Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Today was spent as a representative of my second home, place of work and creative learning environment :HUMlab at a presentation day at university entitled UCIT Thesis Day. It was 3 hours of presentations of ideas for students to elect to do thesis work in a number of creative and interdisciplinary digital environments around the huge campus of Umea university. Myself and a colleague presented HUMlab as a meeting place of disciplines and "an open plan learning environment which is more like an interdisciplinary studio than a traditional classroom". We received a good response from a small group of students but when they came to speak to us afterwards they were most concerned about retaining their main area of study within the much discussed 'interdisciplinary' environment.
I am continuing on with my course of pedagogic theory and this combined with my experiences today brought about thoughts of factory-like specialization as a growing central feature of mass education in this modern white western world. In reflection I have always found multi-skilling to have been a life-saver on countless occasions (travel as a penniless pilgrim being the main one). Against this trend is that 'context' is increasingly becoming a key feature of critical analysis in many academic and non-academic fields (see danah on relationships). Context of knowledge should be also recognized as such, this can draw one out from a relatively defined field, for example 'Information Technology', into related subjects such as 'History of Ideas' or even 'Semantics'- the list goes on.
Here is a shot of me at play in HUMlab :)





Monday, March 29, 2004

Like most blogs this one is a work in progress. In the last few weeks I’ve had time to pay attention to the surprisingly interesting application of HTML....hence the new set up here. There is more work needed but I'm beginning to really enjoy this blog (which had its first year anniversary on Feb 19th 2004).

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Over the weekend I have been reading a study of the French writer, medium and performer (usually described as a Surrealist) Robert Desnos (1900-1945) and it is a fascinating book (Robert Desnos, Surrealism and the Marvelous in Everyday Life by Katherine Conley).
Desnos wrote in 1931:

"I am wary of words. So often they do not resonate properly, of the way they should. They can seem excessive and, as a consequence mean. They can be insufficient when they should be tender. I hold you too high in my esteem to be content with a vocabulary that has proven itself and yet which I find unworthy of our feelings for one another. How I would like to invent a special language, clear, precise, absolute in order to tell you even the smallest things." (p61).

Language constructed as gesture, image and multi-layered text was crystallized in its modern form with the thinking and actions of Desnos and the best (in my opinion) of his contempories (particularly Duchamp, Artaud, Tzara, Schwitters, and even Breton).


Robert Desnos Asleep (when he did his best work......)

"Desnos's ability to perform such a private activity as dreaming in front of a group demonstrates how capable he was of occupying the oscillating space in between his private and public selves. It is no wonder he became a masterful radio broadcaster" (Conely p23).
In regard to immersion, is there anything more immersive than sleep (death??)?

Friday, March 26, 2004

The richest art prize in Australia has just been announced; The Archibald Prize is a prize for portraiture and this year it has been won by Craig Ruddy for his portrait of Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout, Storm Boy, Rabbit Proof Fence, The Tracker). It is a striking piece and is done with charcoal on wallpaper, the same "English colonial wallpaper" that adorns the dining room of the Australian Prime minister’s mansion, overlooking the Sydney harbour at Kirribilli.
When not acting Gulpilil lives in the bush in northern Australia in a traditional tribal way on his ancestral lands:




Nice one Bald Archie.......

