Over the last eight months, as those who are regular readers will know, I have been studying through the University of the West of England for my MA Education in Virtual Worlds. Four papers over; Orientation in VWs, Designing Curricula in VWs, Simulations and Role Play and Scripting and Building; I thought I’d now take the time to share some of the results of these invigorating, busy, sometimes frustrating but overall worthwhile and satisfying months of study and research.
This first post covers the build presented for the Scripting and Building module assessment. Weighted at 60% of the overall assessment, the build was to be a multi-object space with scripted activity, themed to be ‘A virtual Teaching Space’. It is presented below through the 1000 word max. written submission that accompanied it, filled out a little now I don’t have the word restriction, though essentially as presented. At the end is a YouTube video of the build as it stands at the moment.
In essence the build represents a concept that, in terms of it being a useable space, is not quite finished. There are some scripting issues to deal with still around making it a transferable package, there are some presentation aspects that could do with tweaking and the discussion phase of the last act requires bringing together so that students have a sense of closure for the discussion. But, in my view, the concept succeeds in presenting literature in a way that is immersive, engaging and of value in the learning process.
One can however be a little one-sided when critiquing one’s own work, so I would really encourage feedback and discussion on the post if any feel inclined; this is why I am opening my work up after all. I would also be very open to sharing the resource, once it is in a packaged state, so that others might test its efficacy with their own students. If you are interested, please contact me through the comments section or email me directly (see Questions or Enquiries section in the sidebar).
My build has been created with the intent to investigate the design question, “In what manner might the visual and auditory affordances of a virtual learning space be used to immerse students viscerally in a literary work, supporting a responsive engagement with the novel beyond being a mere academic observer of the piece?”.
In many virtual spaces I have experienced a sense of immersion purely because of what surrounded me; the artefacts, the atmosphere, the soundscape, the lighting; all combining to provide a sense of being there that was beyond that of a spectator; I was emotionally there. It is my view that this level of immersion would facilitate students connecting with a literary work such that discussions would provide far more meaningful and emergent learning than those conducted solely from a classroom environment. As Thomas states (2010, p.503) “engaged learning is an emergent property of learning spaces that are designed to provide affordances that actively encourage such engagement”. I want to investigate how a build can actively engage students in literature at an emotional level and move their discussions beyond the abstract.
The work chosen to investigate how this might be achieved is the novel Night, by Elie Wiesel. A number of factors weighed into this choice, the primary being that a number of years ago I had been invited to create an immersive build for the same novel for the Literature Alive program (Literature Alive, 2007). My ideas at that time, though work commitments intervened, were based on a recreation of the physical environment. In retrospect those ideas were poorly formed, based on a modeller’s mind set and not really coming from an educational design point of view. In now perceiving that mood and atmosphere would be better tools to achieve immersion and consequently engagement, revisiting the work seemed appropriate.
It weighed heavily that the space should have the gravitas that the work deserved and not slip into a parody of what was a horrific period in history. As Night is a personal account of the author’s experience, it was appropriate to base the discussion the space would engender around a deeply personal aspect of Elie Wiesel’s life; his faith. The build, in that sense, would introduce his deep religiousness then open itself to a discussion on how that would affect his world view prior to 1944. It would then portray the events of deportation and arrival at Auschwitz and again open itself to a discussion on how those events changed Elie’s relationship with his God.
One assessment criteria for the learning space, the 20m x 20m x 20m build area, though initially thought of as limiting, was in fact instrumental in providing a very tight focus for the build. Because I wished it to investigate atmosphere and mood however, I did want to limit any visual interference into the space that might compromise the “feel” I was staging. With this in mind I used the space limitation literally and enclosed the build in a 20 cubic metre box using the front as an introduction through the novel’s title, the author’s name and an overview question.
The next limitation was the world lighting, as the light in Second Life day setting permeates any structure and can hinder generating a darker mood. To resolve this constraint a sculpted shadowing effect has been created which mimics layered primitives, with a high transparency applied, causing a deepening of colour as it is moved into. This effect was used to surround the central core where the build, described as being in acts, would play out.
The shadowing served multiple purposes; in relation to the title it evokes night, upon entering the build it created a certain unsettling and once inside the build it discouraged moving the camera out from the scenes inside to the outside world, retaining immersion in the space. It also enables changing of mood through increasing/decreasing transparency.
The first act of the build is introduced as students enter and involves a depiction of iconic observant Judaism; menorah, bimah and torah. A projection effect into the space displays an appropriate line from the book.
As the act begins kaddish is heard, echoing in the space, the menorahs come alight, and the shadowing draws back from the core to reveal the interior of a simple synagogue. Upon the reveal the projector fades in a young Elie and his voiceover is heard describing his relationship with God.
The participants are then invited to sit and consider such a relationship, between this fifteen year old young man and his God, and discuss it amongst themselves.
The participants stand to enable the next act to continue. Because so much of the build plays out regardless of any interjection from the participants I deemed it important to give them control over this timing.
The act then moves into the precursors of Auschwitz. Scenes of the sackings of property, a ghetto and loading of the deportation cars fade in and out, overlaid with sound effects and another Elie voiceover, setting the scene for the journey. Though black and white, each scene photo has had an individual aspect coloured to add poignancy.
The participants are then physically displaced into the next act, to mimic in a small way Elie’s displacement, and dropped into a cattle car on its way to Auschwitz. Short passages from this part of the novel float through the participants, crowding them, unsettling them while the noise of the train overlays the scene.
The engine stops and the door opens, revealing Auschwitz. One last Elie voiceover plays lines from the novel on the horror of the camp and the destruction of his faith.
At this act’s end, discussion is again initiated on the contrast of Elie’s relationship with his God now, to what it had once been.
In reflecting on the build, in my view it succeeds in having participants present to the literary work, taking them beyond the classroom and exposing them to the essence of how the author’s view of God was affected by his experience. The discussion space, rather than recreate visual aspects of the novel, uses visual imagery, sound and lighting to engender a sense of the mood and atmosphere of its story. Participants passing through the space are engaged by it emotionally and in being so are open to emergent learning possibilities that go beyond the affordances of a classroom environment.
Literature Alive (2007) Literature Alive! in Second Life. Available from: http://literaturealive.blogspot.co.nz/ [Accessed 2 May 2013]
Thomas, T. (2010) Learning spaces, learning environments and the dis’placement of learning. British Journal of Educational Technology [online], 41 (3), pp. 502-511. [Accessed 1 May 2013].
This video capture has been truncated at two points to save file size; the first is the short waiting period at the introduction phase that has been set to allow students time to enter the build and assemble in the central area; the second is the period where students sit to discuss the first topic. Having stood, the journey through the build experience then continues. The short periods of music played at the beginning and around the pauses are not part of the actual build experience.