Monthly Archives: August 2008

NILE 2008 – Day 3

Posted by PH on August 21, 2008
Narrative / No Comments

The final session of NILE 2008 kicked off with Tuula Nousiainen. Her presentation was about getting schoolchildren to design board games as part of a strategy to promote deep-reading skills. Andrew Stranieri then talked about his team’s work developing a web-based narrative construction environment, that was notable insofar as it used user-generated “snippets” so that “a large human knowledge of of narrative, drama and character responses are captured in the inferences that are used to generate narrative dynamically.”

Debbie Maxwell gave a fascinating presentation about her work with undergraduate digital media students. This was based around the idea of storytelling, and each student had to create a version of a given story as a new media object. What was particularly telling was the range of responses, from the usual repertory of Flash objects and short films, right through to a digital camp fire (where the storyteller could use a ring to change the colour of the ‘fire’) through to interactive puppets (see below).

In reality, the puppets were somewhat disappointing: they only look like puppets (i.e. they don’t actually move in performance) and interaction with them is limited to selecting which one is telling the story. You do this by, ahem, putting your finger in their mouth. All very odd, but it’s a good way of presenting a Rashomon-like experience, in theory at least.

What was particularly noteworthy about this work was the lengths Debbie had gone to to get the students involved in the idea of storytelling: she’d organized storytelling sessions with skilled storytellers, got the students to tell each other stories (including some via videolink to highlight the importance of presence), and actually organized a “mini-festival” called Timeless Tales to exhibit the students’ work. All very inspiring.

Michael Kiegel‘s presentation was about the creation of a role-playing game that was designed to develop intercultural skills amongst teenagers. Monica Axelrod talked about the development of an interactive drama system that had as one of its design priorites a quick authoring process. Oksana Zelenko gave a very interesting and persuasive presentation on the participatory design process of software objects for children. Finally, Paul Oord presented on a constructivist “learn-work” e-learning environment he had been involved in creating.

All good stuff.

– –

I enjoyed the conference on the whole. As usual with narrative, many different approaches from many different disciplines were in evidence. Whilst there was nothing that really blew me away I’ve come away with lots of new ideas, although these are for my teaching practice rather than my research work. If I had a criticism of the conference, it would be that too much was packed in: in particular, this meant there was little or no time for any plenary sessions, no chance to integrate any of the points of view, no real sense of coherence. I expect you could say that about most conferences…

So, the only thing left is my own presentation. I’ll post on it soon.
Thanks for sticking with it.

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NILE 2008 – Day 2

Posted by PH on August 15, 2008
Comics, Narrative, Visual Culture / No Comments

This will be something of an incomplete report because I deliberately missed the morning session—most of which was not really relevant to my area of interest—and went walking around Edinburgh in the rain: right across the southern half of the city to Bruntsfield Place, up and down Morningside Road and back to Pollock Halls in time for lunch.

The afternoon session was given over to an extended presentation by Dr. Mel Gibson entitled So What Is This Mango Anyway? Comics, it was about comics… And talking of comics Dr. Gibson was something of one herself, with a very extrovert personality and presentation style: highly amusing and anecdotal, and yet with an obvious deep love—and encyclopedic knowledge—of the form.

Attempting to capture the contents of the 3-hour session in any detail would be nigh-on impossible, so here’s a list of some of the points she brought up:

  1. Comics are highly specific geographically (i.e. US, Japanese, and British comics have very separate identities). These geographic differences often manifest themselves as distinct genres.
  2. Comics are excellent for reaching across generations.
  3. Comics can embody a strong feeling of nostalgia in adults.
  4. Characters may exist in different media (what she termed “intermedia” existence).
  5. Comics translate very well across cultures (e.g. Asterix, Manga, Tintin).
  6. Comics are a useful source for the investigation of anthropomorphism.
  7. Comics are good for illustrating issues of literacy and semiotics, e.g. the way Japanese comics read backwards (from our point of view).
  8. Comics were arguably at the vanguard of the reemergence of serial narrative in the 20th century.
  9. Comics can be a useful source of experimentation with character and story development, e.g. casting Marge Simpson as an action hero.
  10. Comics can be a useful source of material for issues such as gender, identity, etc..

Dr. Gibson also brought along a huge selection of Manga novels, graphic novels, and various other comic collections for us all to look at (polite scrum above, sample below). There was some fantastic stuff, with my particular favourite being Death Note: I didn’t get to read all of it but the from the opening panel it was obviously a stunning piece of work.

Finally, from my own personal point of view, Dr. Gibson had some useful ideas about using comics in a teaching practice. This next list is a personal memo to myself, really:

  1. Design idea: “A cover for a comic I would like to see”.
  2. DC Thomson’s guidance to comic authors: the story extends over 3 pages with 6-9 panels per page. 2 speech balloons per panel. No more than 1 thought bubble or information box per panel. The last panel on the page must be a ‘page turner’ or ‘curtain’.
  3. Fold an A4 piece of paper and create a ‘6-minute comic’.
  4. Interactive comics: investigate!

