Fox 2008

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Fox's SecondLife diary

New phase, new page for Fox

This page is too full, so I'm migrating it to a new wiki page. My current entries are, as usual on my user page

Schome Park Closes

A sad day on 31 May 2008 when Schome Park closed, perhaps for ever. At first we all sat down for speeches - but that didn't seem like something we do in Second Life, so we had a go at build a human pyramid out of avatars. This proved surprisingly difficult, so we gave up and tried doing a Mexican wave of handstands. We were hampered by me playing my animation locally, and by the storms raging near KJ's real-life home, which kept cutting off his connection to the world - but we did get pretty close.

Kathy used her organisational and technical skill to get us all sitting in an evenly spaced row - and then took an atmospheric picture of us all, including shadows. A great memento. View my pictures (they're not nearly as good as Kathy's).

The quest for Second Life heritage continues

The beanstalk on the Irish sim, Main Grid, was created by Steller Sunshine back in 2003.
Apparently, it's the oldest build by a resident on the entire grid

I think that one of the reasons it has survived is that it is an interesting build. There is a challenge to climb to the top without flying or using scripts - and it's fun to have a go. It's probably even more fun if there is a group of you. I was cheating by clicking 'Sit here' on every branch or leaf in turn - but Steller had obviously thought of that, and some branches send you tumbling down to the ground if you try to sit on them.

Ivory Tower of prims

The Ivory Tower of Prims on the Main Grid is really impressive. It must have taken forever to build.
The textures and the detailing work really well together

Tiny picture

Tiny Dogo, knee-high to a grasshopper (well, almost)

Back on Schome Park

Schome helps you to see subjects from a new perspective

For the first time in a long while, I made several visits during the week to Schome Park. I went to both the SpARTans' opening events - 'Fly me to the moooon' and the opening of the diner. Topper made it to both events as well - and I saw many of the SpARTans were wearing 'Time Explorer' group membership signs. It's difficult to tell from the forum to what extent groups are meeting and merging - so I was encouraged to see signs that UK and US students are meeting up, and that SpARTans' membership of Schome extends beyond school requirements.

I also went to the Archaeology event - I've been wanting to go to one for ages, and finally got the chance. Nominally we were discussing Pompeii and Vesuvius, but that didn't really happen. Different group members played around with sculpted prims, sound effects, textures and particles to produce a volcanic eruption which engulfed us all - but I'm not convinced it increased my archaeological knowledge.

What I was struck by was the overload of staff at the session. Not just me but also Elsa, Eli, Rowan, Yati and Martin. I was around for about 90 minutes, and the island remained well staffed, but the only non-staff members in sight were Vibia and Mars, the session organisers.

If you want students come to History :P KitKatKid Schomer 07:28, 12 May 2008 (BST)
I keep trying to get to these sessions but the erly one that i could make got put back to useual time, I would love to come to them Topper Schomer 21:57, 14 May 2008 (BST)
Too many cooks (staff)?

Argument on SchomeBase


Well, last time we were on the Main Grid we were supposed to be demonstrating how argumentation takes place in SecondLife (that's argumentation - not argument - we weren't supposed to be shouting abuse at each other). However, we got so caught up with demonstrating all the things that you can do in world, and in discussing the Tinies, that we failed to argue about anything at all. So Dogo, Phloozie and I headed back to SchomeBase, sat still and argued about whether Schome can be classified as a community of practice. In the end we decided it isn't - but it's an environment in which there are many communities of practice. However, we could only keep this up for a while before we moved to discussion of Dogo's cute Tiny avatar, we tried out some handstands and backflips and, natch, I fell in the pond.

Tinies are so cute

Joined Dogo and Euphloozie over on the Main Grid for a discussion about identity. It was being filmed for research purposes, so we were doing our best to make lots of use of the environment rather than just sitting down on the nearest beanbag and not moving for the next hour.

We met in Raglanshire, home of the Tinies. The avatars based there are REALLY small - they only come up to my knees. Not sure how they do it - they must fold your default avatar body up somehow, because they're way smaller than you could be by using the edit appearance sliders. So I spent my time talking to a very small pink cat in a cowboy hat, and a dog in a cloak who just happened to be passing. Meanwhile, Euphloozie and I sorted through our saved outfits and appeared in various former incarnations.

