international exchanges early. Attached pictures and presentations easily got to huge and there was no common show of working products – only in the individual mailboxes, they were found. And there was a wish to motivate to use the foreign language more widely and across in class.
Language Learning in social networks became the new way to do it. Here a profile could be filled out of any participating student and teacher to voice to other users of the platform. There also was a chat option and the content could be organised in forum discussions, which hereby appeared more as dialogues than an one man show. The facilities in such forums also to include links, images and other embedded content made this way of presentation highly attractive for the students.

Also the document library was useful for the producers of content of more static character, such as the teachers to give helping information on sheets with hints to fulfill the assignments.
First a .ning, then a grou.ps and lately a .spruz network has been in use – all giving the option actively, visible and dialogically to be both producers and users, hereas “produsers” (Bruns 00:12:44) in connection to the recent language learning topic and furthermore to connect individually with other produsers in a wider ranger.

At this point the etiquette was to be made clear for the students, that the chat only was to be used in the target and common languages of the exchangers. Also it was necessary, to advice about correct use of copyrighted material on the public platform and a new user had to await approval to get write rights. One French student, we exchanged with, was excluded because of harassing language. Other students were asked to change their profile pictures/avatars, so that they could reflect something of the person behind. Opposite it also was necessary to remind the students, not to give real life information such as addresses or phone numbers away, as all content would be visible on the entire web.

The experience with the use of these social networks was, that the quality of the content and the intensity of the language learning process increased compared with traditional writing.

Virtual Worlds
Even if Social Media also is used in connection to BABEL Language School in the virtual world of Second Life either as an additional Language Learner .ning network, which is provided for the student’s autodidactical use, or as content brought into the metaverse on specially developed web & video boards in the virtual classrooms, some additional issues for the etiquette have to be regarded. As the virtual world is 3 dimensional and a produser has the representation of an avatar, some attention must be given to the appearance of the avatars in a serious language learning situation. Overdriven use of animation can disturb the learning process as well as unfitting clothing or provocative look of both the teacher’s or the student’s avatar. How fun is it to teach the German language to a dragon for 45 minutes – or to have to look at the teacher’s bare legs, feet and chest with tattoos on. We usually have interviews with the students prior to class start and have the teachers in a kind of trainee position at first before giving them classes where such topics can be talked through if needed.
It is also necessary eventually through the tools in the land menu, to avoid that everyone places objects on the school’s ground, so that there in the end not would be capacity enough for teachers and students to drag their prepared learning objects and productions into the world. Another aspect is, to use the community factor which can be made clear in Second Life by membership of e.g. the school group. This will give out a tag over the head, in this case “BABEL Student”. Apart from the focus a teacher tag and the corresponding student tag gives to the learning situation, in a virtual world it also applies, that “as a member of a particular group, one has access to other members who might be more experienced not only in that group but also the virtual environment in general” (Wise, 15), and that it helps to regulate behaviour in the community. All students and teachers at BABEL Language School are therefore connected in a group, which also is used for messaging.

With such conventions and questions of etiquette regarded, not only individual learning processes are supported to their best, but also the service provider’s reputation is taken care of and increasing.

Bruns, Axel: From Prosumer to Produser. Understanding User-Led Content Creation. 2009. Retrieved March 7, 2013 from: http://www.slideshare.net/Snurb/from-prosumer-to-produser-understanding-userled-content-creation

Wise, Deborah L.: Virtual Identity. How Virtual Worlds Affect Identity.  Retrieved February 23, 2013 from: http://debwise.com/Matrix_2_files/wise_virtualidentity_presentation.pdf

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Avatars in the Comfort Zone

A year ago a model was developed and published, which intended to explain, in which way efficiency in team collaboration was supported by the use of 3D virtual environments. It is also highly relevant for the understanding of our ways in virtual worlds in general.

Figure 1: Theoretical model

depicting how capabilities of 3D virtual environments affect information processing and communication processes, leading to shared understanding

van der Land et alt., 2011

Presence
When the lecturers of the “Is One Life Enough?” course in this third class asked us to sit down in the comfortable armchair lounge at the DIT classroom to head towards the topic “Personal branding”, the situation immediately felt homely and invited to share experiences, thoughts and outlooks.
A convincing setting, which constituted a high extent of immersion, i.e. that “one feels perceptually surrounded in the virtual environment rather than one’s physical surroundings” (van der Land, 2011, 4). Furthermore the expectation of interesting aspects to be turned around in this close round circle of engaged and to the topic dedicated people, opened for the wish to involve and to contribute in the best way.
At class in BABEL Language School we also use a round table to be seated at, for literally to “surround” the class topics in focus, or we chose sitting in sofas when watching a video episode from screen, for the demonstration of, that we now have to focus on a common source for our further together work.

