One course ends, but the cooperation is just beginning

social media classroomImagine you explore in group wild and exotic lands. After six weeks the journey is over, and it’s time to say goodbye. Often that is a sad experience – just sharing the same experiences creates a bond between people, and when they leave, one feels a void.
This was what I felt after six weeks of Toward a Literacy of Cooperation, a course facilitated by Howard Rheingold (see previous posts like this one about the grand narrative or the most recent one about the G20).

I appreciated the format and the process of the course. The format was asynchronous (using wikis, forums, blogs, mindmaps, social bookmarks) and synchronous (live sessions using Blackboard Collaborate – the former Elluminate). Sorry, dear virtual worlds friends, there was no session in Second Life, OpenSim or other virtual environments. However, we used video and audio during the live sessions.

session in blackboard collaborate

Using video was very interesting – it was as if we were looking through that small window into each others world. It really was something which made us connect more. But this was not only about the tools but also about the process.

Howard incited all of us to take up roles during the sessions: people taking notes, others summarizing, participants watching over the mindmaps, other looking up useful links, adding those links to the pearltrees bookmarks. In-between the sessions he encouraged us – pushed us – to participate more on the forums and blogs.

Doing all that stuff was quite an experience, because it made one discover how rich in content each of those one hour sessions was (not to mention the abundant required and recommended reading and the forum discussions). The experience of collaboratively real-time mindmapping was most interesting – it was a demonstration of the power and joy of cooperation. I must say, I already was a user of mindmaps, but now mindmapping has become a fundamental part of about all my project and I try to incite my fellow journalists and members of our newspaper community to use mindmaps.

The last session was very special as well: the learners had to organize and produce themselves the Big Picture of this course. We had so much to discuss we finally needed two sessions and more than two hours in total – after which we all realized we were just beginning this learning journey.

It’s very hard to summarize the content we discussed during the past six weeks, but this TED-talk by Howard will give you an idea what is was all about:

Not the end

Even though this course had ended for us, the journey continues and I guess most of us will continue meeting at the Alumni Community which is organized in pretty much the same way as the course itself, using the asynchronous tools but also very regular live sessions.

The participants have all kinds of projects, from studying the neuroscience of cooperation over media and journalism projects to online community management and peer2peer-learning and I’m sure the Alumni-community will be a great help for these projects.

We’ll also continue discussing the design of this learning process. What about the relation between the inside and the outside? The participation in the course is not for free, and the number of participants is limited. What are the benefits and the drawbacks of these choices?

Also, I’m convinced that using a virtual environment such as Second Life has its advantages. Creating 3D mindmaps in a persistent environment, where one can share a same virtual space and enjoy ‘watercooler chats’, is something I’d personally like to add to the “social media classroom experience” at Howard’s project.

As our esteemed facilitator would say,

Onward!

Comparing online courses: Change11, NMFS_F11 and Toward A Literacy of Cooperation

Tomorrow I’ll give a presentation at a journalism masterclass in Belgium, MasterClass IHECS 2011 – with Open Newsroom – at Eghezée (or just #MC11). The class is facilitated by Damien Van Achter. These last few months I’ve been thinking about a social media production flow for bloggers and journalists, updating regularly my presentation Conversation tools for information professionals on Prezi.

Presentation

I use Prezi because it’s not a production flow which follows some fixed sequence of steps. It’s more like a rhizome-like processus (like the horizontal stem of a plant) which inspired the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Also, Prezi allows me to have a conversation with the participants, rather than giving a classical presentation. It’s also more in line with the Connectivism idea which is the theoretical underpinning of the Massive Online Open Course Change11 I participate in.

Three courses

I will not limit the conversation to the “conversation tools”. These days I’m participating in various online courses: the Massive Open Online Course #Change11 and Awakening the Digital Imagination (#nmfs_f11). I also registered for a third course, facilitated by Howard Rheingold, Toward a literacy of cooperation:

A six week course using asynchronous forums, blogs, wikis, mindmaps, social bookmarks, synchronous audio, video, chat, and Twitter to introduce the fundamentals of an interdisciplinary study of cooperation: social dilemmas, institutions for collective action, the commons, evolution of cooperation, technologies of cooperation, and cooperative arrangements in biology from cells to ecosystems.

