One thing that developing a framework does is enable you to see more clearly where there are gaps. Sort of like Mendeleev and his periodic table. Putting the 13th principle together with the in-between spaces group, and then mapping what we came up with to the Jisc NUS benchmarking tool showed that those categories overlapped with the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th principles of the tool. Which then raises the question, what about the overlap between blended coalescent spaces and the 12th principle, ie digital well-being?
It’s not something we were focusing on but it is a key aspect of introducing blended and virtual spaces – there are a range of different elements to digital well-being that only emerge when we start transitioning between physical and virtual spaces, or merge the two.
To some extent, this is relatively advanced stuff compared to just regular looking after yourself while online, but virtual spaces usually require an avatar for interaction and that opens up a whole new area of digital experience. (Augmented reality too, although perhaps this isn’t so much digital well-being as physical, inasmuch as watching where you’re going when you’re hunting Pokemon.) One of the things that emerged when I was looking at virtual worlds is how the sense of presence exposes the user in ways that don’t occur when you’re a disembodied presence in a forum.
One of these is presentation of self. With the whole variety of choices available to you, what you choose has a big impact. Do you choose your physical world sex for your avatar? Do you choose your physical world gender? What if those are different from each other? Do you want to take the opportunity to explore identity by adopting a different ethnicity, sex, species? Will you expose yourself to hostility if you adopt an animal avatar, or a mechanical one? (I spent a lot of time in Second Life as an airship – that got some weird reactions. Though the spider one was the only one that generated outright hostility).
If we as educators introduce virtual worlds to our students, there is some responsibility for their continued interactions with virtual worlds, even outside of the learning situations. If they’ve become interested, and developed an online identity, as a result of our teaching, they may decide to continue and explore more. And there’s some weird stuff in there, which they need to learn to ensure they’re comfortable with before engaging with (or perhaps be resilient enough to be OK with being uncomfortable). That level of embodiment also enables people to form relationships, and there can be a mismatch between the significance that people attach to those. Which can lead to people being hurt.
There is reputation management too. If you want to be taken seriously in online interactions, maybe a giraffe isn’t the best choice of avatar. But then, I did get to know one academic simply because he and I were dressed as punks at an ESRC event in SL when everyone else was in suits. So representation of self is something to be consciously engaged with, and many people first entering virtual worlds tend to be oblivious to the relevance of avatar design.
At the moment, perhaps these concerns aren’t huge ones for educators, but at least we know where to put them on the site once we do start thinking about them.