Week 4: Virtual Worlds and Socialization

This week we have read about the characteristics of interpersonal life online, including its social rewards and possible liabilities.  In her article entitled “Interpersonal Live Online“, Baym examines the interpersonal opportunities of computer-mediated communication (CMC), pointing out the capability of using web-based communication as a means to assert identity, explore new means of self presentation and create new and hybrid forms of non verbal cues via new forms of relationships and social groups.  Baym’s tone remains favorable when stating that research shows that people who use the internet are as socially active offline (i.e. in arts-related activities) as are people who use the internet less.  She explains that people who are heavy internet communicators tend to communicate heavily through other media channels, such as face-to-face conversation and telephone (Bayn et al., 2004; Copher et al., 2002; Kraut and Attewell, 1997). 

Relating this notion to children, Orleans and Laney found that children’s home use of the computer determined that online communication was usually not a substitute for interpersonal communication; rather, both often occurred simultaneously (Orleans and Laney, 2000: 65).

Baym’s article suggests that developing digital games for young children may not have a consequence of replacing traditional interpersonal communication or creating a social isolation.  In effect, it can work simultaneously as an educational tool and even provide new and exciting self exploration and self representation opportunity for the young ones, introducing a new way to socialize and build a creative expression and communication tool.  In reality, web based communication is turning into such a mainstream socialization tool, that kids who are not engaging in online social formats may feel themselves left out and socially isolated.

Myself as Waverly Nyle on SecondLife

Myself as Waverly Nyle on SecondLife

This affirmative approach was shattered when I followed up with the second reading for this week, warning educators about moral catastrophe that take place in popular virtual worlds, such as “Second Life”.  The Bugeja article “Second Thoughts about Second Life” suggests that educators may face personal or institutional liability when exploring with a virtualspace where they have no control of interpersonal interaction (Bugeja, 2007). 

Relating the two approaches to my questions about educational game design for children, I ask myself whether the role of the educator is to control and monitor the educational space, or quite the contrary – allow for self expression and self exploration through educational and technology design?   In addition, we must not overlook the large scale educational opportunities of virtual worlds, such as using it as a platform for environmental awareness through creative and proactive exploration of the self (the avatar), as shown in the video below about renewable energy (fossil fuels), a segment from the Global Kids Science project at SecondLife:

When I interacted with Second Life, initially as a doctoral student in a “Virtual Possibilities in Education” class, confronting occasional ‘indecencies’ was a part of my maturation learning experience in virtual worlds.  You may say “but you are an experienced adult, in no need of constant guardian to orient you in space”.  To that I would reply YES, video game design for children requires a different type of monitoring and closer guidance, leading into an age-specific design.  One approach that I support is enhancing the teamwork between an adult (parent, caretaker or educator) and the young child through designing games targeting the educational interaction between the child and the adult. This type of design could also decrease the technological divide between the old generation and the young “nexters”, native citizens of technological society.

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September 25, 2008. Tags: , , , . Columbia University Doctorate, Media and Environmental Awareness, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

Week 3: What intrigued me?

The concept or idea that intrigued me most in this week’s reading was Webster’s definition, discussion and challenge of the term “information society” in his 2006 article “The Information Society Revisited“.  Typically we all agree on the quantitative measures of this phenomena: Technological innovation and diffusion; occupational change; economic value; information flows; and the expansion of symbols and signs (related to space and culture).  However, Webster’s discussion of the qualitative measurement of the term “information society”, i.e. the ways in which life is now conducted because of information relates closely to our class discussions, and can be interpreted differently depending on context. 

This week I joined Facebook.  I told myself that it’s for research purpose but I know inside that I’m actually giving in to the social networking world surrounding me, pressing me to join the stream, pushing and squeezing me to share.  Minutes after joining I had over 30 people asking to be my friends (see left image below), demonstration of names and images on the Facebook homepage that I’ve never seen before or dared to let go of my daily thoughts, and a wide palette of unnecessary information about my “friends”: What are they doing at the moment?  How many friends each has (it is not unusual to have hundreds of friends!), social groups they joined, time they changed their profile picture, who is currently IM’ing and who is poking whom, etc.  In my Inbox I also had personal greetings informing me that “it’s about time you joined”, and that “life will never be the same”.  

