Imagining Innovations for Education Futures

July 27th, 2010

eDream Director Donna Cox is participating in one of this year's SIGGRAPH panels on Grand Challenges in Education (July 25-29, Los Angeles), organized by Leonardo head Roger Malina.  The panels are taking up the conversation started in HASTAC founders and leaders David Theo Goldberg and Cathy Davidson's Macarthur Foundation-funded report The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (MIT Press, 2009).  The report calls out higher education for its conversative institutional organization and practices in a time of promising, fast-paced change throughout culture. 

20XX.EDU: Grand Challenges in Education (Part 1)


Wednesday, 28 July | 9:00 AM10:30 AM | Theater 411

This panel, organized by the ACM SIGGRAPH Education Committee and Leonardo/ISAST, brings together a diverse group of outstanding researchers and artists, academy and industry professionals, educators, and government officials to discuss the future of education in its broadest sense, encompassing both formal and informal learning.
New digital technologies for human expression and communication have given birth to a 24/7-connected worldwide community that offers individuals and institutions a myriad of new models for shared, interactive learning. Information from a variety of digital devices that we now carry with us at all times is reshaping the way we perceive the world and interact with it. Online collaboration and social networking now play a major role in how we acquire and spread knowledge.
How can educational institutions take advantage of the increasing popularity and dissemination of these technologies? How can individuals and institutions benefit from the massive increase of participatory and collaborative learning in our society? What are the major challenges in education today, in the sciences and the humanities? What are the new educational trends and paradigms for the coming decades? What kind of new learning contexts can be created outside of traditional institutions?
The recent MacArthur report on The Future of Learning Institutions in the Digital Age provides one set of responses to these questions. This panel continues the conversation.


Marc Barr
Middle Tennessee State University

Roger Malina

David T. Goldberg
HASTAC, University of California

Rebecca Allen
NOKIA Hollywood

Pamela Jennings
National Science Foundation

Sarah Cunningham
National Endowment for the Arts

Glenn Entis
VanEdge Capital


 20XX.EDU: Grand Challenges in Education (Part 2)

Wednesday, 28 July | 10:45 AM12:15 PM | Theater 411

This panel, organized by the ACM SIGGRAPH Education Committee and Leonardo/ISAST, is a continuation of the conversation that begins in Part 1 among a diverse group of outstanding researchers and artists, academy and industry professionals, educators, and government officials to discuss the future of education in its broadest sense, encompassing both formal and informal learning.


Marc Barr
Middle Tennessee State University

Donna Cox

James Foley
Georgia Institute of Technology

Andy van Dam
Brown University

Victoria Vesna
University of California, Los Angeles

Roger Malina


Download the report.

Donna Cox’s former student, Stephen Unterfranz, makes another hit

July 12th, 2010

Donna Cox's former student, Stephen Unterfranz, has made more visual-effects, box-office gold with the latest Twilight move, Eclipse.  Unterfranz served as the film's CG character supervisor, charged with bringing fantasy and reality to life on the screen.  The media, both expert and public, have been praising the movie wolves' range of emotional expression as well as the new rendering techniques for their fur. 


Other recent hits with which Unterfranz has been associated are Horton Hears a Who, Iceage: The Meltdown, and all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.


— Kelly Searsmith

Digital Arts Media as the Eighth Art?

June 24th, 2010

Where does digitla arts media fit within the fine arts tradition?  Denis Dyack , president of gaming powerhouse Silicon Knights, made a case for naming video gaming the "eighth art" at a recent conference, Interacting with Immersive Worlds, held at Brock University (Ontario Canada) and reported on Silicon Knights official blog by a Film Studies professor there, Barry Keith Grant.

image source unknown

The philosopher Hegel (German, 1770-1831), in his Lectures on Aesthetics, is credited with having defined the five ancient arts as architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry.  Italian early film theorist Ricciotto Canudo modernized poetry as literature, added dance, and offered cinema as the seventh art.  For Canudo (wiki), in his "Reflections on the Seventh Art" (1923), cinema was a synthesis of the rhythms of space (architecture, sculpture, painting) with the rhythms of time (music, literature, dance). 

What qualifies video gaming as the eighth art?  For Dyack, video gaming employs the aesthetic methods of film but adds interactivity.  Grant sees several similarities between video gaming and cinema, writing,

Like video games, cinema began as a popular entertainment, and the form was tainted by its very popularity, or low-brow cultural status. "Serious" actors (actors trained for the stage) disdained working in movies, because it wasn’t considered "real" acting, i.e. their performances could be built in bits, through editing. In film, “serious” actors were under the impression that they did not have to "act," but merely be in front of the camera. Although this attitude no longer holds, it is still the common view about synthespian performance in film now

Early cinema was content to show movement, no matter what it was. Around the turn of the century, early films by the Lumiere brothers had titles like Train Entering a Station, Boat Leaving the Dock, and Feeding the Baby. Movies were at first motivated by spectacle alone. For this reason, historian Tom Gunning calls early film a "cinema of attractions." But as audiences became familiar with moving pictures, more than movement was needed, and so movies began to concentrate more on content, on story and character. Similarly, video games now are seeking to move beyond just good graphics and the mere capability of interactivity, to content-driven games, where story is important and integral to gameplay.