If you’d like more detail on Dr. Gibson’s presentation here’s the permalink from the NILE 2008 blog. If you desperately have to catch up on the sessions I missed the complete NILE 2008 blog is here. Dr. Gibson also has her own site which is packed with useful stuff. Highly recommended.

Thanks Dr. Mel Gibson for a really interesting session. More on NILE 2008 to follow.

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NILE 2008 – Day 1

Posted by PH on August 11, 2008
Narrative / No Comments

After a welcome break from the blogosphere I’m back with my report on the Narrative in Interactive Learning Environments 2008 conference, held at Edinburgh University 6th – 8th August.

Day 1 kicked off with a keynote speech by Dr. Donald Smith, director of the Scottish Storytelling Centre, author, playwright, poet and storyteller. For me, the phrase that stuck out was his assertion that a learning environment—as well as being effective etc.—should be “life-enhancing.” Well said.

Ruth Aylett followed. Ruth has been very active in this field for many years and is a conference regular. She tends to have rather a rigid view of narrative, in my opinion, but to her credit she is soldiering away at the hard end of the narrative spectrum and is always good value. Her paper concerned the development of an ’emergent narrative environment’ that is partly rule-based and partly AI: she talked of using a “continuous-planning” software agent that has the role of “gamesmaster.” Very clever. Must read the paper.

Andrew Stranieri (above) presented work on measuring the dramatic intensity in games. Katy Howland‘s presentation focused on using an off-the-shelf game creation tool—Neverwinter Nights—to develop literacy skills. Radnia Hodhod talked about an “intelligent tutoring system” that used narrative.

Next up was Dr. Paul Mulholland (above). His presentation was a work-in-progress report on the SILVER project (Semantic Interactive Learning Visualization Environment Research). This is a collaboration between the Knowledge Media Institute, the Bridgeman Art Library, and Lexara that aims to provide students with a narrative learning environment based on image sequences. From the SILVER website:

SILVER will produce a toolkit for building Visual Interactive Publications (VIPs). A VIP is a dynamic, visual presentation that combines existing resources according to their semantic description and user goals to support creative problem solving. VIPs will use visualisation techniques to make the semantic structure visible in the context of the resources and learner tasks. Visualisation will also allow the user to uncover complex knowledge structures associated with different perspectives on the same situation.

The basic software will be content independent and will allow teachers to add their own content specific to their own needs. The project will also develop a set of preloaded content relating to learning outcomes set out in the National Curriculum. Teachers will be able to use these preloaded examples without modification or use them as a basis for developing lessons more refined to their individual needs. A key part of the project will be to investigate new ways of delivering and visualising the content on a wide variety of hardware such as whiteboards and mobile devices including PDAs.

Paul is my PhD supervisor and I know his work really well: this is just another example of his cutting-edge work on NILEs.

My presentation—entitled ‘Narrative & New Media’—was next. I will post a separate blog entry on it later. Brian Lighthill then gave a very practical demonstration of his methods for teaching Shakespeare in schools. This was followed by Sean Hammond‘s interesting presentation about his ongoing work developing a children’s story authoring environment based around Propp’s morphology. The basic idea revolved around the use of story cards, each one of which represented one of Propp’s functions. Children could select a set of cards from the pack and then write their own story around this basic framework:

The card set.

Card Number 9.

The Story Board.

The prototype software.

The next stage of Sean’s project will embed the story cards idea within a ‘drag-and-drop’ software object, but as you can see from the last photograph above it’s still at quite an early stage. Overall though, a really excellent piece of work.

The final paper of the day was presented by Krystina Madej and, in fact, followed on very neatly from my own. Her paper was entitled Traditional Narrative Structure – Neither Traditional Nor The Norm and talked about the way that the narrative structures that are not ‘Aristotelean’—and she cited Epic, Interlaced, and Framed narrative structures as examples—have been suppressed: even much of what Aristotle said about narrative is very rarely mentioned, such as his discussions on the use of the Prologue, Episode, Exode and Chorus. Where it absolutely ties in with my work is her assertion (from the conference paper):

As new communication media emerge they adopt and repurpose or remediate narratives. Even as each medium explores and creates its own aesthetic, the structure of print narrative is the standard that has been applied to narrative in all media.

I am totally in accordance with idea. Here’s a quote from the end of my conference paper:

Our view of narrative is distorted by the predominantly literary nature of our conception of it. The vast majority of narrative theorists and narratologists—Frye, Genette, Todorov, Barthes, Chatman, White, Herman, et al—have viewed narrative through the medium of the book: that is, writing amplified by print. This has a tendency to generate long-form narratives which are fixed within a formally closed text. However, if we look closely at the nature of the new media object as we have done here, it suggests that our ability to generate, comprehend, and make meaning from narrative may encompass a much wider range of forms than the literature suggests. At the very least it suggests we need to pay close attention to the way in which we deploy narrative in the new media environment.

And on that note I will leave you. As you can see form the above, the first day of NILE 2008 was very interesting and highly diverse. If you want more detail on some of these presenters and their work, you can find it on the NILE 2008 blog.

More later. Ciao!

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