Immersive Collaboration: Casting Presence in a Leading Role

October 24, 2009

NY TheaterOn Thursday, I experienced a wonderful example of effective training in Second Life.  During the weekly Train For Success meetup, Mark Jankowski of Virtual Training Partners conducted a portion of his negotiations training course and gave a tour of his training grounds.  It was impressive not due to fascinatingly complex scripted objects, or remarkably crafted beautiful works of practical art that bring “ooohs” and “ahhhhs”.  It was impressive due to the way Mark used the varied settings to reinforce & complement the core learning dialog.

It got me to thinking…what role does “presence” play in immersive collaboration?  And, how best can we utilize it?

Presence is defined as, “The state or fact of being present, as with others or in a place.” In other words, a sense of self and other…that you the participant are in a “real” and “tangible” space with other intelligent (or semi-intelligent) beings.

Many folks designing and deploying immersive collaborative experiences (learning being one such) miss out on on one of the most powerful aspects of this technology by failing to intentionally design for presence.  All too often I see small group interactions and trainings that require nothing more of the participants than merely talk, look at a slide/image, and type.

Presence is precisely why immersive environments can be far superior to many traditional technology-enabled approaches, like webinars, conference calls, online forums, email, IM, and the like.  There is a higher potential sense of presence due in part to more human senses being engaged.  Also, the mind must process spacial orientation within the environment, which some acknowledge increases subject matter retention (most notably analyst Erica Driver of ThinkBalm in a recent blog post).

But presence does not necessarily require highly realistic builds.  Simple spaces with a few images, builds, and tools smartly (and intentionally) laid out can often be more compelling than an intricately built and near-photo realistic space.  And, from Mark’s example above, the context in which the setting occurs (a baseball skybox overlooking the field during his explaination of the baseball negotiation case study) plays a powerful role as well.

So how does presence play into immersive collaboration?  And how can we best use it?  With collaboration, communication (sharing of thought & intent) between individuals is key.  Crafting an experience that makes one feel more like they are “in” a space among others increases a groups capacity to effectively communicate, allowing for a multitude of methods/channels more closely resembling that of communication in an actual physical presence.  As anecdotal evidence, I’ve consistently found my geographically-dispersed development team accomplishes more in 30 minutes in an immersive meeting than hours, even days, spent in a web-based collaboration application.

Remember, this is still a relatively new technology and thus the industry is still trying to figure out best practices.  As a start, here are some guiding questions that may help you better design for presence:

  • Are my goals for the experience clearly defined?
  • How can the setting, the builds, and the tools within the space help me achieve the goals?
  • Is there a setting(s) that best complements the topic?
  • How will the overall setting impact participants?  What impact do I need it to have?
  • How do I feel when I see/interact with/move about the area?
  • What kind of interaction do I need participants to have with the setting/with the presenter/with each other?
  • Is it important for participants to see one another’s avatars? Why or why not?
  • What’s the difference between conducting it here in the immersive environment and conducting it as a webinar?
  • What if participants are flying around?  Will this change my build/the interactions/my presentation?
  • How much movement/navigation will I require of participants?

The DIY Immersive Laserpointer (or, the Pinoochio Technique)

May 25, 2009

pointing presenter

Anyone who has presented, trained, or demonstrated a tool within an immersive environment knows just how difficult it can often be to reference a specific position when communicating to others.  There is no simple physical world equilivant to pointing your arm and hand, or using a laser pointer to highlight focus.

Although I have just released a 3D Pointer tool, I also wanted to provide a simple, but limited in functionality, alternative for those do-it-yourselfers (or cheapskates) out there.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to make your own laserpointer for the SecondLife & OpenSim immersive environments:

1.  First, create (rez) a cone.

Laser Pointer 1

2. Now, increase the height SIZE of the cone (the Z axis) to about 5 meters.

Laser pointer height 2

3. With the mouse, RIGHT CLICK on the object, and from the Pie Menus select MORE>, ATTACH>, HEAD>, NOSE.  This will attach the object to your nose.  This will replace anything you are currently have attacked to your nose (for example, a specialized avatar component).

Laser Pointer attach 3

4.  Laugh at how silly you look.

Laser Pointer funny 4

5.  Right click on the object and select EDIT.  Adjust the ROTATION of the Y AXIS to 90 degrees.  The object should now be pointing forward (still silly looking).

Laser Pointer rotate 5

6.  Finally, lets reposition it.  Notice the BLUE, GREEN, & RED axis arrows running though it?  Click & hold on the RED arrow then slide it forward.  Click & hold on the BLUE arrow then slide it down so the object is almost level with your chest.

Laser pointer adjust 6

YOU ARE DONE.  Try it out by moving your mouse around.  Notice how the pointer now points toward where your mouse is located.  You should probably rename the object (so you can find it easier in your inventory) and maybe change the color or texture.  Just detach when finished.  If you want to use it again, RIGHT CLICK on the object in your inventory & choose WEAR.

For those of you that might need a more flexible pointer (one not attached to your avatar, that can easily point out exact positions within the environment, and that multiple people can easily share use), you might checkout my newly released 3D Pointer.


BrainBoard Training Modules

May 3, 2009

In preparation for the upcoming release of the BrainBoard V1, I prepared 3 videos to help people get the most out of their use of the tool.

The user orientation is under 3 minutes and will prepare users to fully collaborate on the board.

The two owner/moderator orientations are roughly 2 minutes each, and cover how to import/export, adding a 2nd board, Collaboration vs. Moderator Modes, and a few other basics.


I also posted a text reference sheet covering the basics in one page.