Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Moveable Feast?

- by Magellan Egoyan

The Embodied Research Group has decided to explore the format and structure of an alternative kind of meeting that would take full advantage of the advantages offered by the Second Life environment over real world environments. We believe that classroom-based learning (and lecture hall type conferencing) in Second Life has very limited utility. The only major advantage it confers over real world environments is that one can involve people from diverse places. Otherwise, it mimics a context which is already being questioned, in increasingly wide circles, within real life.

However, what is the alternative? Although there are many different alternatives being explored, no single format or even approach has risen to the top of the heap. Our group is attracted, however, to an idea we have begun to call a "moveable feast" - a more active, engaged style of meeting that takes advantage of the fact that we can move about freely and quickly within Second Life, and hence there is no reason to hold a complete meeting at one location. There are logistic issues to having the location shift, however, and we expect to investigate these problems and find flexible solutions to them.

We are also challenging, as befits a group studying "embodiment", the purely intellectual approach to meetings and research. We believe that "meetings", especially within Second Life, should accommodate or include non intellectual experiences that nonetheless contribute to our understanding as a group of the relevant issues of Second Life. What these non intellectual experiences are, however, remains to be fully understood. We've already given up on standard "powerpoint" presentations, and replaced them with a more dynamic, more exchange oriented approach, as well as the use of diagrams and figures on stable "boards" and video clips made available via youTube. But we could go subtantially further into a less intellectual discourse.

Our first field exercise in this spirit was undertaken during our regular meeting on Tuesday, September 4th, 2007. One of our members had invited a talented architect, Keystone Bouchard, to join the discussion. Given that our agenda was to explore alternative meeting formats, it was decided spontaneously to go on a "field trip" as a group and visit Keystone's new Gallery of Reflexive Architecture (see reviews by Magellan and Bluewave for more details).

Somewhat to our surprise, I think, no one got lost, and we had an amazing experience as a group within Keystone's fascinating installations. Rather than carrying on our usual chaotic conversation, we actually, well, played together. The resulting memory of the experience is indelible, it is unlikely to fade from memory for some time.

The Embodied Research Group has been very effective at advancing our thinking on a wide range of topics within its somewhat chaotic (and very Second Life-like) mode of operation. However, these experiences advance our joint understanding of embodiment in other ways, at least as significant, perhaps more so. Certainly a mix of "action events" and "discussion events" needs to take place.

We don't yet know much about how to set up a viable "moveable feast". How many events should be planned? How should we deal with some of the vagaries of Second Life - for example, if teleporting suddenly stops working? We shall need alternative plans for such eventualities. What kinds of experiences should we include? Should any be excluded?

It has been suggested that we need a "good" list of places to visit, that fit within our embodied research agenda. Certainly Keystone's Gallery is on the list. Members of the group are working on developing such lists, but we're not even sure what should be included.

The Moveable Feast - a story that will undoubtedly unfold over time.

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