The three courses are content-wise rather different. MOOC is about learning styles and tools, the Digital Imagination studies foundational&inspiring texts about new media. At the same time these courses are “new media in action” and they use different formats and philosophies. The MOOC is very much participant-directed, open and flexible, the Digital Awakening is more syllabus-based, Rheingold’s course is highly directed by the organizer even though Howard made it clear that he wants us to form a learning community.

Why talk about these courses at a journalism class? Because for me journalism and blogging is a kind of learning. A lot of what educators do, and especially the massive open online formats, can be compared with media practice. So the tools and formats they use, as also the issues about business models, are very similar. If learning involves writing blog posts (in the three courses), making video, designing a game maybe, then we should no longer limit the relevance of education theories and practices to schools and universities.

This is a very preliminary wiki mindmap (yes, you can modify and add things) comparing the three courses. Use the icons to enlarge, zoom and edit the map:

Read also: Deconstructing learning through social media: virtual seminar, MOOC and OpenCourseware

Lessons in new media: don’t forget the old, simple stuff

3D printing, Second Life and unemployment: how the blending of realities rips society apart

Sometimes the seemingly random combination of blog posts makes me think. For instance, watch this introductory video about 3D-printing, which I found on the financial blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis:

In the blog post you’ll find other great links about 3D printing.

Now switch to some very important question here in this TechCrunch post by Jon Bischke: the growing divide between Silicon Valley and unemployed America. Globalization and technology are exhilarating, but many people are being left behind. Another aspect not mentioned in the article (maybe more relevant for Europe): also national politics is very often being left behind in this revolution. While political leaders still want to control things on a national or regional level, often ignoring the technological changes, they contribute to ever bigger crisis situations rather than solving them.

Yes, we can marvel about the wonderful opportunities the technological revolution is bringing us. Just imagine the possibility of collaboratively working on 3D-objects, discussing them in virtual environments (Second Life now working hard on enabling mesh-import), turning those 3D digital objects into physical prototypes via 3D printing, wherever you want on the planet, and eventually convincing partners to start production – wherever on the planet.

All of which no longer requires huge amounts of capital. It’s about imagination, creativity, isn’t it? Of course, many people lack the knowledge and skills to actually explore those opportunities, but then again, the internetz make it easier and cheaper than ever to acquire those skills…

Or maybe not so. Using the internet to learn constantly, to find out about opportunities, requires a media literacy which is not self-evident. Not only the unemployed construction worker may lack this basic skill, also the graduate who supposedly is a digital native but never really made it beyond the Facebook-is-only-for-friends level of social media practice.

So we’re living in dangerous times. Technology and globalization are ripping the old structures apart. People get angry and upset about their leaders, even about society in general. We need schools and universities to teach people how to use the possibilities of this globalized internet age – because we’re getting into the phase where we not only manipulate bits and bytes as we like, but also atoms. And we do this by collaborating on a truly global scale, far beyond the reach of local governments.

In this new phase the virtual and the physical blend. 3D printing allows us to make that transition. Virtual money such as Bitcoins and CS are another interesting development. Philip Rosedale is a very visionary guy. After founding Second Life he’s now exploring the possibilities of location-based exchange en virtual currencies in the Bay area – using his virtual world knowledge and experience in the physical neighborhoods of his city. Mixed realities indeed, as location-based social networks, augmented reality, alternate reality games are steadily developing in new dimensions of our daily environments.

We have to do more than just hoping the education system will take care of it. We’ll have to teach and learn on a grassroots-level. Virtual environments can be extremely useful in this regard, but we should not neglect stuff such as Google+, or Facebook-groups not to mention meet-ups in what was once considered ‘meatspace’ but which is now a blended reality.

Kitely asks for some help to get virtual worlds on the web

I’ve been very busy covering the European debt crisis, but now it’s time for something completely different: the future of virtual worlds. At MetaMeets in Amsterdam, almost two weeks ago now, I interviewed some very inspiring people. I’m working on a story for a mainstream audience about virtual worlds, but I’ll publish some stuff now already on this blog.

Ilan Tochner is the founder of Kitely, a company which works on a project allowing users to create their OpenSim-based virtual world as easily as posting a YouTube-video. Just give it a try, it actually works!

