Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Communes in the American Literary tradition

Those of you who got this by RSS might be surprised to see Beth say she's not a scholar of American Literature. That's because blogger seems confused about who posted this and, of course, it was Eloise. Sorry for the confusion!

A student of American Literature might be forgiven for feeling that the communes associated with it, especially Fruitlands and Brook Farm are reflective of all communes and their inevitable failure.

I am, it should be said, most definitely not a scholar of American History, and despite my role in Literature Alive! not a formal scholar of American Literature either. However, a search on wikipedia shows a short list of notable American communes, one of which, the Harmony Society lasted for over a century - hardly a failure by any measure - although this was, it appears solely a religious community. Another religious community, the Oneida community survived for 30 years, although it only really flourished for 6 of those, although its dissolution wasn't to nothing, rather to the foundation of a silverware company.

Internationally the Kibbutizm of Israel are well known and survive and thrive, producing a large proportion of Israel's movers and shakers and are, of course, another religious organisation in many ways.

So, we must really ask, why do the literary communes fail and the religious ones seemingly thrive, at least for a while?

If you read a little around the subject the answer becomes blindingly obvious, even painfully so. The successful communes, by and large, have people striving for redemption through manual labour. They may be crafters (as in Oneida one would presume, and as explicitly the case in Harmony), agricultural workers (as in many Kibbutizm) but they place value on keeping body and soul together.

Fruitlands, in particular and as shown in rather harsh relief in Transcendental Wild Oats, placed almost no emphasis on food, warmth, clothing and the like, focusing instead on allowing the members to develop their artistic and spiritual natures above all else. Louisa May Alcott lived on Fruitlands, and is perhaps one of the people best placed to satirise it.

Let's invoke Maslow for a moment, and his infamous Hierarchy of Needs.

The religious communes all seem to work up these levels - the community makes sure that the community will survive first and foremost, then works on making it thrive, and this allows them to have the leisure to work on the higher elements, including their own salvation. The poets and philosophers seem to believe that they are above the needs of food, shelter, intimacy, and can simply exist at the level of morality and creativity without the underpinning structures of food, clothes and the like.

Whist we might laugh at them now, the images of artists starving in garrets or, like Keats, dying young of consumption after neglecting their bodies are too common for us to ignore completely. Perhaps the communes should be regarded in this light too, a group of people who are not really connected to the real world, which leaves them prone to starving if left alone, but maybe also gives them the viewpoint on the world that lets them write great poetry too?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Virtual Worlds: Libraries, Education and Museums conference presentation

On Saturday Desi and I presented a workshop at the VWLEMC. Transcript (courtesy of Kisa's wonderful chatlogger) is below.

All contributors were asked for consent after the presentation. The transcript was edited for obvious typos and to consolidate serial utterances.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shades of Wenceslas

One of my favorite tunes of Christmas is Good King Wenceslas...here are some YouTube clips:




Friday, September 21, 2007

Today is the 408th of anniversary of...

A fairly momentous event in the history of literature and theatre.

What might have happened in 1599 do you think, of interest to literature types? No ideas?

Well, today, 408 years ago today that is, the Globe Theatre (the original one) opened for business. You can visit the RL rebuild, and although I've not seen it, there's a version coming to SL as well I believe - see it's vaguely relevant to both bits of the Literature Alive! manifesto.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Star Project and Open SLedware

If you pop by Literature Alive! Headquarters, you will find a new addition - the Literature Alive! Star Board. This in a user-creator board of useful websites used for general teaching or the teaching of English (Comp/Literature). Please stop by and add a star!

All of the stars will be boxed and placed out for 0 Linden. You can get your copy at ISTE or using OnRez (formerly SL Boutique). These resources are part of our Open SLedware efforts. Hiro, Eloise, and I did a presentation last night on Open SLedware :-)

Monday, July 23, 2007

When hell freezes over

Hell, or the Inferno and Linden Hills in SL is sadly closed whilst we search for a new home.

