Well about 202m if you are given 15 minutes to build a tower and you have the physics switched on. That was the challenge I presented to all the avatars who came along to the SL social event organized during the Emerge online conference (23rd to 25th June). On paper (or notecard) a simple task and one that was reused from a teaching activity designed for the OpenHabitat project by Cubist Scarborough. In virtuality it was a more challenging competition than I envisaged.
Building in SL requires a number of skills: knowledge of the client interface, the ability to interpret the ‘build’ dialog boxes, good camera controls and a design based visual grammar that can adjust to a 3D working space. Complicate this mix by making it a cooperative task and the constraints of SL as a tool for collaboration start to become uncovered. The permissions structure in SL means that object sharing is problematic and needs to be solved if team building is going to be effective. To progress, clear communication channels between avatars needs to be established, not a straightforward matter when the main chat window is clogged with the noise from competing parties busy issuing each other instructions and encouragement.
From my perspective as judge and referee it felt like 15 minutes of mayhem. Thankfully, towers did appear out of the chaos and the most productive builders were those who in the end chose to go it alone. It was also a great insight into how to design a creative activity for a virtual environment such as SL. The issues that needed to be addressed (and were forgotten by me) were around scaffolding the activity – ensuring there were a set of baseline competencies in place from which creativity could emerge. Next time I will make sure:
• the instructions (and supporting resources) are given well in advance to allow the less experienced participants time to brush up on the skills that will be needed. A few Torley Linden tutorials would have been handy here;
• time is allowed for thinking and communicating strategy and possible approaches to the problem;
• that I do not shift everyone from one venue to another and breakup the natural conversational flows that are developing, in this case moving people from the social area to the building area;
• that if possible everyone is assigned to groups in advance and are not distracted by what can be a tortuous process of forming teams.
Second Life can be deceptive. On the surface it presents itself as an environment that can be interpreted by understandings from the real world. It can seduce one into believing that ‘teaching’ practices that work on the outside can be readily transposed inside. It is a sobering experience when the particular constraints of SL kick back and even the best-laid plans begin to unravel.
Thankfully here the entire session did not go completely awry and towers were wrought from SL’s basic prim set. Congratulations to Art Fossett who was awarded the winners prize – a ‘Ruth’. Of course we will be expecting him back next year, or perhaps at the next social, to defend his title.
See the full photostream here:
and other snaps here: