Immersion: The Reenactment of Myth

By Carlos Sanchez-Lozano

Through teaching I have discovered that the body knows things about which the mind is ignorant.

Jacques Lecoq – Actor and Teacher

During ILRN’s first meeting, we were able to see a variety of immersive environments. We saw different types of very interesting applications: a 3D space to deal with fire safety, a 2D application to teach people the habit of writing, an environment to develop health skills, among others. I would say that what makes them all immersive despite their contrasting characteristics is their ability to produce deep involvement with a specific objective in mind. In my opinion, the effectiveness of these environments lies in their capacity to orchestrate a set of resources in order to channel the user’s attention and action into a specific goal through which an effective and fun learning process will take place.

Even though we base our work in some common theories, we also make use of specific ones to support the development of our immersive worlds because of the unique affordances we have implemented. The digital spaces we design embody our very own ideas of what learning and development means.

In my case, the games created for the purpose of teaching people conservation principles seek to go beyond the involvement of the mind. Both PEZcando and Pez En Ruta are based on the premise that our bodies are part of the thinking process.

My research has shown that the body seems to be deeply involved in the selection of optimal strategies to achieve efficiency in interactive spaces. In a study I conducted in a virtual environment to learn a software application, results indicated that even in what could be considered a purely mental task, the activated learning strategies and the learning outcomes are significantly affected by the amount of perceptual and motor effort required by the task.

In other words, even if using the mouse does not qualify as the full workout the doctor prescribed, the time it takes to move it to access information has a clear effect on how and what we learn. The same happens with other motor operations. Furthermore, the resources present in the environment direct our efforts in very specific ways: either they support the goal we want to achieve or they throw our bodies in a completely different direction without our awareness. This is very important in the case of video games because of the amount of resources present on the screen. Interestingly enough these studies also show that we learn regardless of the obstacles because we appear to be extremely efficient organisms, but we might not learn what the designer of the environment intended us to learn.

These results were not obtained only by contrasting the amount of knowledge people had before and after they interacted with the system. On the contrary, trajectories were extremely important and it is really easy to understand why. Interaction is a continuous process. Deep involvement (immersion) directs our attention to specific details in our environment (signposts) at the expense of other information that is considered extraneous, even at our peril. This deep involvement does not just happen in and of itself. It is the result of our minds and bodies being fully engaged in maximising the result of an outcome. In this dynamic process, our bodies might be more efficient at doing certain tasks than our conscious minds. The trajectory in this case becomes as relevant as the destination.

Successfully learning and solving problems can be considered an effective action loop in context. A ‘theory of hints’ –cues that lead to action–, was elaborated at a theoretical level by Kirsh [1], based on previous research on situated cognition. Although it is an appealing theory, Kirsh suggests that we need more studies that support this view. He also suggests that dynamic systems present a way to explain how such a theory could work and be able to predict outcomes.

This approach guides my work because I believe that thanks to new technologies the body can play a more prominent role in learning. We can experience things at a tangible level, not just in our minds. Natural interfaces will evolve and better detect body motion, and then interactivity can go beyond a mere loop and become “the ritual reenactment of myths” [2]. By acting as signposts that guide us, myths become clues to the potentialities of knowledge. If we understand myths as McLuhan did, as the “the instant vision of a complex process that ordinarily extends over a long period” [3], then immersive environments have the potential of offering people the experience of knowledge in a truly mythical way.

 

[1] Kirsh, D. (2009). Problem Solving and Situated Cognition. In P. Robbins & M. Aydede (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Situated Cognition (pp. 264 – 306). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Handler-Miller, C. (2004). Digital Storytelling: A Creator’s Guide to Interactive Entertainment. Amsterdam: Focal Press.

[3] McLuhan, M. (1994). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. MIT Press.


 

Carlos Sanchez-Lozano
Carlos Sanchez-Lozano

Carlos holds a BEng in Aerospace Engineering, an MBA, and a PhD in Educational Technology with emphasis on video games, interactive media and data mining. He has been a consultant for eLearning companies, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions in Canada, France, Colombia and Costa Rica. His goal is to use new technologies, in particular natural user interfaces, to create innovative and immersive narratives in education, art, entertainment, and advertising.