Tagged virtuality

Artefact: Danbo’s day out

A crossover tale. In a world of familiar and strange illusions, a robot dreams some of his own.

The defining feature of virtual reality is not the sophistication of its underlying technology but the quality of presence it creates. This broader meaning is the take off point for this video, a nudge towards a more imaginative design of online courses, which in themselves are virtual environments. Far too many online courses, I think, are as desolate as the sprawling server farms which host them. They are hollow places of learning.

What is real and what is virtual? Rooted in neither, the robot straddles both, mimicking the blurring of boundaries that Haraway celebrates in the Cyborg Manifesto. This sense of dislocation is positive, offering possibility and opportunity, rekindling imagination to plant seeds of wonder and delight in learning online.

Some tenuous links

I find the films included in the film festival and the readings for Block 1 do not explicitly link to learning. This post is an attempt to make some admittedly tenuous links, using some of the themes as stepping stones for issues related to digital education.

The stop motion video “Address is Approximate” features a robot who takes a virtual journey across the world as captured by Google Street view. The journey that the robot takes, the lights of the computer screen flashing across its face, can be read as both liberating and escapist. Liberating in the way it allows the robot to see places he otherwise wouldn’t view, and escapist in the sense that it’s a type of mobility that doesn’t change his being in an office room still, allowed only to travel when the human is away. The movie allows an ambiguous reading that recalls the blurring of boundaries that Haraway celebrates in the Cyborg Manifesto. The robot is simultaneously mobile and immobile, animate and inanimate, the journey real and virtual.

While ostensibly about virtual reality, the video also offers some starting points for thinking about learning in the digital age. In the film festival, “Address is Approximate” is grouped under the heading of “Machine sentience”. Sentience as a synonym for awareness of the environment but not necessarily of consciousness or awareness of the self. It is a distinction that is crucial. Sentient machines, I believe, are able to, for example, record and respond to stimulus, to process data and learn from it. What does this remind one of? Automated assessments, especially when there is a large learner population; data tracking tools that give feedback that allow learners to set goals and monitor their progress; or perhaps surveillance tools that can help identify learners who are at risk of failing.

Another interesting in the video is how the robots are supported by other toys and objects: the lamps twirl, a toy figure clicks the mouse. This suggests that a range of agents can collaborate to achieve goals, reminding me of badges and digital portfolios.

I think the depiction of virtual reality in the video is somewhat passive. If we are to imagine the robot as a metaphor for learners, and the robot’s virtual journey as learning journey (a course within a virtual learning environment), then it becomes apparent how the robot quite literally stood in front of the computer screen. I think there’s a case for depicting the robot as taking a more active role in the road trip, as should learners about their learning paths.

And finally, the big screen where the journey happens. One of the things I remember from the IDEL course is that while virtual reality is still often crude in terms of providing immersive experiences, much progress has been made in making immersive psychological experiences. One can lose oneself in a book, in a movie or a song and even in video games. This is because the defining aspect of virtuality is not the technology itself but the experience it creates.

While doing some online research for this Block 1, I came across Burbles (2006) who proposes four qualities that are useful in understanding the potential of virtuality in learning contexts:

  • Interesting: complexity that allow new elements to be viewed, or viewed differently in different encounters
  • Involving: when there is a reason to care about the experience, achieved by showing relevance to the individual
  • Imaginative: allowing for the extrapolation of new details
  • Interactive: participatory

Burbules, N. C. (2006). Rethinking the virtual. In The international handbook of virtual learning environments (pp. 37-58). Springer Netherlands.