People of purpose

Aside from part-time jobs in a games shop and an apple orchard, I’ve always worked in public and community sectors – so in terms of business savvy, I’m what you might call a babe-in-the-woods. In fact, I have a fairly strong aversion to capitalism because by definition it promotes exploitation (of the earth’s resources and people) and injustice.

However… it’s the system we have, and I am in it, so if I want to make a positive contribution to the world I can’t just hang round on the edges. I must endeavour to use the system against itself. Yeah, it would have been better to have recognised that decades ago.

Ever since I adopted a mission to empower people to sense the connection, I’ve struggled with the business side of the venture – logistically but also… philosophically. (Total woods-babe, see?) So when I heard about the inaugural Purpose do, I was keen to go to see if I couldn’t imbibe a business brain – and philosophical appeasement, to boot – from a crowd of care-ful capitalists.

Seven young women on a stage before a crowd of people. The screen says 'Purpose / #purpose2015' and the staging includes mountains, waves and clouds.

The Purpose crew – the army of volunteers being offstage at this time

And it was good! I have a pathologically low stamina for large-scale events but I felt fine almost all the way through this one. (It wasn’t until I was about to leave the after-party that I lost the power of coherent speech.) I’m not sure what made this conference so easy for me to appreciate. It may have been Wildwon‘s superb, detailed planning (beyond the great program):

  • actually beautiful nametags
  • charming and always accessible volunteer staff
  • music to accompany each new speaker’s approach to the stage
  • perpetual coffee (thanks to this right-on bank) in a reusable gift cup-to-keep)
  • frog and bird calls in the bathrooms

Swag I actually wanted

Or it may have been Matt Wicking‘s creative audience manipulation:

  • a crowdsourced aural rainstorm
  • metaphorical status updates
  • a two-minute dance party

Or perhaps it was the fact that everyone there was present in part because they care about being a decent human.

As well as enjoying the experience it was a great conference for me in terms of affirming and (the best part) challenging my sense of how the world works. Here are eight lessons I shared over Twitter:

  1. Procurement contracts are a great untapped tool for social change.
  2. Crowdfunding works best where the impact of the work is direct, and its success depends on manyMANY hours of effort.
  3. People don’t want to be weighed down with reason.” They want to *feel good*.
  4. Be 100% yourself.” I think it was the sage who said that.
  5. A bonsai cutting will survive in open ground; but if you replant the whole tree it will die.
  6. In the forced stillness of prison, people learn to perceive anew – to innovate. Take that, .
  7. A gem from : radical trust yields a return that is exponential.
  8. Incentives *contaminate* intrinsic motivations.”

Yep, the speakers were consistently excellent as well. In short, the Purpose do was a beautiful and engrossing cradle for me to grow a little bit, both personally and professionally.

Augmented reality for teaching and learning

I brought home a few thought-thread treasures from today’s ARcamp on augmented reality and education. So, I’m sharing. But first, a photo of the AR frenzy that marked the beginning of the event.

Group of people with phones and tablets poised to access AR content from printed images

Each image on the wall has a micro video story attached to it

1. Magic / technology
From the ever-compelling Rob Manson, I learned that this idea can be attributed to Arthur C. Clarke, and is in fact known as his third law:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

2. Unconventional unease
In various discussions with campers, it became clear that one of the things currently hampering the creation of and access to augmented reality media is that as yet we lack a lexicon and conventions for user interfaces. Channels, auras, triggers, markers – the words are intelligible but what they mean in this context is far less so. And the interfaces… let’s just say that they demand much persistence and forgiveness on the part of the user.

3. How can AR be dialogic?
One recurring theme throughout the whole-group discussion was the idea that the greatest challenge for educators is figuring out how to make AR media that is not monologic or reductive but which is open-ended, dialogic, generative. Yes!

