Talking Truth in the KnowledgeLab

Talking Truth in the KnowledgeLab

On Friday, April 20th, the KnowledgeLab and Smith College Libraries hosted Talking Truth @ Smith: Finding Your Voice Around the Climate Crisis. This was a day dedicated to talking about climate change and featured workshops, activities, and discussion in five different events. The goal was to provide a space where students and community members could engage with others on their thoughts and feelings about the changing environment and how they can stay informed. The KnowledgeLab had a great turnout as many participants arrived early and stayed throughout the day.

Virtual Reality Experience

During the first event, participants got to play a game in virtual reality on the KnowledgeLab’s Vive that taught them about the effects of climate change-induced ocean acidification on coral reefs. This was a very popular portion of the day – around fifteen students and community members were able to experience the game. Afterward, several people shared insightful feedback on a discussion board. Many of them had never used VR before and thought it was “surprisingly realistic and interactive.” Another player commented that “being immersed helped me understand ocean acidification issues.” The element of realism especially helped with this, and one person thought the game, or VR in general, might be helpful in academic settings “to help people visualize somewhat abstract concepts.”

 

Finding Your Purpose

At the next event, Madeleine Charney, co-founder of UMass’s Talking Truth, shared her personal journey of incorporating discussion around climate change into her career as a librarian. She encouraged following one’s inner compass, or trusting one’s gut, and always taking time to be mindful of what is most important in one’s life without being clouded by everyday distractions and routines.

 

Identity & Place

Up next was an interactive event on personal discovery in relation to how the natural environment influences our sense of place, and how sense of place affects our identity. Directed by Jodi Shaw, participants were instructed to answer one or several of many questions about their childhood home. They could write about a particular space within their home and why it was particularly meaningful to them, draw a picture of the space or diagram of the block where they lived, or reflect on their transition from home to Smith and the emotions associated with that. Several people shared their writing or drawing with the rest of the group.

Neilson & Sustainability 

The next event was run by Janet Spongberg and Kay Colletti who talked about plans for the New Neilson Library and how it will facilitate future conversations and scholarship about climate change. The group discussed how to define “sustainability” and how the New Neilson will support sustainability in all its forms. Discussion also turned to what the most important aspects of a library are from the perspectives of students, faculty, and staff. The consensus was that a library should be a physical and social space in which learning and sharing of knowledge can occur in the most inclusive space possible.

Zine Making Workshop

At this final event, participants wrote letters to future Smithies, specifically regarding their feelings about climate change. This workshop was designed to facilitate intergenerational communication about a topic that will always be relevant and important. Current Smithies relayed their hopes and worries to those following in their footsteps so that future Smithies can use their comments to effect change in their own lives and reflect on the changing perspectives of each generation.

End of Semester Arabic Program Party

End of Semester Arabic Program Party

On Tuesday, April 17th, over 40 students, faculty, and staff gathered in Davis Ballroom for an end of the semester Arabic program party. The event was organized by May George (Lecturer,  Middle East Studies) and featured food from Taste of Lebanon Restaurant and live music while participants learned the Dabka, a traditional Lebanese dance.

Attendees viewed video projects created by students using WeVideo, a collaborative cloud-based video editing software. These presentations documented the students’ experience ordering food in Arabic with native speakers, as well as reflections on the Middle Eastern food they tried.

This event was funded by a KnowledgeLab mini-grant, which are available to support experiments in technology, services, and programming for the New Neilson library. While Neilson is closed and there currently isn’t a natural space on campus for events that present and celebrate student digital scholarship, KnowledgeLab mini-grants allow us to pilot and experiment in collaboration with students and faculty.  Events like this allow us to build new partnerships while learning what sorts of spaces, physical, mental, and technological, we need to design for the New Neilson Library. Keep an eye out for more KnowledgeLab-sponsored events in the future!

Talking Truth @ Smith: Finding your Voice Around Climate Change

Talking Truth @ Smith: Finding your Voice Around Climate Change

Underwater view of coral reef.
Coral reef, Jarvis Island. NOAA Photo by Bernardo Vargas-Ángel.

How can virtual and immersive experiences help us face the realities of climate change? The Knowledgelab and Smith College Libraries will explore this and other questions on Friday April 20, 2018 with our Talking Truth @ Smith  event, a series of workshops and reflective gaming and making activities from 10am – 4pm. The Talking Truth series began at UMass Amherst as an effort by librarians, students, activists, and others to engage communities in dialogue about the impact of our changing environment on our emotional and physical well-being.  

All events held in KnowledgeLab, Seelye B4.

Virtual Reality Experience
10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Come to the KnowledgeLab to witness ocean acidification firsthand in a short virtual reality experience.