Realism
As the voice function this time did work for all of us, and we had a setting, which easily enabled us to zoom in to the speakers with our camera and to notice and follow their lip synchronisation and facial expressions, a high extent of realism of the class meeting and the ongoing discussion was given.
Also the occasionally used written chat supported common understanding of remarks and comments, e. g. when Locks Aichi added: “someone said facebook is where you lie to your friends and twitter is where you tell the truth to strangers…they hadn’t gotten to linkedin” (On Thursday, February 21, 2013 in the “Is One Life Enough?” course’s discussion [2013/02/21 12:53]).
According to van der Land, 3D virtual environments compared to 2D representations “offer more cues and provide a higher degree of reality, which might positively affect information processing” (van der Land, 2011, 5).
Moreover, both in the IOLE module and in BABEL Language School’s methods, it is included, to explore virtual sites and spots in Second Life, to open up for the feeling of being settled in life-like situations with a representation of realistical objects to navigate through.

Interactivity
Even though sitting in the audience or at a roundtable doesn’t open for much interaction with 3D objects for the student, there is no doubt, that we find huge possibilities for the control of surroundings and their behavior and the constructive process in the virtual world. At BABEL Language School at least a mug of coffee and a plate of fruit is served to take from during classes. The teacher will be the most active user of tools such as whiteboards and presentation boards in class, but the Media Board with the content for repetition and for homework is provided to the student, who then interactively can proceed with it in her/his own pace.

Also the IOLE module from DIT is expecting from the project teams, in the end to present their results with the variety of media in use, which is possible in a virtual environment – including to carry out promotion for a guest audience to come and join the final project show as an event. It will at that time hopefully be easy to experience, “that users are active rather than passive in their engagement with the information” (van der Land, 5), because of the highly interactive options in a 3D virtual environment.

Social Presence
One of the tasks to do for class this time was to make contact with at least two people relevant to our interests. I have to admit, I like to dance. Some would say, I talk too much, while I dance. Also I am a member of a couple of communities, which frequently announce nice and funny themed dancing events.

I attended a “Best in the 70’s look” event and went there early, for not to miss anything. It was amazing to see the efforts done on the club decoration, which I now could study some better. The played music was totally in format. The Volkswagen bus was interactive and I could sit on it’s roof and meditate.The water pibe allowed smoking … But I stopped it, when the first other guests arrived. I didn’t want to send out this signal – some don’t like the smell.

An intensive local chat started, commenting on the surroundings and the tunes. As this beautiful and Woodstock alike dressed or partly undressed girl arrived, I was lost. I had to dance with her. I send her an im (which is only between the two) and complimented her fitting look and said that I felt beamed back to the 70’s by looking at her and asked, whether we should try a dance together to the next song, which already was to be announced – it was “Joe Cocker – Unchain my Heart”. She said “yes”. For the rest of the night we switched through the talks in im’s, funny remarks to the others in the local chat, and we even did some voice talk. It wasn’t easy to get my attention away from her lovely brown eyes, but I also managed to make another friend this night, who was the dj, and who I tipped eagerly and wished music from.
What made a difference this night is just what is stated theoretically in the model (van der Land, 5): “Avatar-based interaction offers a wide array of symbol sets: it is synchronous, uses text or voice interaction, and offers more cues than text-based interaction, such as gestures, avatar appearance and avatar behavior.”

Self-presentation
I have to add, that I also ran into business related talks at the party this evening. From the presentation of my avatar, some saw, that I drive BABEL Language School. After having given out the official notecard on the school’s offers and the other one with practical informations for teachers, I both had a request for learning Spanish and a potential teacher to be trained to carry out some English classes.
In this moment I looked back to the discussion we had in the IOLE class earlier this week: We need to be in control of our virtual identity on the folio of, what we want to use it for. If we want the freedom in the virtual world or in social media use, to explore and to live independently from our real identity, or to let our entrances be as determined as possible for the particular outcome we want from our presence, we have to reflect our self-presentation pretty well, herunder which informations we expose in profile and our choice of nom en ligne (Sitearm: “Nom en ligne  – online name. December 23, 2010, accessed February 23, 2013: http://sitearm.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/nom-en-ligne-online-name/ ) and whether either our profile or our nome en ligne or none of them should carry any  connection to our real life identity, and if, to which degree and about what in detail.