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Another day, another seminar...this one was a killer.
Today it was Professor Doug Marschalek from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) Art Department on Designing Environments for Learning, and it really struck a chord with me. For about a year now I’ve been wondering what the hell is so damn effective about lining up some desks in an otherwise empty room and then having some authority figure cast knowledge out to these isolated individuals; but that is what the spatial arrangements of the traditional classroom result in.....why?
I was blown further away by the opening statistic from Prof. Marschalek: on average in the USA today $20 000 is spent on each member of the prison population (roughly around 2.2 million people) and this compares (you may want to sit down for this) $4000 (that’s four thousand) for each child in education!!!! clearly there is something wrong here.
So it comes back to ingenuity and imagination: learning objects, integrated environments, "surfaces that invite learning" such as narrative murals, historical textures, variation in materials that are iconic in signification (i.e. have some story behind them), interactive signage, cutaways in structure and tools, 3D installations, utilizing all levels of space (including the ceiling), evolving projects and presentations, bricolage in room design, and the list goes on (I have a lot more info if anyone wants more: mail me).
The idea of abandonment of linear display in education and heavy reliance on constructivist principles ran throughout Prof. Marschalek's presentation and in his words "the students see the environment changing and they are in control". This sense of control results in participation and effort on the part of the students.
One final quote that struck me concerned the debate about tested learning. How effective it actually is could be a lengthy blog entry in itself but then again "We don't test art." sums it up.....intuitive knowledge is long term knowledge and in the world today education is not just about knowing...its about surviving.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Today I attended a seminar entitled Haptics: Adding Simulated Touch to Immersive Environments at the Interactive Institute here in Umea. A man by the name of Marcus Haggqvist gave a good run down on the situation in regard to "the science of simulating and applying the sense of touch in computer simulated environments"......from the Greek haptesthai "to touch".
It was very interesting stuff, and Marcus being a software engineer he tended to concentrate on the status of software and hardware today and the applications of them. On a practical sense this sort of technology is used everywhere (at the moment typing this I am utilizing a system of 'Indirect Haptic Feedback' in regard to the keyboard and the screen in front of me)....the more sense subversive aspect of Haptic technology is 'Active Direct Haptic Feedback' whereby the experience of direct interaction with a virtual object is so 'real' as to appear to our sense dependant organism as so. This is where things get interesting.
When I arrived at the seminar I kept thinking about Aldous Huxley's "Feelies" from Brave New World, the banal practice of the soma inebriated masses, which provides out of context sensory experiences to what are essentially movies with extra dimensions; not exactly immersive environments but rather semi-immersive experiences. Janet Murray in her book Hamlet on the Holodeck (1997) takes up this comparison in some detail. I abandoned my memories of Huxley's powerful nightmare text quickly when I saw at what clumsy stage active direct haptic feedback is at the moment. A piece of equipment called Cyberforce sells for $US100 000 at the moment and seems to be able to provide a convincing degree of feedback with lifting and moving objects, but we are a long way from losing ourselves in the virtual real...although I believe it will arrive one day.
One of the many thoughts that were provoked by this interesting seminar was the idea that we are continuing to maintain many of the subject/object relations that seem to have come down to us from the Renaissance. Even in an immersive virtual environment we continue to maintain the body as an independent signifier of self, attempting to wrap (so to speak) the scene around the body that interacts with it, rather than, for example, have the centre of consciousness radiating from numerous points in the space, each disembodied but attached to the body of the individual negotiating the space.
This reminds me of an experience I had a few days ago when I was trying to take a screen shot of the world feature below.....I found that there was only one really good angle and I had gone and constructed a 3D painting rather a 3D world, in terms of visual meshing of images. It was at this moment I transcended the screen...it really is a space and I have to build like it is, rather than looking through the window, I have to crawl through the screen and inhabit the space, look around and understand the x, y, and z axes in all their strange glory.
Booked tickets today: will be dining with Don Bosco in Little India in Singapore on the 9 May and then travel to Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia (The Mother Country) a few days later.......should be reel deadly bro.....

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Increasingly I am using this blog as a place to centralize my cyber presence and display content from various projects and activities that I have undertaken about the web and in the life on this side of the screen. On this occasion I have an image from a world I have created for a national network of language teachers in Sweden who use technology in teaching. There will be a public version of this world online soon but here is the main floor of the largest inworld structure:


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

This is a paper I've just written about community education and the future:

Collaborative Virtual Environments:
Potential and Actual Democratic Learning Tools.



“To have an idea of a thing is thus not just to get certain sensations from it. It is to be able to respond to the thing in view of its place in an inclusive scheme of action: it is to foresee the drift and probable consequences of the action of the thing upon us and of our action upon it.”
John Dewey Democracy and Education (1916)


Online interactive virtual environments provide a space for education and a resource environment for cooperative accessible learning which is consistent with concepts of democratic constructivist learning.

Since the beginning of 2003 I have been involve with technology as computers and education in a number of contexts. Primarily as a student but as the last 12 months have progressed I began working with what could be termed research and experimentation with modes of technology as means for delivering, depicting and exchanging information. One mode of presentation and delivery of information with technology I have employed has been in three dimensional collaborative virtual environments (CVE’s):

A CVE is a computer-based, distributed, virtual space or set of places. In such places, people can meet and interact with others, with agents or with virtual objects. CVEs might vary in their representational richness from 3D graphical spaces, 2.5D and 2D environments, to text-based environments. Access to CVEs is by no means limited to desktop devices, but might well include mobile or wearable devices, public kiosks, etc. (Churchill, E. F. et. al. 2002: 1)

These can be termed ‘Avatar Worlds’, after the embodied virtual forms used to create a physical presence in the environment by the user. In this paper I wish to briefly examine some of the issues raised by these as potential and actual learning tools in relations to some of the theories and ideas of Dewey, Friere, Mutch, Carr and Hartnett.



