Friday, June 22, 2018

Interview: Ruby Vandyke and Boston Medical Center Research

Interview with Ruby Vandyke, June 14, 2018

Ruby VanDyke as her Second Life avatar
Ruby Vandyke as her Second Life avatar
Q- Ruby, what would you like people to know about you, physical world (RL) and/or Second Life (SL), either or both?

Ruby Vandyke- I've been at SL 11 years and have enjoyed every minute of it. I've had so many good experiences at SL and made friends with some great people. In RL I live in Canada and am pretty isolated, so I rely on SL for friends and socializing.

Q- You are the head of the Ambassador Team that is working with a research project in Second Life sponsored by Boston Medical Center. Can you say a little bit about what that research is trying to do?

RV- The research project is working to educate women with Diabetes about managing their Diabetes. They meet in SL weekly for 8 weeks. They receive information about Diabetes and share their experiences with each other.

Q- Before you could work with these women on this research project, you had to do some preparation. Please tell us about that.

RV- I had to take a CITI course to learn about research ethics and confidentiality when working on a research project. The CITI course taught all about research, records, ethics, working with children, populations of vulnerable people and other topics. I also had to pass a test on the course. Now I am certified to work on this and other research projects.

Boston Medical Center building in Second Life
Boston Medical Center project in Second Life
Q- What do you mean, confidentiality?

RV- Women participating in this research project share personal details about their health and their lives. They need assurance that I will keep anything they say confidential. I won't repeat it to others.

Q- Right. So that part of the course was about how we treat the participants. You also learned about the ethics of how research projects are supposed to be designed.

RV- Yes, to make sure all participants are informed and have given proper consent.

Q- You actually work with 3 three different groups here: the other VAI staff on this project, the research staff from BMC, and the participants. What do you do with the other staff?

RV- I have worked with several other VAI staff on this project. They also have completed the CITI course as well as Ambassador training so they can help new residents.

I keep in contact with the VAI staff to let them know what will be happening during our session each week. I provide them with any information they might need, such as a list of BMC staff members. During the session, I assign them to various tasks, such as helping some of the participants with exercise equipment. I remind the VAI staff of our role in the overall project, which is to help the women participants learn how SL works. How the viewer works, what SL is about and encourage them to explore SL on their own in hopes they will decide to remain at SL once their sessions are over. The VAI staff are a tremendous help with this project.

Q- The BMC staff have several other roles. What types of things do they do?

RV- The BMC staff lead the educational part of the sessions. They hold discussions with the participants and do slide show presentations. Some of the BMC staff are also technical support, so they help the participants with computer problems.

Q- And your VAI staff help the BMC staff sometimes. What advice can you give other researchers about preparing their staff to work on a project in SL?

RV- Researchers need to make sure that their staff are fully acquainted with SL before they bring in the participants. Their staff also needs to keep in constant contact with the VAI staff so we know what areas they need help with.

Honestly, I think their staff needs to be near the same age group as the participants too {laughing}

Q- You've also helped the staff reshape the curriculum based on how things go with each cohort. Can you say a bit about that?

RV-Yes, when this project first started, the staff had envisioned a much wider range of activities for the participants to do at SL. But we quickly realized that it was too overwhelming for them. Just learning how SL works was so time consuming and frustrating, they couldn't cope with trying to do things like go exploring other places at SL.

So over the past year, we have managed to streamline their sessions to make it easier for the participants and now they are enjoying their time at SL more, which is nice to see.

Q- To help with onboarding the participants, BMC creates the participants' accounts for them, and you create their customized avatars. Is this part of that streamlining?

RV- Yes, one of the most difficult things to teach the participants was how to change clothes, especially individual pieces of clothing. We found that it was taking too much time and the women were becoming too upset over not being able to get their clothing to look right or ending up with no clothing on at all.

So we decided to try making complete avatars for them with the change of clothing. Now all they have to do is click on the clothing folder they want to wear and replace their current outfit. It has proven to be very successful and the women are excited to be able to change clothes quickly.

When they register for the program, BMC staff create an avatar account for them. Then I log in as each avatar and transfer all the clothing folders they will need for the course. This way their inventory is complete and ready to go from the first session.

Q- Ruby, you built the research site on Independence island for BMC. There's a lot for participants to do there. But each week, instead of going on a field trip as was in the initial plans, the women get to do a special activity that you set up. Please tell about a few of those.

RV- The BMC staff has asked that instead of taking the women on field trips, we bring the activities to them at the WIC Center. They let me know what activity they want to do each week and I set it up for them. One week they will swim, so I put up a big swimming pool with animated float rings and we provide swimsuits for them too.

Another week they ride bicycles around the sim, so I provide the bikes and a cute exercise outfit for them to wear. Towards the end of the sessions, they have a fashion show. I set up a catwalk and provide them with evening gowns. That's always a big hit with the women!

Q- The women participants are all coming into SL from their homes. This leads to the inevitable problems.

RV- Yes, the participants are provided a laptop to use by BMC for this project. They are each in their own home when attending their sessions at SL.

One big problem is that most are not familiar with using a headset or talking over voice. So they forget to turn off their microphones when they are not speaking. Many of them have small children or are babysitting children, who can be quite noisy in the background. They also frequently have TV's on loudly. So we are constantly having to remind them to turn off their microphones. Of course, that leads to another problem of them forgetting to turn their mics back on when they do want to speak. But after a few weeks, most do get the hang of it.

Q- I want to know what preparation you think the women participants should have before they are expected to be part of the first SL session

RV- The participants need to receive several trainings in how SL works, what buttons they need to know on the viewer, how to walk, sit and stand. Most of them have no prior computer experience, so that makes it even more difficult to learn how to do things in SL.

If the participants have training before their sessions begin, then we don't have to cut into their educational time with trying to talk them through how to sit.

Boston Medical Center's drive-in theater in Second Life where lessons are shown on screen
Watching a lesson at the movies
Q- You've been a builder in SL for a long time, so I know one thing you enjoy is creating these venues and materials.

RV- Yes, it is fun and I like the challenge too. I'm always happy to be able to provide the items the BMC staff need for this project.

I also have to be able to make on-the-spot changes to the build. For example, the women were having difficulty getting the front door to open, so I had to quickly remove the door. Or they would get stuck in a fence or wall, so I would temporarily make it phantom so they could walk through it.

Q- I hope it's not giving away your personal health information to say that you don't have diabetes. I'm interested what you've learned about managing diabetes from your work with this project.

RV- No, I don't have diabetes. Actually, I have the opposite - low blood sugar. But my husband does have diabetes, so all the information I've learned from this project, I can put to good use.

Q- What is your favorite memory of this project?

RV- Seeing how much fun the women have when they do the fashion show. They are so amazed when they see themselves wearing an evening gown. They giggle like school girls going to the prom. When they walk down the runway to model their dress, they are laughing with each other. They really get a kick out of it.

Q- Anything else you'd like to say about being able to assist with research in SL?

RV- I always enjoy assisting with research projects in SL. It's nice to be able to help others and it's also a learning experience for me.

Q- Would you encourage other researchers to use SL as the site for their research?

RV- Oh yes! SL is a great place to do research. Participants are more apt to feel like they can speak freely when they are not having to face someone in real life. There are so many activities that you can do in SL that would be impossible for every participant to do in real life. It makes learning more fun for people.

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