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I’m making steady progress in building my ideal learning space in Second Life. Konrad and Jo have been wonderful in teaching me building skills, and very patient with my insistence to use real life proportions and limitations. Although it has been 2 weeks, I have only been able to give 5 hours to the project so far.

As I said I would do in my initial post about this project, I have applied permaculture design processes and principles to this project, and thought of the space in Second Life as though it was a real space in real life. I very much enjoy the permaculture design process for its holistic, even universal design ethic – and given its focus on sustainability and self sufficiency it is also very timely in todays world.

My first step in this process was to produce base and sector analysis maps to determin what I am working with in terms of the available space, and what resources are on hand. Here is one of my drawings for that first step:

Then I decided to focus on the building design, and for this I’m using discarded 20′ shipping containers as the basis of the building. Shipping containers are great to work with. They are readily available for reuse, reasonably cheap, structurally sound, transportable (obviously), durable, and come in remarkably good dimensions for proportioning an efficient living and working space.

Using containers in this way is certainly not a new idea, and I’ve been tagging all the websites I find that contain information about other people’s building with containers. From what I can tell though, my design is (or will be) unique in that it aims to retain the functional qualities of the containers. I am trying to work out how to make it so that all the materials and objects that are used in the build can be packed inside the containers, and that any modifications I make to the containers will not compromise their structural integrity, or ability to be transported.

So here’s where I’m up to:

Ideally i wouldn’t have used so many and such high piles as they are expensive and make quite an impact on the environment, but given the proximity to tidal waters, I really don’t have much choice.

Konrad and I had a long discussion this morning about my emphasis on sustainable and self sufficient design and how it relates to the idea of an ideal learning space.

To my mind, nothing these days should be built or developed without careful consideration of these sustainability issues. Nothing ever should have been actually! But regarding the challenges of designing a learning space, I am thinking to use these primary sustainability considerations within a frame of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Its obvious that if people’s basic survival needs are not being met, then they are not in a very good position to be learning things beyond what it takes to survive. If they are stressed, hungry, or uncomfortable, then we are hardly in an ideal space for learning about abstract concepts or developing new skills. Or if the learning space itself is struggling to pay out money for energy, food, or waste management, then it too is in less of a position to commit to learning. And so it is with a real world sustainability and self sufficiency approach that I’m considering these needs.

Also, I don’t believe that institutions are the ideal place for learning. Actually, I think it could be proven so… Instead, I’m going for a family home.. but one that can accommodate up to 15 people if need be.

I’ve been thinking about Pacific Island, Maori and Aboriginal people and their strong family and community values. In Australia and New Zealand, State housing has been criticised for using the 3 bedroom nuclear family idea as a basis for its developments. They failed to appreciate the extended family values of some of the people who would be using those houses, and arguably contributed to the breakdown of important forms of social support for those people. Actually, I don’t think it is only Pacific, Maori and Aboriginal people that have suffered this disruption through architecture and institutionalisation. I’d say all cultures have at some stage had strong community and family values, its just that the dominant culture at the moment has institutionalised itself out of these values (and is suffering for it I believe). Ivan Illich has written extensively on this idea, so I’ll leave it with a link to the memory of his vastly superior work.

So, my design is for a family house that is large enough to host 15 or so people from time to time, but practical as a family home; that is fully self sufficient in providing for its own energy, water and food needs; that is a system that produces no waste; and that uses building materials and structures that are reused, portable and make minimal impact on the area being occupied.

There will be an open meeting on location in Second Life this Saturday and Sunday morning at 11:30am NZ time (11:30pm Friday and Saturday nights UTC).

SLurl for the Virtual Classroom parcel on jokaydia II

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No sooner than Konrad Glogowski has finished his PHD (that I’m really looking forward to getting a copy of) and his into another really interesting project, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it!

Jo Kay has provided a space for the Virtual Classroom Project on Jokaydia in Second Life, and Konrad will mentor me in building and programming graphics and media so that I may attempt to build my ideal learning environment.. in 1 month!

I admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea.. where do I start? do I have any ideas? what if my ideas suck? but Konrad has a nack for no fuss, getting it into dialog that helps me just forget all that and give it a go.

Here’s an audio recording I took of Konrad explaining his idea to me when we met in Second Life today – on location. Just from those few words, my mind was racing with ideas and potential.

Here’s Konrad’s official blog post that launches the project. More ideas from that to! I really enjoyed Konrad’s idea to use a hot air balloon for small group discussions. I have been on that balloon too, and I agree, it is great to watch the virtual world go by while you have a general banter with the person in the basket with you.

But personally, I am most inspired by the chance to explore ideas for building in real life. I’m aware of some criticism of using Second Life to mimic real life, mainly around the idea that Second Life can offer so much more than the physical limitations of real life.. and while that is certainly true, its precisely that limitlessness that makes me want more real life limitation.

We’ve all heard the typical response from first time critics of Second Life, “Second Life! who needs a second life!? I have a hard enough time dealing with real life!” and while that response can be frustrating to people who try to encourage people to use the platform for things, there is an element of truth in its over all dismissal.

Real life needs so much work, it is so wanting of good ideas implemented, and almost impossible to get new ideas tested! So, my design will focus mainly on innovations for real life, that include room for Second Life too.

The first thing I am going to do is deploy as much of my newly learned permaculture design methods to build a solid base for testing some ideas for sustainability.