Finding Your Purpose
Noon – 1 p.m.
UMass Librarian Madeleine Charney will lead a discussion about using her career to build a more sustainable world. Lunch provided; vegan/gluten-free options served.

Identity & Place
1 p.m. – 2 p.m.
Hands on writing and discussion workshop about the significance of identity and place in a climate chang(ed) world, led by Outreach Librarian Jodi Shaw.

Neilson & Sustainability
2:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Discussion: How does the new Neilson library facilitate future conversations, making, and scholarship about Climate Change? Janet Spongberg, Josten Library Circulation Coordinator.

Zine Making Workshop
3:15 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
Zine workshop: “An Open Letter to the Smithies of the Future.” Led by Amanda Ferrara, Archives Associate.

VR Across Campus

VR Across Campus

On Friday, March 30th, the KnowledgeLab hosted the first ever gaming event to take place at three locations across campus where students could compete against each other in virtual reality. Attendees played Rec Room, a multiplayer mini-game collection where each person played laser tag and disc golf in games against other real players in different Smith locations. We also played Star Trek: Bridge Crew, an action-adventure game that places you right into the Starfleet ship. Both games provided fully immersive atmospheres where the players could experience the world of the game from the perspectives of their avatars and could move around freely and explore the virtual space.

Those who joined us in the KnowledgeLab really enjoyed the experience and the spectators had just as much fun watching them play and interact with virtual opponents and teammates. GAP presented several discussion questions for the gamers to think about as they played.

The first question, “What were your preconceived ideas of VR before coming here today? How did your experience today change those?”, sparked a lot of conversation. Both players of Rec Room felt much more immersed in the virtual reality than they had expected to, even though the graphics were more cartoonish than realistic. One student wrote:

“During the disc golf game, I really felt immersed in the game. At one point, I was trying to throw the disc upwards to get it up a hill, and accidentally hit the ceiling with the remote in my hand. I wasn’t even aware of the space outside of me at this point, so much so that I was not aware of the limitations of the space (including the height of the ceiling) so I really found this experience to be something completely new and more immersive and interactive then I thought possible.”

It typically took the players a moment to adjust to both the virtual avatars and those physically in the space with them communicating with them simultaneously, but they quickly caught on to balancing both. The players even high fived their virtual teammates and became competitive with their opponents. In response to Question 2, “What was your experience with regard to communication, collaboration, and cooperation while playing this game? How did VR enhance this?”, one student remarked:

“With ambient noise, it was a little difficult to pick out voices [of the other players in the game], but once you connected voices with faces, communicating came very easily. The people felt very real and I felt a real sense of collaboration and conversation, even when competing.”

We didn’t have very much time to play Star Trek: Bridge Crew at our event, but a student did get to briefly sit inside the ship and work the controls. The player’s avatar is seated in this game and we found that it was disorienting for the player if they were not seated in real life as well.

After gameplay, a few students stuck around to discuss educational applications of VR, or Question 4, “How do you think you could use this for a class project? How can multiplayer factor into VR’s use in the classroom?” One student brainstormed a variety of ways it could be beneficial in an academic setting:

“It can be used to talk with people around the world, which would be useful for languages, and you can explore and interact with different places. You could use it to teach basic skills or explore relevant places from around the world. You can also use it for classroom bonding, to make people more comfortable at the beginning of the semester.”

The KnowledgeLab Vive is open for student use during Joce Kofke’s hours – Tuesday/Thursday 12-2pm and Friday 1-3pm – or by appointment by emailing jkofke@smith.edu.

GAP Playthrough: Gone Home

GAP Playthrough: Gone Home

On Friday, February 9th, GAP (the Gaming Archives Project) had its first playthrough event of the semester. We played Gone Home, a single player walking simulator game, all the way through from start to finish. Gone Home is told through the perspective of Katie, who just got back from being abroad and comes home to a deserted house, her family nowhere to be found. Set in the 90’s, before cellphones, Katie must search around the house for clues and read letters from her sister to find out where they are and what happened while she was gone.

Only one controller was in use during our playthrough as it is a single player game, but our player often read the notes and messages aloud for the entire room as Katie picked them up, and took input from others on where in the house we wanted to explore. Though only one person had the controls, it felt like a collective interactive experience, a bit like watching a film unfold in front of you, but having agency in what and how things happen.

After finishing the game, there was a brief discussion about our thoughts on the design and the narrative. We talked about how the setting leads us to believe it is a horror game since it is set in an enormous mansion during a thunderstorm, and we have to turn on the lights as we enter each new dark and spooky room. For this reason, it was fun to play in a group rather than alone. We also compared it to What Remains of Edith Finch, a similar game that has more interactive minigames as the player advances through the narrative. Some people liked this better than Gone Home, which is strictly narrative without any flashback to the past or cut to the the events Katie’s sister describes in her letters.