A Picture of an Inworld meeting in progress

Technology is often viewed as a product of efficient capitalist societies. I would argue that global and national access to technology is governed by similar structures to the political agendas and powerful interests which attempt and often succeed to direct and control educational access, content, theory and curriculum as described by the above mentioned theorists and education providers. Unequal distribution of technological resources exists in even the richest nations (Dodge & Kitchen 2001) and it usually does so alongside unequal access to education. The cost of production of mass market technology, such as personal computers is not reflected in direct terms by the price of the unit at point of sale. The relatively short life span of newly purchased computers in the Group of 8 nations due to perceived redundancy (2-4 years) created by market hegemony results in a waste of resources and the maintained unequal distribution of technology on the global scale. The figures for the United States alone in regard to this are staggering:

"In 1998, of the 20 million computers taken out of service, only 2.3 million, which is slightly more than 10%, were recycled. Between 2000 and 2007, as many as 500 million personal computers will become obsolete."
(U.S. Environment Protection Agency)

This waste of technological resources is a waste of educational resources and a denial of the interrelated structure of a globalizing economic system and the associated educational responsibilities carried by so-called developed nations. In a deliciously ironic situation it is education which could assist in the more democratic and equal allocation of these resources. I believe just as access to democratic forms of technology is determined by distribution of resources, access to education is determined by distribution of resources, usually along such identifiable demographics as geographic location, gender, socio-economic and ethno-cultural classifications. Control systems established around the development and distribution of technology are also restrictions on the access those not represented in the making of those laws have to the technology (e.g. patent, copyright, intellectual property). How market hegemony dictates the structure and development of global technology is in a sense how we develop a material form of a “socialized extension of intelligence”:

"The indictments that are drawn against the intelligence of individuals are in truth indictments of a social order that does not permit the average individual to have access to the rich store of accumulated wealth of mankind in knowledge, ideas and purpose….It is useless to about the future of democracy until the source of its failure has been grasped and steps taken to bring about the type of social organization that will encourage the socialized extension of intelligence.” (Dewey quoted in Carr and Hartnett 1996: 56)

As an example from my own indirect experience the development and implementation of culturally appropriate institutional education to resident females in isolated rural Aboriginal communities in Australia has been extremely problematic. This is an area of solution that I am extremely interested in and one I believe access to technology as constructivist educational tool is relevant.

As a tool for production of media the computer is bound up in the same dialogue structures which Friere speaks of when he describes the necessity for the naming of the world to be a possibility for all. A computer is a formulation, composition and broadcast device where learnt skills in its use are the expertise in crafting a dialogue be it visual, written, or as film or multimedia:

Dialogue is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world. Hence dialogue cannot occur between those who want to name the world and those who do not wish this naming- between those who deny others the right to speak their word and those whose right to speak has been denied them. (Freire 1996: 69)

In February 2003 I had begun working in HUMlab, a humanist computer laboratory at Umeå University on the Virtual Weddings Project as part of my C level essay for English Literature. This was an online project where a 3D world was built in a program called ActiveWorlds in conjunction with a series of online essays (Literature, Culture, and Linguistics) and each reflected the content and thematics of the others. In this project it was understood that:

"Cultural Studies serves as a natural link between Linguistics and Literature. The virtual environment serves as a facilitator and as a creative arena where students build things together - thus engaging in both concrete and abstract virtual construction."
From the website at http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/Default.htm



A Detail of my construction inworld

In March 2003 I attended a seminar at HUMlab by the visiting American scholar technician and educationalist Bonnie DeVarco entitled Education Innovation. DeVarco is concerned with the implementation of educational resources to, among others, marginalized minorities in the south western United States and this is done through computer based open source technology. In her written works she describes the advantages of working with CVEs as being cheap, adaptable, flexible, student driven, cooperative, international, creative, and:

"Through new technologies for information visualization, collaboration and ubiquitous computing, education technology has opened the doors to international and multicultural collaboration and sharing of resources….In the recent ThinkQuestLIVE 2002 conference that brought students and educators from dozens of countries together to explore the future of learning, one of the key issues expressed by participants was the need for a community-based learning environment for global education and communication."
Bonnie DeVarco at http://members.cruzio.com/~devarco/edu1_devarco.html

