Sunday, 26 April 2009

A Coffee with Scott Thornbury

Well I have enjoyed almost all of the “A Coffee with …” sessions but feel that I have been totally insulted at the one tonight! I have spent most of the last hour or more feeling very angry – which is just about as far removed from my normal demeanour as it is possible to get.

It started well with people from many places; UK, La Paz, Bolivia, Bursa in Turkey, Barcelona, the Netherlands, Russia, Pacific North Western United States, Venezuela and more gathered together to listen to Scott’s views. Many of these people use Second Life frequently for language teaching or learning.

Nik introduced him and Scott started talking about the principles of Dogme and how the lesson is based on the needs of the learners and their interaction with each other. Gradually the talk came round to the use of Second Life, to start with he thanked the two people in the room who had introduced him to Second Life and admitted to not having really investigated the learning possibilities in Second Life. That was all fine but then he went on to say that although he could see the possibilities offered by Second Life and that technology but he had huge problems with the “question of identity and the avatar thing which I find bemusing or at best irritating… the very fact that I am sitting here looking like somebody I am patently not with a name that is not mine…… is fine for these purposes - we can all sort of play the game but I am not sure that I would want to learn a language this way. I know there are people who do like to in a sense hide behind a persona … but it seems to be and I think it is fundamental to a dogma approach if you take the view that the dogma approach does that learning and language learning in social contexts … in which people are interacting authentically and this is the whole point of the communicative approach that has been traduced… but this is what we are trying to restore is the notion of authentic language use because authentic language use and learning go hand in hand and memorability and motivation etc. etc. but if you dress all this up in avatar and fake environments and do it all online I am wondering what you are losing…"

He added that he is prepared to be convinced but did not seem to find the situation real in any sense - he was making fun of it all the way through, calling it a game and not seeing any of the real use of SL claiming that we put our identities aside!

He claimed it was role play and simulation – not beginning to understand that our avatars are an extension of our own personas. My avatar is an extension of me and very “real”. Nik did make this point very eloquently – thank goodness!

He seemed to feel that socialisation was either not possible or inferior in Second Life?

I truly fell that this man should not be in Second Life putting forward any views until he is experienced enough in the field to do so!

He claimed that the “real classroom should be used for what it is really good for which is the context for real people to come together to talk about real things in real time and a real space…” clearly dismissing the SL possibilities of real peole, real places and real time even though I consider this session to be real people in a place that is very real to me in time - now let's see is time a fiction?

So I guess all of us who teach in Second Life are non existent, he claimed that the “social context is not replicatable in Second Life” – then claimed to be not inexperienced and not adverse to the medium - it certainly seemed so!

When asked about web 2.0 use in teacher training he talked about video and audio files, websites, and says it is fairly basic – they have people all over the worlds but they do not meet up! Discussions and websites are the answer – mostly Web 1.0 – oh dear, a little web 3.0 or web 3D may benefit his students if he gave it a chance and them the opportunity!

To add insult to injury he managed to bring up once again his criticism of the use of the IWB in the classroom and I am not even starting on this one! It was interesting to see though he did not seem to have any idea of what the chatback is all about, he did not respond to one comment :-)

So – I do not exist as a real person in SL, it would seem that I can’t be a good teacher or learner in Second Life, and IWBs are useless…

Is there any point in carrying on?

Please just remind me if I ever show up at a talk that is going to involve Scott again, to leave before he starts, he is not good for my health!

Builder's Buddy

Having spent four days over Easter learning how to make a holodeck scene, then being unable to share it and so feeling generally pretty bad about it I was really pleased to attend an in-world session on the Builder’s Buddy run my Daffodil Fargis on Thursday evening and learn how to make a simple holodeck very easily.
Daf demonstrated the Builder’s Buddy and we all created a scene of two cushions on a rug. The builder’s buddy is a set of two scripts, one in the base unit and the other in each item of the scene that one has built. As soon as all of the components are packed into the base unit they can be rezzed into their proper position by the touch of a button. They can be given away and so shared with anyone!

