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Class 10: Teamwork

April 19, 2017

There was a healthy turnout for class this week, despite the Easter break. The issues affecting voice in SL appear to have been resolved, although some participants were still having difficulty.

John explained that due to an unexpectedly busy period before Easter he had been unable to make arrangements for Sitearm Madonna to join the class this week. Site has frequently presented on teamwork, particularly in the online context. We will try to arrange a visit from him before the end of the semester. In the meantime, John presented the lecture on teamwork based on Site’s slides for Team Building Tips. If you missed the class review the slides and talk about the content with your team partners.

We had an interesting discussion based on our own experiences of team working. We compared that to the theory and put particular emphasis on the fluid nature of collaboration. The stages of team development are not necessarily linear and so teams can move between Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing and back again in almost any order. Similarly, the roles required for a successfully performing team may be taken on by different team members at times. The theory is useful to guide teams as it provides a structure but it must be seen as a useful guide rather than a rigid set of rules.

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Group project: Digital Skies

April 6, 2017

For this project you are required to create a single artwork as a member of a team – a large-scale group canvas. Each individual team member will research and generate their own images which will be combined by the team into a final composite image for exhibition in Cape Able Gallery. The exhibition will open in late May on a date to be announced.

Digital Skies

Digital Skies: Art and Utopian Thought

For the opening of the exhibition each group give a short talk to present their work, and discuss the experience of working in a team, virtually, collaboratively. This will be followed by a crit.

Each participant must also describe the progress of the project in a weekly blog post with particular emphasis on their contribution to the project. (What are you bringing to the group and how does it fit into the team’s work?) Discuss the details of the project and also the issues that arise in working collaboratively online. How easy is it meet up virtually and plan the project? What difficulties arise in development? How easy or difficult is communication? What particular problems arise and how do you deal with them? Focus on the experience rather than writing a ‘correct’ post or having an answer for every difficulty.

See page 6 Module assessment for assessment criteria applying to this project.

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Class 9: Assessment

April 5, 2017

Glenn and John took the class through the requirements for assessment, which is divided into two parts. Firstly, the group project and secondly, the individual blogs.

Firstly, each participant will be producing a series of digital paintings as part of their main module. For the SL module you will produce a large-scale group canvas (in the groups given in week 3). We are asking you to collaborate on a canvas to give you the experience of working on an online collaborative project. You will bring the finished canvas into SL for a group crit and exhibition.

The exhibition will take place in Cape Able Gallery on Virtual Ability Island in May (provisional dates are 17 or 24 May). A team from the class (burnsygirl, freddymcfreddy and whatyamacallit) will coordinate the exhibition with the curator of the gallery and will also invite residents of Virtual Ability Island to take part.  Part of your learning in this module is figuring out how to work virtually with people you have never met in RL.

Each group will give a short talk to present their work and discuss the experience of working in a team, virtually, collaboratively. This will be followed by a crit.

There will be a dry-run in DIT on 26 April. You will show your work in progress more to get a feel for exhibiting in SL than anything else. John suggested that you should review the module website to see how past student groups have presented their work.

Secondly, you will be assessed individually on your blogs. You need to ensure that you have made the five mandatory posts as described in the ‘Things to do before next class’ section of each class summary. Following that you should have at least five more posts describing your engagement in the group project.

Finally, 50% of the marks for this module go on the group project and 50% go on the individual blogs. For full details see page 6 module assessment.

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Class 8: Heterotopia

March 29, 2017

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Week eight began with some technical issues with voice activation again and rather than get too distracted by this, the group very quickly developed an involved and engaged critical discussion on the subject of Heterotopia. In many ways, the absence of the speaking voice seemed to enable a lively at times contentious discussion entirely through text in the chat box. This discussion was prompted by a prior reading of French Philosopher Michael Foucault’s 1967 essay: Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias. The purpose of this text in the course was to introduce an alternative concept to that of Utopia as a way to think about the environment of Second Life and to some extent to think about the environment of Sherkin Island. Opposed to the idea of Utopia as a fictional space, Foucault describes a Heterotopia as a ‘space between’ which breaks from the Utopia/Dystopia dialectic.  By positing the real spaces of difference and plurality that exist in the world Foucault is drawing attention to the fact that spatial organisation and planning can never completely totalise our world, and that no matter how much cities and rural communities are developed there will always be spaces of difference and plurality that transgress the homogeneous categorization of space and its use.  These spaces often take on multiple roles and functions rather than singular ones, there is often a different experience of time within these spaces and they often presuppose an ambivalent system of opening/closing, entry/ exit. Examples of heterotopic spaces are: Graveyards, cemeteries, brothels, gardens, prisons, asylums museums, festivals, and ships. Expanding upon the latter example, Foucault writes:

