Category: Conversation Cafés

Conversation Cafes at PSCC have a new home

Without claiming any kind of authority over them, King’s Corner has off-and-on provided a place for news and information about Conversation Cafes at Pellissippi State. (Off-and-on because many of them have happened without posting anything here.) Because of a new initiative that will unfold over the coming year, there is now an official blog dedicated to Conversation Cafes at PSCC. We are developing it now, hope to have something substantive in place before the semester starts this fall, and will direct all further traffic about CCs there. The existing posts here have been copied over there, but will remain here just in case someone somewhere has already linked to one of them.

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Just about ready to ride again

This blog has been relatively quiet this summer. For one thing, we’ve been on “summer break.” That doesn’t mean much, except that I wasn’t physically on campus as much. Other things had more of an effect.

  • I had two (really, three or four) major PHP projects for which I was committed.
  • I taught an online speech course.
  • My youngest daughter wound up in the hospital again, her 18th hospitalization.

We’re not back in regular session yet, and Hannah isn’t home from the hospital yet. But I’ve turned in summer grades, and I have a connection from the hospital, so this is as good a time as any to crank it up.

I need to do something. I have bookmarked 33 pages that I had intended to tell you about, and that I haven’t had time to get to yet. I hope some of them still mean something by the time I get it all taken care of.

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Virtual Worlds, Session 4 with David Brown on “Spirituality and Virtual Worlds,” reported

I spoke this week at the “Virtual Worlds Symposium” on “Spirituality and Virtual Worlds.” The conversation following the talk was lively. A copy of the handout that I gave at the session is available from this post.

One of the main points of my talk was to discuss the difference, as I see it, between spirituality and religion. Dr. David Howell spoke at the symposium a few weeks back on “Religion and Virtual Worlds.” I wanted to discuss the long standing mystical tradition of reading sacred texts as more than simply factual descriptions. In connection with this, I suggested discussion of virtual worlds as tools for self discovery, and perhaps even as the basis for a real utopian vision of how the world could be.

We had a good turnout. A few people seemed to be offended by the topic, but it definitely served as a fruitful basis of conversation.

Our last session in the “Virtual Worlds Symposium” is next Tuesday, April 17th, from 2:00 – 3:20 p.m. in the Cafeteria Annex on the main campus. Ed Francisco and I will discuss plans for using the virtual reality environment “Second Life” for next year’s common book: Sharpshooter.

Please join us.

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Virtual Worlds, Session 3 with Edward Francisco on “Pedagogical Uses of Virtual Worlds,” reported

Edward Francisco addressed the third session of the Conversation Cafe “Virtual Worlds Symposium” on Tuesday, April 3, 2007. The topic that he introduced for conversation was “Pedagogical Uses of Virtual Worlds.”

After noting his concerns about the use of virtual world simulation technology by military groups and others espousing violence, Ed put forward ideas on how VR could be used across the college. VR worlds could be used as a stage for previewing plays. Animated movies, or “machinima,” are easy to make in virtual worlds and provide an inexpensive way to bring a screenplay to life. It is also easy to snap pictures of virtual world sets and use the resulting images to make graphic novels, comics and storyboards. He challenged faculty to learn about this new form of communication media so that we can be in a position to shepherd our students in its use.

The resulting conversation revolved around how we in academia can best utilize this powerful technology and help direct its evolution. Some of the ideas that emerged are listed below:

  • History—can build historical re-enactments and environments
  • Biology and Nursing—virtual dissections, body system simulations and walk-throughs
  • English—using virtual meeting for collaborative writing, building/exploring virtual worlds based on literature

Another topic discussed during the conversation concerned how teachers would be able to translate their enthusiasm for a subject within this new medium.

Dave Vinson suggested (somewhat tongue in cheek) that we immediately begin to create simulations using Second Life to create a fractalized virtual reality within a virtual reality, a “Third Life” environment, so to speak.

Two more sessions remain in the “Virtual Worlds Symposium:”

April 10—David Brown: “Spirituality and Virtual Worlds”
April 17—David Brown and Ed Francisco: “Second Life and PSTCC”

The presentation on April 17 centers on the use of Second Life in next year’s “Common Book” experience. Please join us in our remaining sessions and learn more about the variety of virtual world experience.

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Virtual Worlds, Session 2 with David Howell on “Religions and Virtual Worlds,” reported

Dr. David Howell spoke at the second session of the “Virtual Worlds Symposium” yesterday on “Religions and Virtual Worlds.” Dr. Howell said that after reading Synthetic Worlds by Edward Castronova, he was struck by the similarity he saw between the creation of virtual worlds and the creation of “real-world” religions. (Dr. Howell’s notes will be attached to this post… when I can get them from him…)

A few of the points raised by Dr. Howell for discussion during the session were:

1. Like the “coding authorities” of virtual worlds, the founders of religions (Moses, et al.) claim a special kind of authority for their interpretation of reality. What happens if the “players” of the religious “game” gain more control over this interpretation?