Tochner however realizes that also the guests visiting those virtual worlds should have a very smooth, basically one-click kind of experience when entering those environments. He claims it’s possible to build web-based virtual world viewers – all Tochner needs is a little help from his virtual world friends.

I hope he is right about this – it would help tremendously offering a web-based access. People are used to the web, they want frictionless, instantaneous gratification. Every click extra, every hurdle they have to take means that your number of visitors dramatically decreases.

Remember: it’s not about convincing those who are willing to experiment with virtual worlds. It’s about offering some activity which interests a specific audience – an activity which probably has nothing to do with virtual worlds as such, virtual worlds would just be a cool platform. So getting people into your venue should be totally non-geeky and straightforward.

MetaMeets Day 2: going beyond virtual worlds, machinima, avatars…

Beyond the beyond is the name of Bruce Sterling’s famous blog on Wired. It’s a habit of sci-fi people to think beyond what is anticipated by the mainstream, eventually to think about how ‘change‘ or ‘beyond’ itself gets new meanings.

It seems also virtual people love to think ‘beyond’: beyond virtual worlds, avatars, machinima. That at least is the conviction I have after attending the MetaMeets conference about virtual worlds, augmented reality and video/machinima in Amsterdam. I’ll give a very fast overview of the second and last day of the conference to illustrate this.

Heidi Foster is involved in the management of a new breedable pet in Second Life, Meeroos, with a large customer base. Meeroos are mythical animals, Foster explained, but they are mostly very cute and they ask to be picked up. To be precise: the project launched on May 21 and now there are 22,000 players and 250,000 Meeroos in Second Life. It’s conceivable that the Meeroos will invade the rest of the Metaverse by spreading to other virtual worlds such as OpenSim. In the discussion it was suggested to expand to mobile devices as well. That would be awesome I think: develop and launch on Second Life, spreading throughout other virtual places and ending up on smartphones and tablets.

Not a potential but a real move to mobile devices was presented by Timo Mank, an artist-curator at the Archipel Medialab. In 1999 he co-founded Art Hotel Dit Eiland (This Island) in the Dutch village of Hollum on Ameland. The Medialab initiates Artist In Residences focused on cross reality projects. Many artists from PARK 4DTV worked on Ameland creating content for web based virtual islands. Until recently Timo was curating Playground Ameland Secondlife.

Early this year the Foundation Archipel Ameland shifted focus from yearly media art interventions to transmedia story telling for iPad. The project is called TMSP TV and it connects twitter with guests at the TMSP studio in Diabolus Artspace Secondlife. The LiveLab uses the daily on goings in the World Herritage Waddensea and brings this material as live feed to virtual space where it’s playfully reevaluated, mixed and redistilled by guests and performers.

Toni Alatalo is the CTO of a small games company, Playsign, and the current lead architect of the open source realXtend platform. He explained that not every virtual world needs avatars. Imagine a virtual environment allowing to explore the human body by traveling through the veins, or just think Google Earth. Technologically speaking avatars do not need to be part of the core code of the virtual environment, instead the code could be modular. Which could lead us indeed to virtual worlds without avatars, or to avatars in environments which are not perceived as classical virtual worlds (think augmented reality, smartphones).

metameets audience looking at 3D video

Of course there were things which seemed very familiar to seasoned users of Second Life or Open Sim. Melanie Thielker (Avination) talked about roleplaying, commenting a video depicting the awesomeness of user-generated content. ‘Content’ is an awful word used by publishers when they mean all kinds of stuff such as texts, videos, infographics, images. In this case it refers to impressive builds made by users of the virtual worlds, but Melanie emphasized rightfully that the most important content items are the storylines people create, the characters they build, the backstories they provide, the communities they form. They write their own books in a very experimental, fluid, ever-changing setting.

But even this well-known practice is going somehow ‘beyond’ as it takes place in Melanie’s own virtual world, independently from Second Life. Melanie is an entrepreneur in the Metaverse.

