Virtual Worlds and Language Learning

During the (Australian) Summer I was invited by incredible and passionate-about-education-in-virtual-worlds colleague Nick Noakes to participate in the Virtual Worlds and Language workshops held in Second Life (link to the associated ning here). I conducted a few tours through Macbeth and talked with participants about some principles for education in a virtual world. Today Nick shared a presentation he co-presented recently about the workshops, and when you look through it, you’ll recognise a number of images from Macbeth!  I really enjoyed all of the interactions I had with workshop participants and tracing their blog posts and flickr images and ning comments across the web, and seeing it come together here in this presentation is really impressive! Well done Nick and team!

Tough Chicks and Femme Fatales in Film and Video Games

I wanted to share this great slideshow courtesy of my SL friend and fellow Australian virtual worlds researcher, Joanna Robinson. Joanna works and studies at the GNWC Centre for Digital Media in Vancouver and is a leading presence for digital media studies in Second Life. Her work is very cool and theoretically rigorous – enjoy!

Inanimate Alice – Music, remixes and retellings



(Hecate, from Inanimate Alice)    


Ironically, days *after* doing my Digital Fiction workshop which had a strong focus on Inanimate Alice, I am only now discovering things I could have included in my workshop to enhance it!  For example, did you know that if you signed up to Alice’s newsletter, “she” becomes your friend and sends you all of the music used in the first few episodes? My favourite is Hecate, have a listen above! This will be wonderful in future as it means I can provide my teachers a whole range of free soundtracks to include when making their own digital fiction. Also inspiring is the group of Grade 10 English students who retold their own multimodal versions of Alice on this blog. A huge thanks to Jess Laccetti, who has been in conversations with me about using Inanimate Alice, and who wrote the exceptional pedagogical pack to accompany the resource, and to the Inanimate Alice producer, Ian Harper, who has been responding very patiently to every question I have had over the past three years about the story background, behind the scenes, and multimedia decisions. And finally, just for fun, here’s my other favourite piece of music – can you find where exactly they’re used in the narrative?


(Ayisha, from Inanimate Alice)

Soy Tu Aire (I am your Air)


Listen to this incredible, evocative song and watch the wonderful music video that accompanies it. Then interact with the narrative of the song, by going to Labuat.  Make sure you move your cursor like a paint brush across the screen as the song crosses the space and takes its emotional journey with you, allowing you to connect with the piece as an art form. As you interact, your own expressive journey is recorded, each person unique and different, and then send your recording to your friends. This is truly inspired. Watch it. Be it. Love it!


There’s a blog post here in Spanish, saying something like this:

The new LaBuat group – formed by Virginia of OT, Risto Mejide and The Pinker Tones- it requested a experience to us Web different for the launching from its first single “I am your Air”. A full song of many and few. Of orchestras and threads of voice. Of truths and lies by halves. 

When a song arrives to us, we felt that uncontrollable desire to move to us. Here we wanted to offer an interactive experience that it allowed us to be able to express to us… with a brush. The user can freely move the brush by the screen like that dances or moves the arms, but the pinto brush in synchrony and so he happens in the song, changing of size and force based on the intensity of music. In addition the brush barks to the rate of the song.

It is therefore a connected species of alive brush to music that you can use still more for meterte within the song. The result is a video with your personal interpretation, that you can see and send to your friendly.

Every day barriers are transferred. Every time it is one more near which it does the other. Even within him. The public form leaves from the artist, of its work. It implements it amplifies, it, trasforma. And although to many we would have liked to live the great moments on the sixty, we did not forget the great revolution ours was: the democratization of the information, the leisure and the art in the network makes that our thought is less local, more human and altruistic. The work is of all, anybody and each. 

(Translation thanks to Babel Fish).

Isn’t it beautiful!


(thanks to Gary Hayes for the link, and for his fantastic post: Letting Audiences Play With Your Pieces: Participatory Film and Media)

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

FC&P Shakespearean shoot

I created a Virtual Macbeth group on flickr so that I’d be able to view and enjoy the fun other people were having on Macbeth – and it is indeed a thrill every time somebody adds a new photo to the pool, or adds the tag virtualmacbeth to their flickr image. So far there are several hundred images floating through the flickrsphere about Macbeth all created by Second Life users – from students to fashonistas doing their fashion shoots on the island! I love social media!

Thanks to all those people who have been adding tags for me, and a huge thanks to Nick Noakes who helped me to set up the wiki and the rss feeds and a whole lot of other things! Full credit for these images provided when you click them. Please keep adding and tagging, it is greatly appreciated! Here are some of my favourites to date:

FC&P Shakespearean shoot

Visit Macbeth

...To The Last Syllable of Recorded Time...