I got to thinking about this challenge in terms of a continuum from broadcast to generative media – and then put that idea with the real–virtual continuum (also shared by Rob) and came up with this map-thing:

map of augmented reality media on a twelve-part grid

A map of media with ideas about what’s in each sector

It deploys the two continua (what a great word that is!) as perpendicular axes to form a twelve-part grid. In each of the spaces they create, I’ve put some initial ideas about what happens there. They are subject to evolution. Ideas welcome 🙂

Augmented reality is the two horizontal strips in the middle. Currently, most AR media would fit in the two central sectors. To the right of that are where good educators want their teaching materials to be.

4. Things we could do!
In discussion with Stephen Barrass, two cracker ideas for AR projects at or with the Museum emerged. The first one is even generative.

  • sound augmentation to pages of Oscar’s sketchbook. We have some replicas of the sketchbook for using in programs for visiting students, and they are wonderful. Stephen’s sound design students could create some creative responses in association with the Ngunnawal Centre. Given that Queensland state government bought a few copies of the replica as well – for their work with young Indigenous students – this idea holds much collaborative promise.
  • an AR trail of the highest-rated resemblances created as part of the Museum’s iPad game, Sembl. In the game, players take photographs of objects on display in order to create a resemblance to another object (or objects) already on the gameboard. It would be simple to create a trail to display the game-generated resemblance to visitors as they approached one of the resembled objects. It would be an interesting way to browse the Museum and / or to kickstart some Sembl thinking.

Thanks so much to the INSPIRE gang for hosting the event and may the morrow be productive and fun.

Create[d] World

A few thoughts from the recent Create World conference of clever, creative people.

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Panel on place and creativity – how does digital alter the way we think?

Architect Richard Kirk made the point that perspective drawing as a tool is only a few hundred years old, so we are yet to reap the full benefits of new additions to our creative lexicon, such as virtual worlds. Performance designer Anna Tregloan commented that some people can quite naturally translate a 2D image to imagine it in 3D space, but for others that will always be more difficult, so the theatre tradition of building a little model of the set may endure. Continuing the theme of how we translate human experiences into digital form, and whether we can learn to think in a hybrid way between digital and physical, creative innovator (?!) Hael Kobayashi described the process of making penguins dance for Happy Feet. Humans danced in a warehouse, each one wired for motion capture. A set of screens displayed the merger of their movements with the digital penguins, so the director and key creatives could see, in real-time, penguins dancing on an iceberg.

Keynotes on photography, animation and the active audience

Tom Ang‘s keynote was an entertaining blend of a romp through the history of photography, some behind-the-lens information about particular shots, and some philosophical observations about value and power in photography’s new world:

  • Photoshop has programmed us!
  • Boundaries of what is shareable have shifted.
  • The concept of the ‘still image’ is now a misnomer: they fade, zoom, slide – and fast. And the more abundant they become, the less we attend to each.
  • Because images are so abundant, there are no longer iconic images of world events. (I’m not convinced of this point. The process by which images become iconic has changed, but I reckon crowd wisdom will choose images over time. Note, for example, the twitter #ows discussion of iconic imagery, and the meme of the cop casually pepper-spraying seated protesters.)

Ian Taylor’s story of the success of Animation Research Ltd – and his team’s down-home methods – was awe-inspiring. But my strongest takeaway from his talk was the importance of taking your time to learn – ergo the immense value of free education. Which we no longer have.

As a longtime advocate for participatory approaches to cultural representations, I was very interested in Ernest Edmonds‘ talk on art and the active audience. My favourite parts:

  • Some early research found that babies less than one week old can learn – by controlling the turn of their head on the pillow – to switch a light on and off, and that once mastered, they become bored with it.
  • Our vocabulary for interaction is developing. For example, there are many different kinds of play: danger, competition, camaraderie, subversion, fantasy, sensation, captivation, difficulty, simulation. And so on!
  • Don’t assume that more is better. Performance and communication might be better with lower bandwidth. This is an intriguing point, and I wanted more from him on this. I wonder if he means, for example, that in some cases audio works better than video,   because it gets inside your head but doesn’t restrict your visual attention. Or that pixelated imagery like in Minecraft, works in part because it’s low-res, so the player can more actively/imaginatively inhabit the scene and the characters. In short, I suspect this point relates to the value of leaving space within a representation, for the audience to fill from their personal creative sources.