Someone once asked science-fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon (who wrote several Star Trek episodes, including the famous "Amok Time" that introduced the Vulcan mating ritual) how he could defend science fiction as 90-percent of it was crap. Sturgeon responded that 90-percent of everything is crap, but that the remaining 10-percent may be great. This has since become known as "Sturgeon’s Law," and it applies to video games as well.

We can expand Dyack's notion of the eight art from gaming to a whole host of digitally-based interactive arts, what we generally call digital arts media.  Video gaming may be the most commercially successful form, but it is also perhaps the latest to express and act on an ambition to experiment with fine arts form and content.  I think there is no question that video gaming has the capacity to do so.  Whether there will ever be as thriving a trade in the equivalent of "art house" cinema in this area of creative practice (i.e., art games) remains to be seen.  Reframing video gaming as another form of digitally-based interactive arts will certainly help gaming with its case for legitimacy within the art world and its publics.  It will also help academic arts educators to include the form in their curricula, since they now resist it, tending to view gaming programs as offering uninspired apprenticeships for the studio equivalent of a factory production line.  Ultimately, however, digital gaming's acceptance as an art form will depend on fine examples of innovative work, ones that give us new modes, new dimensions of human experience.

Higher education has an opportunity here to mature this medium from popular entertainment to an art form that expands and deepens human experience.  eDream has taken up this challenge, and so has Denis Dyack.  At E3 this June, Silicon Knights announced it has partnered with McMaster University (already a leader in Digital Humanities), the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH), and Mohawk College to launch in 2011 "a new research institute around interactive digital media that will pioneer and shape cutting-edge advances in the interactive entertainment arena" — called "Eight: The Hamilton Institute for Interactive Digital Media."   According to the press release, the institute is built to capitalize on the digital creative industries' economic success: "The council of Canadian Academies has identified new media as having the greatest momentum and the highest growth prospects of Canada.  Worldwide the digital media sector is one of the fastest growing industries in the knowledge economy, projected to be valued at US $2.2. trillion over the next five years."  As the yiddish proverb says, love (perhaps in this case we might say "art") tastes sweet, but only with bread — or perhaps can taste sweet because of bread.

As a side note, a ninth art has also been proposed by a "fringe" fine art community, which has been making its own case for legitimacy as an art even more successfully over the last few years — comics books / graphic novels.  This success has been both artist / collective and theory driven (with the great spark to theory given by Scott McCloud)–even if a few still view its potential and productions with skepticism.

— Kelly Searsmith


An Impact on NSF Computer Information Science & Engineering Policy

June 24th, 2010

Director Donna Cox was one of just 120 participants in NSF's Broader Impacts in Research and Discovery Summit, held in Washington DC from June 21-23, 2010.  Sponsored by the Computer Information Science & Engineering Division (CISE), the summit discussed the five NSF criteria for broadening the impact of research it supports.  Well known to NSF grant applicants, the criteria ask that researchers make a case for how their work will:

  • Advance science while promoting teaching, training and learning
  • Broaden participation of underrepresented groups
  • Enhance infrastructure for research and education
  • Provide broad dissemination to enhance scientific and technological understanding
  • Highlight the benefit to society

The summit's discussion resulted in a new set of review guidelines.

The CISE Division is of special interest to eDreamers, since the division houses the Information and Intelligent Systems Directorate (IIS), which covers human-centered computing, information integration and informatics, and robotic intelligence under its core programs as well as cross-cutting programs such as the newly added area of smart health and wellbeing.


NSF Building

The NSF Building in Washington DC

— Kelly Searsmith

Science Rocks the House

June 1st, 2010

eDream created a high-energy video to get the middle and high school student science teams rocking for the Science Olympiad National Tournament's opening event on the evening of Friday May 21st.  The video's 'rockstars of science" theme was created by eDream's assistant director, Kelly Searsmith, and masterfully executed and wedded to sound by multimedia artist Jeff Carpenter.

The Geoffrey Beene Foundation gave us their permission to include in the video celebrity photographer Ben Watts's awesome photos pairing rockstars and scientists as part of a public relations campaign on behalf of the sciences. Click image to open new window, with full-sized PSA from Geoffrey Beene Gives Back .

At the live event–attended by around 2500 students and 2500 coaches, teachers ,and parents at Assembly Hall–keynote speaker Jerry Fiddler–alumnus, digital photographer, Renaissance founder of Wind River Systems, principal of Zygote Ventures, board member of Solazyme, and rocker–played eDream Associate Director Robert Patterson's Les Paul guitar, jamming to the video's soundtrack. The eDream crew, with family and friends, took the stage as a "flash mob" for a nerd dance featuring white lab coats and all the right moves.  A moose-hatted student from New Hampshire crashed the stage, making it a rock-authentic night. The highlight of the evening, though, was Jerry's keynote, for its important message about how the arts matter to the scientific and entrepreneurial imagination and how giving one's life meaning and giving back to others can follow no matter how winding the path you take to getting there.

Below is eDream's video for SONT 2010.   Enjoy!

— Kelly Searsmith