I wonder if the Tinies get fed up with people turning up and saying things like 'Aaaah - you're just so cute.'? Think I would. But it seemed a light-hearted and fun place to be.

JISC and Leverhulme

Spent my work time last week (and my spare time last week) putting together a JISC bid. Aiming to meet with PeterT and Euphloozie later this week to pull it together ready for submission in a couple of weeks.
Leverhulme Grants
Euphloozie and I have just been to a seminar with Anne Dean, Assistant Director of the Leverhulme Trust, on opportunities for funding provided by the scheme. The Leverhulme Trust has £30-40 million to allocate each year - which is a fraction of what the big research councils have to give out.

Their research project grants tend to be for two to three years. Although they will go up to half a million, projects tend to come in at under a quarter of a million - averaging £80-100,000. They get around 1500 outline roposals for research projects and international networks each year. To see the sorts of thing which are funded, go to the Leverhulme website and check under News for information about recently awarded grants.

The proposed work should be:

  • new/original
  • courageous/challenging/exciting
  • involve individual exploration
  • bring together disciplines
  • involve creative thinking
  • an important contribution to the knowledge base
  • capable of producing ideas that can be taken forward.

The proposal needs to demonstrate:

  • that the applicant has the ability to do the research
  • that the methodology is good and carefully thought out
  • a good knowledge of the literature
  • that the applicant has a good reason for aproaching the Leverhulme Trust
  • excitement and enthusiasm for the project
  • why the project is important
  • that the project is interesting and relevant
  • that the project is sustainable
  • that the team has thought about expected outcomes
  • that there is a dissemination strategy.

What the Trust doesn't fund:

  • full economic costing. You can only put in for research, travel, subsistence, salaries and bursaries.
  • pilot projects
  • ongoing projects.

The Trust asks you to nominate two referres who know your work, can comment on whether you are likely to complete and who can comment on your proposal and methodology.


PeterT posted this on the forum today: "JISC Circular 4/08: Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) invites institutions to submit funding proposals for projects to undertake work under its Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants Programme.

JISC wishes to fund one year projects and activities that fit with the vision, outcomes and principles of the JISC e-Learning programme and support innovative approaches to learning and teaching. This is an open call, and projects dealing with any aspect of e-learning are welcomed. To reduce the initial investment in time and resource needed to develop a traditional JISC proposal and to encourage speculative and innovative ideas from the community bidders are invited to submit outline proposals online.

Funds up to £75,000 for projects of one year duration are available. JISC has committed at least £500,000 for this activity during the three planned years of this programme.

The first deadline for receipt of initial proposals is no later than 12.00 noon on 5 May 2008.

Other funding leads

  • I tried Guidestar which is a searchable database of every charity, but it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most of the charities are very small, or very local, or both.
  • Grants Net UK is looking more hopeful, although it doesn't seem to have a lot of rants registered with it.
  • The Paul Hamlyn Foundation has an Education and Learning Open Grants Scheme. It is currently only accepting applications for innovation and change concerned with two areas, one of which is supplementary schooling. I'm not sure what supplementary schooling is, but it sounds as if it should apply to Schome. They make decent-sized grants.

Nominet Foundation and other funding links

The search continues

Now I'm looking at Community of Science (COS) funding opportunities.

  • The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation looks very hopeful. They 'seek to use our independence and flexibility to support work in schools and early years’ settings that is unlikely to get statutory funding because it is new, risky, unorthodox or overlooked. We are keen to back work that tackles thorny educational issues and improves young people's educational attainment and motivation, particularly where it is likely to influence national policy and practice.' They will 'support research and project costs including staffing, evaluation, dissemination and modest overheads' with grants of up to a quarter of a million.
  • The Coca-Cola Foundation 'aims to provide youth with the educational opportunities and support systems they need to become knowledgeable and productive citizens.'

Searching for funding

I have been going through the Researchresearch (note it's all one word) database in search of funding awards. Headings I've checked so far: academic achievement, adolescents, adult education, children's rights, citizen participation, citizenship, education, educational administration and policy, educational research, e-learning, ethnograpy, gifted and talented education, handicapped education, high school education, knowledge society, learning motivation, open learning, politics of education, rural education, sociology education, urban education, volunteers (education), and recent calls. I have been refused to be distracted by interesting but irrelevant research grant categories such as virtual tape.