Locks Aichi put it this way: ”If you are not paying …you are the product” (On Thursday, February 21, 2013 in the “Is One Life Enough?” course’s discussion [2013/02/21 13:01]).
It is also easy after these examples and at this point, to follow van der Land’s conclusion, that “in real life there are physical boundaries that limit one’s ability for strategic self-presentation. Online, these boundaries exist to a lesser extent. People have more freedom to present themselves the way they would like to. These opportunities for strategic self-presentation also exist in 3D virtual environments through the manipulation of avatars.” (van der Land, 6)

Anyway, this night was an experience of the better, and I love this study and to be send out for these tasks, the IOLE course has for us, to get conscious about the means and purposes we join our virtual environments with and to get better to determine the direction we want our virtual existence to move into and to bloom in, as well as to be pushed to achieve the position, to make our own agendas in virtual worlds.

Van der Land, Schouten, van den Hooff, Feldberg: “Modeling the Metaverse: A Theoretical Model of Effective Team Collaboration in 3D Virtual Environments.” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research 4 (2011) 3: 1-16. Retrieved February 11, 2013 from: http://journals.tdl.org/jvwr/index.php/jvwr/article/view/6126

A brief Look at Avatar Profiles

Yes, we want to tell to those, who might find us in the complicated search steps in our desired virtual world, who we are. We want it, cause we are there for a reason – we try to socialize and to friend, who we might have something in common with or just the one(s), who we intuitively feel, would complete our wishes and with who we believe, our life in the metaverse would become perfect or at least get on the way to become perfect.

As the headmaster of BABEL Language School from 2007 till 2013, I often had the need to check on interested student’s  – or teacher’s –  profiles, whether I could see the serious approach in their description to reflect on the school’s offers or an open position. This is not possible. I could look through 9 picture tabs and through 41 joined groups in the profile of the individual in question, to get wiser, but I didn’t.

Second Life is “Your World. Your Imagination” and people are as diverse as their imaginations are.

The only way out of this dilemma is to take the talk – to find out, whether expectations can meet.

Why I say this? Well, a typical male profile expression to be met with, like “Been there, tried that” and maybe a single picture in the best case of one, who could be the interested guy to come to the school’s virtual environment, doesn’t tell anything about the applicant, and he has chosen, not to open up for more of him for now – Fair enough  – We need to take the talk then – very urgently so …

An often seen female expression such as “That is all you need to know about my real life” and a handful of picture tabs, which lead to special persons or groups in the applicant’s second life, open up for a jungle of dimensions to see this single woman in and that is fine – we make or second life what we want it to be. But what does it tell me about, how reliable she would be to take a class for my school? – Fair enough, again we need the talk to figure out where we stand with the other.

Image

An unknown Avatar’s Symbolisme about real Life

That is what is amazing about Second Life – and it never went wrong for me … we need to send out the signals we can stand in for and it’s a pretty open scene to start deeper talks from with most of the people in the metaverse. And probably it’s just that, what many want and hope from their kind of presentation.

Joining a virtual world and presenting oneself by an avatar is to enter an open scene – and noone wants to take that freedom from anyone. Only it illustrates the at least double fold experience of going into virtual environments: We need a proper avatar presentation, but we also have to depend on the chance to put in correcting or additional information in this our new world of friends.

And  that is, why communication is so essential. Luckily we meet in a world with words and expressions enough for everything …

In the end for today and for further afterthought, a quote seen on several “Girlie” profiles:

“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.

― Marilyn Monroe”

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Displaced Reality or virtual Identities harnessed for a more colourful Way of Life?

I didn’t quite realize before we went into the second class of the “Is One Life Enough?” module, what it will be about – now I think I found out …

It’s all about balance. As social media users, we have to acknowledge, that what we do, has or not has an impact on others. Either we will stumble in empty spaces in virtual worlds or remain without being taken notice of in blogs or our profiles, or we will experience an increasing crowd of interested people, maybe even to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, WordPress or Linkedin.
What makes the difference is, that we dare to make some decisions. We kinda need to hit some of our potential friends interests on the efforts we make on our presentations and the contributions, we send to the blog, to Twitter, to Facebook etc. People stay and we get followers, if we are capable to match some of the essential topics for many others, which they’d like to get more of.

