Thursday, November 06, 2008

Back up plans in the metaverse

Another simulcast meeting, this time through UCLA--part of the Mellon seminar in
Digital Humanities series. The focus was on scientific visualization and the humanities, a project to bring both together, using science-oriented grants with humanities content. The focus was on a 3D iteration of the Roman Colleseum. However, I didn't get much out of it because of a series of problems.

When I first arrived, there was no sound. After a few minutes, the sound issue was resolved, so that the 25+ avatars in SL could hear presenters in LA. However, there was also video being broadcast on a screen in front of us. For a few minutes, we could see the presenters, then they froze, then the screen turned into John McCain's favorite background, a sickly green. So while the presenters were showing the RL participants the Colleseum, we listened on and wondered when McCain would show up. Then SL booted me out only to find upon returning that a three-way crash blasted everyone away. Along with sound--nothing for about ten minutes, then at a volume way below comprehension. Then it swooshed in at a distortingly painful volume and finally settled down. One avatar proclaimed that SL was obviously "not ready for prime time" and teleported away. Finally, video appeared, and we could see both presenters and the Colleseum. But by then, past an hour, it was question and answer time.

So, someone in SL asked a question, in text rather than voice. Which is fine. Except that the questioner typed at about 3 words a minute. So we waited for five minutes as the question dribbled into the bubble over the head of the avatar.

Well, I soon recognized that though I've enjoyed the hour watching the chaos surrounding us, and did get to partake in quips about McCain and knock knock jokes, I was getting absolutely nothing from the session, so I teleported out to a session on narrative though found out it would take place two hours later, which I didn't make, deciding instead to spend time eating dinner with my daughters.

Which brings me to a comment Marcy Bauman made to me in Facebook: "Sounds like you're spending your sabbatical learning what you already know about technology, Dan - it's great when it works, but have a backup plan! :)"

With online classes, I've found that having redundant systems to be essential to keep chaos from swallowing up a learning environment. For example, I don't ever put all course materials and applications in one learning management system like Blackboard or Angel. I have assignments hosted on a school server that can be accessed through Angel or directly with a URL so that if Angel goes down--make that when Angel goes down--students can still access assignments and keep moving along. Furthermore, the assignments are stored not only on my hard drive and on the LCC web server, but also on another server where I archive stuff.

Or when I have chat sessions taking place through Angel, I always have a back up through AOL Instant Messenger, and require all students to have an account set up and open when chatting.

With Web 2.0, the need for back up is as important, if not more so, especially when dealing with cutting edge or newish applications. And we as educators need to work really hard to anticipate problems and have back ups that are immediately accessible. Certainly the problems I've chronicled the last couple blog entries have a certain level of back up--in-world chroniclers, transcripts, streamed audio and video available sometime after the session. However, we really need back up systems available in real time, so that the participants have a valuable experience right then, even if things go wrong. An example I've seen in SL is at Science Friday sessions. The volunteers on Science Friday Island let avatars know that if the stream of the broadcast doesn't work, to listen on a 2d stream. In fact an audio tips notecard is available by clicking on a tile in front of Ira Flatow's chair,

and on a bulletin board at an outdoor info area next to the auditorium:

As I begin to brainstorm and play with possible assignments this month (my goal as spelled out in my agenda), I need to keep in mind the anticipation of back up plans so that I can keep the level of frustration students may encounter as manageable as possible.

Off topic: since it's my daughter's 25th birthday, I present her a picture of her father's avatar pounding away on Ringo's drum set in the Cavern (though I was supplied with no drum sticks--go figure!)


Bekah said...

haha that is awesome, Dad!! What song did you drum out? :)

Dan Holt said...

I don't recall, Bekah. There is a Beatles radio station streamed while you're there.