Archaeology in, and archaeology of, Second Life

Right now, it’s 6.17 am, EST, which makes it about 11.17 am Dublin time, and 3.17 am Second Life time. No doubt, there’s a wild party going on somewhere in Second Life, but here at the RWU virtual excavation prototype, all is quiet.

I’m waiting to give my presentation to the folks at WAC6 in Dublin, but last I heard, there were some technical issues on their end – so a good thing I made a video of the presentation!

Youtube, in the end, could not handle my video because they have an upper limit of 10 minutes – my talk clocks in at 13. Google video doesn’t have a length restriction, so I went with them (but seeing as how they own Youtube anyway, I wonder why the distinction). It took forever for the thing to upload – I had to leave the computer running over night. I uploaded as an AVI file – Camtasia makes excellent SWF files, but for reasons unknown to me, it truncated my video – after nearly two hours of rendering – to 4 minutes and 32 seconds! Anyway, the quality is a little blurry, but I never said I was Fellini…

The argument of the talk, in brief: SL for archaeology: a place to ‘do’ archaeology’, a place for archaeological VR, and a place for archaeological teaching and outreach.

  • SL as a place to ‘do’ archaeology: Virtual worlds have always existed – from the caves of Cro-Magnon, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, to Disneyland, SL just the latest in a long line of virtual worlds. Indeed, since SL is a world of imagination and flights of fancy, it has more in common with the virtual worlds of the past created by historians or archaeologists in their reconstructions. How do we understand SL then? Think of games: what do games teach best? Not what they are ostensbily about, but rather, how to play them. The rules of the game might correspond with various historical epistemologies (think Civilization franchise): the rules of the game make a kind of argument for how the world works: a procedural rhetoric (in Ian Bogost’s felicitous phrase).
  • What are the rules in SL, in this world where ‘anything’ is possible? The rules are best expressed through how SL allows objects and scripts to be built: so to understand the rules and their implications means casting the same kind of archaeological eye over this virtual material culture and landscapes as we would in the ‘real’ world.
  • therefore, if millions of people choose to spend their time and money in SL or other similar worlds, archaeology has a role in uncovering and studying the procedural rhetorics of this new frontier.

That’s strand one. Strand two:

  • traditional archaeological VR: clean, antiseptic, disembodied: you can only experience it by looking at the pretty pictures. In SL, since you are embodied in an avatar, you can explore the experience of the space; space-syntax in the real world explores how interconnected spaces give rise to certain kinds of experiences, so it should be possible to use SL to explore interconnected, re-created ancient spaces with space-syntax tools…. also, SL tends to clean up after itself (if you drop something, it gets returned to you) so in the presentation we take a  side trip to SL dumpster to explore how one artists’ collective uses SL to collect others’ trash to study the lives of residents.

Third strand: SL for teaching

  • if the argument about procedural rhetorics is correct, and that the only thing games teach you is how to play them, then I make that a virtue by translating archaeological metaphors into the basic building blocks of SL. Demonstration of the RWU virtual excavation prototype, integration with Nabonidus on-line recording system.

And so, without further ado, the video which should make much the same argument as above:

Archaeology in Second Life – WAC6

I was originally supposed to be going to Dublin for WAC, to give two papers. Unfortunately, life intervened and I’m not able to go. However, I will be giving one of those presentations anyway, via Second Life in the Art, Archaeology, and Technology: Current Experiments in Interpretation session.

Abstract for Electric Archaeology: Archaeology In, and Archaeology Of, ‘Second Life’

Archaeology is about material culture, about exploring the human condition (not necessarily in the past) through how we create and manipulate objects & landscapes. In recent years, the power of computing has opened up new universes for exploration, places where individuals create the worlds around them. This paper discusses my archaeological explorations in the current leading virtual world, ‘Second Life’. This world deserves archaeological study – perhaps even needs archaeological study – in that it is nothing but pure construction of will and imagination. ‘Virtual Worlds’ are in themselves nothing new: from the Haning Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian’s Villa, to Disneyland in Florida, humans have been creating fantastical worlds for many different purposes, with simple entertainment not necessarily the prime motivation. Building on these observations, the paper discusses my own attempts to alter this world for archaeological outreach: a re-usable archaeological excavation.

