Language Learning and Teaching with the aid of Technology

Bryan Carter from the University of Central Missouri, whom I work with extensively in Second Life, led a very interesting seminar this afternoon entitled "Presence, Representation and Identity in Virtual Spaces". You can watch it via this link:

Bryan raises some interesting questions about who we are in Second Life. One of the questions which came up was about making a skin which is a photographic copy of you IRL. Is this a good idea or not?

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Thanks for posting the question and the link -I've watched the first 5 minutes only and have already started thinking about my answer in a different way.

My first answer was something along the lines of "I wouldn't mind to have it as a possibility but really one of the things I like about SL is the option of tweaking my appearance -when I'm not role-playing, the rest of what my avatar says and does is what I'd do and say in RL in those circumstances". (My avatar looks very nice...)

Now Bryan Carter has got me thinking that perhaps that is not entirely possible, because my appearance in each specific context adds to who I am, to my identity.

It's good food for thought and it'll probably take me several chunked-viewings to have a better formed opinion, but I find it very interesting (although I'm still reluctant to give up my avatar's beauty :-) -I'd completely forgotten I'd chosen my avatar for my ID profile here!

It's a fascinating topic. I have watched part of Bryan's presentation, and I am going to set aside more time today to view to view it in its entirety. This topic often comes up in discussions. Yesterday I watched this video of a presentation by Philip Rosedale, founder of SL, at Singularity University, 31 January 2010:

At around 7 minutes into the presentation he talks about people in RL beginning to look more like they do in SL and and behaving in RL in the same way as they do in SL. Later on, around 27 minutes into the presentation, he talks about SL breaking down the different manifestations of discrimination that exist in RL. He gives the example of a big guy in a RL f2f meeting who can be overpowering by his presence, i.e. we judge by appearances - and big people can be threatening, especially to women. In SL, however - he claims - we don't know what the person behind the avatar looks like and this helps to break down discrimination.

I have three avatars. If you read the profile of my No. 1 SL avatar it is clear that it is me, Graham Davies. But the profiles of my No. 2 and No. 3 avatars are fictitious. One of them looks like a female aged around 30. It's interesting to observe how people react to her. Females are normally very friendly, but males vary from being extremely courteous and helpful, occasionally condescending, to very rude and making suggestive remarks - thankfully only very occasionally. I mentioned this to my wife Sally, having been surprised by the rude and suggestive reactions of some male avatars. "Now you know what it feels like to be a woman," she said. Of course, I can only communicate in text chat when using my alternative avatars, as my voice would give the game away.

I don't think I would want my appearance in SL to resemble my RL appearance. I enjoy the fantasy world of SL. I can be 30 again, full of energy, staying up until the early hours of the morning, dancing the night away in clubs. My wife Sally feels the same.

This is a topic Bryan and I have discussed quite a lot too, especially now that we're getting more and more students involved in our courses. His situation and mine differ in one important respect as well: Bryan meets his students IRL all the time, whilst I more or less never meet mine (the only ones I've ever met IRL are the exchange students … who usually go back home before the term ends).

We're both coming to the conclusion that there are different rules for us as teachers and for us as 'residents'. We're getting more and more extraneous visitors onto Kamimo Island these days, mainly, I suspect, because there's a particularly large sandbox there. I usually try to greet them when I run into them (with my 'Kamimo Educator' persona), and many of them find it a bit odd that someone can be so (apparently) open with them (since I can't help but feel myself to be a teacher in my usual learning environment). I find myself having the same attitude as I would to someone I met wondering around in the corridors of the building I spend my working days in IRL.
This is an old article (November 2008) from the Daily Mail online. It's good illustration both of the huge differences between people's RL and SL characters/appearances and also how the fantasy world of SL gets mixed up with the real world:

Revealed: The 'other woman' in Second Life divorce... who's now engaged to the Web cheat she's never met:
This is such an interesting topic! I still have to finish watching the videos (probably at the weekend) but I've read the article and your replies.

I'd love to be able to have more than one persona like Graham...I don't think I'd be able to do so, but I've decided that my avatar will look different when I'm in character, role-playing. I love to use different registers (the RP I've joined is a medieval one) and it's quite a change when I leave SL and go to meet my Plurk friends. For the first few minutes I'm tempted to say "greetings", milady...For some reason I just hadn't realised my avatar can look completely different when I'm IC until after I finished completing my role-card. I suppose as a language teacher it makes some sense that I felt comfortable much more quickly with switching language styles than looks.

Something else I've noticed is that, at least for the time being, the people I meet in SL and in RL have only one identity in my mind. So if I've met someone in SL first, I tend to think of them with their SL name, and viceversa. Very curious...

The article is to me simply surreal -it's late (1.30 am) and that's probably had an influence but I had to reread a lot and I'm still not sure I've understood who's who. Which is intriguing rather than censorious.


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