Avatar Project - SFYS 2009

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2009 Presentation to the School Focused Youth Service about our work using virtual worlds with refugee high school students

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  • Avatars provide a mechanism by which users engage with a virtual world, with others and with objects. When we construct an avatar a range of both ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’ factors influence the decisions we make about how we customise its look and the abilities we give it. Michener and De Lamater argue that: In authentic self-presentation, our goal is to create an image of ourselves in the eyes of others that is consistent with the way we view ourselves (our real self). In ideal self-presentation, our goal is to establish a public image of ourselves that is consistent with what we wish we were (our ideal self). In tactical self-presentation, our concern is to establish a public image of ourselves that is consistent with what others want us to be (Michener and DeLamater 1999: 215).   The function of avatars in virtual environments has been described as ‘the material out of which relationships and interactions are embodied’ (Taylor 2002: 40). Taylor also explains that ‘like all objects, the artefact of the avatar is located within a system of meanings and values which will have an impact on how it is experienced and received’ (Taylor 2002: 40) and Matusitz (2005).
  • Presented with a blank slate, the initial choices governing an avatars existence are influenced by the pre-existing, real-life identities and motivations of their creators (Bechar-Israeli, 1998, in Joinson, 2003. p.126). The first step for many in the development of an online identity happens when they are asked to choose a name for their avatar; in TSL users are provided with a pre-defined selection of last names and can choose any first name (providing it hasn’t already been chosen). The act of naming their avatar can foster in users a feeling of ‘connection’ to their avatar and is for some the first step toward the development of an online identity (Bechar-Israeli, 1998, in Joinson, 2003. p.126). Most popular first name: male = ‘Aaron’, female = ‘Helen’, most popular last name ‘Allen’ http://obijan.com/slstats/report_av.php?reportnum=65
  • The function of avatars in virtual environments has been described as “the material out of which relationships and interactions are embodied” (Taylor, 2002, p.40). Avatars have been employed to represent the users of virtual environments since the early 1980s when graphics based virtual worlds existed as computer game ‘back-stories’. Early research of avatar behaviour conducted by the Virtual Worlds Group at Microsoft over a period of six years in the 1990s, revealed a desire by users to customise their avatars. Avatar customisation in the graphical chat environment V-Chat in 1998 was, by the platform developers own admission, “a lot of work” (Cheng et al., 2002, p.99). Mastering the unwieldy tools required to customise the stock standard avatars demanded time and effort, however the researchers found that despite this obstacle 87% of users chose to customise their avatars (Cheng et al., 2002, p.100). Developments in avatar customisation tools have increased their range and in many cases decreased their learning curve. In contrast to real-life, virtual worlds allow young people almost limitless opportunities to construct, deconstruct or reconstruct their appearance through avatar customisation. As with real-life, the way we look and act plays a large part in how we perceive ourselves and others and how others perceive us (Goffman, 1990). A resident’s online identity will be further shaped by the customising the appearance of their avatars (Yee and Bailenson, 2007).
  • So what does this mean? Are we painting a picture of a deficit model? Blaming the victim etc.
  • Access to the virtual world for the students at Cityscape High beyond the Information Technology classroom was, as we have indicated earlier, problematic. The underlying reality of what we have referred to as ‘multiple layers of disadvantage’ had a significant impact on our work with the students. These young people, unlike those at the elite private school where we worked, did not have access to virtual worlds outside of school. They neither had the resources nor the support at home to continue what they had been doing at school.
  • Avatar Project - SFYS 2009