During the last year I have been directly involved in three formats of CVE: ActiveWorlds, Adobe Atmosphere, and Online Traveler. As a participant in each of these worlds it is free to download and visit the virtual spaces where one can ‘meet’ others, chat (Traveler is a live voice chat), view media (video, still images, sound), read material, negotiate 3D structures (an example being the paintings of van Gough in Atmosphere) or participate in virtual classrooms or conference sessions. All can be run on telephone modem technology with ActiveWorlds and Traveler both being more than ten years old. Although the property of server and the role of manufacturer as source are asserted with each of these platforms they are all open access in the sense that communication or dialogue and visual space is free. For ActiveWorlds a small monthly charge (approx $US12) during the building period is required if one wishes to ‘found’ a world and build interactive structures in it. After the building time period is over the content of the world is maintained by ActiveWorlds and any users can visit the space. Adobe Atmosphere Builder is sold at an ‘educational’ price ($US90) to approved bodies as a network license and the user must find hosting for the online worlds themselves without further charge from Adobe. Traveler is free to download and is a 3D avatar program where sound operates in real time with facially responsive avatars. To my knowledge it is primarily being used as a language teaching and conference platform but there have been art exhibitions, musical performances and poetry readings inworld.

Obviously CVE’s are not a replacement for ‘real world’ education, but they can provide a component of that education and overcome some of the problems found in contempory educational systems. One of the great strengths of CVE’s as a constructivist learning tool is the ‘play’ factor involved. The virtual environments as constructed by the students circumvents many of the spatial power constructs found in many long term classroom designs with the teacher in a raised position at the front of the room while students are self-arranged in a hierarchy of interest, sitting in rows facing the black or white board, and as to quote a school teacher I had once: “Windows are not to be looked out of during class!”. The computer is a metaphorical window and a portal to the libraries and universities of the world. Even in economically underdeveloped countries the appeal of computer mediated environments is large. An example could be Uzbekistan, where for the year 2003 it is estimated more than 270,000 people are using the net in the region, compared to 137,000 for 2002 (BBC News). This increase in access should be seen as a part of the structure which allows for general global access to resources and thereby education. I see this situation as equitable with the dictum that: “Pedagogically it requires participation rather than instructional teaching methods in order to cultivate the skills and attitudes which democratic deliberation requires.”(Carr & Hartnett 1996: 44).

Clearly there is a long way to go in this democratic delivery of technological based educational systems to the oppressed and the unrepresented. It has begun and it will continue despite the difficulties, but as reflected by Mutch, the history has already been one of struggle:

"The first era highlights the tensions between indigenous culture and the colonizers in the nineteenth century. The second outlines the tension between the traditional conservatives and the liberal progressives for most of the twentieth century. The final era is that of tension between the new right and the liberal left from the 1980’s to the present." (C Mutch 2000:4)






Bibliography:

Carr W. and Hartnett A.: 1996, Education and the Struggle for Democracy: The Politics of Educational Ideas, Open University Press, Buckingham.

Churchill E. F. Snowden D. N. and Munro A. J. (Eds.): 2002, Collaborative Virtual Environments: Digital Places and Spaces for Interaction, Springer, London

Dewey. J.: 1916, Democracy and Education, Encyclopedia of the Self at http://authorsdirectory.com/b/dmedu10.htm

Dodge, M. and Kitchin, R.: 2001, Mapping Cyberspace, Routledge, London.

Friere P.:1993, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin London.

Örnberg T.: 2003, Why Computers? Constructivist Language Learning on the Internet, Degree Thesis, Dept. of Modern Languages, Umeå University.
At http://www.humlab.umu.se/exjobb/files/why.pdf

Related URL’s:

Bonnie DeVarco:
http://members.cruzio.com/~devarco/edu1_devarco.html
http://members.cruzio.com/~devarco/portfolio.htm
http://www.borderlink.org/

eLearning:
http://www.ilt.columbia.edu/
http://vw.indiana.edu/building-blocks/report.pdf


My Experience:


Weddings Project: http://www.eng.umu.se/vw/Default.htm


HUMlab: http://www.humlab.umu.se/



Thursday, March 11, 2004

This is a video presentaion of my Masters Thesis on January 27th 2004. It was done in cooperation with Gottfrid Linge who is the first presenter (in Swedish and speaking on his Masters paper: 'Programmed Life in Virtual Worlds') my paper was about the chronotopes of cybertexts.....sound interesting...watch:
video
Now that I have discovered the ease of scripting in pictures words suddenly don't seem to be enough...Here are some images of a installation performance I made last September (2003) in Humlab








