Exploring the virtual classroom

Online education and the metaverse

Transitions: A Place for Dreams

Buffy Bye / Buffy Beale, Rhiannon Chatnoir / Joyce Betencourt, In Kenzo / Yvonne Heyning, Kali Idziak / Jessica Daily and Ozama Malibu / Sandra Andrews
November 22, 2009

These are the speaker’s notes for the presentation, which were pasted into text chat for those who could not hear. They do not reflect all that was said at the conference.

Welcome to Transitions: A Place for Dreams, a project begun in Second Life, with Real Life impact. Our avatars represent five different social good organizations.

Transitions: A Place for Dreams - logo

The Nonprofit Commons or NPC is sponsored by TechSoup Global, headquartered in San Francisco and led by TechSoup’s Susan Tenby. The NPC, which began in 2006 as a small group of avatars meeting on Info Island, now consists of four sims. The NPC offers free SL office space, mentoring, & networking activities for nonprofit groups.

Ozma Malibu: We of Transitions: A Place for Dreams are five women who met in Second Life, at the weekly Friday morning meetings of the NonProfit Commons. Scattered geographically from Boston in the east to Los Angeles and Seattle in the west, from Canada in the north to Arizona in the south, we share a passion for activism towards the social good.

In a post-meeting discussion we discovered that our outreach activities are similar and complementary: we are all involved in providing technology access, education and other assistance to homeless/formerly homeless, at-risk populations and others who would not otherwise have such access.

We worked together to plan, and began to implement, a program that would offer a way up to anyone wishing it: a way up out of poverty, hunger, hopelessness – or just a way up into a better job.

InKenzo:  I think some of you remember the game “BreakOut”, an old Atari video game from the 1980s.  These steps were modeled on the old BreakOut game as one example of how social media & virtual mentorship could help
someone break out of a difficult situation.

These steps were designed to apply to any number of life situations, understanding that most would only make it through a few steps at a time. You get a sense for how progress flows from homelessness into a new career.

I suppose I am one of the many who built a new life through virtual engagement, eventually finding work and a new career by combining my artistic skills and love for social networking & media production.  I lead a nonprofit studio in Los Angeles called Amoration and our work centers around finding these creative openings for transformation.  As a part of that work I collect stories like what you see on the Transitions Tumblr here, basic snapshots of life as the homeless live around the world.  I look for the openings and opportunities for connection.

In Second Life, we provide individual mentoring for people wishing to create a “new life,” as In Kenzo put it in the signature image that you saw at the beginning of the slideshow. Photoshop, building in Second Life
and small business practices are part of an individualized curriculum.

We’ve been working individually with ADHD youth and street kids, assisting them in learning and improving SL-related technology skills.

Floaters: poverty and technology

Floaters.org is a technology outreach group open to all, and founded by homeless and formerly homeless people. Its purpose is to provide technology, access, and mentoring to people who would not otherwise have such access.

Floaters is a participatory action research group in which each person’s voice is equal, and all are researchers.

In participatory action research the original researcher is supposed to become emancipated, that is, no longer necessary. This works because all members can follow their own interests.

With Floaters, there are now several spinoff projects in which I, the original researcher, have little to do.

A great deal of Floaters activity nowadays takes place in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, where Floaters co-sponsors one of the first Community Technology Centers, with free access given to neighborhood children doing their homework (and playing games if they do their homework first. This is in a neighborhood that is just now having the street paved.

In Mexico, Floaters also works with indigenous people who sell jewellery on the beach to tourists and live in a home with a dirt floor.

A second spinoff group is located in a town east of Phoenix, a third in another town near Phoenix.

Floaters members are also looking into implications of SL for the Floaters goals; participating in another TechSoup project, NetSquared Phoenix; and working with Yaquis to seek solutions to cultural preservation issues.

Floaters has an office on the original NPC sim, Plush NonProfit Commons. It is dedicated to the memory of Hronn, an Icelandic lady and one of the original Floaters members, whose dream it was to establish a Community Technology Center: she has a CTC now, in Second Life.

Bridges for Women Logo

Buffy Beale: Welcome everyone, I’m so happy to be invited here today to talk about the Transitions Project and the non-profit I volunteer for in ‘Real Life’, Bridges for Women Society.  To me this is one of the great values of being in Second Life where we get to share information, make connections and build awareness for our causes.

I’ve been managing the Bridges office at the Nonprofit Commons since it opened and that’s exactly what we do there.

The Nonprofit Commons and others interested in non-profit meet every Friday at 8:30 AM SLT, and last year at a meeting it was announced there was a project starting up for providing on-line resources and training to people in transition.  I was interested in learning about the technology they spoke
about; mashups and web crawlers were a mystery to me so I joined the team.

We came up with the name “Transitions ~ A Place for Dreams” and I have to say I was amazed at how quickly Ozma organized us, and In Kenzo and Rhiannon had graphics and our own web site, http://www.aplacefordreams.com, ready.  I was duly impressed with the team from the get-go. At that first meeting it soon became very clear that participating in Transitions will benefit Bridges as well.

