Monday, 3 September 2012

Augmentation vs. Immersion: Some Initial Thoughts

I've been working on some guides to help teaching staff decide which tools and technologies to use for different learning activities. I was interested by the ideas of 'Affordance Analysis' and 'Faceted Classification' as possible ideas to base the guides on.

Both Affordance Analysis and Faceted Classification seem to try and pick out the aspects of tools that are most influential on learning activities and put each aspect on a spectrum, and I've been trying to spot these influential aspects in the technologies that I've been using.

So I was interested by an article by Botgirl Questi (the Avatar of David Elfanbaum) on her thoughts on the lack of growth of 3D Virtual Worlds which contained this quote:

It seems to me that what people want today is technology that demands as little attention as possible. No one would have predicted thirty years ago that text would be the dominant form of teen communication in a future where voice and video were almost universally available. Although my teen children and their friends have smartphones and laptops that can run Skype, they almost never choose video and seldom voice, even for extended conversations.  It’s because texting allows them to control their attention and split it between conversations and whatever else they’re doing.”

One of the reasons that young people aren’t generally using tools like Second Life may be that these tools designed for ‘immersive’ activities don’t fit in with their lifestyles. They seem to be using tools that ‘augment’ their environment rather than replace their perceived environment as the ‘metaverse’ would.

I’ve also been reading Jesper Juul’s ‘Casual Revolution’ book from 2009 where he looks at the recent growth of ‘casual gaming’ as opposed to ‘hardcore gaming’. He talks (p36) about ‘interruptibility’ as an aspect of these new games, where you are less committed to playing for long periods of time without stopping. Again we see indications that people want to use technologies that allow us to share attention. While there is still a community of hardcore gamers who play without distraction for long periods, gaming as an activity is made more accessible by designing casual games that offer other possibilities.

Perhaps a facet that we can use when examining the potential use of technologies, is the spectrum from ‘immersive’ activities that require our whole attention for a considerable period of time, to activities which are less visible ‘augmentations’ of our environments.

There is of course a considerable literature on the concepts of immersion and presence, and growing work around augmented reality which would have to be explored to understand the concepts and issues better. However at the moment questions I would like to answer are:

1. Is this a valid facet/framework that can be applied to educational uses of technologies? - There seems to have been debates on aspects of these ideas both within the Second Life community, and the educational community, although their focuses and definitions look different. However looking back at these might either guide my thinking, or discourage me from going down this road.

2. In which situations are ‘immersive’ technologies more suited, and for which tasks might they meet our needs better? Where should we look at using the less intrusive technologies that ‘augment’ our environments?

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