My first thought was to create a couple of shells similar to the ones provided with holodeck software. That was not as easy as it seems, using megaprims brings up the as yet uninvestigated offset setting for textures – wow!! I managed to get doors and windows in the right places both sides of the megaprims eventually but it is not intuitive and I guess I am lacking the necessary math’s skills to do it any other way than by trial ad error!

Being able to share that successfully spurred me on to build a two story basic construction and I managed that last night. It is not exactly the proportions that I wanted but I was working with a limited set of megaprims and had not heard of the SALT HUD which enables one to send out for other sized megaprims which are delivered to you if they are available. For more info see: and

I wondered about the possibility of creating language teaching scenes which all language teachers could share! With a few basic shells to start people off I imagine that would be quite easy. However, in the middle of the night another thought struck me – why did I need to create basic shells, why not use the many free buildings already available? So today I am creating Builder’s Buddy boxes of freely available buildings which could be set up as offices, cafes, shops etc. to inspire language work.

So - the two buildings photographed were built by someone else but can be easily shared and added to through the Builder's Buddy, the little garden scene is made up of freely available bits put together.

Flip Cam

My test - Walking the Dogs can be seen here

This week the team received a set of Flip Cams to use in schools so that we can record good practice that we see with regard to the Oxfordshire Learning Platform. I was amazed just how just tiny the camera is, it can be easily carried in a pocket or handbag for use anytime and anywhere! So yesterday - Saturday, I decided that I would have a play and see how it works.

Firstly it installed on the XP netbook perfectly, I took a few minutes of video and downloaded it, via the USB plug built into the side of it to the netbook, the quality looked good so my next task was to take real footage to try to produce a simple video. I am using a very short USB extension lead so that the camera can sit on my disk and still be linked to one of the computers.

Once It is switched on there is a big red button to stop and start the recording and in the surround to the red button is the zoom – the top zooms in and the bottom zooms out.

I tried next to install it to my desktop TV running Vista - not so easy! It failed! I abandoned it for a little while as the weather was lovely - too good to waste on computers :-)

I went walking the dogs, hoping to film in the bluebell woods, I did film in the woods but the bluebells are all in bud not flower :-( I need to do a re-run next weekend. Having about 30 tiny film clips I downloaded them from the camera, there is clearly a lot of room, it was telling me I had 56 minutes left so I guess it takes as much as an hour of film, which is quite amazing for such a tiny, simple camera.

I downloaded the clips to the netbook, copied the folder full of clips too my external hard drive and tried to import them not Windows Movie Maker on my desktop – but failed! Windows Movie Maker had a funny turn and DEP kicked in to prevent the import! To the MS website this time, that says to go into the Advanced Systems menu and switch off DEP for the program causing problems – a quick and easy fix? No! Quick and easy to go in and try but DEP cannot be disabled for Windows Movie Maker. Don’t you just love them?

I tried once again to install FLIP on my desktop and failed – pulled up the website, , downloaded new software and it installed easily, now I had all of the clips on the desktop would they import into WMM? No!

Just to get a finished bit of work from the Flip Cam I decided I had better try to use the packaged software – it is very simple. Ideal for very young children, but not sophisticated enough to control the sound on individual clips, so on the finished video the wind noise is far too loud on a couple of clips but if I switch that off I switch the birds off as well!

So, the Flip cam is a very simple to use video camera with very easy to use software, it is cheap and ideal for school use. The zoom facility is not bad. It is harder to use with Vista – I have not cracked that one yet and may just leave it so that I use its own software when I use the camera.

The picture quality is quite good, it has the capacity to add background music an opening title screen and a finishing credits scene, plus one at the end advertising Flip if you agree to it. All clips can be trimmed from each end and they can be dragged in the order that you want them to show into the timeline.

It is an ideal little camera for primary school use!

Monday, 20 April 2009

Rezzable's Tunnel of Light

I spent a long time last night looking around Rezzable's Tunnel of Light. It is quite amazing. I would love time, space etc., to try to build somethig like this! For more info, a Slurl and pictures visit

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Cave Rua Photos

I am still playing with Torley’s windlight setting for photographs in Second Life. It is the last part of a four part photography course being run by real life Nick Noakes (SL Corwin Carillon) tomorrow, and we have been asked to install the windlight settings and choose a favourite place for taking photographs. My chosen place is going to be Cave Rua where I did lots of filming for the mermaid machinima. There are lots more photos from Cave Rua available on Flickr -

Spectrum of Online Friendships

I find this a fascinating continuum, it is something I have never tried to map but have been interested in over the years since the internet started and I had access to “friends” way beyond my own normal circle of acquaintances. I can instantly see how far many online friendships have progressed and see where they may be heading. Thinking about many on-line friends, how many will get to the end of the row, how many will reach a halfway point and stick and why? I guess because a lot like off line friends, some will be casual friends with whom you will spend a little time, from time to time, others will become much closer, sharing similar ideas or passions about certain things and you will actively seek them out.

The picture and blog, by Mike Arauz in its original place:

Very interesting :-)

The Reading Room

My big challenge for my four days leave was to make a holodeck scene. The instructions are simple, it should have been easy, the draft version was! I made a very quick one just to see how the whole system works.
I was using Horizon’s Pro holodeck and chose to make a reading room. It seemed to me that many people may be able to use that in Second life to study texts of all different sorts especially language learners and teachers whom I seem to spend a lot of time in-world with.

Initially I put just a carpet, tables and chairs and a couple of pictures in the scene, that saved and worked but once done I could not find a way of editing it – there is nothing in the instructions about that! So I scrapped that and started again. I worked for three or four hours setting up the room, I had some books, made in word and given out at a book faire, they would have been really perfect, but all of the books made in-world, even my own, have properties that means they cannot be modified so the necessary script cannot be added. Back to the drawing board for a second time. Even though it was nearly finished I had got bored with the reading room and next day, with plenty of time to work I started to play with a different idea.

About a year ago I was involved with a literacy build based on the Leah poem The Owl and the Pussy-cat. That build is finished with and many of the resources created for it have been returned to my inventory where they have lurked for several weeks. I thought that if I could make a holodeck scene with these resources other people may be able to make use of them in other situations; they at least could be called on when or if required.

So early in the morning I started with a basic shell, converted some of it to sand, some to grass, did the hill for the turkey, made the walls transparent, then, after quite a long time working, having put the peagreen boat , cat, owl etc. into place I decided that the grass area of the base could do with being a fraction higher than the sea, 3 seconds of foolishness as I grabbed the base prim and dragged it up a little destroyed the whole morning’s work – it was a mega prim and restored to normal size – why no undo button?

Second Life has the most amazing capacity to make me look and feel a complete idiot most of the time :-)

Back to the reading room - I started from scratch a third time, spent the whole morning making note card books to replace the four books that I wanted to use but would not work, finished the build rezzed it and one whole side of furniture, all linked, installed to the wrong side of the room along with the right furniture for that side – failed!!

Started from scratch a fourth time, everything is created, built, made or whatever so very quick this time, apart from the fact it failed to rez one little group of objects at all it is fine. I am not sure that I have the patience to do it a fifth time to get my little group of objects back ( though I know at some point I will) but frustrated now at the fact I cannot share my finished resource with a colleague on the same project! Ademdum - In fact further investigation has shown that scripts I made to give out the notecard texts do not have full permissions - that is why it cannot be shared! I have to build it for a fifth time :-)

Maybe it is just me that cannot find a way to edit created scenes. The instructions are sadly lacking and no amount of playing so far has offered the answers.
Not convinced of the value at the moment and going to do a real study of the Builder’s Buddy which seems like a free, very simple version of the same thing.

