Monday, 21 April 2008

Obi-Wan has taught you well, but you are not a Jedi yet.

AngryBeth Shortbread pointed out the Jedi nature of my master apprentice rants. The fact that my youngest lad has had all 6 episodes of Star Wars on a continuous loop for the last year may well have influenced me slightly.

The other thing that I have realised about the master apprentice model is that it does not work on its own. In fact, ironically enough, it's something that I have been sort of fighting against on the course that I teach on. Let me explain.

On our course, each student is assigned a personal tutor. The vast majority of input that a student gets is from this tutor. Invariably, this master influences their apprentice, inducting them into the ways of the force as they see it. What often happens is that the apprentice turns into a mini-me, a watered down version of the original. The master is invariably disappointed in this sub-standard clone. This is the first danger of the master apprentice model. The second danger is that a student may end up with a tutor that isn't really that interested in that student's practice, and the tutor that is into that student's practice is in a different year, and not accessible. The pressure to adapt the practice to pleases your tutor is tremendous, and damaging. In short, when the 'master apprentice' model gets mixed up with the 'manager of learning' role of a tutor, things ain't good.

The solution? To separate out these two distinct roles, and make sure that each tutor knows when they have the media neutral, manager of learning hat on, and when they are a master, expanding their practice and inspiring all who witness their greatness, unrestricted by the practical day-to-day needs of students.

The way that I have tried to do this on our course is to introduce a week-on, week-off system. In the first week, I see all of my 28 graphics students face-to-face, and I go to wherever they are, teasing them forward into the zone of proximal development. Any sense of my own practice is not allowed. It's about them in week one. In the second week, I am the master, and any student from across the whole of the School that happens to have an interest in mad virtual art and bad/good creative programming can seek me out and share my joy. So the 'master apprentice' model, and the 'zone of proximal development' model are two sides of the same coin. Students need both equally, and staff need to do both equally.

The two projects that we will be running during the pilot reflect both the zone and the master apprentice models. The first project (zone) asks the students to build a shrine to their avatar. This is all about going to the student and drawing out of them what they are really about, and what they potentially might become. The second project (master apprentice) is to make some art for an exhibition that Kisa and Cubist are preparing work for. This is about students working along-side us, learning by example, witnessing good practice and being able to imagine themselves playing the part of the artist. If they play that part well enough, they become the artist, and their work will hopefully sit along-side ours in the actual exhibition.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Revised A&D Pilot Plan

I've been engaged in some delicate negotiations to make sure that I get the real life environment right for the A&D pilot, and this has forced a few changes to the original pilot plan.

I had the usual Mac teaching room booked for the pilot, but the final year deadlines fall smack bang in the middle of the pilot, so I have been trying to find a room to use that wont have stressed out 3rd years banging on the door in tears, desperate for a computer.

Fortunately, I've managed to secure the use of a nice, quiet room for the Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week, and the Monday of the second week. We can get back in the teaching room on the Monday of the last week of the pilot, when the third years are all in the pub.

So the plan at the moment involves structured, blended face-to-face classes on 6th, 7th, 12th and 19th May, with in-world and informal one-to-one support in the open access labs on the other days. I have also cut the group size down to 10 students, mainly because I can only nab 11 computers, but also because I realised that I don't believe in class sizes above 10. Well, I can work with class sizes of either more than 60 or less than 10, but I've worked out over the years that in-between - 20 or 30 students - is the least effective class size to deal with. In addition, if we get too many avatars on one sim, the avie induced lag would become problematic. So, 10 students it is.

Other changes from the last pilot plan - Following enquiries with Linden Lab, it is too expensive to buy names for the students, and we can't buy the actual accounts, so i've dropped that part altogether. I've also dropped the OpenSim networked part for now, as I felt it was too similar to the Second Life bit, and time will be short. We also have lots of great data coming in from Dave C about networked OpenSim to feed into the project outcomes.

I've tested OpenSim standalone and Second Life on the Macs that we will be using for the Pilot, and that all seems fine.

I'm meeting with the 10 student that we will be working with on 28th April, so that might be a good time to hand out the questionnaires.

The revised pilot plan is here:

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Talk to strangers

What does a 21st century parent say to his 21st century 9 year old son when he leaves for work in the morning? Well, this morning, I found my self saying to my lad (who has just discovered Club Penguin), "Have a good day at school. Be good for your Mum. Don't reveal your identity online."

We used to tell our kids not to talk to strangers. Now we encourage them to talk to strangers, as long it's through their avatars. Kids are learning how to role play alternative identities online from an early age. Will the sort of identity scaffolding that we consider to be an important part of the MUVE induction presently, be as relevant in the future?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Intellectual property rights & copyright issues workshop

Here's a quick summary of the web2rights workshop that I attended at Leeds Met on Monday 7th April:

The web2rights website already contains most of the information we need to deal with IPR and copyright issues associated with the pilots. The site is being expanded in response to user needs, and we can request specific support for our own particular needs.
All of the JISC MUVE projects have similar IPR and copyright issues, so we should be able to share good practice between projects. There is already one Second Life specific FAQ, and we should perhaps request that more detailed SL IPR solutions are created for the benefit of all of the MUVErs. It might be worth requesting a cross-project IPR workshop from web2rights for the project managers of the various JISC MUVE projects.

