Participatory Learning…Virtually.

by alexandrakellyg

Josephine Dorado is a professor at Parsons and an expert in the field of “creative collaboration and theatrical performance in virtual worlds.”  I attended her demonstration on Participatory Learning Through Performance at MobilityShifts on Saturday afternoon.  Dorado explored, most specifically, improvisational dance in the virtual world of Second Life as a tool for participatory learning.  I must admit…I’ve always been a Second Life skeptic.  This is partially why I chose to attend this demonstration.  How does Second Life work?  What is the appeal of using my computer to transport me away from my immediate environment into an atmosphere of aliases that interact in real time?  What makes this virtual world of improvisational dance more fascinating and effective then my neighborhood contact dance group?

Photo credit:  Josephine Dorado

The demonstration displayed Second Life aliases (including Dorado’s alias) dancing to music that was being mixed by a DJ in the physical Orientation Room at Parsons.  The physical audience could sometimes be seen on a big screen within the virtual world.  We could watch ourselves watching the dancers.  The dancers performed many moves which seem physically impossible in real life; such as rapid fire upside down splits.  At one point, colorful ribbons were received by the dancers as props to use in interaction or alone on a corner of the floor.

A photograph I took at the demonstration - Josephine Dorado at center

The element of individual ‘choice’ and experimentation is still very much alive in the virtual world, but it seems less intimidating to choose to approach another dancer on the virtual floor then on the physical floor.  In Augusto Boal’s approach to participatory learning through improvisational performance, he gradually works with people to allow them to slowly start to grow into their own bodies and connect with other bodies onstage; at their own pace.  In Second Life’s dance world, there seems to be a much lower threshold to full body participation and collaboration, right from the beginning.  It is not as intimidating to throw your body onto a virtual dance floor, but in what ways does that test your comfort zone?  What does “embarrassment,” “shyness,” or “tentativeness” feel like online as opposed to on Boal’s stage?  And, what sense of accomplishment does a person feel when they have worked through Boal’s exercises (mistakes and all!) as opposed to ribbon dancing for twenty minutes with a group of anonymous people from around the world?

I left Dorado’s demonstration – my first official viewing of Second Life on a screen – feeling even more curious about this new notion of participatory learning through improvisation.  It tests many of my own definitions (mainly those formed through personal experience) of what performance is and what it does to inspire dialogue and create community.  Boal’s theater inspires community dialogue and individual senses of agency.  What are the post-effects of an online dance collaboration on a virtual community and within the physical lives of the people on their computers?

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