Presentation Tools

I thoroughly enjoyed the Osnagroup’s meeting on Thursday night in Second Life. Dennis Newson (Osnacantab Nesterov) had asked me to prepare a session on presentation tools for the group members. We played with Slideshow image viewers, image viewers that use local chat and dialogue menus and media players all developed by Gavin Dudeney (Dudeney Ge) that pull images in from the web but specifically Flickr or a Ning used by many of the group to display their in-world photographs following a photography course.

We had a few issues to overcome when everyone started playing with their own tools following the demonstration, as soon as someone started any media playing all and showed the same thing so we had to disperse over the three sims into places where small groups could work independently. Also we had to pack away the slide show viewer – it changed everyone’s images every 20 seconds :-)

Following the image viewers we looked at the two different sorts of presentation boards and everyone pulled photographs from their library into the views to make instant presentations. Apparently we overcame at least one avatar fear during that course – someone thought it was impossibly complex and had already given up trying to create their own presentation in world.

We finished by taking two different copies of Shal’s Chalk board, the English version and the version with international characters – these can be used easily to display instant messages or note card contents.

All of the tools shown are easy to use and may help whilst teaching in-world. It was a very relaxed and enjoyable session - at least for me, others may disagree :-)


It was good fun this week to have a look at the creative display of Easter eggs made for a competition by people in the Second Life community. I did not enter :-( but enjoyed a quick look at the entries of those who did.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Cocos Island

Yesterday the photography course was introduced to Cocos island as a rather special place for taking photographs. Cocos Island, 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica , is considered the largest uninhabited island in the world.
It is only accessible by a 36 hour boat ride, the island is known for its luscious rainforest and its magnificent undersea diving and wildlife diversity.

Cocos Island is admired by scuba divers for its populations of Hammerhead sharks, rays, dolphins and other large marine species.

In the Second Life version of Cocos Island one has to teleport into the island and lands on a platform in the sky where one can watch meteors, planets and stars and wait ready to be transported to the island by a boat. As one approaches the island one has to take to a smaller boat for the final stretch.

The build is wonderful, amazing waves, waterfall, vegetation, sea life cover the island and surrounding area, scuba diving is a favourite passtime there, as, I suspect photography soon will be.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Disco Build in Second Life

I have spent a few days, now that I am on leave, creating a new musical build in Second Life. It has been great fun and is nearing the end of the first stage. I know by now that as soon as I have left it alone for a few days some new ideas will occur to me and so I will work on it again, for that reason I do not say it is finished.

About five people have tested it out tonight, Anna Begonia filmed some of it so I may be able to link to that soon.

The biggest problem I had was with the watchers. I spent the whole of last night building it - then it turned its back on me, it was far too shy to do the job. It has taken me ages to solve the problem but now that I have and I have 6 wokring watchers people all prefer the shy one so he is in the build as well. Maybe I ought to name him - in fact do you have any suggestions?

Friday, 3 April 2009

Iatefl Pecha Kucha

Thursday 2nd April I had the most amazing good fortune to meet a large number of Second Life friends. After work I drove to Cardiff to meet people who had been teaching me Spanish - Daf Gonzalas aka Dafne Smirnov, Cristina, Iffaf, Jessie and Shiv whose real names I don't know - sorry, and some of the people who are often around or on EduNation - Baldrick Commons aka Graham Stanley, Nik Peachy aka Mark Kozhedub, Kyle Mawer aka Frank Spearman, Gavin and more.

I watched the Iatefl Pecha Kucha, 6 presentations each consisting of 20 slides with 20 seconds per slide and was totally amazed to see all of these Second Life people taking one slide each and having just 20 seconds each :-) It was very good fun.

Thanks to all for making me so welcome and entertaining me - it was great to meet everyone and I had a wonderful time!