It starts with our profile and a clear online identity, which we have to deliver. Why do we want to write about and to turn around just this topic? Is it clear for visitors, what point of view we write and present from? Do we grab topics of more general interest in our posts and do we do, what is necessary, by tags and categories, to make our voice easily accessible?

The class was held in two opposite positions of this:

  • Our online identity and what we make of it – clarity and horisonts for the blog content
  • Our real identity behind the avatar – the knowledge and skills we can share in posts

We were very privileged in class: Both all three lecturers were present, but also two students from the module “Is One Life Enough?” from the last semester were – for three new students present, wow!!

Image

Dudley and Inish as students from the last semester could tell us, that they have gotten closer and more skilled to shape their virtual identities through the study. Inish mostly appeared as a Pirate Captain and Dudley as a Sportsman – they did settle in their virtual identities by now …
And they used them actively by new networking.
They could tell, that the ways of collaboration during the study time and in their project teams were pretty diverse. A lot of social media was in use to develop and ensure their together work:

Facebook, Skype, Second Life with voicing, Dropbox, Emails, Twitter and YouTube.
The lecturers advised about using Google Docs as a collaborative tool.

In the way came our prepared 30 seconds Elevator Pitch, which I have promised to mention here. It was:

“Mike is a dedicated language teacher through many years, an early resident of Second Life, an active user of social media from the very beginnings and a citizen and participant in multiple cultures. These experiences make him seek for a way to combine these dimensions of his life. He is therefore happy for the opportunity for a new study. But he is also longing for calm times and new inspiration for his mission. He really loves to have time to enjoy the many sides of life, while he studies.”

After we all did our statement, the time had come to establish project teams with diverse tasks for the rest of the study. In the end we need to present as a group and covering the modes:

Text
Voice
Image, Flash, Video
3D

We went to the task right away, Alaskan, Bill and me and I will get back to our views and results soon.
For the next class we have to create our Linkedin account, and this one should be about our real life skills and experiences as well as ongoing or done projects. We also have to visit three new places in Second Life and to present them by looking at the semester criteria “Changing Tides”. We chose “Virtual Dublin”, “University of Texas” and “BABEL Language School”. More to come about this too.

Then I only have the hardest part left, and that is to explain, how to maintain the virtual identity as an extension of our real one on the background of the class discussions. I’d like to put it in a metafore:

“When Snow White was seen by the prince, who deeply fell in love with her, the seven dwarfs accomplished the new relationship and helped to make the wedding settle. Also the queen, who over and over again had asked her mirror, who was the most fairy in the country, was invited unknowingly to her stepdaughter’s wedding. As the queen showed up to the wedding ceremony, she had to face the fatal truth, that the bride was Snow White.”

I certainly admit, that we have more than seven kinds of social media today plus one, which is the prince’s favourite, only we still have to let imagination cover a part of our existence in real and other lives, or don’t we?

Personal meeting and environment

A virtual world like Second Life lets you appear in a way you want. The avatar, your personal replacement, can carry out a special style in hairdressing, clothes, shape and accessories. The visible profile of your avatar can be filled out by your purposes or wishes for being there; also containing pictures of places you want to tell others about. There also are a lot of groups to choose between and to join. 

Communication is in face to face chat – written or oral – while getting a first impression of the other’s virtual appearance or in long distance instant messaging or group talks. In an educational perspective, the interaction can be adjusted by poses, gestures, whether or not using lip synchronization or the typing avatar animation in talks to optimize the use in class. Instant messaging and group chat is a good tool for making class appointments and for the exchange of information.

The environment of classrooms can get highly inspiring and so can field trips in near or far areas. There are plenty of places in Second Life, which are created by demographical groups of residents, reflecting the places they live at, for educational visits. We can there e.g. talk about what we see and experience in a very concrete approach. Also the near circumstances can invite to educational visits – talking about the colors and plants and maybe animals we meet on our walk through a park around. In a classroom we have numberless and better options than in real life to expose cultural and language training material for the use of engaged students. Basically all visual and audio material can be stored in media boards to keep the red thread in chapters to work through. Additionally on video screens actual input from e. g. broadcasting stations can be shown and there can be objects and chalk boards present, to display the correct writing and even to trigger the proper pronunciation of topics in focus.