Building Community: Virtual Harlem and the evolving role of the modern educator - New Digitals

Curator's Note

Avatar Ramblings...

What does presence, when teaching, really mean in the 21st century.  It has evolved because of the integration of digital communications within more and more aspects of our lives. What happens when academics increase their virtual presence to such an extent that they become more well known as their “virtual other” more so than who they may really be in the RL?  Is that presence one in the same, or does it have the potential to be more or less than the academic being represented in virtual space? Is intellectualism in virtual space legitimized as much as that which occurs in RL by those in positions of power or decision making? What are some good pedagogical examples  demonstrating how education must evolve to fit the needs of an evolving student?


Given the interest in social networking by the net generation, why not construct educational experiences around that which our students are familiar and in some cases, very skilled. Social networking, digital audio and video production, image creation, processing and presentation, twittering, broadcasting their other words, experiencing their lives and the world in a very different way than that of previous generations. It therefore takes a change in mindset among academics that hope to most effectively address those different learning styles that surely must exist alongside that different sort of person today. In some cases, young people are living within a world in which they had a hand in creating...whether it be a virtual environment like WoW, SL, Entropia, or more texted based environment like one of the many “chat worlds” or even a set of relationships, because that’s what we are really talking about relationships, personal relationships, educational relationships, etc...and how they are relating back to those types of communications with, and knowledge of, others online like themselves.


Academics are doing the same thing, establishing sets of relationships where they are best known through their online persona than their real life selves. The question still remains, is there a difference? Or is the virtual self just an extension of the real life self? Perhaps this a conscious or subconscious response to an ever changing world, one where it may not be always safe to travel, shop or otherwise meet face to face. How then can we replicate that experience? or do we really want to? Or, is the better question, how can we enhance that face to face experience through the use of various sorts of digital communication.


The positive side of such an enhancement are simple to identify; access to information in a potentially enhanced capacity, we can extend our presence, eliminating the cost of travel, time involved in going point to point, logging and other obvious things related to physical presence. We can present ourselves in almost any physical form we choose...and if someone at a “virtual presentation” has never seen or met the “real person”...all else being equal, how would they ever know the difference......the potentials here abound...positive or negative aside...imagine being able to present oneself as a male or female, of any ethnic descent, the ability to “speak” any language almost on the fly, access to information almost at will that can potentially enhance any presentation...(immediate response to the needs or questions of any audience)...Presentation to a real and virtual audience simultaneously, thus extending the potential for thought reflexivity that is sometimes hampered because of geographic separation. 


Bryan Mnemonic...



Very interesting, Bryan, as usual. I like the idea of immersion not as entrance into something necessarily (another world, another state) but as an extension or doubling of something (in this case, pedagogical presence). It's almost as if immersion is akin to invitation, that is, the willful extension of self with the intent to share. That's certainly the case with chat worlds, as you so adroitly point out.

Also, your various questions about whether virtual work (you use "intellectualism," bless you) is really all that different from real world work (conceptually, politically, practically, and otherwise) got me thinking about the drive to produce immersion that underpins so many pedagogically-minded new media enterprises. Immersion is where the enhancement, the effect happens, goes the adage. After reading your Curator's Note, though, I can't help but wonder if the power of both virtual and real world work is not in immersion as immergence or ubiquity but immersion as invitation.


Thanks for this post, Bryan. The combo of your clip and curator's note has me thinking that the nature of pedagogical immersion changes as online environments mature. In conventional classrooms, students come to class and are immersed in the instructor's agenda. This is true even for the most workshop-oriented, lecture-averse teachers among us; ultimately, the power dynamics of the conventional classroom determine the immersive experience.


In environments like the old VH, as well as in SL, Entropia, Tale In the Desert, immersion in the virtual world quickly trumps immersion in the authority figure who orchestrated the visit (the inviter, as Judd might say)--or at least it does until the instructor forces a behavioral change (in which case there is no immersion, only resentment, guilt, and frustration).


And this makes me wonder: There are many tactics in circulation for challenging the power structures embodied in real people and real institutions (even though they're deployed far too infrequently if you ask me). But what about tactics for challenging the power structures endigited in virtual people, virtual institutions, and entire virtual environments? To put it in the context of this series of exchanges: When established immersive practices change venues and become (semi) new again, how long does it take for (semi) new sets of critical practices to arise and challenge them?


Whatever the answer, it could be termed something like the "Immersion Transfer Lag." The ITL number would be a mathematical function indicating at a glance the relative ideological potency of an extant immersive experience (e.g., teaching in a conventional classrom) relative to a new instantiation of it elsewhere. Just like ping speeds, this number would change all the time, depending on the ideological potency ratio (IPR) between the two different immersive events.

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