Thanks to Larry Pixel and NMC for hosting us for 10 days, we wouldn't have been able to do it without you.

For those of you like to know such things, we had 286 unique visitors in the 10 days. Given there were about 3 visits where I, or the team+students were the only people in the sim, I would guess we had either a lot of repeat visitors, or a lot of people that came and spent quite some time there.

For the record, we had one feedback card saying "wasted opportunity" and one saying "wow this great." All the verbal feedback was very positive.

I'm including the assignees to Hell we received. These are mostly, but not all from students. I will add a couple of comments at the bottom. Please note, although in Dante's version of Hell you are sent to the place for the worst sin you've committed there are repeats in our list: each person acted as their own Minos and assigned people as they saw fit, and that was at different levels for different judges.

Level # 1- The Virtuous Pagan

Rudi wrote: My choice is Gandhi, I choose him based on the line "Here rest souls who are not in torment, the virtuous pagans. They lived without the revelation of Christ, but still lived just lives." Gandhi being a Buddhist and living a just life, but without Christ would put him in this category, by definition.

Fifel wrote: Aristotle-because if you interpret Dante literally Aristotle is a poet.

Tesa wrote Mel Gibson for alcohol abuse

Level # 2- The Lustful

Rudi wrote: My choice for level two is Bill Clinton, the line "they gave up reason to be caught up in their passions" defines his loss of reason to cheat on his wife, just to fill his carnal passion. Glen agreed, writing: Bill Clinton for his desires to constantly reach out side of his marriage for sexual desires. Fifel wrote: Bill Clinton-he lusted after someone who was not his wife.

Peach wrote: Pamela Anderson, They focus on the desires of the flesh. All of her substance is at the very surface of her being. Her gratification comes from satisfaction of her physical desires.

An anonymous student wrote: This level is for people who get caught up in their passions so I would have to say people that are into pornography of any kind. We can name a few celebrities who are in porno like pamela anderson use to be or all the girls in the playboy mansion including the old man.

Tesa wrote Paris Hilton for her sexual desire.

RavenPhoenix suggesed both Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles for their continuing affair whilst married to others. She added Garth Brooks, who left his wife for Trisha Yearwood, with whom he was having an affair and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Baker, and any other "minister" or "evangelist" who had adulterous affairs while preaching the laws and commandments of God to others...

Level #3- The Gluttonous

Rudi wrote: My choice for level 3 is Chris Farley, the line "The souls here, guilty of gluttony, did nothing more with the gifts of God than to consume food and drink" defines my reason.

Fifel wrote: Ted Kennedy- because he drinks way too much; Dom DeLouise he eats too much

Glen wrote: Michael Moore for his compulsive eating

Tesa wrote: Anna Nicole Smith - she ate too much

RavenPhoenix wrote: Roseanne Barr..."ate & drank and produced nothing but waste" says it all. Paris Hilton...because being a glutton has nothing to do with size. She takes...and gives nothing of value.

Various students suggested George Bush for his alcoholism, despite his reform

Level #4- Hoarders & Wasters

Rudi wrote: My choice for level 4 is Kim Jong-Il, he hoards his money and lives lavishly while his country starves, the line "the Hoarders amassed their wealth all for themselves" made me think of him.

Tara wrote: Paris Hilton - Paris is vary wasteful and has no regard for the value of anything. Peach agreed writing: My first impression would be Paris Hilton. She is consumed with hoarding all the riches she can get her hands on. Wealth comes to her very easily and she throws away very easily. She has a beautiful Bentley which she has been seen running into trash cans and damaging without any concern. "E Entertainment News"

An anonymous student wrote: The hoarders are considered to use all their wealth for themselves and many celebrities can be catagorized in this circle. For example, Donald Trump. The wasters are those that use their money on fruitless ventures and materials and I would put Paris Hilton in this circle because all she does is party all day and does nothing productive for herself. And if she did, it would be perfume and purses which are material things.

Fifel wrote: Donald Trump hoards all of his money for himself and Terrel Owens because he's wasting his God given talents.

Glen wrote: Jimmy Hendrix for wasting hist earnings on drugs that eventually killed him.

Tesa wrote: Jessica Simpson - wasting money to buy expensive bed covers

RavenPhoenix wrote: Imelda Marcos!!! How many pairs of shoes did she have when they were exiled from the Phillipines???

Level #5- The Wrathful

Rudi wrote: The Webster definition of wrath is "strong vengeful anger or indignation," based on this my choice for level five is Bing Crosby, rumor has it he used to beat his children pretty regularly.

Tara wrote: Stalin - Stalin was a very irate and furious man, and by definition that is wrathful.

Peach wrote: Al Sharpton is a prime example of the wrathful. He is constantly arguing against any principle someone brings up. Rosy O'Donnell is the same way. If you have ever watched 'The View' she is always the one talking. She continually has to make a point. On her previous show she completely disrespected a guest because he had a different stand on a political view than she did. www.nrawinningteam.com/norosie.html

Glen wrote: Rosie O'Donnell for her constant arguing and how it seems she believes she is never wrong. Always yelling.

Tesa wrote: Mike Tyson. He was always angry

Level #6- The Heretics

Rudi wrote: The Webster definition of heretic is "a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth." My choice for level 6 would be John Calvin, who was one of leaders of the new way of thinking during the reformation.

Tara wrote: Seurat, Socrates - Seurat and Socrates were both nonconformists.

Peach wrote: Those that profess a belief and lead other people in that belief but do not practice it themselves are heretics. The Jim Bakers, Pat Robinsons, Jimmy Swaggerts, Oral Roberts are all heretics. They profess to be Christian but in reality they are only such by word and not deed.

Glen wrote: This is a hard one. Galeleo could have been a heretic for his theory of the solar system and the telescope which all went against the Catholic beliefs.

Tesa wrote: Adolf Hitler, for the people he killed

Level #7- The Violent

Rudi wrote: In this level I would put Nick Drake, a musician in the early seventies who killed himself he would be in the Violent against Self in the Wood of Suicides.

Tara wrote: Jack the Ripper -Jack the Ripper was VERY violent in his actions, that were not called for by any means.

Peach wrote: Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the first to come to mind in regards to violent acts. His acts encompassed all three type of violence. He would rob a young man of his innocence by raping him then murder and then mutilate him and eat the remains. Charles Manson falls into this category but I will save the discussion for another level later. Kurt Kobain falls into the category violence against self because he took his own life. He shot himself in the head as a result of habitual drug use. Many others have been in the media with mass suicides such as David Kouresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians. He was guilty of leading many people to their deaths blindly. This also reserves a place for him in a lower level.

An anonymous student wrote: The first name that came to mind for this circle was Osama Bin Laden. The reason I feel he would be in this circle is because he declared war on countries and people around him.

Fifel wrote: Saddam Hussein but without an explanation

Glen wrote: Kurt Cobain for blowing his head off with a shot gun

Tesa wrote: Denise Richards because she threw her laptop at her S.O.

Level #8- The Fraudulent

Rudi wrote: In this level I would put Charles Manson, he is a Seducer. And the text explains "Their sin is that they drove others to serve their own evil wills and now they are themselves driven by evil." This explains him to a T.

Tara wrote: Martha Stewart - Martha Stewart is a fraud, and went to jail for it. She lied about being fraudulent and got caught.

Peach wrote: Any who deceive another to gain advantage over them belongs in level 8. The fortune teller who builds false hope in someone by telling them just enough clever pieces of information to lead them on in order to get money from them, anyone that would sow discord among a group to lead them away from what is right, thieves that steal others possessions. These all belong in this level. David Kouresh fits into this level. He made people lose faith in their government and in their families. He was very charismatic and people believed that he was Jesus Christ. All the while that he was teaching his doctrines he was also having sex with young girls and robbing them of their innocence.

