Thursday, June 26, 2008

Go Jump Off a Cliff!

Tonight, my "Creativity in Second Life" teacher told me to jump off a cliff. Or, rather, Nettrice showed me how to jump off a special platform someone built on the artists' island Artropolis and try to land on a target. Like so many things in Second Life, this simulation of a physical experience was weirdly, hilariously, giddily, fun.

I wonder why that is. If something like dancing (or watching your avatar dance) is fun because we've done it in our real bodies and so the mirror neurons fire, then what about something that we haven't done, like jumping off a cliff?

In addition to our field trip to Artropolis, we worked on building an art installation around the concept of lilypad. My ability to make images in SL lags far behind what I can do with Photoshop or Flash, and so I had to overcome that frustration. Working with the third dimension is really challenging, and makes me recall my very short-lived attempt to learn 3-D animation about 10 years ago. I'm trying to stick with this, and so it was really helpful to be able to voice (or type, in this case) my frustration and get some real-time direction from Nettrice. The lilypad flower I was building was unintentionally abstract, but I was able to get to the point during class of being able to understand how to manipulate my object given enough time and patience.
So here is my lilypad flower next to Nettrice's dragonfly.

On the technical side, I crashed constantly tonight, including twice before class even started. Switching back and forth between the laptop and mac mini is better than not, but it is so very frustrating. I guess everyone was crashing tonight, and it is clear when someone in the class goes offline what is happening, but still, it pulls you right out of the experience. Not nearly as much fun as landing with a nice solid thud when you jump off the cliff.

Friday, June 13, 2008

L1Aura Goes to Class: My Teacher Has Wings!

Last night was the first class meeting of SIM326X-C1: Creativity in Second Life, a course offered through Massachusetts College of Art. The syllabus is here.

It was a really interesting experience. I was pretty excited and so I teleported to the class location a couple of hours before the session started, and there was the instructor, Nettrice, preparing for class. I didn't want to intrude on her prep time, but it was fascinating to see her avatar manipulating objects with the stream of white dots that indicates interaction.

When I came back right as the class was scheduled to begin, I joined one other student and then a few others appeared. we offered each other friendship and then moved to an area with cushions and a screen that can be used for slides and maybe video. We took a field trip to International Drawing Day and looked at the exhibition there, which included flying up to find a drawing done by the teacher. Then we went back to the course space, spent some time on the beach building an object, tried out dancing (which continues to be so much more fun than I would have thought it would be), and had a final discussion back at the cushions.

The change in activities, modes, and venues was really interesting, and much more instantaneous than in real life. We can "go" anywhere in Sl and come right back. There is a little transition time in the class moving from the sitting on the cushions to dancing on the beach, but nothing like in RL.

I didn't anticipate that the Voice Chat feature of SL would be so important to my experience of immediacy, presence, and synchronicity. I contributed to discussion through text chat, but will try to get Voice chat working before next week. It made a big difference to my sense of the teacher as a real person to hear her laugh and to hear her inflection as she spoke. Two of the students were physically present with Nettrice at MassArt (and in SL), and I must confess to being a bit jealous of them. It is hard to shift to being in a virtual class space (and of course to shift to being a student and not the teacher, but maybe that is made easier by being out of the physical classroom).

The biggest difficulty I had (other than being able to hear my twins having a bedtime wild rumpus) was that my computer crashed a few times. I went back and forth between my laptop and mac mini, so I didn't miss as much as I would have if I had to restart each time, but it was still frustrating. I also didn't set up audio on both machines, and need a microphone on the mini so I can participate fully in voice chat. Very interesting to think through the technological requirements.

The issue of how the space is set up and how we used is also one to which I will continue to pay attention. I was surprised by the idea of the field trip. I hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it, but I thought we would sit around a virtual seminar table in some super cool virtual room. Sitting on the floor on cushions was interesting. Nettrice's space for her MassArt classes are on an island on a beach, and is more island-like than other spaces I've spent time in, which seem more like they are located inland. I am always surprised by how much I enjoy the simulation of the natural world in SL. The Princeton U garden is a joy to be in and I like the island/water spaces. Some of the trees and plants in SL are really gorgeous.

Oh, and my teacher has wings.