Using a classic permaculture design process, my first step will be to draw up a base map. This outlines what is already in the space. It can be easily covered by a simple aerial photograph – such as the one we already have of the project space. As well as what the space already contains, it also include diagrams of what hidden things are present too, such as services and existing resources etc.

Second is a Sector Analysis. What are the people movement patterns on or near the space? What is the tract of the sun and other energy forms? What are the temperatures? Are there any pests and diseases or similar problems to keep in mind? Where are potential energy and resources coming from?.. things like that.. all of this can be perceived in Second Life – believe it or not.

And thirdly, the design. Based around zoning and elements. Elements being the buildings and objects in the space (also designed in a permacultural way), and zoning bing the interrelation of elements, resources, people and the inputs and outputs. Zone 0 is the living space, 1 is the first line or production and needing the most amount of tending, 2 is the second line and needing a little less, and so on.

Now, Permaculture design is typically applied to practices of subsistence and market gardening and farming, but I’m interested in exploring its application in all production processes and living spaces. So here goes with applying it to a learning process and space that will include production and living of course.

As for a learning space, I want to put some thought into what would be feasible in a local community today.. I’m not sure if it will be a space for an Institution yet. But I’m looking for efficient use of space and resources; space design that is conducive to inquiry learning and skills training; and with every single aspect serving some form of opportunity for learning.

In the next 3 days, I am aiming to have at least the first 2 drawings done, and possibly some of the design. I will draw up the base map and sector  analysis, and possibly make a start on design ideas. I will then load the drawings into the space as giant blue prints to walk over and talk about with Konrad. Konrad will help me locate or build the resources I need and help to document the process.

I’m really looking forward to this, and is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Many thanks to Konrad for offering me the mentorship, and to Jo Kay for the use of Jokaydia and no doubt a lot of her time too.

So I’ve been going along to the Sunday sessions for the Permaculture Design course, where we now have 11 face to face participants and 5 online participants.

In the face to face sessions we have been focusing a lot of time on the principles and ethics of permaculture. I agree that these need a lot of time and they are quite inspiring ideas that could be applied to just about everything we do (even organisationally), but I get a sense that the face to face participants might be feeling that the course is moving too slowly and that they would like to start getting into more tangible activities.

I’m really glad though that the online group is there with us. Their emails and blogs have given me a lot of motivation to research and maintain the course wiki and related resources, which in turn has kept me feeling as though the course is very active. However, because the face to face participants seem to be not participating online, they may be feeling that the Sunday sessions aren’t moving along quickly enough. Today Kim and I spent a few minutes showing the face to face groups around the online work being done, so I hope some of them will come on and start putting more into the course so that they may get more out of it, but I suspect that that is not what they expected when they enrolled in the course.

So far we have the course wiki that includes the course schedule and links to any media recordings we capture throughout the course, as well as a discussion page that captures the latest from the online participant blogs (we’re still waiting on 3 more). We have also started a Permaculture Design textbook over at Wikibooks that would at first appear to be all by me, but I’ve simply been copy and pasting the handouts, and some of the notes from the participant blogs as a process of my own study in the course. The text will hopefully evolve into a self sustaining resource for many others to use once it reaches that critical wiki point. And there’s an email forum running for people to keep in close contact if they struggle with anything other than email.

What has surprised me is the level of interest that was quickly expressed by people from Portugal to Vermont, and how web savvy they all are 🙂 It turns out that international interest in permaculture is quite high, which is easily verified by the extensive network of websites and media over the Net for it. With the the online participants helping us to use this pilot course to develop online communication channels and information, we will hopefully have a certificate level course soon, with an online study option, that will help enhance and sustain the face to face course.

We’ve advertised the Permaculture Design course in the local paper last week, and again tomorrow. We’ve sent promotional messages to email forums, and the good old word of mouth. The course starts in 2 days and we only have 3 enrollments. Are we missing something? Is permaculture an unfamiliar concept in Dunedin? Is our timing wrong? Does the course need to establish itself more? Is the price wrong?

What I do know is that is that our enrollment process we have should have less failure points. As it is now, we advertise, people call a number, they are sent an enrollment form, upon receipt of a completed enrollment form the applicant is directed to the course start location. There are 3 failure points in that process (assuming we have all of our own systems and responses working well).

  1. Interested person has to make contact
  2. Interested person has to fill out and send enrollment form
  3. Interested person has to turn up

In Institutions I have worked at in the past, the advertisement for the course includes the location of the start day with a more or less open invite to turn up on day 1. The enrollments are done on that day and then its straight into it. In such an approach to formal enrollments there is only one failure point:

  1. Interested person has to turn up

And it has a feeling of being fairer I reckon. A kinda try before you buy (an enrollment form does have the sensation of financial commitment).
The local interest in the course is disappointing so far. But on an upside we have had 2 inquiries from California wanting to participate online. Kim, the course facilitator has blogged about this. Our only online promotion has been to make the course outline and schedule openly accessible on Wikieducator. When I asked the 2 Californians how they came across our course literally 2 days after putting it on Wikieducator they said Google.

So at least the name of the course is right, for Californians.

Both are interested in obtaining a certificate in Permaculture Design. Our course is not yet established enough for such a thing, but it is our goal. As is the goal to make it accessible and achievable through distance learning. We plan to use this first running of the course to record presentations, discussions and workshops to digital media for access by the distance learners. At least one of the Californians is keen to participate at this level and to help us get the most out of this effort. It is also our goal to further develop the course and make it attractive to designers generally.

So hopefully we will gain more local enrollments in the course. Any suggestions are very welcome.

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