Category: Leonardo Fellowship

Uranus’ Castrated Penis: centiSperm Glazed Ceramic Sculpture

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centiSperm Glazed Ceramic tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists

centiSperm Glazed Ceramic tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists

The centiSperm was applied to Uranus’ Castrated Penis as a glaze. The sculpture fired well. The centisperm effect is basically un-perceptible. Yet, there is a pearly sheen to the penis of Uranus. Certainly, the ritual process of anointing the lingam, even the lingam forcibly removed, is of discerning taste. Here are some pictures of Uranus’ Castrated Penis. This sculpture is a tribute to Robert Arneson (a former teacher) and the NorCal Funk Artists.

tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists

tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists

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Bodyscape

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The main request of the residency was to ‘BE’. A paramount condition in order to let ideas flow in total freedom. There was no obligation of outcomes. Ideas (at least for me) appeared in diverse situations, such as discussion during trails or while having a coffee in the kitchen. I worked mainly on the followings projects:

  • Soundwalks during the open house of the residency: The participants were free to speak, but all of them stayed silent during the 30 minutes trail. Another interesting aspect was the discussion following the trail: Two groups, which attended the walks mentioned self awareness in relation to listening to their own bodily sounds. Moreover, they both started a discussion about the importance of music in neurodegenerative diseases, although I only proposed to listen to the environmental sound and never mentioned music, apart the fact I introduced my self as a composer;
  • During a discussion with Guillermo Munoz, a physicist, after a dinner, who was looking for ways to develop a periodic table for nano particules, I suggested to investigate a fourth dimension. http://leonardo.info/blogs/nano-table/;
  • A sculpture in a tree, as a deprivation (of sound) chamber, to be installed in the coming week in the trails, in collaboration with Christine Lee;
  • Writings;
  • Bodyscape, a composition based on biological and sonic information of the body of a dancer, I developed the strategies while in residency. It was then developed as a work in progress at the Lab Gallery in San Francisco from July 30, and premiered on August 4.

Bodyscape

The piece is a work in progress that changed during its five-day installation at The Lab gallery in San Francisco, where it was performed along with musician Cheryl Leonard and dancer Crystal Sepulveda. The main idea was to focus on the body of a dancer as the main sonic source. The information was taken via biosensors and microphones, which recorded movement of and events generated by the body. In this ecosystem, where the dancer produces sounds, mainly inaudible, we as composer and musician amplified and send them back to the performance space, where the dancer interacted with them as biofeedback. A member of the audience mentioned at some point that it was difficult to know who was producing what. In a sense it was an accomplishment, because I didn’t want to have sound responding to a precise event or gesture, but instead a (organized) chaos in which we tried to discover the rules.

The performance is site-specific and a work in progress. It means that each time we will perform in a new place, debate new ideas and progress on the base of the knowledge acquired in the precedent performance. The site-specificity of the work relates to the spatial considerations of the performance space (e.g. size, resonance, reverberation, sound system equipment, luminosity). The improvisation relies on the set of rules we define between the performers and that will be improvised. The biofeedback is an interaction between the movement of the dancer, the performance space, the sound and the other performers. Thus, it is an ecosystem that is created and on the base of which all the performers react and interact. Therefore, the improvisation part is also linked to the reactions of each other.

The piece will be developed again in the coming months and presented early in 2016 at The Friedrich Dürrenmatt Museum in Switzerland.

Pictures taken during the performance: https://www.flickr.com/photos/swissnexsanfrancisco/sets/72157656413117579

Leonardo Fellow in Technology and Arts Education

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Hi Leonardo readers! My name is Jordan Hochenbaum and I’m a professor at California Institute of the Arts, where I teach in the Music Technology: Interaction, Intelligence, and Design (MTIID) and Digital Media programs. During my Ph.D. I investigated the affordances of applying multimodal analysis to a musician’s daily instrumental practice. This approach demonstrated the ability to use technology to help a musician track their performance and training, while opening up doors that could provide pedagogical insights for more effective practice.

As the recipient of the 2015 Leonardo Fellowship, I am interested in investigating the ways in which technology continues to push education into new territories. Now more than ever, the democratization of online technologies has enabled greater access to education and the tools to create it. Learners from all over the world have access to an unprecedented amount of information and online learning tools, resulting in the emergence of new virtual learning communities and at-your-own-pace education, à la carte.

On the institutional level, challenges concerning financial sustainability are being met by exploring new methodologies in the online space. This has resulted in a renaissance of sorts concerning pedagogical methods, from new approaches in distance-based learning, “flipped” classrooms, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to name a few. While the debate on taking all or part of college education online has been met with critics on both sides, many believe that we are only just starting to feel the impact, and the “potential to disrupt – on price, technology, and even pedagogy”, in an industry which has in large been stagnant.

My fellowship project is called “Future Learners: Re-imagining Models for Teaching Art, Science and Technology,” and will be published as an online supplement to Leonardo. As part of my fellowship, I will also be curating blog articles related to the subject and surrounding topics. I’m looking forward to sharing not only my own thoughts on the subject, but also inviting other artists, researchers, and academics to share their insights on the subject though this blog here and the final published online supplement to Leonardo.

Interview: Games in the Classroom and Society

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I had the opportunity to sit down with a guest and discuss the ways in which games affect both the behaviors of students, traditional teaching methods, and the ways in which games affect culture and society. Dr. Adam Brackin received his bachelors in English and Art from Hardin-Simmons University, a master’s of education in Gifted and Talented Studies, and his PhD in Humanities: Aesthetic Studies. Adam has written chapters for several game studies books, including Understanding Minecraft, Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy, and Cultural Perspectives of Video Games, and taught for several years at a family-owned and operated private school, where he frequently utilized games in one-on-one education. Dr. Brackin was kind enough to sit down with me and discuss how games like Minecraft – the cultural phenomenon – affect behavior and learning in the classroom, the role it plays in learning and society, and how he utilizes the game in his own work. His work is accessible at his personal website, as well as on YouTube, where he produces the LABventures series

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Richard: So as you well know, the effects of games like Minecraft extend beyond the individual and into the social and cultural. As somebody who has taught in a wide variety of roles – middle school, university, one-on-one private school, et cetera, what would you say are the affordances that a game like Minecraft gives you over traditional teaching models? What does the “new media classroom” do better or worse?

Adam: Well Bridge Builder, my one-on-one school, was of course a different model, but when you’re talking about a traditional classroom, you’re talking about group communication theory. Any time you have three or more people it falls under group communication theory, and a traditional classroom nowadays is going to have 30 or more people in it. So the question becomes: how can you address an individual’s needs within the context of the group’s needs, without the group suffering?

A great way to do that is computer-aided instruction. The classic format for instruction is going to follow: guided practice, independent practice, and assessment. The cool thing about computer-aided instruction is that we can do a rapid-fire sequence for guided and independent practice, and assessment. The problem is that we allow it to become a crutch, and we forget that there is a human element of interaction that is fundamentally important in what you might think of as an apprenticeship system, where I can address your individual needs, have a conversation about what you need, and make sure that your individual needs are answered. There’s value in answering that in front of the whole class, but it can often become a distraction and a waste of time.

So to connect that back to Minecraft specifically: it transfers the tools of the level designer over to the player. I’ve written about this as being a form of authenticity, which allows you to make their own choices, in a real space, with consequences. What’s interesting about Minecraft is that it has very set rules. The thing about those rules is, let’s call them “comforting”, for certain students who would be uncomfortable in an open-ended social setting – especially students with autism and Asperger’s. This transfers over to any MMO environment because you’re questing and using those traditional game design models, which fits very well into the autistic mind, or even the ADD mind, in order to be able to accomplish tasks by breaking them down.

So for me, to sum it all up: it comes down to the ability to do guided practice in the context of shared space, then independent practice within that same shared space, allowing students to learn from one another as they witness the building occur, and then assessment, which can occur either in a group or individual format as needed. I would never say that teaching should be done in any one tool, but Minecraft is a very good tool.

Richard: With these traditional game design models, rules-driven systems, and structured play environments, how do these tools affect things like classroom engagement and behavior? Besides personalized and computer-mediated lessons, what tools does the new media classroom give you as an instructor?

Adam: Well there are a couple of things that games do very well. For example, they can track every footstep, and everything that is measurable in a game can be measured in output. So you can have an independent experience that I’m not a part of and vice versa, and then we can still compare our experiences with granular precision. We can do this in a mechanical way, or we can just have a discussion about it. The other things games do very well is gating, so you can set constraints. If I hand you a blank sheet of paper, that can almost be more terrifying than if I asked you to work through a series of quests. They aren’t teaching the same thing by any means, with that first example being more about assessment, but I think that the dangers that many teachers face is: if you have 40 kids in a classroom, how are you going to grade those 40 things fairly? How are you going to be able to spend the time that’s necessary to give each individual kid a response? The cool thing about a system is that if the goals are set, if they’re very measurable, the computer can do that and give a response to the student without the teacher being directly involved.

Richard: You mentioned when comparing the blank sheet of paper and the video game, one is more of an assessment of what you already know. Would you find that in a new media classroom, computer-assisted teaching is one thing, but traditional assessment is still required?

Adam: Absolutely, but there are multiple forms of assessment, which is why I’m happy you’ve been mentioning Minecraft specifically. Minecraft is a blank slate; it’s that blank piece of paper. We have a set amount of tools, but you can make the same argument for the English language. If you’re going to write an essay in English, there’s a specific format you are to follow if you’re an eighth grader, which is: 5 paragraphs, transitional sentences, opening paragraph that talks about your three points of support, each body paragraph is to be on one of those points of support, et cetera. Those are rules, just as Minecraft has rules. So when I say that I want you to show me, visually, that you understand the fundamental principles of design within the context of, say, a cathedral, you’re going to be able to visually demonstrate your understanding of what we studied in class if that is in fact what we studied in our art history class.

Richard: Interesting example! Ever since the “advent” of Minecraft, we’ve seen a huge social presence of using games to “make” things. Videos seemed to spring up every week where somebody used Minecraft to make a 3D printer, a Rube Goldberg machine, or some other interesting invention. The STEM to STEAM movement seems like a place where Minecraft fits perfectly, for example. Would you call Minecraft a big player in maker culture?

Adam: Well I think it’s really important to understand that, in terms of the community, Minecraft is all about the modifications. If I was teaching a lesson on bees or maybe on genetics and I wanted to get an object lesson across, I might install the beekeeping mod to Minecraft. I could load up the new world and have the students work through the process of genetically breeding their bees within that virtual environment. The nice thing about that is that it exists. It may seem niche and crazy, but there are groups out there creating tiny apps and self-contained games that are all about beekeeping, and that’s all it does. Now we could surf through all of the apps out there that do that, or we could surf through the thousands of mods to Minecraft and pick out the one that does that. This way we don’t have to learn the vocabulary of a new game, and we can find a good lesson within a space we’re already familiar with on whatever is contextually appropriate to what we’re learning in class.

Richard: So then would you classify Minecraft as a maker space?

Adam: Well I think it certainly is, but I think it’s also a maker template, if you will. It’s a platform that you can develop for. I think the unique philosophies of Mojang and Notch, from the beginning, created a game that anybody can create their own version of.

Richard: So then, would you say that Minecraft is not just a space for making within the context of other people; it’s about making objects and tools for others? I had always put the positive feedback from Minecraft as being in the realm of showing off your efforts.

Adam: Yes. Because when I first started playing Minecraft, I found it to be incredibly boring and I was pretty much done with it. That’s when a friend of mine contacted me and said “Hey, they’re working on this multiplayer thing for Minecraft”! Suddenly we were playing together, it was collaborative, and now I’ve played tens of thousands of hours of Minecraft, probably.

Richard: So then if Minecraft is all about its online nature, which I would certainly agree with, how would you say the Minecraft community has evolved through the game mechanics?

Adam: Consider Twitter. Twitter is all about subscribing to who you want to subscribe to and pushing out information that you think would be valuable to others. That’s what Minecraft is. It is engaging a community, whether that be your personal friends on a private server or complete strangers on the internet, in order to say “Look at me!” You could make the same argument for Facebook or any other social network.  Now I’m not picking on social media, the point is that there is no real “win state” of Minecraft within the game’s mechanics. Technically there is, with the addition of slaying the dragon, but it really exists as a sort of joke within the community. It’s more about setting a personal goal for yourself, whether that is to head into a mountain and carve out a space for yourself, or in my case to construct a replica of Hogwarts. Then you’re going to spend 2 years doing that, and you’ll finally be able to brag about it. It’s something to look at; it’s not intended to be a functional space, that’s for sure. If you’re looking for functional space within Minecraft, you can just hollow out a 10×10 space underground and you’re good to go. You’ve got everything you need to “survive” the game.

Richard: So then you would say that the primary motivating factor, the underlying behavior pushed by the design of Minecraft, is personal expression?

Adam: Absolutely! It’s individualization, personalization, and it’s the very real fact that my Minecraft experience is fundamentally unique from anyone else’s, anywhere else, for the rest of time. The same thing can be said for all social media outlets, and a select few other games, including most MMORPGs since sequencing becomes important.

Most video games, most linear, prescriptive games contain experiences that are “somewhat” different. Oh, I got shot or I didn’t get shot. Still, in order to beat the game, our experiences will be fundamentally so similar that we have a large amount of common ground. In Minecraft, it becomes “I need to show you this”. I can’t simply describe it to you; I have to show it to you.

