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

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Babylon and BABEL Language School

In the ancient and multicultural Babylon, people of huge diversity and from numberless nations, all lived together. Opposite to this way of life in the classical ancient world 5 ½ thousand years ago, the Christian/Old Testament tradition tells us about God’s punishment of the human arrogance, which denied any longer to follow the natural language that the creator had spoken by developing this, our world.

Genesis 11:7-9(King James Version):

7Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

8So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city.

9Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

From here we get the heritage of a myth with seven themes about Babel, containing Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylon system, City of Sin, Semiramis, the Tower, Apocalypse and linguistic confusion. All used not to tell the historical truth concerning Babylon but the truth about a civilization that needs the Babel myth in order to understand itself.

What has all this to do with language learning e. g. in Second Life (sl) anno 2009?

At BABEL Language School, the attempt is done, to bridge the gap between the cultural identities through the use of visual material both in classrooms and through the use of archetypal impacts in the environment such as our animals, but also through a new and open architecture which leads the thoughts forward to new possibilities in an enlightened world.

On one side: The creation of new virtual worlds (vws) is time expensive and object to a particular critic of giving up too many former ways of human communication, arguments similar to the day when the TV appeared. Some enter the caveat that vws push to the megalomania of putting our real world’s rules and laws out of order.

On the other hand: The use of virtual worlds has the likeable aspect of being democratically and geographically reachable. In sl for our avatar it’s also possible to achieve new horizons of personal existence, to get a new range of socializing competencies, which is build on the picture of the avatar in the corresponding part, a kind of alternative and supplemental identity; in a way “homo virtualis”.

On one side: We are bound to national and cultural vanes and, as stated in one society, we as good citizens are expected to make contributions to our society. We can’t carry out and maybe not even capture multiple ways of living as they are found on our planet. So, language borders prevent us from taking too much irrelevant information into account, which would weaken our mental health.

On the other side: The world of art has inspired to follow up the myth of Babel in numerous paintings and sculptures; the world of music has prompted pictures of people with their joy and sorrow, photographically documented world wide; and the world of music and opera have always given us common references and motivation to explore the other and to get together again. Virtual Worlds can help us to achieve that end result with language learning being one of the ways how we can explore these possibilities.