Since my Second Life avatar, Beacon Wirefly, was “born” five months ago, I’ve explored, learned and just plain goofed around in Second Life. With so much to do and see in-world, I recently found myself putting all the Spencer Museum of Art’s eggs in one basket; asking things like “How can Second Life accomplish all the goals we set out in the IMLS grant?” I could feel panic rising. How were we going to find success?
Luckily, two things happened to pull it back together. Number one: Our Second Life artist, Stacey Fox, introduced me to the term “Convergent Media.” A blog by Jeff Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University called it “the melding together of different media, incorporating new personalized services.” In other words, using Facebook, Twitter, cell phone tours, Second Life, and many others to access the Spencer from a myriad of different angles (see illustration). Each form of media connects to the other in some manner and draws users straight back to the museum. A light went on in my head.
Then came number two: While browsing iTunes University, I came across a ground-breaking learning environment created by Professor Jay Clayton and Vice Chancellor Matt Hall at Vanderbilt University called “Worlds of Wordcraft,” a freshman-level English class. These two taught English 115F through the platform of an online game, Lord of the Rings Online. Besides my obvious excitement for the idea of meeting requirements while engaging students in their own world, I was struck by a comment from Clayton. “It was [a] pleasure … discovering new things about literature that I had never seen before because of the way we were teaching it,” he said.
That’s it! I thought in response. That’s the piece I’ve been looking for! Media has a dual opportunity here – it can teach new things to people who hadn’t experience them before, but they can also help people see something they’re familiar with from an entirely new perspective.
My mind immediately began generating possibilities for the Spencer. What if we did something like this: The museum creates an avatar in Second Life which visitors in first life can maneuver from a computer terminal in the museum. Visitors at the computer terminal are broadcast on a webcam which shows up in Second Life. The museum’s avatar has a Facebook profile and lets people know what’s going on in the virtual world of SL. He/she also occasionally creates video blogs which are posted on the museum’s blog and the website. And finally, he/she has an opinion on artworks in the RL museum (perhaps those also featured on SL) which is recorded and available through the museum’s cell phone tour.
Another angle: A digital artist takes a class about building in Second Life, held on the Spencer’s Island. He or she studies the museum’s online resources dealing with Climate Change and the Climate Change at the Poles exhibition before designing and creating a digital work of art which deals with this topic. This artwork – along with other artists’ works – is displayed on the Spencer Island and visitors there are asked to vote on their favorites. The submissions are also posted on the museum’s website and Facebook group where more people can vote. When voting finishes, miniature paper replicas are created and displayed at the first life Spencer museum where visitors can view them in person or through the museum’s webcam.
The possibilities are endless converging at the Spencer, pulling people in from different directions, and giving us the opportunity to look at something we may think we already know, but from a new angle.