Bridges is a successful and award-winning employability training program, serving women who have suffered from abuse or trauma. Our mission is twofold:

1.  To provide women survivors of any form of abuse with education, training and other supportive programs which will help them break the abusive cycle;

2.  To share information with groups, organizations and the public on the needs of women who have a history of abuse.

Based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, we have been operating for 21 years.  Bridges was the first of its kind back in 1978.  There were no other employability programs for abused women anywhere in North America or elsewhere to be found.  We’ve very proud that not only have we enhanced the
lives of over 900 women, we have assisted many others to start their own Bridges program by sharing our material and knowledge.

We’ve earned recognizition for the Bridges Employability Program because it works.  Our students achieve long-term success measured by completion of further education, full-time employment or healthier relationships with children and partners.  They graduate from Bridges feeling inspired, as
confident and connected women.

In addition to our face-to-face program, for outreach services we developed and manage our on-line training program facilitated by staff and a counsellor to reach those in smaller or isolated communities.  Bridges OnLine has been translated into French and we recently added a First Nations content module.  We, as all non-profits are suffering from funding cuts but
we will not give up the dream that one day Bridges OnLine will be a global offering to any women connected to the Internet regardless of where they live.

We at Bridges are also very excited about our new mentoring initiative where early results show positive feedback of pairing new or former Bridges graduates with business women interested in fostering their mentoree’s personal growth.

In addition, and this is the partially how Bridges will fit into the
Transitions project, we publish an annual printed community handbook called “Bridges Community Asset Learning Map”, or “B-CALM”  http://b-calm.bfwonline.ca.

We post this information for social service agencies, individual support services and events throughout British Columbia in an updatable database so that anyone can post updates (pending validation) or search the directory from an Internet connection.

Our goal is to keep “B-CALM” current and be a valuable source of information, especially those in rural and remote areas, and to one day expand the information we collect beyond our province.

We have a standing offer to share our program material and knowledge with any non-profit group interested in starting a Bridges program in their community, anywhere in the world.

Once the Transitions project has funding, my role will be to train and mentor the new users we bring into Second Life, to teach them how to navigate their avatar, and basic building skills.  This is known to be a critical success factor to any Second Life venture as it is a steep learning curve especially for a non-gamer person.

For Bridges involvement, we will incorporate our on-line B-CALM database into the mashup of on-line information resources, and I have the Board of Director’s approval to approach two of our graduate students to attend the
business skill classes partnering in Second Life with Arizona State University.

To me, this is keeping in line with our Bridges motto of “Proud History ~ Gutsy Future” and I know there will be a day when the Transitions Project obtain the funding necessary for us to move forward with this important project.

On behalf of Bridges for Women, I would like to thank TechSoup Global for their amazing support of the Nonprofit Commons and for allowing Bridges to get off a web page and into the future.   Virtual worlds will be an essential communication tool and we’ll be ready.

The benefits from having the free virtual office space are clearly that it has enabled us to not only stay current with emerging technology, and exposure for our gutsy little non-profit, but to make connections to people and important projects such as Transitions ~ A Place for Dreams.

Second Life has been a most incredible personal experience and I am so thankful to be working with such beautiful women on the Transitions team who want to make a positive difference in the lives of many.  You guys Rock!!!

Thank you everyone, and now I’d like to pass the mic to In Kenzo or InK as I like to say.  Take it away InK.

Amoration logo

In Kenzo: Thanks Buffy and everyone.  There’s a great deal of potential in these environments to create not only new worlds but new lives; Transitions is one hub among many communities on the grid who do what we can to help others.

This is early work and we are looking for partners to help us refine these efforts and help us build out web tools & access delivery aggregation for those who are currently displaced.  When we started this project I envisioned every library including a simple Transitions search link where a need + zip code would get you immediate directions to the closest service
points in any community.

We see a need: growing homelessness in many areas leads to confusion and great struggle, often amongst families who have never been in transition before.  Once the computer goes the libraries become a key link to internet access and information: however this access is limited by both time and our ability to keep a steady address.

Projects like Community Voicemail and Kali’s work inworld with this team make sure that a phone number is provided, a basic point of contact so that people do not need to become fully lost.  As much as we would hope this safety net would catch all, we know and see that there are many who are still not able to access basic services and information.

There is much to be done and we invite you to join us in this work.

TRANSITION CONTACTS

Transitions: A Place for Dreams is trying to find funding to develop some of the technology pieces of the design – the mashup, the website, a full curriculum.

We also hope to find funding for educational research (how well do our ideas work? Can they scale?); and to pay mentors, although for now we have great volunteer mentors. We’ve done some small studies with the at-risk kids that we’ve been working with, and have done user studies with undergraduate and graduate art students. In the Spring we plan to work with students in a job corps school, kids who have dropped out and then returned to school.

So if you are a programmer, join us.  If you work in libraries, we need you. Do you love Google Wave and other collaborative media tools?  Help us build a potent strategy for data aggregation, search, news and curriculum integration.  We welcome your insights as we build A Place For Dreams.

From all of us: Rhiannon, Kali, Ozma, Buffy, myself and the many avatars who have contributed to these endeavors, thank you for joining us.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: