Thankful for a Metaverse Community

If you’re tired of social distancing, read on for my long over due update from the metaverse. These are all examples of what a great community of educators is available to you right now, from the safety of home.

Thankful for Our Community gathering, in Second Life.

The Friday before Thanksgiving about 30 or so of us gathered for the Non-Profit Commons Thankful for our Virtual Communities event. Everyone present represented one or more of the many different non-profit community organizations that are active in virtual worlds. It was an opportunity to connect with people we don’t always get a chance to see, and also to share what our organization is up to. (When you become a citizen of virtual worlds, you quickly come to realize how many different people, organizations, and events there are going on. There are far more places to go, people to meet or collaborate with, or events to attend than any of us can keep up with on our own!)

I live alone, but I don’t ever feel lonely because I spend a lot of time with my colleagues. And make no mistake about it, virtual does not make the relationships any less real!

Día De Los Muertos exhibit in Second Life

Día De Los Muertos exhibit, in Second Life

On Halloween, I put up a public exhibit for the Second Life community; a Día De Los Muertos scene honoring some of those we lost in 2020. When you land at the exhibit you are greeted by the serene sound of crickets, frogs, and the occasional hoot of an owl in an otherwise quiet small cemetery. I created several altars that represent not just one individual, but whole communities who have lost important people that represent them. Among the photos were George Floyd, Lorena Borjas (Mexican-American transgender and immigrant rights activist), civil rights icons John Lewis and C.T. Vivian, the legendary Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and at the center altar there is an image of the COVID19 virus, representing the many people lost to us this year globally from the pandemic.

I created this exhibit because I think virtual community is now more important than ever, and coincidentally I have a great example to share of the kind of impact this kind of thing has on me and others. When I went in to get the above screenshot of my exhibit for this blog post, here’s a comment that was waiting for me:

appreciation comments screenshot

Thankful for Appreciation

Now can you see why I’m so passionate about virtual worlds? But wait….there’s more!

December Virtual Events in Second Life

My colleagues and I from SJSU’s Virtual Center for Archives and Records Administration (VCARA) and the Community Virtual Library are doing our 3rd annual live reading for this month’s Dickens’ Project. Seanchai Libraries started the Dickens’ Project in Second Life in 2008, and it’s an incredible themed interactive experience offered each year in December. There are more than 60 hours of events at the Dickens’ Project; parties, role play and readings, ice skating, dance performances, live musicians etc. There’s lots of educational and interpretive content related to the Victorian era, and of course about the literature of the day.

The VR Exploder’s Club

Last month our VR Exploder’s Club went back into to AltSpace VR, since it had been quite awhile since our last visit there. A new friend I’d met at a VR conference, Bruce Wolcott from Bellevue College’s XR Lab, also joined us for this outing. In fact, I took everyone back to my favorite exhibit from the Burning Man event because I had been so impressed with it. (It was as moving as I remembered, and my colleagues were also wowed.)

Host a Party in MoHubs for Your Holidays!

Burned out socializing in Zoom?! Mozilla Hubs is just about the easiest and most fun way to quickly get into a virtual environment with up to about 20 other people or so. (Roughly 24 people max can be in the same Hubs room at the same time.) Nobody needs to download anything either. Talk about a perfectly easy way to have a holiday party with your friends!

In fact, I recently built a bunch of virtual rooms for the networking portion of an event for the College of Business. I had help with a handful of other colleagues to be room hosts,  because we had rooms for all the different student teams. It was awesome to see students so engaged in conversation, sharing links with each other to their LinkedIn accounts, and even throwing emojis around so they would bounce off the floor (I didn’t even know that was possible!).  You can take a look at Mozilla Hubs for yourself anytime, just click on this eCampus Mozilla Hub room. (Hint: Make sure to actually enter the room. Check out this tutorial page to see how easy this is to get in and navigate around.)

my avatar in Cheers' Gallery

My avatar, in Cheers’ Gallery

If you want to learn more, be on the lookout for my upcoming workshops. The screenshot above is from a photo gallery I created for an instructor for his students final showcase. Rooms like this are really easy to create, and the holidays are a great time to play around with this technology. Imagine…you could create a room to meet your friends and family in-world with just one click of a button! You don’t even need to create an account, you just click to create the room and email people the link to it! 

Want a customized room for spring semester?  Let me show you how easy it is, or maybe I could just give you one of mine. Email me!

OpenSim Community Conference 2020

Alice in Wonderland seating area

Themed seating area I created for our presentation at OSCC 2020

Speaking of Mozilla Hubs, I’m excited to co-present (along with iSchool’s Dr. Marie Vans) this month at OSCC about the work we’re both doing with this particular platform. But the title of our event should tell you of our ulterior motive, since we still both find OpenSim to be the best virtual platform overall for use in education. Our presentation is on Saturday December 5th, and it’s called Using Browser-Based Virtual Environments as a Gateway Drug to get People Hooked on Virtual Worlds. Marie will be sharing an example from her students this semester in her VR class, where they went into a bunch of different environments to evaluate them. (One of her students is building a working model of the Gutenberg press in…you guessed it, he chose OpenSim!)

It’s not too late to register and attend the conference, but I’ll write a debrief and post a link to the recording of it next month when it’s available. We’ve got a great themed seating area I created, and we’ll be suitably dressed to match. (This community appreciates creativity, so it will be a lot of fun! And I’m sure you’ve figured out the theme from the picture above, and the fact that my Mozilla Hubs avatar in those other pictures is a grinning cat!)

Finally, I also continue to work with Eileen O’Connor from SUNY Empire State College in New York, and am on the steering committee for her nascent Institute of New Paradigms think tank. Currently, my colleagues and I from INP are talking about coordinating a panel to present about our work specifically in OpenSim, and trying to target VR conferences in 2021 where virtual world educators are not as well represented. Eileen is also presenting at OSCC, along with one of her former students, Scott Dolphin.

Well I’ll wrap this up by saying that I continue to be surprised (and disappointed) whenever I attend boring Zoom based conferences, especially when it’s a conference for immersive learning tech and all around me are people who consider themselves knowledgeable about the topic without ever having been in OpenSim or Second Life. I can’t help but shake my head. What a missed opportunity, on so many levels!

Attitude of Gratitude

Hope everyone is enjoying a nice, long weekend!

During this time of year, I usually reflect on the past year: what I accomplished, what I learned, what was hard, and what I am grateful for. This has been an unprecedented year where we have had to pivot more times than Ross carrying a couch up a flight of stairs in Friends.

This year is not like other years.

Attitude of Gratitude has been my 2020 mantra.

Despite ____________, I am grateful for ____________.

I have been fortunate to give back to a community that has helped shape me into who I am today. Giving back and volunteering has always been part of my life, and I would like to share a few SJSU resources and a few ways we can give back. Please share this with those in need and add resources you have found helpful.
Note: these links and services are active as of Nov 2020:

SJSU Cares: assists students who are facing economic crisis by providing support and referrals around basic needs. Some of the services include food, housing, emergency assistance, wellness and cooking tips, counseling services, various (free) workshops, and more.

Student Involvement: oversees student clubs and organizations, and hosts activities. Get involved as a student or help out as a faculty member. Check out the Spartan Speaker Series. They even have a Finals Assistance Program which includes tutoring and de-stressing activities.

eCampus: provides professional faculty development, teaching tools, research tools, technology support, design resources, educational workshops and programs, and more.

SJSU Library: offers services for students like late-night tutoring and research assistance, and services for faculty like classroom and publication support.

Volunteering Virtually: there are so many ways to give back regardless of where you are located. One of my favorites is making Cards for Hospitalized Kids.

Volunteering in Person: if you are comfortable volunteering in person, here are a few local opportunities: Second Harvest, Sacred Heart, San Jose Public Libraries, and even our Spartan Food Pantry.

Donating: can take the form of money or time or both. Donate items or money to the Spartan Food Pantry. Here is a full list of ‘How to Give to SJSU.’

Random Acts of Kindness: this one is my favorite. Pay for someone’s coffee or toll. Hold a door open. Nod (or do an eye smile through your mask) at a stranger. Say hello.