The Open Habitat name change was seen as a good idea from a trademark perspective, although Naomi felt that there may still be issues with this name if the project was to build into something sustainable.

IRP issues are not particularly relevant to the standalone OpenSim, but a networked version, public or closed, would need its own terms and conditions of use drawing up. Naomi suggested drawing inspiration from the Linden Lab terms and conditions if necessary. It look like networked OpenSim won't be part of the first pilot, so no great urgency with this one.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Immersionist vrs the Augmentists (or is it Augmentationists?)

Steven alerted us to the debate about immersionists and augmentists when we met at KCL recently. For a good overview of the debate, look here:

Also, the Habitat plug on Lawrie's blog also mentions the fact that people will have a chance to engage with this debate at the Next Generation Environments conference:

The thing that brought this issue into focus for me was the impromptu meeting on Open Habitat island the other day. When I talk to Dave, I feel like an immersionist. When Cubist talks to Kisa, he feels like an augmentist. When I'm in SL with both immersionists and augmentists, both Ian and Cubist feel a little confused and anxious.

The post on Lawrie's blog identifies the Philosophy pilot as an immersionist thing, as it is about distance learning. The A&D pilot is seen as an augmentist thing, as it is about blended learning. However, I feel most like an immersionist when I am building (which is probably why Cubist started building a 3D diagram when he was supposed to be engaging in the debate at the meeting). I feel most like an augmentist when engaging in chat, but I don't feel confident in conversation in-world, as I rely heavily on visual cues and body language when I talk to people in real life. Voice is even worse for me, as the visual cues are even more divorced from the communication than with avie chat.

If we embrace the immersionist ethic when we meet in world, then we have twice as many project team members, with each constructed persona adding something extra but different to the project. If we want in-world meetings to be an augmentation of the real life aspects of the project, then perhaps we should use Wonderland/Darkstar, and be ourselves.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Avie tracking radar

I've been messing with an LSL/PHP radar sensor thingy to show where avatars have been walking on the LeedsMet and Open Habitat sims:

The green pixels are traces of visiting avatars. I've arranged the sims as they will be soon, hopefully. I'll add Emerge as well at some point. It needs a bit of work on it, but it might provide some useful data to analyse at some point.

Between OpenSim and Second Life - IBM take the lead

Graham passed this link onto me:

It looks like IBM will be hosting their own ring-fenced sims on their own servers, but with access to Linden Lab's central services. This will be a good test of the promised open-sourcing of the SL server software. Our embryonic ambitions for JISC to create a UK educational grid in the future will be informed by this project. In the meantime, by investigating both OpenSim and Second Life, we can explore the issues that will become increasingly important as the technology matures.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The master/apprentice model

This model formed the basis of the first modern design school, the Bauhaus. As well as providing quite rigid scaffold in the form of an initial 'foundation' course in the basic underlying design principles, the Bauhaus facilitated learning by promoting staff as active practitioners. By witnessing and working alongside the masters as they practiced their art and design, students of the Bauhaus gained knowledge and understanding through social learning. This approach has dominated art and design pedagogy ever since, but some embrace is more forcefully than others. This quote from Bennington College, Vermont, sums it up pretty well:
"Two things intersect in the master-apprentice model of teaching: the Bennington principle of learning by doing, and the passion and mastery of the faculty, all teacher-practitioners doing ongoing work in their fields. Bennington’s curriculum is driven by the faculty, who teach courses that reflect their current curiosities as well as their deep knowledge of their particular disciplines. The way in which they create new work and pose new questions becomes a model for students, who in turn and over time create work and pose questions of their own with the faculty as mentors."

Many design educators have, in my opinion, slipped into the trap of over-emphasising the industrial focus, dwelling on real world practice as a basis for study, at the expense of a deeper understanding.
Graduate study should never imitate professional practice; rather, it should challenge students to look deeply into the discipline and into themselves to connect design to its culture, its history, its users, its society, and its technology

The kind of master that I value is not the master designer, but the master learner. The master I have in mind is an uber-learner who shares the power of discovery with his apprentices.

At Leeds Met, we are trying to re-invigourate this particular flavour of the master/apprentice model through the manipulation of our learning environment. Graham has his own public studio space with a number of Macs that staff and students drop in to use. Graham has his beast of a Mac, and is usually to be found there working on his various research projects. I have duplicated this sort of space within my course's space. I have a handful of Macs, some comfy chairs and a spot to plug in my laptop. It's not my office, but it is the place that I work on my research and practice. Students work alongside me, and I discuss my learning as well as theirs.