An anonymous student wrote: In this circle there are different categories that one can classify the sinners. For example, hypocrites would be one. I would but a few presidents in this circle. But if I had to name one it would be President Bush!

Fifel wrote: Jim Baker because he wasn't really a minister he just took money from people

Glen wrote: Baby Face Nelson for his involvement with the 1934 robbery of the Peoples Savings Bank

Zyzzy wrote: George Bush clearly belongs here, with the frauds and liars, not with the gluttenous.

Anya wrote: I'd place here people like credit card company executives, who entice people by offering them more and more credit, leaving the unwary in a situation where ultimately they can't afford to pay more than the interest; also, all those who prey on others through "get rich quick" schemes which actually defaud, such as ponzi scheme operators.

Tesa wrote: Ashley Simpson for lip syncing

Level #9- The Treacherous

Rudi wrote: On this level I would put Michael Corleone, from the Godfather movie, he is a Caina, whose sins "were treacherous against members of their own blood." In the Godfather 2 he had his own brother Fredo killed.

Peach wrote: These are those that are treacherous to their family, country, and friends. These are the Saddam Hussein's, Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson's. They are the ones that would murder anyone that became an obstacle to their objective. Saddam Hussein killed his own family and citizens as did Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson brainwashed and forced once innocent people to kill the epitome of innocence, an unborn child along with its mother.

An anonymous student wrote: The sinners or souls that would fit in this circle lack all love and therefore are denied any warmth. I think that the people that fit into this circle are those people who are satanic. A lot of rock stars would fit in this category because they make the music that are satanic.

Fifel wrote: OSAMA BIN LADEN and Satan of course-the most evil of evil

Glen wrote: Joseph Stalin who killed an est 20 Million people, mostly by starving them.

Destiny wrote: George Bush, for the Iraq war.

Tesa wrote: Lindsay Lohan, because you can't trust her

Various students suggested Rudi, one of their classmates, for griefing and pushing the other students in his class around.


George Bush seems incredibly popular to be sent to Hell - it's a question of how deep he goes!

There are a few that seem to be in the wrong place to me:
  • Is Osama Bin Laden treacherous for attacking a country other than his own? Violent, certainly, but treacherous? Not sure.
  • Surely Mel Gibson's alcoholism makes him circle 2 rather than circle 1?
  • Is lip-syncing really fraud at the level you deserve to go to the 8th circle of Hell?
Mind you, these quibbles are just my ideas - the students and visitors were the judges and fascinating reading it made too.

We're still hoping to hear about a new home for the Inferno - in the mean time if you'd like to suggest a few people for the different circles, we'd love to hear your comments.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Literature Alive! in the RL press

Last Monday the Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed Desi and came to class. The article can be seen here and a very good read it is too.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Why immersive class spaces?

Literature Alive! aims to bring immersive study of literature to it's students, using Second Life to create those environments and that immersion.

This isn't always easy - taking a work of literature and turning it into a scene or tableau that engages the learner, but still supports them in learning the literature content is an interesting challenge. The same sorts of challenges apply in creating immersive learning for other things too.

There's a lot of hmming and hawing about how you measure immersion, and whether immersion is automatically better than non-immersion. One of the things to bear in mind is that our focus remains, always, on the educational content. If there is a choice between better teaching and better immersion, we head towards better teaching. Usually, it has to be said, we find little difficulty in this - the challenge is more technical to me, the SL content creator, to make the stuff easy to use and immersive for people that aren't necessarily used to SL - doors that open easily, simple notecard givers that don't spam etc. combined with builds that evoke the right feel whilst remaining relatively easy to navigate around - a challenge in, for example, the Poe House which ought to be dark, cramped and the like.

