Posts Tagged ‘Second Life’

 by Rich Mesch

One of the more controversial aspects of Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) is the use of avatars to represent ourselves. That’s understandable—when we’re just icons on a WebEx menu, we don’t worry about what those icons say about us. And when we appear on a videoconference, we feel pretty good that we’re represented accurately. But avatars are unique; depending on the VIE platform you’re using, you have a chance to customize the way you look—from very accurate, to complete fantastical. So should our avatars look just like us? Should they look like what we’d like to look like? Or should they be creative interpretations of us, which may or may not resemble us at all?

A popular concept, originally applied to robotics, is The Uncanny Valley. In a nutshell, the theory says that the closer a facsimile of a human gets to reality, the more repulsed we are by it. Think about the animatronic presidents at DisneyWorld. Creepy, no? But perhaps the easiest to understand definition of The Uncanny Valley came in an episode of 30 Rock from last season. Since this is a family blog, I can’t give you the exact context (but feel free to Google for yourself), but this snippet of dialogue between the characters of Frank and Tracy says it well:

Frank: As artificial representations of humans become more and more realistic, they reach a point where they stop being endearing, and become creepy.

Tracy: Tell it to me in Star Wars!

Frank: All right. We like R2D2 and C3PO.

Tracy: They’re nice.

Frank: And up here we have a real person, like Han Solo.

Tracy: He acts like he doesn’t care, but he does.

Frank: But down here, we have a CGI Storm Trooper, or Tom Hanks in “The Polar Express.”

Tracy: I’m scared! Get me out of there!

Frank: And that’s the problem. You’re in the Valley now. And it’s impossible to get out.

Most VIEs use a simplified version of a human being, ranging from extremely cartoonish to moderately cartoonish. If you’ve spent much time in Second Life, you’ll see extremes in every direction, from tools to make your avatar look and move as realistically as possible, to completely non-human avatars such as animals, mythological creatures, and aliens. But even the most realistic avatars don’t look very real. Right now, that’s a technological limitation. But do we really want our avatars to look just like us?



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by Rich Mesch

[This is part 2 of series that started here. I met Dr. Glynn Cavin at this year’s ASTD TechKnowledge conference. He shared with me some of the work he is doing using Virtual Immersive Environments, and was good enough to allow me to interview him for this article.—RM]

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

Is your training a matter of life and death?

For Dr. Glynn Cavin, it is. Glynn is the Director of the Transportation Training and Education Center at Louisiana State University and a PhD in Human Resource Education and Workforce Development. One of his responsibilities is training road maintenance crews in Louisiana. Road crew errors have resulted in thousands of injuries and deaths over the years. How could he turn those numbers around?

A former Air Force Colonel, Glynn spent 24 years in the military. His military experience taught him that he needed to be out there, working side-by-side with the people he was responsible for, and to get to know them.  “It felt like training had two different camps,” says Glynn. “There was more sophisticated training for professionals like engineers, but only classroom training for the highway maintenance crews. There’s nothing wrong with classrooms, but a lot of the crew members were intimidated by the classroom.  It isn’t their natural setting, for many of them it’s an environment where they haven’t historically been successful, and it isn’t really relevant to their job. And then we wonder why they aren’t getting it.”

As a curious learning professional, Glynn had spent some time in Second Life, and found himself wondering if Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) might be an option for him. After all, road crews didn’t work in classrooms; they worked out on roads and highways. Although the classroom training provided opportunities for practice, it wasn’t very realistic; there’s a big difference between trying a skill in the classroom versus doing it in the midst of busy traffic, noisy construction, and unpredictable weather. What if learners could practice in a safe environment that replicated many of the auditory, visual, and emotional cues they’d experience in real life?


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by Rich Mesch

When Gartner announced their recent report on virtual worlds and business a few days ago, I rather cynically tweeted: “Gartner reports on virtual worlds in business.*Now* can we take it seriously?”

proto rich 2Okay, that wasn’t fair, at least not to Gartner. Virtual worlds have been on Gartner’s Hype Cycle pretty much since they’ve existed. For 2009, virtual worlds were dangerously close to Gartner’s “Trough of Disillusionment.” What that pretty much means is that people are no longer taken in by the “ooh, shiny!,” answer-to-all-your-prayers hype surrounding the technology, and are starting to ask questions like, “what is this really good for?”

And that’s a good thing. Because virtual worlds aren’t a panacea. They’re not good for everything. But they are great for some things. And as soon as business gets comfortable with the things virtual worlds are good for, we can get away from the hype and actually begin using them to become more productive. It’s not surprising that the next phase after the Trough of Disillusionment is the Slope of Enlightenment. That’s the part of the cycle where we get smart about what this technology is really good for, leading to the Plateau of Productivity.


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