The influence of narrative

I am under the impression that there is quite a bit of research being carried out in Second Life, and so I was surprised not to find one single abstract mentioning this platform at the 40th HICSS conference which I recently attended. I visited a couple of presentations on World of Warcraft, but also this platform was surprisingly scarcely represented.

One good quality presentation on WoW was Bonnie Nardi’s “Learning conversations in World of Warcraft”. During a one-year ethnographic study, Nardi and her colleagues investigated how new-comers learnt how to play the game through interaction with other players. They conclude that learning takes place in the areas of fact-finding, tactics and strategy, as well as game ethos, and argue that the emotive aspects of the conversations seem to have an important effect. After the presentation there was a discussion concerning the compelling qualities of WoW, and a question was raised about what might make a game such as WoW more attractive than SL. Nardi argued that an explanation could be the narrative driven game engine in WoW where social interaction is complemented by a general story-line exemplified in quests. On the negative side, as one participant pointed out, it is more difficult to design specific learning experiences in a narrative driven game, and platforms such as SL might be better suited for this.

In the educational projects we have conducted in graphical virtual environments here in HUMlab, we have focused on social worlds, allowing for construction of objects and learning spaces (as in Active Worlds) and focus on communicative interaction (as in Traveler). It would be interesting to learn about educational projects in narrative driven games not designed specifically for educational purposes, and to think about how we might take advantage of the compelling aspects of these games also in a learning context.

You can read more reflections from the conference in my blog.

What is Google doing to our language?

The other day, I attended a course in the lab on concordances and how these can be used for linguistic research and in language education. Jon, who was giving the course, pointed out that the most commonly used concordance tool today probably is Google, and we had an interesting discussion about the consequences of this.

I am sure many of you use Google to check different constructions and compare frequencies; at least this behavior seems to be common among those of us who do not have English as our native language. But how reliable are these results? In some cases the frequency numbers differ so greatly that there is no question that one construction is incorrect. However, sometimes the differences are not as great, and a more thorough analysis of the results is needed. For example, one has to evaluate some of the sources for the hits found (for instance, if you only get a small sample and the majority are from .se addresses, it is likely that we are only dealing with a common Swenglish expression).

One advantage I see with using Google instead of traditional corpora for concordance is that Google captures language at it is used today. We may well find examples of constructions previously considered as incorrect which now appearto be common, and this might lead us to accept that language is constantly changing. Maybe to sometimes split infinitives is not that terrible a crime after all?

Ethnography in design

As a linguist investigating communicative patterns and language use in technologically mediated communication, I very much enjoy trying to apply my findings to inform interaction design. As part of my seminar on multitasking on Tuesday (November 21 at 1.15 pm CET), I will illustrate the role that I believe ethnography and linguistics might have in the design process by referring to my most recent study.

There seems to be an interesting conflict between those who think that ethnography cannot inform design and those who view it as a valuable tool in the design process. In his recent thesis, Mikael Jakobsson describes this dispute and refers to how those arguing against ethnographic research have mainly focused on how the subjective and context-dependent findings of these types of qualitative studies cannot be generalized. He counters this by arguing that context-dependent findings can be of importance in that we can get situated and thorough explanations of the actual meaning of phenomena, which we can never get from quantitative studies. Another discussion of the conflict is found in this paper by Magnus Nilsson on the role of ethnography and workplace studies in CSCW.  

Questions like these I hope to discuss further on Tuesday. Please join us! If you cannot make it to HUMlab, the seminar will be live streamed and you will be able to interact via a text chat. The links will be posted here in the blog on the day of the seminar.

My abstract is available in the extended entry.

Continue reading “Ethnography in design”

The week of October 9 in HUMlab

Here in HUMlab, we have yet another week filled with different types of activities ahead of us. This afternoon Ana Valdés will be presenting on activism and new media, and we expect quite some crowd to turn up. After her seminar, Jennie is teaching our five-credit course and today’s topic is representational techniques. From what I have heard she is planning on letting the student try out some quite innovative techniques, like representations in computer games, for instance. Tomorrow, Stephanie has summoned to a blog meeting, where we will get tips concerning how to best make use of the features of WordPress, as well as some more general writing tips. I am really looking forward to that, and hope that it will give us all an energy buzz to do some more blogging.