Karen Wheatley is the director of the Jewell Theatre in Second Life. She goes beyond theatres and beyond some existing Second Life subcultures. She runs a theatre in Gor. The Gorean subculture is known for its traditions (based on novels by John Norman), is fond of a warrior ethos, (mostly) female slaves and dislikes furries (avatars with animal-like features) and kid-avatars. All of which does not prevent Wheatley to organize her Shakespearian performances in Gor, open for all avatars. She gets sponsoring and so we could consider her being an entrepreneur too.

Draxtor Despres goes beyond in various ways. In his video reportages he combines ‘real’ footage with video shot in virtual environments. He presented his newest big project: a documentary for the German public television ZDF, Login2Life which will come out mid-July. It goes beyond Second Life as it also shows World of Warcraft.

Stephen M. Zapytowski, Professor of Design and Technology at the School of Theatre and Dance of the Kent State University presented another example of crossing boundaries: April 2011 saw the premier of his avatar ghost for Kent State’s production of Hamlet. This ghost played “live” on stage with real life actors in a blend of virtual and real worlds. Which of course made the audience dream of avatars and humans playing nicely together in the augmented reality (please stay calm: we’re not there yet).

Talking about playing together: that’s what the music panel with JooZz & Al Hofmann talked about. They want even more sophisticated means for people from all over the planet to jam together in perfect synchronicity.

Chantal Gerards showed us a few machinima videos, and I sensed a bit of frustration. In one of her creations she used music from the director David Lynch. Unfortunately, he did not even want to watch the video as ‘he does not like machinima’.

Chantal said: “I have a scoop for you today. I stop making machinima”, adding a bit mysteriously that she will move ‘beyond machinima’. Her advice goes beyond machinima as well: create together, with all kinds of people and platforms, move beyond the platform so that what you create gains wider relevance.

Read also my write-up of the first day: “we are at the beginning

MetaMeets: “We are at the beginning”

logo metameets“We are not at the end of the road but at the beginning;” That was how Tim Gorree, IT Architect, Web Technologies at Nokia, concluded the first day of MetaMeets in Amsterdam.

The conference was started by another Nokia person, the director of organization development Ian Gee. He told us that the concept of “change” is changing. Television shows deal with spectacular changes of individuals and help define how people look these days at change. He also challenged the audience to think out of the box, to give one example: why don’t we stop working at 40 and come back at 60? He learned me a new word: metanoia, change beyond that what can be anticipated and predicted.

Noah Felstein showed us how difficult it is to make predictions about change, commenting on the bewildering variety of life forms in the early stages of evolutions, then showing us Habitat, the online role-playing game developed by Lucasfilm Games and made available as a beta test in 1986 by Quantum Link, an online service for the Commodore 64 computer and the corporate progenitor to America Online.

Felstein was among the first ten employees at Lucasfilm Games (now LucasArts Entertainment), The 3DO Company, and Dreamworks Interactive. In his latest venture he has become a co-founder of a start-up company, where he is helping create software to enable speedy massively-multiplayer game capabilities across both mobile and web based platforms. He is a strong believer in presence and synchronous interaction.

As those topics demonstrate, MetaMeets is by no means a Second Life-centered conference. Justin Clarke Casey demonstrated OpenSim and Ilan Tochner showed us Kitely, a venture which enables people to launch real fast virtual worlds “on demand”, based on OpenSim (more about his ideas about ‘virtual worlds as apps’ and easy access for the end-user tomorrow).

As usual at these conferences about virtual environments, education is one of the most convincing useful applications, as demonstrated today again by various specialists. Lars Dijkema and Mathijs Hamers from Elde College presented a project for an ecologically sustainable school, which they visualized in 3D and in a virtual environment (FrancoGrid). A major reason for building in a virtual environment? The social interaction and feedback (their institution, Elde college, also encouraged them to use social media in order to get help and feedback from outside).

Social interaction in virtual environments is not always self-evident and can be very different from what teachers and students are used to in traditional settings. Jolanda Verleg from Insperion thinks up didactic concepts for schools or companies and helps them use visualizing them in virtual environments. She admits that some people are “dysvirtual” and will “never get it”, but points out that virtual training exists alongside the more traditional approaches.

Ineke Verheul from GameOn/Surfnet/Virtuality illustrated the educational importance of roleplay in virtual settings by the Chatterdale project, a virtual language learning village, where students had to investigate a bomb threat.