  • Nuffield Foundation small grants go up to £7000, don't cover salaries, but you have to be permanently employed.
  • The Jacobs foundation in Switzerland does make large grants, but they like to approach you, rather than you approaching them. Still, one of their current priorities is 'Improving learning contexts, including institutional dimensions of learning, all-day learning, out of school learning and integrative approaches to learning', so I reckon it would be worth pitching to them.
  • The Brian Simon educational research fellowship is intended to encourage research which is independent, imaginative, scholarly and dedicated to educational advance. But - you need to be a member of BERA, it only goes up to £3000 and it doesn't cover institutional expenses.
  • The Society for Educational Studies looks good but, as far as I can see, it's not making major awards this year. However, they are running small grants of up to £5000 to encourage and stimulate research into education.
  • The Spencer Foundation looks hopeful. Its programme supports work that shows promise of contributing new knowledge or understanding that may contribute to improvement of educational thought or practice. This fits us very well.

Staff meeting

Beset by Easter
Is it just me, or does PeterT have a long-suffering look about him?
Elsa and her island - looking good
Still looking good

There was a staff meeting on the Main Grid island of SchomeBase today. Some serious and weighty issues were raised but - this being Second Life - we were having fun as well as meeting. To start with, Elsa was rearranging the cushions, and kept floating into new places. Then she began to surround PeterT with Easter decor, until he had almost totally vanished in a sea of cutesy chicks and fluffy bunnies. I wish all the meetings I went to could be this much fun.

Dale limosna avatar


A few weeks ago I visited the reproduction of the mezquita in Cordoba, Spain, which is situated on the Main Grid. Today I visited the Al-Andalus area to see the new development - a reproduction of the Alhambra in Granada. This is a fabulous building in real life, so I didn't expect the virtual version to hold a candle to it. I was pleasantly surprised. The use of textures is superb throughout, and the sound of fountains playing and faint wind chimes really adds to the atmosphere. In the mezquita I was struck by the way light dappled through the windows - in the Alhambra I was impressed by the way that the trees cast shadows on the courtyard floor. I'd thought that those effects were only available with the Windlight viewer, so either they've done something technically clever when they designed this site, or they've been clever in drawing those details to my attention.

A quote about Granada and, by extension the Alhambra, which always sticks in my mind: Dale limosna mujer, porque no hay en la vida nada como la pena de ser ciego en Granada.

We shall remember them

Tribute Island.jpg

My investigation of history and heritage on the Main Grid has expanded to a range of war memorials. I visited Tribute Island today, which has a section devoted to members of the British armed forces who have been killed in the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. The picture shows what appears to be a fairly standard graveyard - rows of gravestones arranged in neat lines - neatly manicured surrounds. It reminded me of Second World War graveyards I have visited in Normandy.

A couple of things, though, make this a more moving experience than the image suggests. First, in real life, people who have died in these conflicts are buried all over Britain. We see brief references to them on the news - but there is no one real graveyard where we can see how many have died, and reflect on the enormity of the situation. Second, each gravestone bears a name, and touching the gravestone takes you to a web page with a photo, a biography, and details of their death. While you are reading that, the Last Post plays in the background. These are good, clear pictures and well-written biographies - the young men (all the ones I saw were young men) become real, with histories, hobbies, families, children. I found it a very powerful site.

Im visiting the Wargraves with school in early July, and this seems really interesting. KitKatKid Schomer 16:50, 15 March 2008 (GMT)

Hanging out in graveyards

Marie out researching
Mezquita. I love the shafts of sunlight coming through the windows.

Apart from Fox's moderating work in Schome, Marie has been investigaing heritage sites on the Main Grid recently. Some of these are in-world heritage sites, such as Governor Linden's mansion, and The Man statue (apparently the oldest surviving Second Life build as it has survived since the Alpha Test. It's an antique cos it's nearly six years old :-) ). Others are linked to, or reproductions of real-world sites.

There's a fabulous reproduction of the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain. The Mezquita was built on the site of various temples and other religious sites, but was constructed mainly as a mosque. It's a fantastic building, very atmospheric and an interesting place to explore (in real life and in SL). In real life it was taken over by the Christians centureis ago and, in the sixteenth century, a vast, baroque cathedral nave was plonked down in the middle of it. In real life it's a world heritage site and still a cathedral. In Second Life it's an active mosque, and the very detailed reproduction includes no cathedral nave.

Since then, I've been visiting memorials, and have been hanging out in Second Life graveyards and funeral homes. Some of which include genuine memorials, while others are macabre Hammer Horror settings.

Nude descending a staircase

For some reason, I can rarely find this page from New World Notes which shows a picture of Marcel Duchamp's painting 'Nude descending a staircase' in avatar form. That's because I'd misremembered it as an avatar version of one of Picasso's cubist paintings. Today New World Notes has a picture of an avatar based on a mélange of Picassos. I'll leave the page references here so that I can find them next time I'm doing something on art and Second Life.

A handy mnemonic for those who get confused, PeterT


Acquiring gravitas

Don't even ask how many prims...

When I first arrived in Second Life in 2006, I couldn't see the point in developing my avatar. I set up a basic avatar which looked and dressed vaguely like the real-life me. I gave it a pretty-much real-life name, Marie Arnold. I scorned the idea of spending money to dress my avatar, I even bypassed all the freebie shops. I headed off to explore.

In 2007, my ideas slowly changed. For one thing, I acquired my dragon, Shadow. I don't have a dragon in real life, and I think it would probably be uncomfortable to have a pet sitting on my shoulder all the time. But it works in Second Life. When Fox Phlox was created, she had a definite avatar name, and she moved away from real life. I've had pink hair and green hair in real life, but my hair has never been blue or purple. I've never had wings either.

I experimented for a while, making Marie look like Fox - but it just didn't work. They've grown apart. Don't ask me how that happened, but it has. They've got different personalities and different friends. Although they do both have a dragon.

When we got new Teen Grid avatars in a bid to give all the staff consistent names, I hated it. The new Fox always felt alien. One day, she was a Ruth - looking like all the other female staff on the island. The next day she looked exactly like Phloozie in an attempt to subvert the system. After that she shaved off her hair and turned her skin blue. We never gelled and, interestingly, few of the other staff seemed to bond with their new avatars. So we reverted to type, and Fox Phlox dusted herself off and re-emerged.

Slowly but surely, as time has passed, Marie on the Main Grid has changed and developed. She went shopping for a skin. A proper skin, with freckles. Then she bought some prim hair, with flexi prims which move in the breeze. However, she's never been a snappy dresser. Until today. Today she bought the most fabulous, drop-dead gorgeous dress. The sort of dress that you go into a shop and think - I can't even try that on, it's so way out of my class. A limited edition, walking work of art dress. A crash-the-sim, oh-my-god-the-collar-contains-157-prims dress.

I think it gives her a certain gravitas - and Marie loves it.

What's happening on SchomeBase?

Mysterious SchomeBase

I visited SchomeBase, our island on the Main Grid, fairly recently. It was looking a little abandoned - we basically created the first version of Schome Park there a year ago, took a copy of it all and then left. There's a Scho-op, and a Japanese Garden - a slice through time, showing us how things used to be. The sandbox was still cluttered with trees and giant flowers that I scattered around on various occasions. Over the last week or so, I've noticed that they've gradually been returned to my inventory, and I've assumed some sort of tidying-up was in process.

However, I went back there today and WOH! it's all changed. A completely desolate island, with two or three old prims lying around on it. And there's suddenly another island next to it. Which I can't access. Had to take a picture instead.

Using Second Life for argumentation

Ever the diligent PhD student, Fox never wastes time in SecondLife but grabs every opportunity to work on her literature review :-)

My main research focus in Second Life at the moment is on learning through gaming. Euphloozie and I are focusing on a selection of events: Decimus's chess, the Sudoku challenge, the murder mystery, the wedding, the popgun game and the regattas.