The sudden diffusion of information to my life overwhelmed me, dispersed clutter and noise to my ‘serenity now’ journey, and made me a bit nervous for what’s to come.  The first vision that came to me was a televised HIV commercial showing the implications of social networks, suggesting that when you become involved with one person carrying HIV you are brutally exposed to all other social groups that ever touched this person, and their “networks”, and so on.  Fear in advertisement achieved!

This and other social patterns made me question Webster’s notion that “information technologies cannot be interpreted as evidence of really deep-seated social change. On the contrary, they can be regarded as the consolidation of extension of established patterns of interest and control” (pg. 449).  I disagree that the increase in quantity alone does not create something new.  The increase in quantity brings along an increase in exposure to information, as well as a new social and communication structure.  Becoming an involved member in Facebook – distributing, accepting or ignoring information will have severe social implications on my life, and the way I am perceived by my socialites.  It will re-position me in my community, create a new interaction structure, mental investment, social message and action in a radically new way.  This brings to mind the classic expression that “the medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964)

How does it impact my thinking about the questions and issues I wrote last week?  When designing educational video games for children educators and game developers need to take into consideration the new social structure that the kids are growing in.  Perhaps I am dating myself here, but when I grew up, my definition of friends, interest groups, dialogue and speed of action was not only significantly decreased in quantity, but displayed a more local and condensed social structure; a different social culture.  The information age is transforming society, and with that gaming is changing dramatically.  Basic game rules, time, space and identity theories may apply to current educational video games.  However, game developers should consider distinct information society traits when developing games, such as short attention span, multi-interactions and new application to real-life situations.  

Finally, a thought about traditional educators and today’s information society:  More so than a geographic or an ethnic barrier, the technological barrier reflects a significant gap between educators and students.  This is another example of how loving technology is defining society in a dramatically new way.  This week’s NYTimes magazine was dedicated to “Teaching” the current information society.  One of the articles “The Way We Live Now: Geek Lessons” suggested that in order to become a good (“hip”) teacher you need to do what your students do, particularly immersing in their technological culture (Edmundson, 2008).

September 18, 2008. Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

2 Questions for today’s class: Technological Determinism

Both articles (“Do Machines Make History?” by Robert L. Heilbroner and “The Social Construction of Facts and Artifacts…” by Pinch and Bijker) express the intermix between technology and society, and its contextual weight as a part of a wider sociopolitical milieu.  Through my research interest in narrative structures, design and approach to storytelling of  educational video games for children, I would like to share the following questions related to this week’s readings:

1. If developing, designing and distributing technology closely relates to a specific interest and “social energy” of a given society (Heilbroner, 1967), should educational video games be developed with a global approach, or should it be tailored and customized to a specific cultural, socio-economic, ethnic, gender and age group?  

2. Considering identity and social theories related to technology, is it more important to enhance one’s existing identity through video games, or is there an educational value in playing with multi identities of the player through software design?  This question would also be interesting to explore through psychoanalysis and film literature and recent social network and identity research.

September 11, 2008. Tags: , . Columbia University Doctorate, Video Games and Education. 1 comment.

Dr. Kinzer’s Class

In the Social and Communicative Aspects of the Internet and other ICTs class we were asked to create our own blog for the purpose of writing our research journal.  In this category I will be expressing my thoughts about literature and research questions related to the weekly readings and class discussions.

I included a photo of myself with my two-year old boy, Geffen, as Professor Kinzer and some fellow students recalled that I started my doctoral degree studies two years ago with a two-week old baby in my arms.  Today Geffen is an active boy who likes to run around and express himself verbally even without raising his hand, so it would be difficult to bring him along to class without interruption.  Thus, this photo pays a (still) tribute to the little visitor tradition in the first class of the semester.

September 10, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , . Columbia University Doctorate, Family. Leave a comment.