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Sl_astd2I attended a couple of meetings in Second Life this week. Wednesday’s meeting was a New Resident Q&A hosted by NCI. The one on Thursday was a session hosted by ASTD on Training and Second Life.

The meeting hosts were great on both occasions. Overall, my new exposure to meetings in Second Life (SL) would have to give a nod to the ASTD session. Though unintentional (I’ll explain below), the ASTD session ended up using a virtual meeting format that was different from those I was otherwise already accustomed to with chat forums, teleconferences and virtual desktop sharing applications like WebEx or GoToMeeting.

Wednesday: Chat forum in 3D.

The New Residents’ Q&A meeting I attended on Wednesday was conducted entirely “in-world,” as they say. Given the promise Second Life (SL) held for 3D visualization, co-location of participants, streaming imagery and live voice communications, I came with expectations of a robustly interactive in-world meeting.

Caledonhighlandsclassroom_001_2Unfortunately, while there was the benefit of seeing other participants in the large meeting venue (a medieval hall in this case), I came away a little disappointed. Not about the content or the host (in fact, NCI has a beautiful region in SL where they have many free training modules and objects for SL residents), but rather about the communication tools we chose for this meeting.

Communications were managed entirely using the chat feature. There was no other streaming video, no voice, no walking tours — we used very few of the stuff that I had hoped we would in order to have an innovative online meeting experience.

If you’ve ever been in a chat forum then you’ll recall the clipped sentences, disjointed sequencing of questions and answers (when multiple people chat at the same time, for example) and the awkward long pauses that often happen when everyone’s waiting for someone else to say the next thing.
Interestingly, the awkward factor of that silence gets magnified in SL. Owing to the benefit of visual presence SL participants share with each other, you just get a feeling that’s eerily similar to a real world conference in which everyone just stands around staring at each other. Awkward.

Thursday: ASTD meeting. Unintentional cool factor.

The ASTD meeting on Thursday, on the other hand, was a little different. Since it was billed as a meeting over WebEx, I came with WebEx-y expectations. To me this meant virtual PowerPoints and maybe a software demo. In fact, it started that way. That was okay with me. After all, that’s what I came expecting.

But as the meeting progressed, it took on a twist that neither I, nor perhaps the meeting hosts expected. It was unexpected in a good way. Unintentional though it was, the meeting progressed through stages culminating in an impromptu in-world meeting among participants. That bumped up the cool factor.

How it progressed from traditional to ‘cool.’

Initially, after the presenters switched from PowerPoint to desktop sharing mode with the intent of showing us a demo of Second Life over the WebEx connection, the annoying face of bandwidth constraints immediately reared its ugly head.

The images that came across were a stuttering series of pixelated stills that, unfortunately, detracted from the main topics. At this point I remember thinking that a PowerPoint presentation with prepared screenshots would have been more effective. But, I hung in there because these were respected guys in the industry I wanted to hear. (Karl Kapp, Tony O’Driscoll, Matthew Monahan.) And, since the audio portion of the meeting was coming across okay, I was still getting benefit from their narratives.

As I hung in there I started noticing in the image sequences that managed to make it through that other avatars were appearing at the SL location being demo’d. Since I knew there were only three presenters, I wondered who the other avatars were. Then it hit me. Some of us were abandoning the WebEx format in favor of just joining the hosts in-world.

So I did the same. I fired-up Second Life at another computer on which I had the software installed and invoked Nikko LeFavre to join the group in-world. Hah! Now we’re gettin’ somewhere.

“Where in the world are they?”

Whereiseveryone_001When Nikko arrived, I immediately sensed his confusion. He didn’t know where “in the world” they were. I helped out by taking a look at the site name and SL coordinates on the disjointed images I was getting on the other computer’s WebEx connection. Combining that reference with additional knowledge Nikko acquired over the last eight days about how to input those coordinates in the map window helped get him to the general area. But, by then, the group had “teleported” to another part of the world in order to demo other learning regions.

Astd_sl_noaaIt took some doing but Nikko finally caught up with them at the NOAA site (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) where they were discussing the learning benefits of being able to “experience” natural phenomena like hurricanes and tsunamis. From there on, the meeting became highly engaging in precisely the way I had originally hoped when Nikko and I started this venture 8 days ago. We were able to follow the moderator as a grop to different places in-world, interact with objects directly in-world while free to roam and explore in the general vicinity while hearing the moderator’s presentation.

Lessons for me in conducting my own meetings in Second Life.
On net, I’d say I came away from the ASTD meeting with more than I had going in. That constitutes a successful meeting in my book. I also learned some lessons for my own Second Life meetings (someday):

Meet in-world. This meeting was a success for me because I was able to meet “face-to-face” with the group in the same geographical (though virtual) location. I learned a lot more about the tool we were discussing by using it.

Set expectations for participants to prepare for the meeting. So, what about folks who have no experience with Second Life? Well, in the same spirit in which WebEx meetings are typically preceded with instructions for participants to ensure proper system requirements before joining a WebEx meeting, a similar set of pre-meeting instructions can be sent to participants joining a Second Life venue. The instructions should minimally include:

Date and time of the meeting;

Links for account registration and software download (for non-residents);
Site name, SL coordinates, SLURL (Second Life URL) to the in-world meeting location;
A link to an orientation video about:
Basic movement including: forward, backward, left, right, fly, teleport;
Entering coordinates for teleporting to the meeting location.
Use voice conferencing. In contrast to Thursday’s ASTD meeting, my first meeting experience on Wednesday seemed nothing more than a chat room session enhanced with 3D novelty.

It was the interaction of voice and in-world co-location at the ASTD event that really helped close the distance gap for me.

Anticipate “drop-ins.” Some people that stumble upon the meeting in-world won’t know what’s going on. To them, the site will look like a bunch of people standing around. Unless there’s something available to guide them, the drop-ins will likely inadvertently interrupt meeting participants by chatting with the closest avatar. “What’s going on?”; “Why’s nobody talking?” were common chats I saw from drop-ins. To mitigate this, the meeting host should create a note card for new arrivals to pick up. The notecard should include information about how to join the voice conference and, perhaps, an agenda.

So this rounds out Day 8 for me as a rookie trainer in Second Life. As I alluded in a previous post in this series, there definitely is a learning curve. But, with just a little facilitation, new participants can be exposed to other interesting venues for elearning by leveraging 3D applications like Second Life to enhance the Power of Presence and reduce the feeling of distance that Karl and O’Driscoll talks about.