Visit Macbeth

Deny Me Not

Going Up

Ok who pinched me

New Writing Universe

New WRITING Universe

At the end of last year, the Australian Council for the Arts published The writer’s guide to making a digital living. The authors are Therese Fingleton, Christy Dena, and Jennifer Wilson. Christy has been a long time friend of mine since my early days in Second Life, and I met Therese whilst working on the Virtual Macbeth project, which was funded under a Story of the Future initiative. This is a wonderful guide for writers of new media, and Christy tells me that its required reading already in some new media writing classes. 

I am thrilled to be quoted in different ways in this guide – firstly where references from my book are used to dispel the myth “New media is killing the art of creative writing“, and secondly in conjunction with Kerreen and Kate (my collaborators on the Virtual Macbeth project) in the DIY case studies section. 

But I am most excited with the wonderful resource that the section New Writing Universe will be for all of the English teachers I work with. I missed this before now until Christy tweeted it to me when I was discussing yesterday’s Digital Fiction workshop on twitter. Thanks Christy!

No Clean Feed

No Clean Feed - Stop Internet Censorship in Australia

In the past two weeks or so there has been enormous controversy over an alleged “leaked wikilinks” site to the Australian Government sanctioned “blacklist” of sites banned from Australia.

Last night, the ABC aired a program called “QandA” in which the Minister for Communication, Stephen Conroy, attempted to address the issue of censorship and the outrage that has ensued since the linked blacklist hit the media.

One of the best uses of twitter is the ability to engage in real time back channel conversation during the program with hundreds of internet savvy users adding to the commentary.

Using a technique of a hashtag (#), a channel of discussion was opened under #qanda here. The mood was one of surprise, disbelief and disgust as the Minister failed to respond articulately to any question he was asked. In general the whole segment left me feeling embarrassed that the Labour Government, who I voted for, had such an inept Minister for Communications. But it also left me worried even more for the future of young people in this country, as their access to genuinely educational and life-long learning materials is seriously compromised.

If the people leading us in this area have such clear contempt for digital communication forms and social media (oh, yes, even facebook was tauted as the innocuous breeding ground of the morally evil), and have clearly done little more than read an email themselves, then perhaps, might I humbly suggest, we need some leaders who are innovators themselves to be leading us forward instead of back into the years before I was even born!

Ironically, while the QandA show was airing across Australia, the following screenshot shows how the censorshop site was was hacked into and text manipulated to reveal genuine social angst about what seems to be happening in Australia:


So, I’ve added a badge to the sidebar to support the movement of “no clean feed”.

But I still can’t get over the crazy things that came out of that session last night. There are so many issues wrong with what some panel members said. Technical inaccuracies, questionable ethics, use of fear tactics, and a general lack of knowledge about what and how online media is stored, located, and accessed.

I feel responsible as an educator to teach young people about the critical and ethical consumption and production of online media. That’s my job. That’s the job of well trained teachers. That’s the job of parents. It is a really crucial aspect of online literacy development. But if that’s all decided by the Government, and some secret elite group have made those decisions, then our young people will never learn these skills, and if and when the time comes to use them, they will flounder around unsuccessfully.

I thought twitter would be useful for maintaining my professional networks. Who knew it would open up a deeper sense of social activism in me!

UPDATE: better and more comprehensive discussions of these issues here:

  • Somebody Think of the Children
  • NetAlert is NetAlarmed: Internet Censorship in Australia

British Primary Schools to Teach Twitter

Twitter has really entered mainstream consciousness! Everybody is “a-twitter”! And so too are new curriculum designers in the UK. A report from the Guardian yessterday announced that the new curriculum proposes the following:

Children to leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication. They must gain “fluency” in handwriting and keyboard skills, and learn how to use a spellchecker alongside how to spell.

Congratulations to these future forward thinking curriculum designers!  Here in the NSW social media is BANNED from schools. I am disgusted in the huge gap this is causing for our students, who are not being prepared for their social futures sufficiently because of these limitations.

New Media Literacies

Oh! This video provides a great overview and definition of New Media Literacies.

Members of the research team at Project New Media Literacies discuss the social skills and cultural competencies needed to fully engage with today’s participatory culture. Featuring Henry Jenkins, and produced by Anna Van Someren at Project New Media Literacies. See more NML videos at

This is great collection of over 80 short videos covering topics such as the value of tagging, animation, DJ culture, fanvidding, mashups… and more from the team at MIT. I’m such a fan of the prolific Henry Jenkins, blogger extraordinaire, and he is even on twitter now!

Angela Thomas: Liminal Agent

These past few days I have had various meetings with colleagues interested in blogging, social media, and Second Life. Somehow the word must have trickled through the system to others that I am using social media for various purposes, and people are interested. It’s really affirming for me to talk with them and to have them register surprise or shock or excitement when they walk with me through Virtual Macbeth, or when they learn that I use twitter. Yesterday one person said to me “I never really got Second Life until now, here, with you”, and today, another person said “before I walked into your office I didn’t know these things existed” and yet another person said “wow, what an incredible adventure this afternoon has been for me”. It struck me that people walking into my office are never allowed to escape quite the same person and for some reason that thought has amused me ever since. I love this quote from a paper about immigration and liminal spaces:

Liminal spaces, both physical and psychological, can provide a space of creativity and new possibilities, allowing immigrants to “free to negotiate and translate their cultural identities” (Bhabha, 1994, p. 38) and to create new knowledge about self and community. (Gibb, Hamdon and Jamal, 2006, Re/Claiming Agency)

and I am thinking of applying to my faculty for acknowledgement (by way of workload points) of my new self-appointed role as “liminal agent”. Somehow I don’t think the idea would go over too well, but still, it amuses me to imagine the look on the workloads administrator’s face should they ever receive such a proposal :)

Ada Lovelace: Enchantress of Numbers

Today is Ada Lovelace day! Ada Lovelace was a 19th century British writer and mathematician who is considered the first ever programmer and the founder of modern computing. Her friend and colleague Charles Babbage called her “The Enchantress of Numbers”. This year is the first year of what is hoped to be an annual celebration of women in technology. The site Finding Ada explains the nature and purpose of this International day of recognition:

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to draw attention to women excelling in technology.

Women’s contributions often go unacknowledged, their innovations seldom mentioned, their faces rarely recognised. We want you to tell the world about these unsung heroines. Entrepreneurs, innovators, sysadmins, programmers, designers, games developers, hardware experts, tech journalists, tech consultants. The list of tech-related careers is endless.

Recent research by psychologist Penelope Lockwood discovered that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male ones. That’s a relatively simple problem to begin to address. If women need female role models, let’s come together to highlight the women in technology that we look up to. Let’s create new role models and make sure that whenever the question “Who are the leading women in tech?” is asked, that we all have a list of candidates on the tips of our tongues.

So, I signed up to take part in this and to blog about a woman in a technology career that I admire. Choosing one woman is difficult, but the person I admire the most and who had a tremendous amount of influence on my thinking about technology and identity is Sherry Turkle.  

Sherry Turkle’s books The Second Self and Life on the Screen were profound for me because as I read her words I remember feeling a great sense of relief and recognition – here was an academic talking about the emotional effects of technology, as opposed to the rational and scientific. Her work gave me license to start my own research, inspiring me to study and write about the phenomena which I had previously been embarrassed to admit even knowing about. So, there it is, Sherry Turkle is my modern day heroine, and the person I feel has directly influenced my life, my career choices and my own professional identity.

Update: See all the blog posts written for Ada Lovelace Day here

“Don’t you Twitterstand?”

This satirical look at twitter made me laugh. I am now 2 years into twitter and (like other social media use) I have my phases of being very active and not so active. But twitter has grown by over 2000% in the past year, thanks to all the celebrities who have taken it up and the amount of press coverage its had in mainstream media. 

In 2008 an interesting white paper about twitter was written by Luke Weaver –, and he described many uses and benefits for twitter, including the fact that many professionals are using it as a new form of the “unconference” – sharing thoughts, links, references, ideas and articles spontaneously about trend topics within their area of expertise. 

I like to follow a lot of people, then group them so that I can follow different kinds of conversations really easily using a great twitter tool called tweetdeck.  I think I’ve only posted a couple of blog posts previously about twitter – one about the poetics of the 140 character limitation, another about collaborative twitter fiction, but the recent growth of twitter makes me rethink what’s new, what’s exciting, and why people might use it. I find it worthwhile and sociable and I enjoy the informality, the spontaneity, the immediateness of the communication. I feel a part of several different communities.  

The 140 character word limit has several effects on language – it makes you think carefully about the most economical way of communicating your message, it allows some people to be very poetic and creative with their writing, and it also makes for less pressure – its easy to zap off 140 characters or less and feel like a writer without having the pressure of a blog post or a journal article looming in front of you. It is “bite size” but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is shallow or meaningless. In fact some of the most evocative writing I have read lately comes from twitterers! Yes, there is a lot of crud out there, but you have total control of who you follow and for what reason, so if you’re reading crud, just click “unfollow”!  Meanwhile, many thanks to the people who engage in conversations with me over twitter, I enjoy it immensely!

Here’s a mosaic of some of the people I communicate with and/or follow on twitter:

Get your twitter mosaic here.

