Latest book published

Just heard on the grapevine (not from the publisher or anything helpful like that) that my latest book on virtual worlds Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds has just been published. https://www.interdisciplinarypress.net/online-store/digital-humanities/experiential-learning-in-virtual-worlds

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Looks good doesn’t it? It’s sort of a hybrid book, in that it’s largely a collection of chapters by a range of authors, edited by Greg Withnail and me (tempted to say Withnail and I, but that would be grammatically incorrect). I’ve got a few chapters in there though, the introduction, which is cannibalising a bit more of my PhD, a chapter I wrote with Anna Peachey on the various reasons why students hate Second Life (again adapted from my PhD) and finally a chapter on the various futures of virtual worlds, including a short description of a potential view of an augmented reality classroom. If you read that description, I’ve deliberately included something that’s almost impossible into the description as a sort of test to see which bit people will pick up on.

Although the book is £25, the introduction is downloadable for free. In the introduction, what I’ve tried to do is write it as a proper academic paper, covering a specific subject (in this case how notions of reality influence learning in virtual worlds), but focusing on the chapters in the book as my literature sources. With this the aim was to try and kill two birds with one stone … both introduce the chapters, but also provide something new to the debate. It was prompted by an argument between Greg and me about whether we should permit the authors to use the phrase “real world” to describe the physical world, my position being that this relegates virtual world activity to a secondary status, of not real when it can seem like that for a lot of people, and Greg pointing out that this is just not how people talk; for most people the physical world is the real world. In the end I went along with Greg and we just let the authors do their own thing, but wanted to raise this as an area that is problematic to some extent.

Most of the book chapters were actually relevant to this argument (the one or two that weren’t were more looking at the technology) and so it became an interesting task to pull together what the other authors had to say about how reality is perceived in a virtual world setting. I came to these conclusions:

  1. Presence and embodiment are key to effective experiential learning, but do not always occur.
  2. Immersion is fostered by the open navigable space of virtual worlds in balance with appropriate learning design. (which is covered in more depth in an upcoming book)
  3. To be effective for learning, not everything has to be perceived as real, but it is more effective if all participants agree on which parts are real and which are not. (Actually that probably applied to life in general, in the physical world too).
  4. In some cases, it is the non-real aspects that have value for learning. (in short, the people that complain that virtual worlds are not real are completely missing the point)

Anyway, take a look and see if you feel like shelling out for the whole thing.

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Immersion, immediacy and augmented reality

I’ve been writing a bit more about the differences between immediacy and immersion and why they’re not the same, and thought that this applies to the idea of augmented reality as well as virtual reality. To recap: One of the definitions of presence I take issue with is that it can be described as “the perception of non-mediation”, a definition that is sometimes applied to the phrase immediacy as if these are the same things. They’re linked, but there are important differences. The idea of immediacy is that if we are completely unaware that there is a technology between us and the environment, then we will be completely immersed. Actually, though, if you reflect on your experiences of virtual environments it’s evident they are different things – there’s definitely no immediacy, but there is immersion – well one sort of immersion.

What I should have said last time I talked about this is that a helpful distinction is the one made by Lombard and Ditton in that paper I keep quoting, where they talk about psychological immersion, which is what I’ve been talking about as immersion up to now, and perceptual immersion, which is both immediacy (there is no interface) and the extent to which the technology dominates our senses (its immersiveness).

The stuff that gets between – the mediations we perceive – sometimes can detract from a feeling of psychological immersion, but sometimes can enhance it. I mentioned before that wayfinding via maps on the screen can enable the user to feel more part of the environment despite the fact that they are a visible layer between the viewer and the environment. Another example is when exploring the theatres in Theatron (a virtual worlds project I evaluated which recreated about 20 historical theatres in Second Life http://cms.cch.kcl.ac.uk/theatron/) the paradata available to students made sense of the space for them, and provided additional context. The ability of the user of technology to adapt to technology, to develop an unconscious competency at sense-making using these pop-up boxes and clickable menus means that, once accustomed to them, although perceived, the interface is not intrusive, it simply becomes another sense through which the virtual is perceived.

But now with the advent of augmented reality, then the affordances of the virtual world are being imported to the physical. Through the use of devices such as Google Glass, the physical world will no longer be interfaceless. Like the virtual worlds viewers, although intrusive at first, the heads up displays and available paradata will become second nature as we adapt to their use. The cultural context and additional information around us can be added to historical sites, and the added level of significance of artefacts in that form the signifying system in semiotic social spaces such as cathedrals (I always need someone who isn’t an atheist to explain what’s going on in them to me). [And if you don’t know what semiotic social spaces are, read Gee, or better yet, the book by Iryna and me when it comes out, I don’t mean our book is better, it’s just better for us since we probably need the royalties more than Gee does].

Rather than then being alienating spaces in which information is not communicated and lack of knowledge of boundary objects preclude full understanding of the space, the paradata added via augmented reality act as boundary spanners to full participation in the space. [OK and now I’m quoting Wenger – oh maybe our book is better because it mashes up two different theories]. Therefore, in the same way that accompanying interfaces can help make the virtual world more psychologically immersive, augmented reality has the potential to make the physical world more psychologically immersive. By providing us with paradata about our surroundings we can become more part of them, not less, psychological immersion is increased though immediacy is decreased.

That’s what i’m claiming anyway. Does that sound plausible though?