There will be a playthrough every other Friday in the KnowledgeLab and everyone is welcome to join us in playing or watching. If you have a suggestion of a game for the next playthrough or to play on your own, email Joce at jkofke@smith.edu. The gaming laptop is free to use whenever the KnowledgeLab is open, and new VR games can be played during Joce’s hours there: Tuesdays and Thursdays after 12:00pm and Fridays after 1:00pm.

WIG Playthrough: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

WIG Playthrough: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

Last Friday, WIG hosted a Playthrough event in the CMP featuring the game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. 

This game was played on the Vive, a virtual reality system which allowed one player to become immersed in a room with a bomb where they must describe what they see in order to diffuse it before time runs out. Everyone else has the bomb’s instructions and must teach the player how to diffuse it without being able to see what is happening.

Every student who attended this event got a turn with the Vive to try to defuse the bomb. Overall, students effectively communicated and were able to stop the bomb from blowing up, but on a few more difficult levels, they were unsuccessful. It was especially hard when memory was required on both parts – sometimes the bomb diffuser would have to remember a sequence of colors or numbers, and the instructors would have to remember both the diffuser’s sequence in addition to another sequence that corresponded with it. These portions, in particular, caused several bombs to explode.

Students also had the chance to share their input on virtual reality games like this one and how they might be applied to life outside of the video game setting.

In response to the first question, “Can simulated cooperative puzzle solving help teach effective communication?” one student wrote: “Yes, especially when we take turns being the bomb diffuser because some people are more likely to take charge with instructions and others are good at physically doing the puzzles so everyone gets a chance to communicate and participate.”

To the second question, “Does the simulated urgency effectively teach communication under pressure? Can this be applied to other real-world situations (e.g. the ER?)” students were a little more on the fence. One student wrote: “I think the fact that it’s a team effort and the goal is to have fun actually lessens the experience of doing a task under pressure because I was trying to not contribute too much because I wanted everyone to participate and have fun. [In real life] in an emergency, you care about getting it done, not everyone getting to participate.”

This event had high attendance and was a great use of the CMP space and equipment. To book this space, simply contact Dan Bennett, CMP Media Producer, at dbennett@smith.edu. You can also join Joce and Tori in the KnowledgeLab on Tuesdays 12-2 and Thursdays 2-5 for their gaming open hours. This is just the first of several playthrough events WIG plans to host this year with a variety of games. Ellie Danford, club president of the Smith Gaming Club, voiced interest in collaborating with WIG next semester, as well.

WIG Playthrough Event

WIG Playthrough Event

Join Women in Gaming, Smith’s Experiential Learning Through Gameplay Student-led Research Interest Group, on December 1st from 1:00-3:00pm at the CMP for our first Playthrough Event! The CMP is located in Henshaw D, behind Helen Hills Hills Chapel. At this event, WIG will be playing our new VR game, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, which is a multiplayer game in which one person can see the bomb and not the manual, and another person can see the manual and not the bomb, and must instruct the other person how to deactivate it.

This game will be played on the Vive, which is totally immersive virtual reality gaming system where the game replaces your surroundings, and controllers act as your hands. The game play will be followed by a discussion on the game and other topics of interest for members of WIG and anyone else with questions or ideas. Everyone is welcome!

Here’s my Library Day in the KnowledgeLab

Here’s my Library Day in the KnowledgeLab

Thursday, October 12th was Here’s my Library Day at all the Smith Libraries across campus. The KnowledgeLab was one of the hosting locations of this event and provided refreshments and activities as well as all the resources already offered.

Libraries student assistant Adriana Valerio ‘AC helps students make a sticker using the vinyl cutter. Photo credit: Brendan O’Connell

Students learned how to make stickers with our vinyl cutter by first choosing an icon, printing it with the vinyl cutter, and then prepping it before sticking it to a surface. We had a lot of fun with this, and made a variety of stickers from dogs to shrimp, which we used to decorate students’ water bottles as well as the walls. The vinyl cutter is available to use whenever a staff member is there, which is currently on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons. If you would like to schedule an appointment to be trained on or use the vinyl cutter, feel free to contact Tori Clayton at vclayton@smith.edu.

Students set up the KnowledgeLab gaming laptop for open gaming. Photo credit: Brendan O’Connell

Another big hit was our gaming laptop connected to the Apple TV. This allowed us to play games that the Women in Gaming group had purchased for the laptop. We played several multiplayer games and one that was single player, but were still able to collaborate by connecting to the large Apple TV screen. The laptop is always available to use during the KnowledgeLab’s open hours, and controllers and headphones are available to check out at the service desk in the hall.