One of the impressive aspects of all these presentations is how virtual environments seem to incite people to become entrepreneurs. This was very obviously the case for yet another presenter, Melanie Thielker, who is the founder of Avination and an OpenSim Core Developer with a special interest in roleplay combat systems.

There are exceptions however. Lee Quick is the developer of the Kirstens Viewer, one of the longest established third party viewers (user interfaces) for Second Life. His business model? Just a passion for photography and images. Third party viewers are not really competition for the official viewer, so he explained. They just offer different tools for different jobs and so the Kirstens Viewer boasts 3D viewing, night vision, color filters and extra camera viewpoints – which makes it interesting for machinima-makers.

But maybe, just maybe, the virtual environments – Second Life or OpenSim – are not the endpoint of the technological evolution? What about augmented reality – putting layers of digital information on top of the physical reality? Meet Fred van Rijswijk, owner of C2K, a provider of “high end layar solutions” (Layar is a mobile browser for augmented reality).

The audience went wild, blending the virtual and the physical in an augmented reality. Just imagine (they’re really good in imagining things, those virtual worlds types) that avatars could “sit” in the conference room, visible through smartphones or other devices… Or maybe the devices should retreat in the background, offering us an immediate access to an augmented reality…

Tim Gorree said Microsoft is developing hyper realistic avatars and of course developed the Kinect. Why not use avatars as identity carriers, dealing with the typical problem of lost passwords?

“Count up all the virtual worlds user hours, gaming user hours, chances are all this is more important than the web”, so Tim continued. “Avatars have been used to validate transactions for hundreds of years – think stamps, coins for example. These days there are billions of (virtual) avatars out there, why not use them to change society?”

 

MetaMeets: exploring virtual worlds and augmented reality in Amsterdam

metameets logoTomorrow I’ll be in Amsterdam for the MetaMeets 3D Internet & Virtual Worlds conference. What do I hope to learn?

In my media practice I have daily chat sessions for my newspaper & site & blog, using CoverItLive. I embed that tool in our site, it’s easy to use and rather sophisticated – allowing for moderation, integration of all kinds of media types. It’s text chat based, so no fancy 3D avatar stuff in virtual settings.

I can imagine that some chat sessions could benefit from a virtual setting. It would facilitate deeper discussions, longer attention spans, serendipitous encounters. But at the same time it’s crucial that people can enter such environment as frictionless as possible. That means no downloads, getting an avatar must be fun and real easy, no steep learning curve. In other words, browser based virtual environments.

In Amsterdam I’ll attend a presentation by Ilan Tochner, the CEO of Kitely, about Virtual Worlds on Demand. They make it very easy to launch your own OpenSim-based virtual world. However, I think those visiting your world will have to download a Second Life compatible viewer – which means it’s not really what I’m looking for. Tochner realizes the importance of this issue. He told Hypergrid Business that the Second Life and OpenSim viewer can be ported to HTML 5 and Web GL in a matter of months — and he’s looking for people to help accomplish that.

Even if we have browser-based virtual settings, I’m not convinced the mainstream audience will embrace these possibilities. For quite some time I hear that the younger generations are so used to interact in virtual gaming environments, using avatars, that doing so in a professional context will be a logical step for them. I really think that’s way too optimistic.

So what could be the future? Maybe augmented reality? That’s not a virtual world such as Second Life or World of Warcraft, but a way to put digital information on top of the physical reality (and one of the possibilities might be blending the virtual and the physical).  In Amsterdam there’ll be a presentation about the mobile augmented reality browser Layar, I have Layar on my iPhone, and there are some layers which I really like such as streetARt and of course the Wikipedia layer. Looking at how my colleagues and friends use their smartphones, I must admit there seems to be not much traction for augmented reality as it exists now – essentially staring in a funny way through your smartphone camera and ending up using the  2D map. But, being a geek and loving sci-fi, I hope the Layar-enthusiasts at the conference will convince me.

I use Second Life as a place to meet very creative innovators, and I try out some very simple experiments such as 3D mindmaps. In Amsterdam one of the discussions will deal with immersive 3D worlds as innovative platform for co-creation.