However, my research group at the Open University is the Educational Dialogues Research Unit (EDRU), so I do sometimes get sidetracked into considerations of the quality / possibilities of the dialogue in Second Life and the implications it has for education. Although synchronous dialogue (when speakers are engaged at the same time, as in Second Life) and asynchronous dialogue (when speakers are separated by time, as is often the case on the forum) are sometimes lumped together under the broad title of computer-mediated communication (CMC) they are different in many ways.
Synchronous dialogue tends to be better for arranging things, for admin, for quick decisions, and for motivating people.
I recently met some members of my research group in Second Life. We wanted a chat log of some Second Life dialogue, to consider what effect the medium had on the discussion. We discussed virtual identity and, although the discussion felt fairly superficial and muddled when I was participating in it, the chatlog shows a variety of ideas, questions, challenge and development. We didn't come to any great conclusions - but we did raise a variety of questions - which I guess is about as much as you can do in 20 minutes.

  • Do we have different identities in different contexts in real life?
  • Can our subtle and complex identity be captured by an avatar?
  • Do we become someone else in Second Life or with different avatars?
  • Does our avatar change or develop identity over time?
  • Do avatars develop identities over time as they develop relationships?
  • Our avatar may or may not look like us in real life. It may not match our sexuality, gender or species. Our avatars don’t walk like us, they may stumble – but they can fly.
  • Does our avatar give insight into our RL identity, or is it just a bunch of pixels?
  • Is it like a set of clothes that we put on and discard?
  • Does creating an avatar necessarily mean creating an identity?
  • Is Second Life, or the discussion of identity, postmodern (and how do we define postmodern)?
  • Does our identity only exist as it is refracted from others?
  • Is our identity connected to what we do and to what others know of us?
  • Do our identities exist independently or are they created in context?

Learning through gaming

Taking the opportunity in the Christmas holidays to find our more about learning through gaming. I must say, everything I've read so far seems to make assertions based on very limited evidence. Woop has sent me a lot of useful leads to follow up, so I'm going to list them all here. Thanks, Woop. 'Don't bother me mom - I'm learning!' Marc Prensky (2006)
'What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy' James Paul Gee (2003)
The serious games mailing list
Karl Kapp's blog
Futurelab 'Teaching with Games: Using commercial off-the-shelf computer games in formal education' Richard Sandford, Mary Ulicsak, Keri Facer and Tim Rudd (2006)
More info from Futurelab.
Outline of Judy Robertson's work in schools with the excellent Neverwinter Nights aurora toolkit.
The 'Hot Milky Drinks' blog
Pop Cosmopolitanism, Constance Steinkuehler's research on virtual worlds blog
More detail about Constance's work. Lots of links about research into the psychology of mmporpgs

Escapist magazine - lots about games and gaming

New ref from Amba. Thanks, Amba. The JISC report on learning through gaming.

More on Vygotsky

More on Vygotsky (early 20th-century educational theorist and psychologist, for those of you who have started reading at the top and don't know already).

So, two central theoretical points of Vygotsky's are: (1) our relation to the world is mediated by tools [in this context, language and numbers are tools, not only physical objects] and (2) the ability to use these tools is acquired in social settings.

He looks at how young children gain concepts of how to use tools and objects. Two ways: scientific and everyday. The everyday concepts tie in with everyday life and are gained through experience with objects outside a system of knowledge. Children learn to use these objects in a spontaneous way, through imitating what a more competent person demonstrates. The scientific concepts are about academic matters and you gain them in relation to other concepts with a system of knowledge. Learning concepts within a system of knowledge means that you can use them consciously and intentionally. It means you learn them consciously and you choose to learn them.

However, these two forms of concept formation are intertwined. Scientific concepts build on and qualify our everyday concepts. It is only when scientific concepts are integrated with our everyday concepts that they become a competence outside the classroom. In early childhood, everyday concept formation dominates, but around school age scientific formation begins to dominate. This developmental change changes our conscious relation to the world: perception, scientific imagination, abstract thinking, logical memory and intentional attention.