if we think, after all, that the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea and that, from port to port, from tack to tack, from brothel to brothel, it goes as far as the colonies in search of the most precious treasures they conceal in their gardens, you will understand why the boat has not only been for our civilization, from the sixteenth century until the present, the great instrument of economic development (I have not been speaking of that today), but has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates. 

In many ways, this passage captures some of the uniqueness of experience that the students have in the BAVA on Sherkin island. That their working day is marked at the beginning and the end of the day by a boat ride illustrates the imaginative context in which study and art making are taking place.  It also captures the in betweenness of experience in second life, between real and unreal, imagination and materialization (it was a quote that was used to describe second life in the film screened at the North Shore Discovery on Sherkin Island, titled: Utopia 1.0 Post-Neo-Futurist-Capitalism). Such tensions were drawn out in the classroom discussion and it was clear at the end of the session that there was a lot more room for challenging set ideas about this concept.  In the next session, the group will be developing ideas for their exhibition in second life and going through the assessment brief.

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Class 7: Akron Island

March 22, 2017

The class visited the University of Akron island in Second Life this week. We were hosted by Prof Dudley Turner (aka Dudley Dreamscape) who took the module some years ago and then co-taught it with DIT for a number of years. Many of you also met Dudley at the seminar for National Digital Week in the West Cork Arts Centre last November. Unfortunately the problems with voice in SL have persisted so the class was conducted in nearby chat text.

Dudley described the origin of the island. When it was planned the faculty wanted to make sure there were a variety of areas for small group gatherings. These are scattered around the island. Originally there weren’t any big classroom spaces but Dudley built the larger lecture hall type space for larger meetings as the requirement grew. The learning spaces include a tree house and a glen with its own waterfall. Glenn noted that the rural design was reminiscent of the hedge schools that sprang up around Ireland under the Penal Laws.

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Akron Island with the life-size pie chart maker in the foreground.

We moved to the life-sized pie chart maker for a discussion on virtual identity. As we were forced to chat through text this was a useful to device to encourage debate. The facilitator (me, in this case) asks a question. Participant avatars then move to the appropriate section: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree and a pic chart is built in the centre. We worked with the following questions:

  1. Do you think you share too much online?
  2. Do you know who is watching you online?
  3. I would be happier not to have social media apps
  4. I keep my business and personal stuff separate online.

The second question resulted in discussion around free apps and the ‘price’ we may unwittingly pay. Chip Van reminded us that if it is free we are the product. In response to John’s question if people feel in control of their online information Inchydoney suggested we tend to throw caution to the wind for the sake of convenience. However, there was an acknowledgement that different age groups are behaving in different ways online.

The discussion around social apps resulted in many comments about ‘addiction’ to the buzz from them. Yet everyone agreed they were useful for keeping in touch when physical distance is an issue. Once people have met in RL the online engagement can be more satisfactory.

The class meeting finished with thanks to Dudley for hosting us at Akron Island and an invitation for him to join us in Dublin anytime.

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Class 6: Discussion

March 15, 2017

Following on from last week the group discussed the visit to Virtual Ability Island. It seems that this experience had a deeply affective impact on most of the group and for whom the second life environment has taken on a whole new meaning. There was a lot of discussion about the benefits of the virtual world for individuals with disabilities, how the community has created a social space that supports engagement with others, conversations, showing art, providing information and to move about freely. Whilst many in the group felt that Virtual Ability Island was like a utopia for the community that engage with it, it was also suggested that it could be seen as sad that the participants needed to create an alternative social life due to the limitations in real life. Another way to think about this issue might be that instead of feeling sorry for themselves or complaining about their limitations or lack of access the community has been affirmative and residents get on with their lives creatively and constructively in SL as opposed to accepting limitations. In many ways, this might be one of the most therapeutic aspects of Virtual Ability Island, that it is an active creative space, a space of human subjectivity and agency against the odds.