2. “Bots” (artificial life forms) play a large role in many MMORPG’s (massively multi-player online role playing games). Consider that in the “virtual world” game of religion, the gods are bots, that is, they are not human players of the game. They move the game along and mete out rewards and punishments. How does it make you feel to consider the supernatural elements of your religion (or another) as automatons programmed by the founders of the religion?

3. Why should we think that religions are “real” when they are so similar to virtual worlds? The idea of “the sacred” is seductive. Perhaps the followers of religions have been fooled by their “coding authorities” into believing in fantasy worlds, which promise power (in this world or the next) to their followers.

The attendees broke into two groups for discussion. My group noted the aptness of the analogy at least as far as how religious denominations form. The other group discussed the idea of “transcendence” as a way past the view that religions are not “real.”

I sincerely enjoyed Dr. Howell’s presentation, as did the other attendees. It will provide an interesting counterpoint to my talk on April 10, “Spirituality and Virtual Worlds.” Dr. Howell seemed to be suggesting that anyone who follows a religious/spiritual practice is in effect, fooling themselves. My presentation will take a different viewpoint in the hope that further excellent discussion will ensue.

Please come to our next installment of the “Virtual Worlds Symposium” on April 3 when Ed Francisco will start our discussion of “Pedagogical Uses of Virtual Worlds.”

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Virtual Worlds, Session 1 with Charles Cardwell, reported

We held the first session of the “Virtual Worlds Symposium” yesterday. Dr. Charles Cardwell spoke at the beginning of the session, setting the stage for our discussion of “Philosophical Issues Raised by Virtual Worlds.” (You can download a copy of the notes he handed out.)
Dr. Cardwell suggested the following points for our first discussion:

  1. Virtual worlds offer an alternate medium for communication. This new medium seemingly comes at the cost of previous forms, most especially face-to-face communication. Is this something that we as a society should embrace?
  2. The economic activity of virtual worlds is now in excess of $1bn… and growing rapidly. What will be the economic impact on real world governments in lost tax revenues and what effects could this have on society as a result?
  3. Do the roles that people play in virtual worlds “cross the membrane” and affect behavior in the “real” world? If crimes are committed that result in real losses, who has jurisdiction and how can punishment or restitution be compelled?
  4. Because of the level of immersion and realism in virtual worlds, “toxic scenarios” are a possibility. People could be lured into a “bad” reality and become addicted to the experience. Terrorist could use virtual worlds to completely immerse themselves in an environment in preparation for an attack on a real world site. Military organizations commonly use virtual reality simulations to train troops. Should we be concerned about the potential negative uses of virtual worlds and if so, what should we do?
  5. What can virtual worlds teach us about “real” life and the human condition?

We broke into two groups and had a lively and wide-ranging discussion of the impact of virtual world technology.

If you have an interest in virtual worlds, I encourage you to read “Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games” by Edward Castronova. There are still a few copies of this book at the PSTCC Bookstore on the Hardin Valley campus. This is the book that sparked the interest that led to the “Virtual Worlds Symposium.”

Please join us for the next session on Tuesday March 27 when Dr. David Howell will start our conversation on “Religions and Virtual Worlds.”


[Added by Donn King] The Conversation Café format definitely brought out and clarified the thinking about virtual worlds. One group in particular (the one I was in) had a lot of concerns about whether virtual worlds would worsen problems of disconnect and escapism in our society. Those concerns are well-placed in the sense that we need to be thinking about such things–the questions are more important than coming up with answers. (I will take advantage of being an author in this blog to say that I offered the opinion that virtual worlds are moving us back in the direction of more connectedness on a human level, though it will never be like it was before electronic communication came to us.) Ultimately, I think, we came away with greater understanding of the questions, and once again, that is more valuable (in my opinion) than coming up with the answers.

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Virtual Worlds Symposium will explore ideas through Conversation Café

A group of Pellissippi State faculty plan to explore the implications of virtual worlds by setting up some ideas through presentations and then exploring them with interested participants through the Conversation Café process.

David Brown, assistant professor of Business and Computer Technology, is part of the management team for the Second Life project at PSTCC, and along with Ed Francisco, associate professor of English, organized the Cognitive Science discussion group, cutting edge discussions concerning artificial intelligence and the nature of intelligence, semiotics and related philosophical and technical aspects of AI, neural pathways, and explorations of the nature of self. He is leading the organization of a series of presentations and dialogs now about the impact of the growing phenomenon of virtual reality. (He wants me to tell you that I’m helping with organization as well.)