It will be a live presentation from within Second Life, if all goes according to plan. If not, I’ve already recorded a video presentation to be given in case of emergency, and I’m just waiting for Youtube to do its magic. It turned out to be much more difficult to make this video than I anticipated.

Firstly, you need to do screen captures in Second Life. I followed the directions here to make that work.

Then, I downloaded Camtasia studio (trial version) to do the movie editing. I spent a fruitless day stitching together my stills and clips and then trying to match the audio to the video. I found it easier (relatively speaking), to do the audio first, and then the video.

I used audacity to record my stream-of-consciousness lecture, and then imported that. (Is there anything more cringe-inducing than listening to your own recorded voice? At least when I speak live, I can react to my audience; speaking to a recorder makes everything into a monotone…).

I will make the video public after the talk, which is on Monday, 11-ish am (an early start at 6am EST!). If you’re interested in being in SL while I do the talk, let me know and I’ll send you the coordinates. I want to use the voice-chat feature, but for some reason I can’t get the microphone to work right yet. If I don’t get that fixed, I’ll be doing a mean amount of typing…

My virtual excavation prototype is coming along nicely. It has several contexts/layers, salted with artefacts from around the archaeo-web-o-sphere.  I have a large media projector loaded with the Nabonidus webpage; when students touch that, it opens a browser window allowing them to log into Nabonidus and to do their recording. Picture below:

Virtual Excavation Site, RWU in SL

In my preparations for the talk, I’ve been visiting many different sims, and I came across an amazing temporary build, A Cruise on the Nile:

A Cruise On the Nile

It was part of a fund-raising effort for breast cancer research, in the ‘Duchy of Greystoke’.  Worth a visit if it’s still up.

Sugata Mitra, Hole in the Wall, Self Organising Systems in Education, and Instructional Robotics

Those were the topics covered by the keynote, Sugata Mitra, at the recent MadLat conference in Manitoba, in his keynote address (Self Organising Systems in Education) and his later session, Instructional Robotics. He began with a contentious statement: that the future of the world economy lies with raising the quality of education in the rural peripheries. He illustrated this by way of parable: western companies have long been installing call centres in cities like New Delhi, to take advantage of low-cost, english-speaking and educated workers. But, as wages slowly grew, the call centres got re-located further from the core. The workers there weren’t quite as well educated, but could do the job. The same pattern repeated, and the call centres moved further and further out – and the quality of english declined inexorably.

Mitra asked himself, why is the education in these remote places not providing decent results? He went out, and performed standardised tests on students at schools from 60 to 260 km distant from the urban core. His graph showed a steep drop the further out. Now why was that? he wondered. In his research, he showed that the strongest positive correlation with the poor results was the teachers’ own desire (or lack of) to be in that school. The poorest schools were not necessarily the most financially poor, but the ones where the teachers perceived that they were working in a remote undesirable area. Poor motivation = poor results.

Mitra found that ‘remoteness’ was not just geographical. In the UK, he performed the same study, and found that the presence of subsidised housing (council flats/estates) was as strong an indicator of teachers’ desire to be somewhere else – hence poor results at the school.

The future of the economy in the developing and developed world, Mitra suggested, is in improving the education of these ‘remote’ (whether geographically or socio-economically) areas, since these are the areas with the lowest labour costs. Technology can address this problem, but why do we always test new technologies in the city schools, where the results will be good anyway?, he asked.