    1. 1. Stefan Schutt : Work-based Education Research Centre, Victoria University Magdi Ghobrial: ICT Coordinator, Debney Park Secondary College
    2. 2. Overview <ul><li>three year research project funded by VicHealth and SFYS </li></ul><ul><li>working with staff and students at Debney Park SC </li></ul><ul><li>how might virtual worlds be used with disadvantaged young people? </li></ul><ul><li>particularly exploring engagement, social connection, self-agency </li></ul>
    3. 3. Virtual Worlds and Second Life
    4. 4. Virtual Worlds and Second Life <ul><li>virtual worlds are computer-generated three-dimensional worlds. Users interact within virtual worlds by way of avatars , a simulated representation of themselves. </li></ul><ul><li>Second Life is the best-known of virtual worlds, though there are many </li></ul><ul><li>originally called Linden World (2006), Second Life is described by its developers, Linden Lab, as ‘a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents’ </li></ul>
    5. 5. What can you do in a virtual world? <ul><li>simulate real-life objects in three dimensions. </li></ul><ul><li>build 3-D models ranging from &quot;sandbox&quot; experiments to giant building or product simulations (&quot;sims&quot;) </li></ul><ul><li>Structured activities in 3-D spaces, such as games and tours </li></ul><ul><li>hold shared, real-time meetings with widely distributed groups of people. </li></ul><ul><li>work in a safe space that lets users project real or ideal identities (Lamont 2007). </li></ul>
    6. 6. Avatars <ul><li>Avatars provide a mechanism by which users engage with a virtual world, with others and with objects. </li></ul>
    7. 7. Customising an Avatar
    8. 8. The school <ul><li>Debney Park Secondary College is situated in Melbourne's inner west and is located near a large high-rise public housing estate which serves as its main student catchment . </li></ul><ul><li>Has a student enrolment of 300 students aged from 13 -18. </li></ul><ul><li>The team worked with 44 students over the life of the project. </li></ul><ul><li>The students we worked were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, primarily refugees from countries in the Horn of Africa and from low socio-economic backgrounds </li></ul>
    9. 9. Debney Park students using Second Life
    10. 10. The Activities <ul><li>Introduction to the environment </li></ul><ul><li>Activities : </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Introduction to the Second Life environment </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Choose Avatar names </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Learn to navigate around the environment (walking, flying, teleporting) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Learn how to customise the avatar appearance </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Learn how to take snapshots in the environment </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Learn how to access and use the in-world Inventory </li></ul></ul></ul>
    11. 11. The Activities <ul><li>Looking into a Virtual Mirror </li></ul><ul><li>Students take a photo of themselves in real life and place that on an object within Second Life, they then take a snapshot of their avatar standing in front of their photo, which is posted to the avatar blog with a description of how they found this experience, and how their avatar is related to their real world identity. </li></ul>
    12. 12. Activities <ul><li>Creating clothing </li></ul><ul><li>Manipulate the Environment: Create a Spinning Earth </li></ul><ul><li>Blogging </li></ul><ul><li>Exploring the Virtual Environment </li></ul><ul><li>Create a Comic Strip, Machinima and Virtual Film Festival </li></ul>
    13. 13. Activities <ul><li>Make Poverty History concert </li></ul>
    14. 14. Activities <ul><li>Sydney Skoolaborate conference </li></ul>
    15. 15. Other outcomes <ul><li>Article in The Saturday Age, October 09 </li></ul>
    16. 16. Other outcomes <ul><li>Awards and papers </li></ul><ul><li>Australian Community Technology Awards 2009: Innovator of the Year </li></ul><ul><li>VU Vice Chancellor’s Awards 2009: Citation for Outstanding Engagement </li></ul><ul><li>Number of academic papers and presentations including: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>OZCHI Computer-Human Interaction conference </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ascilite </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Making Links </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth conference </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Youth Affairs Council of Victoria conference </li></ul></ul>
    17. 17. Some Issues: multiple layers of disadvantage <ul><li>Access to the virtual world was problematic </li></ul><ul><li>The majority of these students have experienced multiple layers of disadvantage; many for example are refugees or children of refugees and come from a range of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, a large proportion have been diagnosed as having learning-related difficulties, and almost all are from a low socio-economic background. </li></ul>
    18. 18. Some Issues: Digital Divide <ul><li>limited access at school </li></ul><ul><li>no real access at home </li></ul><ul><li>no support at home to continue with the work </li></ul>
    19. 19. Some Issues: access <ul><li>The Government school system did not approve access to many of the popular social media or web 2.0 sites such as YouTube, MySpace and Facebook and virtual worlds such as Second Life (although the Second Life block was later lifted) </li></ul><ul><li>Reasons cited included student security, management of risk and control of download expenses. </li></ul><ul><li>Problems with accessing Second Life by under-18s </li></ul>
    20. 20. Some issues: expense <ul><li>Internet speed and access - the project team firstly installed private broadband cable into the school, then was able to use school Internet once unblocked </li></ul><ul><li>Hardware – to get around this, the project team supplied the school with a number of high end laptops until they were able to upgrade graphic cards on the school’s computers </li></ul><ul><li>Second Life - can be expensive to do significant work within </li></ul>
    21. 21. Summary: disadvantage is part of everyday experience <ul><li>Gaining occasional access to new technology in itself does little to mitigate or weaken the grip of the layers of disadvantage they are experiencing. </li></ul><ul><li>What it does do is offer a space where students are able, given the opportunity and support, to learn a range of new skills and express themselves in ways which traditional forms of the curriculum do not allow. </li></ul>
    22. 22. Thank you! <ul><li>Stefan Schutt </li></ul><ul><li>Senior Educator </li></ul><ul><li>Work-based Education Research Centre </li></ul><ul><li>Victoria University </li></ul><ul><li>0410 387 622 </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul>

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