Zircus: A Concept Sketch for a Learning Environment and Online Community
"Zircus" is a design for a virtual playspace that is part zoo and part circus. Animals are not trained to perform unnatural tricks, but roam freely through familiar terrains, in the spirit of the well designed zoos. Visitors are not mere spectators, but creators of acrobatic routines, juggling sequences, and other circus arts. Friends from all over the globe can see themselves represented in cartoon-like form -- often, forms that they themselves design. As they wander through various landscapes and interiors, these new-age, live-action "pen pals" can converse in different languages with each other and with resident characters. The visitors can also compose and send messages to one another, and invent their own creatures who move in interesting ways.
Background & Objective: Zircus is a suggestion of how the research domains of real-time, networked 3D graphics; speech recognition and generation; natural language processing; artificial agents, and digital video could come together as supports for an environment that fosters human learning. In "The Lessons of Lucasfilm's "Habitat," (Morningstar and Farmer 1991) describe their experiences in designing and implementing a base for a graphical online community. Some of their discoveries are strikingly consonant with good learning environment design. They conclude that "one of the goals Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ ought to be to permit far greater creative involvement by the participants without requiring them to ascend to full-fledged guruhood to do so." This emphasis on interactions, both social and instrumental, is consistent with aims of constructive learning environments as described by (Papert 1980), (Harel and Papert 1991), and (Yasmin and Resnick 1996). The context is conceptual, technical, and social. People work with specifically designed or selected tools or media to create things they care about. Often the people work together; often, for extended periods of time. They develop not only individual understandings, but a culture that supports the building and learning.
Technical Discussion: The experience design for Zircus addresses the questions: (1) Who Am I? (2) Where Am I? (3) Who Else Is Here? and (4) What Can We Do Here?.
(1) Visitors may design or choose costumes that suggest characterizations and roles in the environment. Texture-mapping photos of users onto cartoon characters' faces could be possible, but many people prefer a semi-anonymous situation in which they construct a new identity.
(2) Characters meet, converse, and play in the hills and valleys of the rolling landscape, and in and around structures on it: a stable, a tent, trailers. Visitors should be able to add additional regions and structures. Characters get from one part of Zircus to another by walking; indeed, human and animal locomotion are a focus of the learning environment. A dynamic "you are here map that tracks and displays characters' locations would be helpful. Riding an animal like a horse can change point of view or enable experimentation with different gaits and speeds of movement. Occasional adjustments of lighting and sound could create effects of rain and other weather changes.
(3) Visitors meet other live participants represented as animals or circus characters, as well as permanent residents -- free-roaming, speaking "agents." Each agent-character embodies some function that can help in practicing or understanding a foreign language.
(4) In addition to conversing with live and automated characters, visitors can use high-level software to construct objects, characters, and other additions to the environment. The zoo/circus portrayal sets the theme for learning activities in the realm of motion study: animal locomotion, stilt walking, juggling, etc. Visitors can interact with other members of the online community even when they are not present simultaneously. They can compose messages to one another, consisting of sound, pictures, or both.
Modification Date: September 14, 2007