Will Code 4 Food



I find this an ironic image. A frightening possibility in a world of the educated poor but then the humor emerges from deep within our indoctrinated faith that somehow technology is going to solve problems of resource allocation and this image is illogical and therefore humorous (surprising, non-sensical). I’m reading allot of John Dewey at the moment (Democracy and Education....although dated 1916 it rocks) and it seems that the problems don't reside necessarily in content but rather structure. What little research I've done on the structure of information flows on the internet seems to reinforce this observation. Please read Mapping Cyberspace by Martin Dodge and Robert Kitchin (Routledge 2001) as a very good explanation of some of the contexts and power structures of this so-called IT society/revolution/future.
Of course as an individual involved in this mass electronic hallucination we all love this is also a possible future scenario for me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

here is a video of me playing the Yidaki at a folk festival here in Umea last weekend.It was taken by a friend, Steph...who is a blog guru as far as Im concerned (Thanks Stephanie).

Friday, March 05, 2004

Today is my Birthday.....well it was in fact yesterday as the actual event occurred in Australia which has twelve hours time zone difference (ahead) from where I live so I read tomorrows copy of The Sydney Morning Herald today. Another strange thing about my Birthday is that I did not actually see a copy of my birth certificate until I was about 21 years old and that stated that my birthday was on the 4th March 1969....I have never asked my parents about this as I'm happy with the 5th March as a birthday (I share it with Rosa Luxemburg) and I suppose it doesn't make any difference as I remain born and roughly the same age. A friend in Australia discovered last year that she was two years younger than she always believed herself to be. When her mother, whom she rarely spoke to, told her she was born on a deserted tropical beach in the north of Australia when her mother was 16 years old. The cover-up that was devised after the birth by the mothers family resulted in the story that she was 18 years old when her first daughter was born.....hence the two year discrepancy that did not come to light until the daughter was 30 years old and then suddenly 28 years old. Time is just a matter of perspective.
happy birthday to me..it was a great day.....played music, gave away music....made a cake for my son who has claimed the 5th as his birthday (I remember it as April 14th)....spoke for a long time to my stressed sister (psychologist working in state run child protection, Forensic: the people who pick up the pieces literally and metaphorically) my dad and my mum...all sounded well and happy and it looks like i'm GOING TO OZ FOR FOUR WEEKS SOON..........YYYIIIIPPPPPEEEEE (of course i will miss family and friends here but.......well any immigrants reading will understand).see ya

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Three weeks ago a 17 year old Aboriginal boy died in inner city Sydney (absolutely not the first time this has happened). He somehow flew off the bike he was riding and was impaled on a metal fence upright. The story is he was being chased by the police when it happened. After his death there were 24 hours of riots in the area he lived in, 36 police were injured, cars burnt, and the Railway station destroyed. The suburb is called Redfern and I lived there myself for much of the 1990's. It was the beginning of a new life for me, but for many of the young Aboriginal men who live there it is a struggle everyday. It is both a ghetto and a cultural sanctuary...the problems are many but that's the way it is in White dominated Australia today...here is a little history of my time in The Fern

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

"Codifications are not slogans; they are cognizable objects, challenges towards which the critical reflection of the decoders should be directed."
Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire.

I’m spending a bit more time at home lately (not much but a bit more) during the day. There are many distractions at home (internet surfing, music and pleasure reading to name but a few) but there are fewer people to talk to than at uni (none actually) so the onus is on me to get down and do some work. I'm reading Friere for International Issues in Education and the parallels to be found with Bakhtin are many. Both philosophers use the concepts of thematics and dialogue as central in their methodology. Reality as a process not as a function and what Freire calls Cognitive and Narrative and what Bakhtin calls Centripetal and Centrifugal language forces acting on the interlocker are found in the work of both. Slowly themes are being connected toward my own methodology...a most interesting process.
Activities for this week include being a co-coordinator for a seminar "Testing Virtual Worlds" (I liked 'Living in Virtual Worlds' better) in HUMlab on Thursday. On Friday I’m playing at a Forengings Massa (Associations Conference) at Umea Folkets Hus and I’m also turning 35 years old (WWHHHHHOOOOOOOOPPPPPPPPPEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!). I’m playing again on Saturday and as I'm a sole parent for five days beginning tomorrow I may utilize the child as performer (incredible sense of rhythm the boy has but terrible attention span). Let the games begin...