What can transform a field? Janet Kolodner argues, in her talk for the Media Systems gathering, that individual projects are not enough. But programs do potentially offer a route to transformation — by being larger, integrative efforts.
Her talk begins by providing an insider’s discussion of a program with the potential for transforming the field: the Cyberlearning program at the National Science Foundation, for which she is a Program Officer. Then, in the second half, it moves to a discussion of advice for work in cyberlearning. This is not simply a set of things it would be smart to do if applying to Kolodner’s program, but a set of insights into what matters for interdisciplinary work that seeks to transform education. It includes advice on clarifying transformative goals, making sure that the solutions proposed for addressing those goals are socio-technical in nature (not failing to address wider context), and structuring inquiry as design research aimed at addressing questions key to eventually achieving the initially-articulated goal. Read More
Any software development process involves a fair amount of extraneous creation. Code is revised, documents created and destroyed, prototypes and demos constructed, all in the pursuit of a final, stable digital object. Digital games add even more to this crush of documentation with an unending multitude of art assets, proprietary file types, and a lack of internal documentation. Since most development today relies on cloud storage and backup, code repositories and all forms of digital spatio-temporal communication, just finding out where everything is stored necessitates significant technical effort and time.
The team for Prom Week, the object at the heart of my current research for the NEH (info here), made use of numerous cloud services throughout the duration of the project. Fortunately, most of the documents are stored on only two services, Dropbox and Google Docs. Unfortunately, the organization is about as structured as I would expect from a rotating development team with intense time pressures and significant distractions. The Dropbox repository proved particularly onerous for analysis. Each team member had their own individual directory, which usually duplicated some files from another major folder. Aside from duplicates, there is no real structure to the folder names or documentation. This is usually not a problem, however, as Dropbox is searchable and I’m assuming when this folder was active each person responsible for a file knew where and what it was. As an outsider to the Prom Week development process, I can usually ascertain what a document relates to, but that is definitely due to the last few months I’ve spent researching the project.
I’m going to continue the focus on Dropbox for two reasons: first, the Google Documents for the project, while interesting and post-worthy, are only 24 in number and 5 in type, and second, the points I want to make about file extensions and confusion in the cloud are easier to argue when I’m dealing with 1.8 gigabytes of haphazardly organized Dropbox data. Read More
While critics may now say a film’s action scenes “seem like a video game,” it doesn’t just seem like film and games are borrowing from each other. It is not only happening stylistically, but also at a deep technical level. At the Media Systems gathering, Chad Greene from Microsoft Studios discussed how the common basis of computation is leading to transformations in film and games, enabling borrowing between the two, as well as both borrowing from academic research.
Increasingly, previsualization is a major component of film directing, borrowing real-time, reduced-detail techniques invented for games. Artists working on computer animated characters and objects for film are able, using game-derived techniques, to see their work rendered as they craft it (rather than working on abstract representations and only occasionally rendering an image more like what the audience will see) making faster iteration and more refinement possible.
In the other direction, games are now borrowing many computational techniques from film, as well as emulating both the language of film and the look of particular technical artifacts of film (from lens flare to depth of field). Read More
Bill Gaver’s group — The Interaction Research Studio — does design as a means of research into people and technology. At the Media Systems gathering he used examples from their work to illustrate a number of approaches to one of our major topics: “… guidance and evaluation methods from arts, design and the humanities.”
In his talk he focuses on two phases of their work. The first, context setting, happens at the beginning of a project — while the second, evaluation, of course happens toward the end. Both phases are shaped by the somewhat-unusual goal (a key one for the development of computational media) of creating finished, fully-functional projects that can be experienced by everyday people over extended periods. This is in sharp contrast to computational media work that focuses on flashy, momentary demos or even systems that are theoretical “improvements” on elements of media technology that are not integrated with any audience experience.
Gaver is well known for having developed, together with collaborators, the concept of the “cultural probe” as part of guiding initial work. Read More
In computer science, we often guide and evaluate work by metrics such as efficiency (of execution, of task performance, of maintenance, etc). But such metrics do not make sense for many types of computational media work. Fox Harrell’s talk at the Media Systems gathering, “Matching Methods: Guiding and Evaluating Interdisciplinary Projects,” suggests that, rather than there being one answer to evaluating computational media research, part of the work is in identifying values and goals, which can then point to the methods that might be appropriate.
For example, he discusses Mimesis, a game exploring identity representation and prejudice. One goal of such a project could be helping conceptual change happen for players. This kind of goal is a value in both computer-supported cooperative work/learning and activist contexts, which suggests that methods from these contexts might be appropriate for guiding and evaluating the work.
Of course, rather than this sort of innovative search for the right match, we often see mismatches running from the amusing to the disturbing. Harrell’s talk opens with some humorous dramatizations of this potential. Read More
What would it mean to have “big” projects — bigger than a single investigator, lab, or even institution could handle — that are not arranged by science and engineering concerns, but by cultural concerns? In this talk from the Media Systems gathering at UC Santa Cruz, Anne Balsamo gives the shape of two major, ongoing digital humanities projects of this sort: the AIDS Memorial Quilt Browser and FemTechNet.
Balsamo comes to these projects from a history that ranges from creating one of the first pieces of feminist computational media activism to being brought into PARC as a humanist (becoming a translator between the discourses and practices of art, science, design, and engineering). As she explains, her training in the cultural analysis of emerging technologies prepares her to ask questions such as:
How does the future — which I will argue begins in our imagination — become the present? Which means: We always have an idea about where we’re going, what we want to do with our technologies. And the question for me becomes, how does that thing that is so possible, and so full of possibilities and potentiality, become the present we live in? And then, by that time, what is already foreclosed upon, or what is still possible?