Does immersion really matter? I mean, we're all here having survived without it, and we've become highly qualified and most of us are teachers (whatever the title our institution gives us) passing information on and getting students qualifications through our hard work.

I will counter that with memories from two classes that have run in SL. One of them with a lot of building and scripting input from me, one with almost none.

When was the last time you remember a student, voluntarily, spending 4 hours working and learning on a Sunday evening? Reading, scouring in fact, the provided texts, expanding from that to research texts on the internet, determined to get every last little drop from the class? Dashing in and out of the "classroom" (the Poe House in this case) to where the teacher was waiting, exploring props, assigning them to stories, debating the story and how the content was at odds with it in places and so on. Not just one student, but 4 in fact did this. Sure, they might all be 'A' grade students and would have done it in real life too, but somehow I doubt it.

The other one - when is the last time that you remember students, people with PhD's in the topic and the like entering into a role-play and discussion about the class material lasting over 2 hours? The Canterbury Tales pilgrimage did just this - and two of the students enjoyed it enough the first time to come back and do it again the second time it ran. This too, nicely demonstrated learning - those on the pilgrimage were asked to play a character from the Tales, and portray their responses to the discussion questions whilst actually walking around the route of the pilgrimage. They were expected to stay in character - which obviously requires thinking about that character - whilst determining who the other characters were as they were portrayed by the others - which requires a fairly good understanding of the whole of the tales, unless (as happened in at least one case) they go for the much larger than life ones (Wife of Bath for example).

Are these examples chosen because they're unique? No. In fact they're pretty typical of Literature Alive! classes. They're chosen because, for the most part, most of the people that read this will have heard of, and probably read, the books - even if they're not British or American.

I don't think there is anyone out there that would suggest it's better to teach students who aren't engaged compared to those that are engaged. Engagement and immersion are not synonyms, at least I don't think so. But, I have yet to see a student who becomes immersed who does not also become engaged. How much preparation do you think it's worth to see 100% of your students become engaged throughout your class, to the point of remaining outside class? How rewarding do you think it would be to mark materials from a class where they're all engaged compared to the more usual engagement rates in class? I teach enough to suggest that, over a typical course, you get less than 50% engagement, probably much less, half the students half the time would be 25% - and a pretty good result for most of us. SL courses to date, taught this way, 90%+ - that's all the students for the vast majority of the time.

The Overview of Literature Alive!

The Literature Alive! project seeks to provide quality content to SL residents by focusing on the creation, development, and dissemination of literary resources in Second Life. Further, the program seeks to help new RL college faculty use the resources within SL to teach effectively and ethically. Projects are listed on the wiki. You can join the Literature Alive! Google Group as well as the inworld Literature Alive! group.

The goals of the project are to:

A. Create interactive exhibits, displays, and content that capture or represent literary themes, authors, or texts;
B. Provide opportunities for collaboration between the three populations in Second Life (educational, commercial, and residential);
C. Provide support to existing and emerging interactive and publicly accessible literature classrooms;
D. Provide training, tours, and support to new faculty wishing to use SL as a teaching tool in RL;
E. Utilize existing rich content in SL by creating connections to exemplary content through specialized HUDs and TP systems; and
F. Provide space for student displays.

The main home of Literature Alive! is located at the Literature Alive! HQ on Education Island II. The HQ provides tools, examples, displays, and resources for free. There is also The School Store where items can be purchased from their initial vendors. Literature Alive! is non-profit and does not receive income from the sales of these tools. Vendors can, if they wish, donate proceeds to LA! but are not required to do so to place content.

Please IM Desideria Stockton or email Beth Ritter-Guth to arrange tours or to receive more information. This project does not yet receive any funding, and your tips and donations are greatly appreciated. All finds are used to enhance literary content and best practices for teaching in SL.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

First Post

Well, I thought it was high time to actually create a blog for Literature Alive! in Second Life. Please visit our Literature Alive Wiki to learn more about Literature Alive!