An audiovisual meditation on gold

Not your average academic conference, Create World includes a range of clever, creative performances. Of the four, this was my favourite – it’s an audiovisual meditation on the mineral gold, and it made my heart hum. (I recommend: go full-screen and use headphones or big speakers.)

The Solar Angel from abre ojos on Vimeo.

Other prezos

The quality of stream-session presentations was consistently good. I attended those on:

  • a multi-disciplinary creative technologies degree (Judit Klein, Auckland Uni of Technology)
  • iPads for music-making (Jamie Gabriel, Macquarie Uni)
  • an iPad app for assessing teachers of music, art and drama (Julia Wren & Alistair Campbell, Edith Cowan Uni)
  • EEG-mapping of artistic consumption and as artistic work (Jason Zagami, Griffith Uni)
  • a weather-data-generated sonic sculpture in Sydney (Kirsty Beilharz, Uni of Technology, Sydney)
  • kinaesthetic potential of educational gaming (Helen Farley & Adrian Stagg, Uni of Southern Queensland)
  • serious games (Tim Marsh, James Cook Uni)
  • digital research methods, including Wikipedia article-writing (Kerry Kilner, Uni of Queensland)
  • Playtime, an animated movie (Thomas Verbeek, Uni of Otago)
  • Ishq, an audiovisual work commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of its exhibition on Islamic art (Kim Cunio and Louise Harvey, Griffith Uni)

I presented – and have shared on the Museum’s Education blog – Gamifying relatedness: an iPad app-in-progress. Hearty thanks to Paris for his guest appearance.

Dialogic learning in museum space

Ten years ago, some museums began to articulate their mission in terms of a dialogue with communities. In practice, that dialogue occurred mostly in the context of education and public programs; exhibitions tended to maintain a detached, authoritative voice.

As a significant site of informal and social learning, how can museum exhibitions also be dialogic?

poster for the exhibition 'Captive lives: Looking for Tambo and his companions'

This question was central to my PhD research, and I’m revisiting it since an article I wrote in 2001 was recently republished in Ethos, the journal of the Social Education Victoria. In it, I explore the possibility of self-reflexive museum exhibitions – approaches and techniques by which curators and designers can engage visitors in history but also in its making. Specifically, I describe a model exhibition (‘Captive lives: Looking for Tambo and his companions’), and offer suggestions for how the Australian War Memorial could engage visitors more actively in the process of making that site meaningful.

Since it is now much more common for museums to deploy technologies for co-creation, or indeed, to use high- or low-tech means to be participatory – in the parlance popularised by Nina Simon, I am surprised that this article remains so relevant. Is it that exhibition curators and designers – those at the heart of museum representational practice – yet resist the dialogic tum?

If you fancy a slightly longer-than-bloggable read, here’s the a scan of the printed article (PDF 2mb).

Stone head at the Australian War Memorial

Stone head at the Australian War Memorial

Sembl praxis: identify sameness, explore difference

As part of his ‘Mining the museum’ installation at Maryland Historical Society in 1992–93, artist Fred Wilson placed a set of shackles in a display case with fine silverware and titled it Metalwork. Pow. United by the metal of their fabrication, the racially-divided, hierarchical histories of these objects dramatically distances them:

Who served the silver? And who could have made the silver objects in apprenticeship situations? And […] whose labour could produce the wealth that produced the silver?

