NILE 2008 – Day 1

Posted by PH on August 11, 2008

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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