Within this discussion, the group touched briefly on the possibility that the aesthetic dimension of SL might also have a complex sensorial value for the Virtual Ability community, and it was on the back of this conversation that the group proposed a brief exhibition of their Digital Skies work in the Gallery in Virtual Ability Island. John has agreed to discuss this possibility with Gentle Heron and it would be a great event to share with that community. Burnsygirl, freddymcfreddy and whatyamacallit volunteered to liaise with the community and see if artists from Virtual Ability would like to take part also.

Finally, the group briefly discussed Richard Noble’s Lecture: The Politics of Utopia. Some of the key discussion points revolved around the tensions in utopia artistic practices between autonomy and instrumentalisation, which provoked questions concerning the use of art as a social-political form and the function of art and aesthetics as political in and of itself.

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Class 5: Virtual ability

March 8, 2017
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Gentle Heron introduced the class to Virtual Ability Island.

This week the class was hosted by Gentle Heron in Virtual Ability Island. Comprising three islands, the community (of over 1,000 people from six continents in RL, and growing all the time) supports and enables people with a wide range of physical and mental abilities to thrive in online virtual worlds. For many, SL has become integrated with their RL. Gentle introduced us to some members of the community who spoke of this experience, Mook Wheeler, camaro and Eme Capalini. Although disability may be less apparent in SL where, for example avatars can walk even though their human counterparts may need a wheelchair, those with visual or hearing impairment require particular consideration.

The principles of universal design and access for all underpin the development of the environment so that colour schemes, landscaping, materials and access all promote integration – there is no segregation between the able and the disabled. You won’t find any stairs here, only ramps, colour schemes are soothing to promote calm stress-free engagement and support those with visual disability, while speech is accompanied by text in local chat so those with hearing impairment are not disadvantaged. The Virtual Ability website is worth a visit if you would like to read about the history and development.

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There are many activities, supports and exhibitions in Virtual Ability Island.

Mook, a former academic with a doctorate in a social science field, has Aspergers and manages clinical depression and anxiety. Mook described ‘being an autistic social scientist as somewhat of a paradox: trying to understand the production/politics of subjectivity without being able to negotiate it in a personal or practical sense, for the most part.’

Eme and Mook told us that in SL they can leave the ‘difficult’ parts of their lives behind in RL. In fact, Mook’s avatar has evolved away from human form to become a sphere with various attachments and bubbles because ‘being human brought too much of RL’s physical difficulties and memories into SL.’ In fact, a lot of people in SL are not aware of Mook’s autism whereas they would be fully aware of it in RL.

We had a fascinating and enlightening discussion exploring and comparing experiences. Gentle commented that people with disabilities often experience a lack of respect in RL and asked if it also happened in SL. Burnsygirl told us of her experiences as a teacher with a disability organisation in RL and how people would pat her students on the head as if they were pets.

Acknowledging the theme of the module Mook said that ‘SL is perfect for me, as close to a social and communication utopia as any medium can be for me, because I can talk (in type) to people without having to deal with their physical presence or eye contact … I can adjust all of SL’s settings, avatars, environments, visuals and sounds to accommodate my sensory needs. SL is a space of pleasure, interaction and comfort to me which RL cannot duplicate.’

Mook also shared her insightful and searing analysis of Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas which is well worth reading!

We all appreciated the generosity of Gentle, Mook, Eme and camaro for taking the time to welcome us to their community and share their experiences. It really exemplified the possibilities and opportunities offered by this technology. Gentle said we were welcome back anytime – the islands are open to the public. Many of us remained after class to explore and chat.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE THE NEXT CLASS:

  1. View: The Politics of Utopia by Richard Noble, professor and lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths. From Utopia Revisited conference at ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, 2011.
  2. Write the fifth post: to your blog reflecting on our visit to Virtual Ability Island and the notion of a virtual Utopia.
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