A general principle can be distilled from this. Perhaps: In the very moment we identify a similarity between two objects, we recognise their difference. In other words, the process of drawing two things together creates an equal opposite force that draws attention to their natural distance. So the act of seeking resemblance – consistency, or patterns – simultaneously renders visible the inconsistencies, the structures and textures of our social world. And the greater the conceptual distance between the two likened objects, the more interesting the likening – and the greater the understanding to be found.

This simultaneous pulling together and springing apart of the sociophysical world interests me, and I’ve been thinking about it in relation to Sembl, where the challenge of the game is to identify a way in which a given object is related – surprisingly or humorously or otherwise interestingly – to another object.

What constitutes ‘interesting’ is of course difficult to define and depends to a large degree on the particular players playing. But if the natural conceptual distance between the two related objects is great, the relationship is more likely to be interesting – perhaps because it enables you to think about something in a new way. That’s what made Wilson’s juxtaposition of shackles with silver tableware interesting, and powerful.

Composite image of a branding iron and a breastplate given to an Aboriginal man

In the same vein, the Sembl players who linked the above branding iron to the breastplate – because both are tools for labeling bodies – cast new light on the colonial practice of giving metal breastplates to Aboriginal people.

My (big!) point here is: Hipbone games and Sembl alike can create a safe space for people to explore differences. When identified, similarities form bridges across and clarify difference. Attending to relatedness in this way inspires understanding; and opens a channel toward reconciliation.

A grand design for active digital learning

This week I wangled a visit to the digital learning facility work-in-progress that is UC‘s InSPIRE centre, directed by Prof Rob Fitzgerald and site-managed by Jonno – thanks for the tour, people.

InSPIRE will be “a focus for research into innovative good practice pedagogy that utilises ICT to enhance student learning outcomes”. So it’s a technology-enhanced space for teaching and learning about technology-enhanced teaching and learning. Deliciously meta! And if, like me, you wonder about the little ‘n’ in amongst all those caps, ‘InSPIRE’ stands for Innovative Sustainable Practical Imaginative Research Education.

Below are images I snapped; see the InSPIRE site gallery for building plans.

It is exciting to preview this embodiment of technology-enhanced active learning; and I like the approach Rob is taking: set it up then see how it’s used; like building the footpaths once you can see how the space is used. That means you build in flexibility – roll-out lecterns, lots of AV points in the floor, digital switching to project one room’s proceedings into another.

InSPIRE has all you need to create and share media (down to kitchenettes :), and it includes some great lo-tech: writeable walls, and a good-quality audio podcast room — with video capability, yes, but – isn’t podcast mobility great?

It has an industrial, resource-conscious aesthetic: projecting onto walls rather than screens, exposed ducts, recycled hardwood timbers, underground 25kl rainwater tank.

And it embodies a DIY ethic: BYO mobile or laptop and data: input plates for USB to project your data or to record proceedings; mobile interactive.

I can’t wait to see it in action. It’d be a wondrous venue for THATCamp Canberra, or any other smallish conference.

Maybe Rob will chime in if I have munged any details. (If he doesn’t comment, let’s just assume it’s all just so 🙂

Gaming learning

The idea that students should write their own textbook is radical in the context of an authoritarian tradition of school teaching and learning. But once we accept that learning can be fun and involve play – and therefore that game-play can be educational – it is only a short step to understanding game design as meta-pedagogy. To play a game is to learn its mechanics and dynamics, and maybe to master it as a user. To create a game is to learn it from the ground up, and the inside out, which is far more challenging and – in direct proportion – rewarding.

Barefoot girl sitting on a box playing a cigar box banjo

May Newman playing a cigar box banjo she made, c1920 – image from the State Library and Archives of Florida

Playing a cigar box banjo sounds fun, and could be a fantastic learning opportunity; but how much more fun (and pedagogical) would it be to play one that you had made yourself?

So in a logical – though refreshing! – progression, there is now a game about game design; and indeed, a school experimenting with integrating game design into the whole curriculum.