New Grant!


Last month I learned that an application for funding for a research project I proposed was successful!  It is a grant of $52,000 from the University of Sydney and the project title is: Innovative Pedagogy in Virtual Worlds.

I am working with colleagues from a number of other faculties on the project – medicine, pharmacy, engineering and arts. Our focus is on developing rich immersive spaces and researching with a cross section of students from each faculty. Each faculty will be focussing on a discipline specific pedagogy (simulation, case study etc…) and I of course am focussing on storytelling and role-playing. 

I have ordered some islands from Linden Lab, and have been working on the design brief, ethics applications and a whole lot of other admin things (i.e. getting the University approval to use logos and crests in a digital environment) to get started. Its all very exciting. I am thrilled to say that the NMC (New Media Consortium) will be working on some parts of the build and after my experience with them working on Macbeth last year, I just cannot wait to get started in production with the new build.

My little slice of the build is again a literary experience. The image above is a clue to the storyworld I will be developing. Any guesses?

Virtual Macbeth participates in World Storytelling Day

Virtual Macbeth is going to be participating in the Virtual Worlds Story Project, a project running in Second Life as part of the celebrations of World Storytelling Day!

In details sent to me by the organisers, “The Story Quest brings writers from around the globe to participate in a fun-filled and challenging story writing exercise to celebrate World Storytelling Day.  With five genres to choose from, writers will travel to a variety of sims, collect clues, and use elements of those sims to craft their stories.” I don’t think I can say much more without giving away clues, but you must come along to this event, and I might see you there!

Here’s a detailed press release about the event:

The Virtual Worlds Story Project Presents: The Second Life Story Quest

The Virtual World Story Project is pleased to announce its first annual Story Quest, to be held on World Storytelling Day, March 20, 2009.

With a goal of helping writers and storytellers imagine, craft, and share Second Life stories, the Quest will lead participants along one of five Story Trails. Along each trail will be a series of Enchanted Books. Touching the books will not only provide information to include in the story, but clues that lead to other points on the trail as well.

The Quest will allow participants to choose from one of four genres, and be held across multiple sims in Second Life. The Quest’s final stop will be Karuna (the new HIV/AIDS sim) where participants can sit in scenic surroundings to write, submit their stories, and/or get help from writing coaches.

The day will conclude with story readings, the awarding of prizes, live music, and dancing.

This event is ideal for educators wishing to help students learn to write well and experience the immersive and creative possibilities inherent in virtual environments.

DETAILS Date: Friday, March 20th LOCATION: Starts on Storybook Island OR Karuna.


Start Time: Story Sleuths can pick up their first clues on Storybook Island at Midnight.

End Time: The Quest ends at 5:00 pm SLT. That is the time that stories must be submitted.

The rest of the festivities, which include story reading, live music, and dancing commence immediately after.

The awards ceremony will be held at 7:00 pm. Questions: Please IM Jenaia Morane or drop her an email at:

See you there, maybe :)

Fragile: Contains Hope

Fragile: Contains Hope

Yesterday I was so happy to find this box in my mailbox!!!  This is a Priority Box, a box made by Franck de Las Mercedes, an artist from the US.  The priority boxes are a global interactive art / peace movement – they are meant to provoke thought and discussion, the message is the box itself, there is nothing inside it. Here is the description from the site:

“The Priority Boxes” A global art series.

What would you do if you suddenly received a box via mail, labeled “FRAGILE: Contains Peace”? How would you use it? Would you give it to someone else? Would you sell it?  Would you just throw it away?

Such a box is exactly what painter Franck de Las Mercedes has been sending since May of 2006 to anyone who asks him, anywhere in the world, for free. 

“The Priority Boxes” project is a public art series that seeks to provoke thought, to make people reconsider their ability to influence change, communicate through art and make art accessible to people from all walks of life.

There’s also a touching video of Franck talking about his project here:

It was a thrill to receive it – I had sent in a request at the end of November when I first saw them floating around the blogosphere, and now just over 3 months later when i had all but forgotten about it, it turned up to delight me. I raced around showing people – everybody I showed it to thought it was beautiful and wanted one of their own!  I will be taking it in to lectures and presentations on web 2.0 all the time now :) Sometimes it has been challenging to be what’s sometimes called “an early adopter” – yesterday for example I asked some students if they twittered (I wanted to share Neil Gaiman’s twitter contact details with them as they are studying children’s literature!) and they all looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language. But when i receive a box like this in the mail it genuinely does give me hope – hope that I am also doing something worthwhile that will be appreciated, if not now, some time in the future.

So, many many thanks indeed to Franck de Las Mercedes – what an amazing, inspiring man!!


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