here are my notes from the sessions i attended today - again, sincere apologies for the brevity - it's been another very long day and i have to try to get some sleep for my presentation tomorrow :-)
[update: i would like to extend a very warm welcome to all visitors who have been directed here by Diane Glosson's very kind mention on 23 February, in Computational Textiles as Materials for Creativity :-) ]
the first session i attended was the symposium on Virtual Worlds at the Intersection of Race, Class and Possibility, chaired by Mark Marino - onstage were Beth Coleman, Fox Harrell and his wife Sneha Veeragoudar-Harrell, and Lisa Nakamura. Sneha described three dimensions which describe the relationship of Gee's notions of 'real' identity to the avatar's identity, namely those of appearance (how closely do i want my avatar to resemble my atomic self?), ontology (what is the nature of the relationship between my atomic and virtual self?), and utility (to what extent is my avatar purely performing a pragmatic role-extension of myself in the environment?) ( <- note, my paraphrasing). these dimensions are another way of thinking about the immersionist - augmentationist debate - a debate, incidentally, which seems to have been given a somewhat more definitive conclusion lately. Lisa talked about socio-cultural pariahs of WoW, and the extent to which these power-relations in the virtual world reflect those in the atomic. Fox talked about the degree to which elements of race and ethnicity (and other physiological differentiators in society) have been paid lip-service by the cultural baggage that game designers (consciously or not) bring, and how such lip-service might be a barrier to authentic engagement in virtual environments and fictive worlds by members of non-mainstream communities. Beth precipitated a discussion on the extent to which the protean avatar is plastic and / or mutable, and how they are largely still the domain of members within Craig Watkins's participatory 'gated communities'. from this perspective, such protean avatars serve to reify existing socio-cultural behaviours and dispositions, rather than challenge them (Fiske's "new opportunities for struggle"). most memorable was when the proceedings were loudly interrupted by the unexpected (deliberate? :-P ) launch of Warcraft on the big screen, halfway through the videoconference with Beth :-)
the second session i attended was a panel chaired by Colleen Macklin, and which comprised Colleen's colleague John Sharp, Karen Michaelson, Chris Wisniewski, and Jill Denner. the session was entitled 'Sympathetic and critical looks at "kids as game designers and programmers"'.
the third session i attended was a panel chaired by Dan Perkel, and which comprised Lyndsay Grant, Becky Herr-Stephenson and Kurt Luther. the session was entitled 'Rules of engagement in participatory cultures: negotiating feedback, audiences and critique in online communities'. this session was massively oversubscribed and was notable for the variety of perspectives the panelists brought. Dan talked about his experience with the online community at deviantART, and used the phrase "the imperative to improve"; personally, i am wondering whether the ideas of 'improvement' and 'evolution' might have been conflated. the debates within the deviantART community which were highlighted by Dan brought to mind the various contested boundaries within Second Life's active surfing community. Lyndsay talked about her work with participants in the BBC's Blast programme, and the caveat was introduced that Blast participants were demographically not dissimilar, with consequent implications on the true contribution of Blast to the promotion of social agency and civic engagement from within a Service Learning lens. Becky introduced me (at least) to the National Novel Writing Month programme, which - in common with Blast ("Get creative!") - seems to foreground product over process. Likewise with the community which Kurt talked about, namely his work with the community at Newgrounds.com. He brought something different to the table in that he shared the perspective of gatekeepers as opposed to that of more junior members. apparently, Newgrounds.com is not really organised along structures which are well aligned with contemporary understandings of learning (such as with its model of 'scouting' (which seemed to an outsider like me as somewhat less democratic than Second Life's 'featured destinations') and 'castration'. Kurt's first analytical lens was through Csikszentmihalyi's socio-cultural understandings of creativity and flow. He then went on to outline two frames of feedback mechanism, the first being hub-and-spoke-like, leader-centric (sometimes associated with deliberate attempts to help newbies) collabs, eg When Farm Animals Attack, and the other being the division of labour associated with a modularised collab.
the fourth session i attended was a panel chaired by Jason Schultz, and which comprised Patricia Aufderheide, Renee Hobbs and Steve Anderson. the session was entitled 'Fair Use: perspectives on copyright and Fair Use for digital learning'. news to me was the International Communication Association ICA2010 conference to be held in June in Singapore (this topic was of relevance to the conversation because one of the questions during Q&A was about building a repository of test-cases regarding non-linear digital media such as videogames (and, by extension, fictive worlds and virtual environments). Renee suggested two critical questions which learners needed to appropriate for themselves, namely "am i adding value / repurposing? or am i using the work along the lines of its original purpose?" and "am i using just the amount that i need to achieve the new purpose?" time and again the message from all panelists was that rationalizations for Fair Use transcend media types, and that learners should not seek to divest responsibility to gatekeepers and service providers, and that teachers and those working with learners should actively seek to engage them - even when as young as nine years - in critical conversations so that they can learn to take responsibility for themselves; it is ultimately this reasoning process - and not any definitive answers handed down - that should be the learning takeaways. adolescents in their mid-teens would typically be developmentally-ready to extend their understandings through cross-comparative situating stances within lawful interpretations.
the fifth session i attended was a workshop chaired by Kylie Peppler, led by Leah Buechley, and which comprised Mike Eisenberg, Yasmin Kafai, Alan Gershenfeld and Heidi Schelhowe. being a workshop, this session was very different from any of the preceding four, in that we actually worked in groups to design and build a quick and dirty working electrical circuit! the session was entitled 'Computational textiles as New Media texts: Digital Media learning in youth and DIY communities'. motivated by the maxim of "digital media beyond the screen" (which manifested itself in "constructing / building, not just consuming"), Leah (examples of the work which she and her colleagues have been working on are here, here, here and here) opened by reminding us of the historical roots of the workshop in the work of the New London group back in 1996. an insight i took away from this workshop was that atomic fabs are able to traverse spaces in ways different from their virtual counterparts; they are also (in the particular example of computational textiles) able to traverse what might otherwise be perceived as traditional gender divides. i will remember this session as the very first time i have ever taken needle and thread to sew anything. you can see the results of my group's (including a former member of the FabLab and a QUT faculty member) collaborative handiwork in the photograph below :-)
the final session i attended today was a panel chaired by Heather Horst and moderated by Mimi Ito. it was entitled 'Digital Media and Learning: the state of the field', and comprised Brigid Barron, Lynn Schofield Clark, Eszter Hargittai, Joe Kahne, Kevin Leander, and Amanda Lenhart. Amanda reminded us that one of the primary challenges at her present work at Pew is to try her best to adequately represent and research as many of the ways in which young people are using and appropriating New Media in ways beyond how just the dominant communities are doing so (related to this was, for example, her anecdote that it was only a few years ago that people were talking about "the Instant Messaging generation"). i especially appreciated Kevin's explictly geographical interpretative stance of several contemporary issues in New Media, as he talked about Time Geographies calling into question the mantra of 'anytime, anywhere' (akin to the meme of the death of distance), and the role of GIS in 'learning to see'. a very spatial thinker indeed. bravo, Kevin :-)
[update: papers and presentation files from the conference are now available online :-) ]