All sessions will feature a short presentation to set up the dialog, followed by exploration through the Conversation Café format. All sessions are scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Cafeteria Annex.
Tentatively scheduled:

  • March 20, presentation by Charles Cardwell: “Philosophical Issues Raised by Virtual Worlds.” (Outcomes reported in this post.)
  • March 27, presentation by David Howell: “Religions and Virtual Worlds.”
  • April 3, presentation by Ed Francisco: “Pedagogical Uses of Virtual Worlds.”
  • April 10, presentation by David Brown: “Spirituality and Virtual Worlds.”

There will also be a followup session in which we bring together students and faculty to talk about how to use our particular Virtual World presence in Second Life.

  • April 17, “Second Life and PSTCC.”
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First Parkway campus CC a success

We had 22 people take part in the Conversation Café, not counting the two facilitators (plus a couple of people who came through just long enough to get their passports stamped, but they don’t count). Mary Bledsoe, in charge of the Student Life office, provided cookies and coffee from the cafeteria, which everyone seemed to enjoy. Discussion was lively, and in some cases stayed with the announced topic (Overwork, Overscheduling), and sometimes went in other directions (such as the recent election), all of which was fine, since the point of CCs is more to connect than to stay on topic.

I’m always amazed at Marsha Hupfel’s ability to summarize the tables at the CCs she facilitates. Maybe she’s just better organized, and maybe she thinks to get a reporter at each table. We’ll aim for that next time.

I was impressed, though, that at least one table connected with each other enough to make arrangements to get together again to continue discussion.

We have decided to schedule two CCs on the Parkway campus in the spring, one in February and one in March. One will target the MWF pattern of classes, and the other will target the TR pattern of classes. Although we wanted to establish a time to begin a tradition, we’ve already seen that we need to shift the MWF time a bit to more closely align with classes, so whatever day we schedule, we’ll start the CC at 2 p.m., and we’ll set the TR time to coincide with that class pattern as well.

Be sure to check the listings page for those and other Conversation Cafés at PSTCC.

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Magnolia Conversation Cafe Synopsis–October 3

Politics, Poverty and Health

We had 15 people join us in conversation. I share my gratitude for Vina Clark, who brought a group of students from Main Campus. Two tables were full of folx engaged in lively discussion and, as in the past, I would like to share some of the points of view. Each table focused on different aspects of the topic.

Table 1 seems to have begun with poverty. Many questions were asked and addressed about poverty. The role of government and employers seems to have created some intense discussion. Most seem to believe that employers do not show care and concern of their employees and are only concerned about their profits. It was suggested that perhaps if the employees wanted to be more productive and happier, they could start caring more for each other, organize together to change the workplace policies that they do not think are fair.

The conversation shifted to communities and how to improve them. It was suggested that people have to work together to first emphasize the good things they have and that they are proud of and then work together to change the bad parts.

This led into the idea of where you live affects how you live. If you do not feel safe and your home is not dry or is falling apart, you will have a poor outlook on everything around you. When one has to worry about where to live, it leaves them with less energy to work on anything else. It was mentioned that Knoxville does not keep public housing in good repair. (I can hear some of you now!)

Services in a community matters and the store closing times in East Knoxville came up. Companies that stay open 24/7 in other parts of Knoxville close at 8 or 9 o’clock in East Knox. It was wondered whether this sends a message about the whole community. It was noted that this makes it harder on the people who live in this community and sends the message that they can’t be trusted.

And finally, the topic of minimum wage jobs came up. Some noted that the younger people are not satisfied with minimum wage jobs and this dissatisfaction contributes to illegal activity. Also noted was the fact that minorities have to put up with more abuse to keep a decent job. Examples of this were discussed by those with this kind of experience. The “good ole boy network” made up of Knoxville employers was something very hard to contend with and makes it harder for minorities in the workplace.

Table 2 began with politics and policy.

Poverty and health are very reliant on education and political policy needs to address this. Another said the political policies support the growth of poverty and this leads to all other social ills connected to poverty. People in poverty have a sense of powerlessness, no voice, consequently, they don’t participate in the political arena. One of the conversationalists brought home the point of policies that created social problems when police cordoned off a section of a block because of violent and illegal activity and the homes outside the cordoned off area were unaffected by the police action and yet were the same as the rest of the block before the action.

To shorten this up, I will share the closing remarks from Table 2: One said that her interest increased in politics and social issues and what’s going on in general. Another commented that it was very interesting to hear the different points of views during the conversation. Following this, it was noticed how many different points of view there are on any given subject. Politics became more interesting, and even seemed possible to participate in as one of the participants noted. And finally, “This has been very energizing. How can I get more involved?”

So there you have it! Keep conversing folx!

Respectfully submitted by someone Working for Peace (what a great boss!),

Marsha Hupfel

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Blount County CC rescheduled

The Conversation Café that had been scheduled for around noon on Oct. 26 has been postponed because of a conflict with the scheduling of the Council of Student Advocates. Since the students who tend to be active in that organization were fairly likely to want to take part in the CC, it made sense to postpone it. We haven’t yet rescheduled. Check the listings page for updates.

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