His first presentation then was about the hole-in-the-wall computer experiment, where he provided computers to remote regions (setting them up so that they would run no matter what the environmental conditions). Typically, kids were on the machines within minutes of their installation, punching buttons and moving the mouse, exploring what would happen. These children had no English, but as they gathered around the computer, a kind of self-organising educational ecosystem would emerge, with rings of children discussing what was on the screen, offering suggestions of what to do next to the one or two children actually punching the buttons. Mitra installed one such computer, went away for three months, and when he came back, the children said, ‘Please sir, we need a faster processor and more RAM’! They were teaching themselves English so that they could play games and find out information.

(He suggested, incidentally, that as long as computers were in public places, kids wouldn’t get into the seamy side of the internet: no computers in kids’ bedrooms or you’re asking for trouble! Also, that schools that provide one computer per student were not going to get as good results as when there is one computer per 5 or 6 students. I wonder what the one-laptop-per-child people’d make of that?)

His second presentation addressed the problem of teachers not wanting to be in particular regions: “Is it possible for teachers to live in areas that they prefer and still be ‘present’ in schools where they do not, physically, wish to go?”.

This led to a discussion of ‘presence’- what is the main difference between in-class and online education? The presence of a teacher. So how can presence be effectively created for distance/online education? In experiments, Mitra has found that Skype could be used effectively under the following circumstances:

  • uninterrupted, reliable, >1 Mbps bandwidth at the teacher and student locations
  • a projection system at both ends providing near life size images of the teacher and learners (in his presentation, Mitra phoned up an English teacher in Argentina and showed the difference in ‘presence’ between mere voice, small-screen projection, and life-sized projection using Skype and the video projector – it was quite astonishing!)
  • a directional microphone, such as those on most camcorders, that doesn’t pick up feedback, at both locations,
  • good lighting

Mitra discussed some future experiments he is going to conduct, where he will try to emulate the physical environment – if it’s hot and humid in Bangalore, the heating & humidity control in the teacher’s office back in the UK should be ramped up appropriately…

He finished his presentation by discussing the ultimate iteration of telepresence: a physical machine, controlled by the remote teacher. Such things already exist, like the Mars Rover, or the deep-sea submersibles that took pictures of the Titanic. Mitra wants to hook up a Roomba-like robot to be controlled by the remote teacher. It will have a screen on it showing the teacher’s head, with directional audio and sound control… in this way, the teacher’s tele-presence can be remotely projected around the room as the robot goes wherever the teacher wants. No more cheating on distance ed exams!

I haven’t done justice, in this short report, to everything Mitra talked about, but I came away from his instructional robotics presentation convinced that this man is going to transform how distance ed is carried out. He’s current at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, so keep your eyes peeled for interesting things from that quarter.

MadLat Conference, Winnipeg

Just got back, will post more when I have a moment – keynote speaker was excellent, and his session on ‘Instructional Robotics’ was fantastic, though poorly attended. I expect people were put off by the title… but imagine a remotely operated vehicle, armed with camera, directional microphone, and wee video screen roaming the aisles of a distance-ed classroom, and you get the picture…

My presentation was well attended, which made a nice change from the Classics conferences I’ve gone to and given an online learning or games-related paper. Typically, the classicists are just not interested – there’ll be me, the moderator, the other two presenters, and the guy who thought that this was a session on Attic pottery….

Anyway, one nice comment at the end of my paper was along the lines of, ‘it’s very interesting to see someone actually implementing games or Second Life, and not just talking about the theoretical side of things!’ In truth, I’m not that far removed from the theoretical side, though I have subjected students to some of my experiments.

Right. Presentation is here, designed and implemented courtesy of Flypaper, whom I thanked in my talk. It might not live at that location for too long, in which case I’ll post it somewhere else, if necessary.

Dodging Bullets in Presentations

I love the circularity of the internet sometimes. My post on Flypaper got picked up by an automatic blog aggregator, and was put on “Hey Jude” under a posting on ‘The Problem With Powerpoint’. Somebody clicked on that, and wordpress stats told me about it. So I went to the post, and lo! there was this extremely well done powerpoint on ‘Dodging Bullets in Presentations’ by Rowan Manahan. Whether you use Flypaper, Powerpoint, or something else, the lessons here are extremely good. Maybe all conference presenters should view this one before they do their papers…! I know I’ve been guilty by times…

Winnipeg: MADLaT conference

Am going to sunny Winnipeg next week (think it’s stopped snowing), for the MADLaT 2008 conference, ‘E-Learning Comes Together

I’m presenting in Session 7, abstract below; my presentation might actually match the abstract. We’re using Flypaper to do our multimedia – they’ve been really great, crafting a template for us to use, and helping out with all the fiddlybits.