We hope this event demonstrated more possibilities for the KnowledgeLab, and encourage students to continue to use the space to study, create, and play games!

What’s in a meme? A meme-making party at the KnowledgeLab

What’s in a meme? A meme-making party at the KnowledgeLab

One significant cultural change that has come about due to the rise of social media in the past half-decade is the proliferation of “memes.”  Although they are totally ubiquitous, they are difficult to pin down with a solid definition; the nature of memes is that they are constantly evolving at speeds only made possible by the internet.  Generally, memes are a form of internet humor that involves text juxtaposed with an image, in a way that plays on the emotional resonance of the image and uses it to create new meaning.  The governing principle of memes seems to be that they are “relatable”; they are humorous in that they point out a common experience in a poignant and unexpected way.   

This April, Kayla Foney ’17 organized an event in the KnowledgeLab to explore this peculiar form of cultural production, using a KnowledgeLab $500 mini-grant.  The event sought to investigate what memes really are, how they are situated in a social context, and how they relate gender, race, and nationality.  Foney gathered historical photographs that seemed emotionally evocative even without context. Participants generated captions for the images, thus making them into memes.  Possible captions were posted under the photos, and participants voted on their favorites.  

Using the content created at the event, Foney sought to zero in on key themes that ran throughout the memes.  She found five of these, which she calls as Emotional/Situational Referential, Vocal, Critical, and Contextual.  She describes these themes as the following:

  • Emotional/Situational: Interpreting facial expressions as frustration, shock, joy, etc. Using that to framing the image into a specific situation, such as taking an Easter photo or seeing an ex. Or, describing facial expressions to identify a meme – blinking, pointing, wide mouth.
  • Referential: Plays on past, concurrent, or future memes: “Name a more dynamic trio,” originates from a Twitter celebrity post and has been a popular phrase online for the past few months. “Supa Hot Fire” references a series of rap cypher parody videos from 2013. “It’s Gonna Be May” as a NSync pun/meme that has popped back up yearly at the end of April/in anticipation of May.
  • Vocal: Making the subject speak on something in the photograph or an invented situation of the creator, like having someone tell you something you already know.
  • Critical: Addressing oppression and power dynamics. Gendered experiences of the 2016 election, respectability politics. Racial microaggressions, disappointment with institutions and how they deal with social issues. Deconstructing systemic power.
  • Contextual: Connections to recent social media and pop culture trends like the Get Out Challenge and the Kendall Jenner Pepsi commercial, references to lyrics and musicians like Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Prominent use of AAVE/slang, like “Whomst”, and references to cultural habits like clapping out the beat when the music stops at a party.

In a reflection on the event, Foney noticed how the event exceeded some of her expectations, and subverted others.  She said,

“What can this collected material tell us about how to define a meme… and its memory? From the diversity within these five themes alone, it’s clear that the multiplicity of viewpoints and interpretations that go into creating, understanding, and remaking a meme have a huge influence on the final result. Anyone can enter into this creative process and produce something that can convey emotion, humor, and memories to others, regardless of their knowledge of digital culture or confidence in their own abilities. […] I think that the meme-making event was both a huge success and a failure in exploring and understanding what a meme really is, because it seems that the main thing that a meme can be characterized by by is the ability to produce similar and distinct interpretations, from both a presence of and a lack of context. Ultimately, it remains elusive, uncapturable and indefinable – which is, of course, what makes it fun.”

A visit from the local Big Brothers Big Sister’s chapter for a collaborative zine-making workshop

A visit from the local Big Brothers Big Sister’s chapter for a collaborative zine-making workshop

Zines are a classic medium of self expression.  They were perfectly fit for the event we hosted here at the KnowledgeLab last week: the Hampshire County Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter gathered for a creative, collaborative zine-making project.  The little siblings, with the help of their Bigs, got the chance to create zine pages using the KnowledgeLab craft resources about a topic meaningful to them.  The pages were combined into a large collective zine.

 

Mandy Ferrara, one of the hosts, said about the event, “It was such a pleasure to have such a diverse group working together to create art. The students, both big and little, immediately caught on to the project and made a beautiful zine celebrating friendship, activity, and their affinity for the organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters.”

                  

The event was inspired by the zine event Strength for the Struggle, hosted by the library last summer.  Amanda Ferrara of the library and Jennifer Ablard of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization conceived of an adaptation of the workshop for 8-13 year olds.

The zine will be uploaded to Scholarworks, Smith’s archive of digital scholarship. 

Written by Phoebe Weissblum, KnowledgeLab staff