Please take care of yourself…

Whether you are a student about to enter the end of the semester papers-presentations-final sprint or a faculty member grading assignments, submitting proposals, and planning for next semester, I hope you can take some time to pause, reflect, and unwind.

As always, stay safe and healthy.

Community Building (Cont.)

In the last article, I gave 8 tips for building community and engagement in your online classes:

#1 – Camera On
#2 – Ice-Breakers
#3 – Breakout Rooms
#4 – Polling
#5 – Chat
#6 – Reactions
#7 – Annotations
#8 – Breaks

A lot of my tips were around creating engagement. How do you continue to build community?

Setting the Class Tone. At the beginning of each semester, we review the syllabus. I read aloud class expectations around respect, professionalism, and communication. The guiding principles below set the tone for interactions and expectations in and out of the “classroom,”—online, offline, in discussions, chats, assignments, projects, and other exchanges. Whether a class is synchronous, asynchronous, or a hybrid, setting expectations early helps both faculty and students.

I have chosen to include the following in my syllabus:

Classroom Professionalism verbiage from syllabus

Excerpt from syllabus

Practice. In August, I spent ~45 minutes making sure we all knew how to use Canvas and Zoom. We practiced turning on our cameras and unmuting. We walked through reactions, chat emojis, and annotating. We even practiced changing our names (great hack when putting folks into breakout rooms – this was before participants could self-select their breakout rooms). We walked through how to enter and exit breakout rooms and how to ask for help.

Why is this so important? Practice makes perfect. This sets the foundation for the rest of the semester. It helps ensure students start with the same basic Zoom knowledge.

Setting the Technology Tone. Taking 45 minutes out of a class can seem daunting or a waste of time; however, every class after has gone smoothly. I imagine as students (and faculty) become more fluent in Zoom, this 45-minute Day 1 activity will only take 10 minutes in future semesters, and maybe even <5 minutes. This helps set the tone for class as well as expectations. I tell my students, “This is a HIGHLY interactive class. And if you want to breeze through or prefer asynchronous, please look for another class.” I mean that with the utmost respect.

If a student can do the dishes or clean their room while in a class – it may be better to pre-record content instead of having a live session. 

Participation. Professors often joke, if you give students points, they will show up! Whether that’s through assignments, in class activities, homework, quizzes, exams, or even (the hotly debated topic of) extra credit. Simply showing up to class is easier now than ever – sign in, mute, turn off camera, and watch a show… Aside from points, how do we ensure our students are present, active, and participating?

Check-In. I run an icebreaker with the entire class with cameras on (I use chat for students with bandwidth/mic challenges). This is not just for me to check-in with each student. They get to learn about each other too. They learn how to present and be present.

Check-In Hacks

Check-in Hacks

It’s 2020. We are all being asked to do more than we anticipated – I don’t have time to check in with every student every class – this allows me to do a quick pulse check.

Breakout Rooms. If I do not have time for a whole class check-in, I put students into random breakout rooms with 3-4 students, and they chat freely. How are you? What did you do for the long weekend? Sometimes I will give them a prompt based on their homework or a recent event. This can be 2-5 minutes. Some faculty open rooms up before class. I usually open breakout rooms during breaks – simulating casual, impromptu chats that would have happened organically during class breaks or transitions.

Aside from group projects and assignments, I use breakout rooms as a tool to increase engagement. If students are too quiet or not as responsive to lecture materials or questions, I throw out a question to the class, have them individually brainstorm ideas, and then have them discuss answers in small groups. They come back after 2-3 minutes and offer their answers, ideas, or suggestions via chat or unmuting. This usually increases the class energy too.

All of these small interactions add up and increase engagement and sense of community. Students get to know each other.

Discussion Boards. SJSU has a great resource list on how to use discussion boards. In addition to these ideas, I encourage students to share ideas, questions, events, and free resources on specific discussion threads. Having a dedicated space for questions and sharing of information supports collaboration and accountability. It also gives them a space to interact about non-class topics.

Group Activities. Lastly, I have group activities. Some are low-risk, easy point activities. Others are part of the formal semester long group project. More on this later!

These are all activities and ways which I foster a classroom community, on and offline. If you have any questions or want to brainstorm classroom community ideas, send me an email at Thank you. Stay safe.