The virtual master/apprentice model
The master/apprentice model has manifested itself in a profound way through our involvement with Second Life. AngryBeth ShortBread acted as a mentor to Kisa Naumova in the early days of her Second Life exploits, and still plays that role when time permits. Kisa in turn acted as Cubist's mentor when I first started out, and she is still there for me when I need to tap into her vastly superior expertise. Our keenest Second Life student often comes and chats to me whilst I am building a hologram or new tool, and the more advanced development of my practice helps her to develop her own practice.

The LeedsMet sim that we will use for the pilot has been designed to provide the virtual equivalents of our real life 'hubs'. Kisa has the northwest corner of the sim, Cubist has the southeast. Our bigger plots are bordered by the smaller personal plots of the participating students. Students will be able to watch us work, see work in progress, and see the work that we have already produced. By setting examples of good practice, we will provide students with a framework for engaging in similar activities, with the opportunity to engage in meaningful dialogue.

The ideal art-school studio-workshop.

The studio-workshop is central to Art & Design education. This is a space where new ideas are nurtured through experimentation and dialogue. This is a shared space, but students are allocated, claim, and occupy their own personal space to develop and show their work. The studio-workshop acts as a venue for group activities and tutorials, inductions and performances. It is re-configured to suit a variety of occasions. It is a safe space to learn from mistakes, and to share successes. It is inhabited by helpers and mentors. Some are paid wages, some pay fees. Staff and students practice their art in these spaces. Students and staff help each other to learn. It is a social space with an appropriate tone for learning. At the end of a programme of study, the studio-workshop becomes a public exhibition, celebrating the achievements of its finalists.

The virtual studio-workshop.
The virtual studio-workshop sim that we have created for the pilot is guided by the above ideals. It is divided into 20 small personal plots, one for each participating apprentice. It has 2 larger areas for masters Cubist and Kisa to practice their art and design. It has 2 medium sized areas for collaborative endeavours, workshop activities and special events. It has a central, neutral social area for informal chat and information exchange.

A MUVE is not a tree.

I want to point everyone to The city is not a tree by Christopher Alexander. I'll let you make of it what you will, but the following quote seems particularly relevant:

"Another·favourite concept of the CIAM theorists and others is the separation of recreation from everything else. This has crystallized in our real cities in the form of playgrounds. The playground, asphalted and fenced in, is nothing but a pictorial acknowledgment of the fact that 'play' exists as an isolated concept in our minds. It has nothing to do with the life of play itself. Few self-respecting children will even play in a playground.

Play itself, the play that children practise, goes on somewhere different every day. One day it may be indoors, another day in a friendly gas station, another day down by the river, another day in a derelict building, another day on a construction site which has been abandoned for the weekend. Each of these play activities, and the objects it requires, forms a system. It is not true that these systems exist in isolation, cut off from the other systems of the city. The different systems overlap one another, and they overlap many other systems besides. The units, the physical places recognized as play places, must do the same.

In a natural city this is what happens. Play takes place in a thousand places it fills the interstices of adult life. As they play, children become full of their surroundings. How can children become filled with their surroundings in a fenced enclosure! They cannot.

A similar kind of mistake occurs in trees like that of Goodman's Communitas or Soleri's Mesa City, which separate the university from the rest of the city. Again, this has actually been realized in the common American form of the isolated campus.

What is the reason for drawing a line in the city so that everything within the boundary is university, and everything outside is nonuniversity? It is conceptually clear. But does it correspond to the realities of university life? Certainly it is not the structure which occurs in nonartificial university cities."

Alexander C, 1965, "The city is not a tree" Architectural Forum April/May issue, pp 58 – 61
Available from: [Accessed 2 April 2008].

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Long live OpenSim. Down with Second Life!

I have tried and failed to order Leeds Met's third Second Life island today. Everything was going fine, until Linden Lab's e-commerce system, Netsuite, refused to authorise payment because the credit card details were out of date. After much effort, it became apparent that it was impossible to update the card details without also making a payment, but this was not possible because I had not received an invoice, which I cannot get until I place an order, which I cannot do because our card is out of date. Aaaaghhh.

Whilst desperately searching for a solution, I happened to notice an outstanding demand for - wait for it - $60000!. Sixty thousand dollars for 2 islands! I quickly calculated that one island had been charged 3 times instead of once, and the other had been charged 6 times instead of once. Until Linden Lab sort out the mess, there will be no third island.

This highlights a major issue for educators dealing with a commercial virtual world provider. The commercial nature of Linden Lab jars uneasily with the ways of the educational institution. I found myself sitting in our finance department, 2 valuable hours wasted, vowing that we would create our own alternative virtual world, running on our own servers, with support that I can walk up to and talk to face to face.

When OpenSim matures, or LindenLab release the server software, we must create the JISC grid.