Other aspects which interest me are community management and making videos (machinima) and documentaries in virtual environments or broadcasting from within those environments. This being said, MetaMeets will be combined with the MaMachinima International Festival (MMIF).

More about all this in the next few days and if you have questions about all this, don’t hesitate asking them here so I can try and get some answers!

Follow me on Twitter @rolandlegrand and for more extensive coverage of the conference on @mixed_realities

 

Start your own publishing house or university…

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to meet journalism students interested in social media (at a Journalism Night in Brussels, Belgium, organized by publishers, journalism departments & organizations). I presented some tools I use on a daily basis, a workflow for articles and bigger news projects. That same workflow could be considered a “personal learning environment” but also the nucleus of a publishing venture. One can look at it clockwise, working from collaborative mindmaps up to chat and immersive environments: working out a project systematically, publishing in real time “the making of” and finally presenting the article or video while asking feedback. But it’s also possible to start out in a synchronous session, brainstorming in a chatroom or in an immersive place:

I also mentioned the possibility for young journalists to start their very own publishing house. Why not start the next TechCrunch or Huffington Post? If it fails, too bad, but the skills one acquired by simply trying are useful also for the more established media companies. I posted about this on PBS MediaShift and here you see my interview with the famous Californian blogger Robert Scoble:

Often journalists look bewildered when I talk about becoming their own publishers, but not in this case. I definitely had the feeling that at least some of them are considering the possibility…

Rehearsing the day that we’ll program matter

So I’ve been monitoring that State of the World 2011 conversation on The WELL (with Bruce Sterling and Jon Lebkowski), learning about design fiction (see also critical design) and watching an awesome video about Claytronics (programmable matter). Sterling, on his blog Beyond the Beyond: “Check out this bonkers Discovery Channel treatment of some Carnegie Mellon nano-visionary weirdness.”

The video made me think that what we currently do in Second Life and OpenSim is sometimes a kind of design fiction, making people used to programming virtual matter, preparing them for the day when we actually program ‘physical’ matter. When could it become feasible, when will it have an impact on the economy? I’ve no idea, but I asked on Quora (skipping for now the question whether we’ll be happy in such a world, and how long it will last before doomsday becomes reality).

Singularity

On an even more general level: if programmable matter would become mainstream, would that be an event which we could call ‘technological singularity‘, would it be part of that? Talking of which I recently stumbled upon a fascinating conversation between Robin Hanson (George Mason University) and the economist Robert Russell, contemplating a situation in which worldwide output would double every two weeks instead of every 15 years (the current situation). What would it mean for the return on capital, on labor? What about the environment, security and so many other crucial aspects? You’ll find the long audio discussion on the Library of Economics and Liberty.

Eternal shame! World of Warcraft mage beats Second Life geeks!

Oh my! Is our Second Life community, and especially the geeky part of it, losing it’s innovative edge? New World Notes posted a few days ago about how the Kinect is being used to move around and play in World of Warcraft. Watch this video:

Interesting to note: in 2008 already former Linden Lab Chairman Mitch Kapor was involved in the development of 3D web cameras enabling people to control their avatars by moving their body. Wagner James Au said in his post that an earlier version of the project “evolved into the Kinect”. Reading around, I learned on ArchVirtual that the co-developer of Hands-Free, Philippe Bossut, still works for… Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life).

All of which makes it even stranger that as yet we don’t have any video footage or stories about the Kinect in a Second Life context.

Is this because Second Life is not a gaming world? In the comments on New World Notes it seems people are interested in building in-world using Kinect hacks, but then again, sophisticated builders are a minority in Second Life.

So I set out to ask people in-world about Kinect. The AW Groupies is a very active tech chatgroup, but it seemed they were far more interested in discussing issues about “making meshes portable across platforms” (if you don’t understand a word of this, do not panic, go here)

Demoralized, I went to OpenSim, where I bumped into John “Pathfinder” Lester. Yes, also Pathfinder thinks the Kinect could be a game-changer, but no, he had no information about people in OpenSim or Second Life actually trying that out. “Give it some time”, he said.

Now, in case you have any doubts of the importance of what’s happening around the Kinect, Robert Scoble shared this video on Quora (notice the interesting remark about deviceless augmented reality!):