It's behind you (oh no it isn't!): Learning about digital authenticity from pantomimes in Second Life

Peachey, Anna and Withnail, Greg (2011). It's behind you (oh no it isn't!): Learning about digital authenticity from pantomimes in Second Life. In: 1st Global Conference on Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, 20-22 Mar 2011, Prague, Czech Republic.



This paper reflects on two Christmas pantomimes performed by The Open University informal learning community in Second Life. We explore the skills needed to participate in the production and how learning from the first event informed changes to the second, following Kolb’s (1975) Experiential Learning Model of concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations.

The first pantomime was performed in December 2008. Many traditional pantomime performance conventions were observed, however the skills required to mediate these roles successfully in a virtual world were different to their physical world equivalents. The cast chose to perform using text (rather than voice), requiring them to simultaneously manage a range of interactions with the environment.

During and after the performance we observed the level of digital literacy and multitasking skills needed by performers, and reflected on how to refine the process, within the limits of the environment, for the following year’s delivery. It was observed that complex multitasking was needed to manage all aspects of acting through avatars within the environment. An easy but extreme solution would be to automate the production completely, using the technology to take away all individual user interactions, but this raised questions about the authenticity of the shared experience.

Discussions led to the formation of abstract concepts relating to the continuum between traditional pantomime delivery and fully automated inworld delivery, and the ‘acceptability’ limit for a genuine shared experience between performers and audience. A device was programmed to deliver lines as controlled by each actor, freeing participants from the need to copy and paste but maintaining individual responsibility for timing, and this was tested successfully in the December 2009 performance.

The value in understanding the skills needed to participate in such a collaborative acting event, and the sense of authenticity, can be transferred to any teaching and learning activity that uses plays and role-plays to help students explore embedded perspectives.

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