There needs to be more games like Minecraft, but not in the way that it’s currently being imitated. Not the “let’s throw down a block” part, or even the toolset part, but instead the part that makes the individual believe that they’re having a unique experience, whether it’s true or not, because that’s what’s important. It’s also the future of games, in my opinion.

Richard: Well then, if you had the choice to create a curriculum around Minecraft, what sort of project would you want to implement?

Adam: Well that’s tough, since I’m not sure which subject we’re talking about, but let’s just say we’re teaching a high school level English class. Let’s say a 9th grade English class, because I think that age level is right where they’re still able to have fun in a class, but at the same time mature enough to be able to handle an out-of-the-box kind of project, though that is changing!

One of the things that’s in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills is to understand the elements of plot, and to create an understanding in the student of Freytag’s triangle, of conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. I would require my students to create a space, in which the individual player going through that space experiences the five stages of Freytag’s triangle.

Richard: So to essentially create a story space?

Adam: Yes, to create a story space, and I would want it to be very linear and very structured for that assignment and for those students. There are so many teachers on my Facebook stream that if you spend enough time there you’ll inevitably see some complaints about common core, but there is a fundamental misunderstanding about it. Keep in mind, here in Texas we don’t even use common core, we use the TEKS.

Common core is a set of standards. It says that you need to teach your first graders how to add single-digit numbers, that’s all it says. When you start getting down to the granular examples of these standards, that’s curriculum. That being said, Minecraft, as I said earlier, is just a tool. It’s
important that we identify the essential knowledge that we’re trying to achieve, and these tools are helpful in reaching that point.

Richard: That sounds like something I’d enjoy doing in a university setting, honestly. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with me today.

Adam: Not a problem, thanks for having me!

MMO Ethnography: The Customs and Cultures of Online Gamers

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Ethnography is the field that turned my interest towards games in academia. As a lifelong veteran of MMORPGs, the concept of being a participant-researcher in this space was something I could really appreciate. One of the tenets of ethnography, as stated by Paul Dourish in Ways of Knowing in HCI, is that “ethnography directs our attention towards the importance of participation not just as a natural and unavoidable consequence of going somewhere, but as the fundamental point.”

Pictured above is one example of how online communities and cultures create their own rituals and mythoi. "RNGesus", a portmanteau of the Christian Jesus and the acronym for "random number generator", has become a deity for many players of ArcheAge, who erect shrines to him in their homes in the hopes that it will bring them luck.

Pictured above is one example of how online communities and cultures create their own rituals and mythoi. “RNGesus”, a portmanteau of the Christian Jesus and the acronym for “random number generator”, has become a deity for many players of ArcheAge, who erect shrines to him in their homes in the hopes that it will bring them luck.

Ethnographers subscribe to the belief that participating in an event reveals much more observable and notable events than pure, divorced observation can; this is a fact of which I am personally convinced, especially regarding online interactive environments. As in the image above, there are some unique and outlandish aspects of online culture that one would not understand without taking part in it themselves. In the case of ArcheAge’s “RNGesus”, a seemingly parodic interpretation of Jesus Christ, players actively conduct rituals in his name. In my initial weeks of studying the game for my master’s thesis, I laughed off elements of culture such as this, assuming it was purely in jest. However, it wasn’t long before I was joining in the ritual activity, whether that entailed throwing captured fish back into the oceans to garner his favor, or sacrificing members of the enemy faction at the foot of his effigy.

A number of prolific scholars in this field have noted their experiences in online communities in a similar fashion. Bonnie Nardi’s anthropological work in World of Warcraft came to be titled “My Life as a Night Elf Priest”, and T.L. Taylor’s seminal work “Play Between Worlds” contained numerous stories of her personal experiences in both virtual space and real life conventions. I have repeatedly heard ethnography defined as a field of scientific cultural storytelling, and I think that branding is right on the money, as it were.

Remaining distanced and purely observational in the study of online culture and game spaces fails to take advantage of the interactive element that is inherent in the medium. Ethnographers interact within a space, prompting events and observable situations through their actions, just as a player operates within the function of a game system. At the heart of ethnography is a desire to understand what its like to inhabit a space or culture, and video games allow one to do so with relative ease.

I consider ethnography to be a qualitative methodology that serves to aid in interpreting the knowledge acquired through quantitative means, especially with regard to the understanding of player behavior and motivation in these spaces. One could argue that every player is a potential ethnographer, or at least a participant-observer.

This sense of understanding and experiential learning is why I aim to incorporate ethnographic studies into the majority of my work. While quantitative measures are certainly critical in identifying and applying the psychology of the players, there is a narrative element to this data that can be most successfully expressed through ethnographic study.