What I'm interested in, and why this is in my Second Life bliki, is does this hold true for schome? Are we learning in either of these ways or does the virtual environment throw up new possibilities which show the limitations of this theoretical model? So, we do everyday concept formation in schome by wandering around and trying things out and copying what other people do. And I guess this covers direct questions about the environment like anyone know how to enable voice?' or 'what do the turquoise dots on the mini map mean?' And we do scientific formation when we investigate the physics of the world in a structured way. But what are we doing when we organise a wedding or a regatta? We learn things, but it's not an everyday or a scientific sort of a learning, it's a blend of both, I think. And maybe that's true of games. I'm not talking of games with an explicit learning intention, like maths games, but games that we play for fun but through which we gain skills and knowledge.

For me, a slightly confusing part of this is that Vygotsky is writing about children and I am thinking about teenagers and adults. Once you've got used to doing scientific concept building, can you ever go back to everyday concept building? Do gaming and virtual reality help you to go back to learning through everyday concept building? Do they stop us looking at things in the way we are used to doing, and free us to think about them in different ways?

More references

This paper by John Seely Brown.

Reading Vygotsky

As my life at the moment is devoted to trying to understand the work of influential 20th-century psychologist, Vygotsky, I'm trying to consider his work in relation to games-based learning. (And Woop's going to look out some useful references for me. Thank you, Woop.)

In play, the everyday meaning of objects is suspended and a new meaning is assigned to those objects, to other people and to yourself. (I think Vygotsky's focus is on make-believe as in 'playing cops and robbers' rather than on structured games such as 'playing football'. Although he does refer to races.) Meanings are manipulated to point to another social setting and our motivations and feelings are geared to participation in that other setting. The words of playmates are heard as being directed towards your character, rather than yourself. You don't take offence at being called an 'evil monster' if that is your role in the Dr Who game. In a game, you detach yourself from your reactions to immediate surroundings in order to enter a conceptual world which is different from the everyday world.

When you shift to a conceptual world you become an actor who submits to the premises of the game and who treats the game as real. Desires and motivations shift to relate to your role in that game. The identities which you practise and develop in these ways become identities which can be evoked in everyday life.

Interestingly, even if you take on a role in the game which seems identical to your role in the real world (for example a school pupil while playing schools) you don't act as you normally act. You use the role to explore what it means to be a school pupil, or a 'good' school pupil, or a 'bad' school pupil.

And now I'm reading John-Steiner who, in discussing Vygotsky, quotes Lucy discussing Whorf. Apparently, Whorf argued that a language can unite demonstrably different areas of reality by giving them similar linguistic treatment. The meanings of elements which are grouped together influence each other. Similar analogies are used in thought as guides in the interpretation of and response to experienced reality.
This seems to me to relate to gaming, because gaming gives you freedom to bring very different experiences together.

And now I'm discovering what prolepsis is. Apparently it 'is one of the most important mechanisms of individual psychological and personal development (no, I'd never heard of it, either). It is usually defined as treating a future event as if it had already happened, as when parents refer to their child which once smiled when Mozart was on the radio as a musical genius and then proceed to treat them as a musical genius. Anyway, autoprolepsis (my vocabulary is increasing by the minute) occurs in role play when you imitate the elements of cultural forms of behaviour. So it's relevant to games as well. It says here that in early ontogenesis there is a shift from heteroprolepsis to autoprolepsis, but I think I may need a quiet sit-down before I grapple with that sentence. Sometimes it's hard work being a PhD student.

Learning through gaming

Phloozie and I are (or will be at some point) working on a chapter about Learning Through Gaming. We feel the evidence is that the biggest gains in knowledge-age skills are made when people on Schome are involved on games which are developed in world. These games also make best use of the environment - as opposed to games or instructional methods which we bring in from the outside.

We have the data, but we need to work on the literature. In theoretical terms, why should people learn through gaming? And what exactly is gaming? If we don't have a theory, all we have is random examples; we need to be aware why our examples are important and what they tell us about learning more generally.

I've just been reading Vygotsky on play. He is focused on play in young children, but he does stress the importance of affective aspects [how they feel about what they are doing]. There are also boundaries - things which you can do within the game and things which you cannot do. He doesn't touch on power, which I think might be an important factor. Games perhaps give more power to peers than they would have in other educational situations. Hmmm. Can't remember ever reading anything about education and power. In Foucault, maybe?


Note to self: My sandbox is here.

You can access my 2007 entries in Fox's archive 2007
You can access my 2006 entries in Fox's archive 2006