photo of Kathleen Cool and her avatar

New Girl on the Blog

photo of Kathleen Cool and her avatar

Ok, so Vaneeesa and I started talking about my dissertation and failed blog a few weeks ago and long story short, she invited me to her blog. You may ask – who is this girl?! Truth be told, I’m just another graduate student trying to change the world with her research lol. For those of you who have not yet been harassed by my avatar in SL, I am conducting research for my Ph.D. dissertation on how we experience informal learning in SL museums and galleries. In simple words, what do we take away from seeing, hearing, and experiencing “art” in a virtual world through our avis? I put “art” in quotation marks because the definition of art in this respect is very broad and at the same time my research begs the question – what fundamentally is art in SL and what can RL learn from it?

Obviously, as an overachieving graduate student wanting to change the world, my quest does not end there. I want (of course) my research to be different than all the other research in and on SL. I want this to be YOUR research as well, hence the idea (thanks, Vaneeesa :)) to put it all out there on a public forum.

Nothing about this concept is new. Qualitative researchers have been doing this kind of research since the 1970s. In fact, before even thinking of having this level of transparency in my research process, I wrote the following as part of my abstract:

“…It is only by studying these experiences in context and situated within virtual spaces that we can expand our understanding of the avatar-mediated informal learning process. Ultimately, it is not enough to recount how we, as academicians, interpret virtual world learning; we need to make the voices of SL residents heard in academia.”

And here I was talking about the same thing last year on my failed blog:

“June 24, 2011 – A few weeks ago, I started conducting interviews with several artists, writers, and museum visitors in-world and so far, have obtained fantastic feedback! I am thrilled to possibly play a small role in changing how SL is viewed in academia. I have to say that I continue to be amazed at the talent, creativity, openness, and friendliness of this community. As I have said before, I want this research project to be about you – every hour spent in SL reinforces my belief that your voices must and will be heard in academia. While perceptions are slowly changing and SL (and virtual worlds in general) is becoming more than “simply a game” for the academic community, this stigma is still, unfortunately, very prominent in museological discourse.  While we cannot force stakeholders to change their mind overnight, I believe that education can and does have an impact on acceptance of technological and media advancements.”

I’m honestly not sure how this is going to work out or exactly what will unfold. I guess that is part of the excitement, to be a pioneer of sorts. In any case, if you are interested in participating in my study, please feel free to email me or drop me an IM is SL. My name in SL is Kathleen Koolhoven and my avi looks pretty much like me in RL.


Since I just chopped off all my hair for the summer, I’ll have to update my profile picture and avi. I’m looking more like Jean Seberg these days, or at least trying to! Isn’t she fabulous?!?!?



I hope you’ll find some enjoyment in following my musings and data collection woes on this blog. And I promise no academic jargon :).


Author: Kathleen Cool
I am a graduate student studying how people experience informal education, particularly art, in virtual worlds such as Second Life. My background is in both Art History and Computer Science. Please feel free to email me or IM me in SL (Kathleen Koolhoven) if you have any questions regarding my current research or want to participate in my study.

8 thoughts on “New Girl on the Blog

  1. Welcome to iRez Kathleen! We’re really honored to have you sharing your work, ideas, and process here!

    You expressed the idea that a blog today is kind of like the salons of yore and I really love that analogy.

    On the one extreme we have you off in the research lab, doing lots of great, technical work, on the other extreme we have “The New Town Square,” places like Facebook, Pinterest, etc, where lots and lots of eyeballs are, but the content needs to be pretty fast and pretty lite. And perhaps the blog / salon is the middle way where an interested public can explore ideas and meaning.

    Whether or not it’s fair or relevant to call Arianna Huffington the Gertrude Stein of the 21st century, I don’t know, but I do know that a little over a year ago The Huffington Post passed the New York Times online in unique monthly visitors.

    Here at iRez we don’t aspire to quite that level of success, but like HuffPo or “” we do hope to exchange ideas about the culture of our time.


    It’s an inspired idea to be working on your thesis and interacting with us here at the same time.

    I really like what you wrote a year and 2 days ago about both the progress and resistance to new media like virtual worlds by traditional cultural institutions like art museums.

    Of course the story of photography comes to mind. In the early days, striving for acceptance by an art establishment that largely rejected it, many photographers strove to produce “painterly effects” in their work, perhaps in a futile attempt to “prove” that photography was art.

    Yet photography really exploded when peeps like Edward Weston & Ansel Adams formed Group f64 and, so to speak, said of all those painterly effects,

    F-that! We don’t want photography to be painting! We want photography to be photography!

    There is no one way for photography or any rich medium to be, still, when they dove deep into the formal power of the medium their results redefined visual culture.

    As you’ve said elsewhere, probably the best trajectory is both to work for greater understanding on the parts of traditional cultural institutions, and also to create new institutions in this century and of this time.

    About your research!

    How can we help?

    Is there any sort of information or discussion you’d like to have here?

    Are you mostly interested in 1-on-1 interview / conversations with peeps? Should they drop a comment here to be in touch?

    Let us know how we can help!

    And thanks so much for joining us and sharing your ideas!

  2. I love that you’re a Computer Scientist and Art Historian – that’s such a compelling intersection in our time. Some claim that art has always powerfully intersected with technology: the quest for lapis lazuli, etc… but certainly in the contemporary moment there is such and intense and powerful symbiosis.

    As if CS & AH weren’t enough, your approach seems very Digital Ethnography. Are you connected to the many Anthropology PhD candidates doing research in SL?

    The “Digital Cultures” group has 479 members! You’re probably already in it, but if not, I guess you’d be #480! 🙂

    I believe that’s the group that meets every other Monday at noon SLT for an hour conversation.It was founded by Tom Bukowski / Tom Boellstorff, author of Coming of Age in Second Life

    There are many cool members there, for example

    Bathsheba Vizenor
    I am an Anthropology PhD student at SUNY-Buffalo.My RL Name is Katie Vizenor. I am conducting my dissertation research in Second Life.
    I am working with VAI and other special interest communities, particularly disability communities.

    I’ve only had a chance to make it to one of their meetings so far, but that one talked a lot about Participant-Observer methodology & ethics. Really interesting ideas from smart peeps. haha – I have to get back there soon! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the big welcome you guys! I wasn’t expecting this! I really like the idea of using this blog as not only a repository of research data, but actually use it to spark conversations/debates/dialogs, etc. As you read in my proposal, I proposed to use only one-on-one interviews mainly because that was all I though, at the time, would be feasible. I’ll have to check with my committee chair and see if this change in data collection methods needs to be reviewed and/or approved by the committee and/or the ethics board. I’m assuming that it should be fine given that my work, thus far, is only in the proposal stages – aka changes ARE expected to happen. I just would rather be safe than sorry. Of course, even if I do not expect this dissertation to be seen by millions of people, I will never quote any parts of what you say on this blog without your expressed permission and will change your name to a randomly selected pseudonym to protect your privacy. There goes my ethics spiel!
      Speaking of which, thanks for the heads up regarding the Digital Cultures group in SL. Even though I am a huge fan of Boellstorff’s work (I’m sure you noticed that I cited his work numerous times in my dissertation), I have not yet checked them out. I’ll definitely be doing that next Monday :). Guess I really am going to be group member number 480, unless someone beats me to it!

      1. You know, I don’t think I’ve seen a message from Digital Cultures lately… I wonder if they’re taking the summer off or something?

        I’ll try to find out…

        If all else fails we could just start our own little Noon-1 Monday conversation hour while we wait for them.

        I wonder if I have the LM for that nice Lounge / Study they meet at…

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