On Thursday, the lab will be invaded by school kids exploring the university during “Upptäcksfärden”. They will get to play with the dance mats and try reach-in, paint with wacom board, participate in a treasure hunt taking place in the virtual and the physical HUMlab and create noise (or perhaps even music?) on our music Mac. I find this annual event to be really rewarding since younger kids have so much energy and curiosity. The tricky thing is how to explain that we actually do conduct research here too, and don not play on the dance mats all day long. Apart from these activities, four employees are attending a project meeting in Uppsala for the QVIZ project, in which HUMlab is the coordinating partner. So, all in all, there is quite a lot going on!

The second week of September 2006 in HUMlab

This week in HUMlab is filled with activities. Tomorrow our course “ICT for Humanists” will have its first introductory meeting. Over 25 students have signed up to take part, and we’re really excited that it’s finally time for kick-off! On Wednesday a teacher from the literature department will bring her students here to work with electronic literature, and as Patrik has already pointed out, Robert Gould will be giving a seminar as part of the HUMlab seminar series. Other activities include a research seminar on ICT and religion, which Stefan G. is organizing together with the department of religious studies, and an information session which Magnus will have with their students about how they can collaborate with HUMlab. On Friday, we will have a planning conference together with Blekinge Institute of Technology with focus on how to strengthen research within the area of ICT and the Humanities in Sweden.

On top of this, there are of course all the regular activities with students and staff using the facilities for their work. There’s always such a great energy early in the semester and it’s great to be in the midst of it all!

Reporting from EUROCALL

I’m now attending the EUROCALL conference in Granada – an interesting conference in a beautiful place! In connection with this year’s conference, I have been working with a team integrating a virtual strand including a conference blog. Yesterday we had a workshop introducing the tools and finding bloggers . More than 10 people signed up to help with the blogging, so hopefully the reporting will be lively! Visit the conference blog to learn more and to chat in realtime with Granda delegates and others participating at a distance:

Planning and fun

The HUMlab crew is now back from planning days at Höga Kusten. During our visit there we had plenty of fruitful discussions concerning everything from blogging practices and daily maintenance of the lab to strategic planning for the future, including the strengthening of the research profile “the Humanities and information technology” at Umeå University.


One of the things we planned was our presence at the Humanist mingle taking place on Wednesday. Ellen presented a concept (worked out in her group) based on us having access to a large lecture hall where we will show Machinima film and treat our visitors to Popcorn in specially designed HUMlab cones. Other planned activities include testing our haptical reach-in interface (prefereably before eating the popcorn to avoid grease on the device) and skateboard simulation. Chatting with the crew is of course part of the plan as well.

Our planning days were not all work, but we had a nice evening together as well. Before dinner, some of us took the opportunity to go for what might be the last swim of the summer.


Cyborg citizens and digital natives

In one of the many interesting presentation we have listened to today, Patrik Hernwall discussed the notion of Educology, and how, within this framework, the learning subject can be defined. Building on theories of constructivist learning, he suggested that the learning subject should be viewed as an active, intentional, meaningmaking subject in context. An important part of the context is the tools available and what actions they afford, and this reasoning brought Hernwall to the conclusion that it is fruitful to view the (young) learner as a cyborg citizen. For the cyborg citizen these tools have become a natural part of their everyday environments and, according to Hernwall (quoting McLuhan), extensions of their consciousness. During the presentation it occurred to me that there seems to be some overlap between the notion of the cyborg citizen the notion of the digital native (which network member Elza Dunkels makes good use of in her research). Would be interesting to compare the two more closely, but that will have to wait for another day – off for networking dinner now 🙂 .

PhD student workshop

Some of us doctoral students affiliated with HUMlab are part of a local research network – the Digital Interaction Research Network (DIRN). The members of DIRN are doctoral students from the Humanities, Informatics, Pedagogy and Interactive Media and Learning, all with a common interest in the very broadly defined topic of digital interaction. We are now planning a workshop, which is to take place in HUMlab, August 21-22, where doctoral students will get to meet and get feedback on work-in-progress both from each other and from our invited guests: Jill Walker, TL Taylor, Patrik Hernwall and Patrik Svensson. Thanks to financial support from different working units and departments here at Umeå University (at the time being: Tvärvetenskapligt forum, HUMlab, The Faculty of Teacher Education, Department of Education, Department of Culture and Media and Department of Informatics), the network will be able to cover traveling participants’ costs for food and accommodation.

Take a look at the call for papers in the DIRN wiki and let us know if you would be interested in participating!