Saturday, January 08, 2011

Amazing Building Communities Workshop

Futuristic buses in Beijing

Working In-World
We just wrapped up an amazing four-day workshop on design and engineering of public spaces. Each year we spend this week after winter break teaching special collaborative courses with multi-age groups of students so I worked with a math teacher, a science teacher, and another technology coordinator to put together a series of amazing field trips and a design and building project in OpenSim with nine students in 9 - 12th grades. Our field trips were unbelievable, starting at the MOMA with Design and the Modern Kitchen and Design Over Time, then to the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's Why Design Now? exhibit and a workshop, and finally into what felt like the center of the Earth with a tour of the NY Metropolitan Transit Authority's excavation of the planned 2nd Ave. subway tunnel. (More amazing info and pictures of that here!)

Working RL

Renewable Energy Community

Interspersed with those experiences was our project using OpenSim to design and build communities. The students broke into groups,  picked a location in the world to design for, and researched the needs, cultures, and geography of the local region. Once they had chosen their places I created approximate heightmaps and imported them to adjacent regions. I had hoped to use Virtual White's steps to importing USGS Seamless Server data to OpenSim but I couldn't find anything similar for international GIS data. So I did some quick brush work and came up with some okay approximations, though way off scale. The areas they chose were Syndey Harbor, Fengtai in Beijing, and an area modeled after Table Mountain near Capetown, South Africa, though the actual Table Mountain is a nature reserve. Each group focused on different aspects of their communities. The Beijing group worked primarily on a transportation center with a station and a futuristic bus. I got them started with a script to move the bus with passengers inside that they obsessively refined to suit different transportation objectives.
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Syndey Harbor Heightmap
The Table Mountain group focused on a community supported by renewable energy resources. They chose their location because of the high winds in the area and integrated purple wind turbines inspired by Ener Hax's amazing work and solar panels on light-filled structures. And the Sydney Harbour group worked really hard on a fantastic replica of the actual bridge complete with a waving flag and built an extensive housing complex. They had fun inhabiting the city with some pretty awesome kangaroos they built, though I doubt those are roaming as freely as they would like to imagine.

Aside from Ener's work, we looked at an amazing video of Encitra's model for integrating a podcar system in Uppsala, Sweden. And we took a virtual tour of some Second Life regions, like Ijinle 1796, a composite Yoruba village in Africa Illuminated, the impressive Edmonton Civic Center build, and a nice Chinatown build called Chukagai in Yokohama. I don't know how to do SLURLs but if you search in SL you should be able to find these locations. And we read and discussed some passages about affordances and affective elements of design from Donald Norman's books, The Design of Everyday Things, and Emotional Design.

I was so impressed that they really got some essential concepts about what it means to design things for people. On one of our field trips the guide asked them some questions about design and they said things like, "You design things to solve particular problems," "Your first design will never work," and "At some point you will have to use math to get your design to work right." I was so proud of them!
A bit of fun on the bridge

What else can I say....It is so rewarding to work in a way that allows for learning from such different angles, gives them such great latitude for creativity, ingenuity, and collaboration, and provides a social element that really makes it fun. At some points we all feel like it's a game that we're playing together but there's enough freedom to set goals together and for the students to set and revise their own goals. There are even a few girls who want to continue working and create a replica of our school building in the sim! It's also the kind of work that is tremendously engrossing and the concentration is exhausting. They liked working steadily on something and then sitting back and realizing how tired they were from concentrating so hard. In all, what an amazing experience. I look forward to next year's Winterim class.


iliveisl said...

gee, thank you for the most kind words =)

your 4 day workshop looked fantastic and so great about how well the students did with their projects!

yours is a truly worthwhile and clever endeavor. the ability to see your thoughts become in-world builds can be a powerful way to express art, science, and humanity

it will be interesting to see who gets "hooked" on this outlet and what they will build in the future

your students are all digital natives and their perspectives and approaches will be framed differently than others

their paradigms are not so grounded in the real world and even things like time in Farmville shapes the possibilities they envision

well done, very well done! =)

Erik N. said...

Thanks so much, Ener! Two things I realize after re-reading this post are that I said amazing far too many times and will have to consult a thesaurus in the future, and I can't take credit for the field trips, which were arranged by the other teachers. But it was so nice how it all fit together.