The Use of Moodle, Virtual Reality and Other Emerging Technologies in Online Classics Teaching

Session Description:

Robert Welch University is an entirely online Liberal Arts university in Appleton, Wisconsin which was approved as a degree-granting institution in 2005.

Those of us who start an online university may believe the theory “If we build it, they will come.” Students may come, but will e-learning come together for them? Once we have set up the online courses and basic communication, we must ask ourselves whether meaningful communication and class participation are actually occurring. Our students find emerging technology appealing, particularly VOIP and user-created content. How can we incorporate advances in communication and the participative web in our teaching practices?

This paper recounts how Robert Welch University evolved from simple document delivery with its Moodle learning management system (html pages, PowerPoint, mp3 files) and basic communication (asynchronous forums and real-time chat) to an immersive learning environment featuring wikis, Skype, webcam, game-based learning, YouTube videos and Second Life in order to make students active participants in their own learning.

All educators face the challenge of how to encourage students to engage with the material, but online educators face special challenges such as how to meet the needs of a diverse blend of non-traditional students and how to foster a sense of community between instructors and students.

At RWU we have come to realize that even distance learners need a social setting for their learning and that students may benefit from the kind of immersive environment which a persistent virtual world can provide. Our students will collaborate online in Second Life as they reconstruct the ruins, practice archaeological field skills and perform the Greek tragedy which they are translating.

VisitorSim: agent modeling for site management

A few years ago I developed an agent based model prototype for exploring visitor impact on archaeological sites – the idea being to model where visitors would go on a site, and to explore the consequences of alternative routings and so on. I found the presentation I made about ‘VisitorSim’ this morning, as I was looking for something else, and thought that it might be interesting to share it here. I’m interested to know if other archaeologists have ventured down this route, thoughts, ideas, etc for improving the model. I note that Keith Still, the founder of has a professional consultancy built around a similar idea, see below.

First, the VisitorSim powerpoint:

And now a page from ‘Crowd Dynamics, about the ‘Myriad II software suite’. The Venn diagram provided neatly encapsulates my own approach to ABM, networks, and archaeology; I wish I’d come across his work during my thesis years! At any rate, Myriad II looks to be an excellent piece of software, to which my VisitorSim is like a tinker-toy…

They’ve also done some analysis on historical problems:

Battlefield Detectives Agincourt – how the battlefield geometry may have contributed to the French defeat
Battlefield Detectives – details about the series and the book.
Gettysburg – how the town geometry may have been a decisive factor in the battle outcome

Myriad II – Integrated Crowd Dynamics Modelling Suite

Over the last 15 years we have been using a range of modelling and analysis techniques for places of public assembly. The process of model building typically requires three different mathematical modelling disciplines. The table below shows how these methods overlap for various projects.

Agent Analysis Spatial Analysis Network Analysis
DWELL Analysis Station Analysis Event Management
Evacuation Stadia - Concourses

The Year of the Four Emperors mod for Civ IV

This little video records some of the game play in ‘The Year of the Four Emperors’ mod for Civ IV that I’ve used from time to time in my teaching. Things to watch for – the opening shows how to load the mod and get it running; ‘research’ can’t be turned off in the game, but you can make it impossible to carry out (‘gunpowder’ for some reason is on the list- but it’ll take ca 2600 turns to do it, by which time the game has ended); the senate takes a vote on declaring one of the contenders Emperor; towns and military units are more or less in their correct historic positions.

Powerpointed Out? Try Flypaper Instead.

I enjoy a good Powerpoint presentation. I really do. I love the cadences as presenters turn to read the slide, and then turn back to the audience, and then back to the slide… it reminds me of oscillating fans on a hot summer day…

This post is not a rant about powerpoint (but you should check out The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, Edward Tufte).  It is to direct you to something new, Flypaper. I’m to give a presentation at a conference in a month’s time; think I’ll try this out and see if it makes for better visuals to accompany the presentation (presentation is on ‘e-learning’, so I’m using lots of multimedia, game clips, Second Life movies, etc).

It couldn’t hurt.

I think.

Serious Games Canada Summit, Montreal

I’ll be speaking in one of the sessions at the Serious Games Canada Summit in Montreal on November 27 & 28th. The focus of my contribution will be on modding in the classroom – that is to say, exploring some of the potentials, perils, and philosophical underpinnings of using in-game world- or scenario-builders. My perspective is drawn from my experience in distance and online education.

A fantastic example of what can be accomplished by adapting commercial, off-the-shelf games is discussed on Henry Jenkins blogRevolution, a game set in one pivotal day during the American Revolution. Why mod rather than build?

“Our first decision was to forego coding Revolution from scratch and make it as a mod of an existing game. Using an existing engine enabled rapid prototyping and design. Using an existing engine also improved production quality – graphics and sound would already be at a level students would associate with professional games. Since many game companies offer modification tools to consumers for sharing new content, we wanted to explore the advantages of modding for developing serious games.

After much consideration, we settled on the Neverwinter Nights toolset. Neverwinter Nights is an RPG series for the PC that was specifically designed by its makers, Bioware Corp., to support modding projects. There was already a very robust culture of player-made NWN mods, which we could tap for inspiration and experience. We wanted to create a socially dynamic world where students would interact with both player-controlled and non-player-controlled characters, and NWN was built for character conversation, a feature we felt was crucial to the social world we wanted to model.”

The other two panelists in the session are Kevin Kee and Richard Levy (participants list).

“Kevin is Canada Research Chair of Digital Humanities, Associate Professor, Brock University, and Adjunct Professor, McGill University. He was a Director and Project Director at the National Film Board of Canada from 1999-2002, where he lead various productions, one of which received Honor able Mention at the 2002 International New Media Awards. As a university-based researcher and developer, he has lead numerous productions, including: A Journey to the Past: A Quebec Village in 1890.

Richard Levy is a Professor of Planning and Urban Design at The University of Calgary, where he serves as the Planning Director (Chairman) for the Planning Program. Since 1996, Dr. Levy has also served as Director of Computing for the Faculty of EVDS. Dr. Levy is a founding member of the Virtual Reality Lab. Dr. Levy speaks at international and national conferences in the fields of virtual reality, 3D imaging, education, archaeology and planning. His published work appears in journals such as Internet Archaeology, IEEE MultiMedia, Journal of Visual Studies, and Plan Canada. “

Slideshare and Slidecasting (and the Travellersim slideshow)

So has a new feature allowing the user to coordinate a podcast with a slideshow, and present it all in one neat package. Very nice. The only downside, that I can see, is that every slideshow is public. It is possible to embed a slideshare presentation into the Moodle environment, but I don’t want people not in my class to view my show back at the original slideshare website.

Here’s a sample of what a slideshare presentation looks like (my own presentation from the 2006 Congress of the Humanities at York University):

Immersive Worlds conference at Brock

What would you see if you looked at Second Life from an archaeological point of view? I asked myself that very question recently. Of course, one of the things you’d see is the enormous potential for education…. but, putting aside such instrumental uses of Second Life, and looking at it as a world in its own right, with its own cultures, you start to see some interesting things…

Here is the audio from my presentation at Brock, ‘Of Second Lives and Past Lives: Archaeological Thoughts on the Metaverse”. You can hear the points where I stop to think… somewhat like the William Shatner School of Lecture…

The file is in the .wav format because, for reasons unknown to me, the mp3 version would not upload.