Virtual Forum Theater: Creating and Sharing Drama to Resolve Conflicts


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Presented at Digital Media and Learning Conference in San Diego, February 2010
Summary of PhD dissertation and link with the new media literacies skills

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  • VFT  involves play, performance, simulation, appropriation, collective intelligence, judgment, networking and navigation (for complete definition click  here ).   Play and performance are the core activities and skills of any theater improvisation. During both stages of Improv and Creating the Digital Play, the participants are experimenting with their surroundings and trying to determine the best way to portray their ideas and emotions. Their series of performances (improvisations) are like simulations of the real situation they are trying to capture in their script and involves taking on different personas for the purpose of discovery and adjustment. The appropriation of their script happens during the process of rehearsal and finalizes itself when they finish the digital play. Once they post their virtual play, they are ready to invite others to interact with it to offer other solutions to their quest. They know peers and perhaps strangers will be changing their creation as a result, producing new versions of their play and engaging in a process of appropriation of the new  VFT  play. The  VFT 's original playwrights welcome networking and negotiation in the context of their  VFT  play. They know that negotiation is key when interacting and proposing different solutions for an issue that might be foreign to a given community or group; that there is a need to discern and respect multiple perspectives. They are not aware that this process involves collective intelligence as it really requires "the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal", but this is a great point to explore when working with teenagers on the creation of  VFT  plays.   Judgment is a skill that is practiced throughout the process of creation and interaction within a given  VFT   performance . By definition  VFT 's plays exploit an unresolved issue or an issue that requires a solution. The creators of a  VFT   performance  are looking for solutions different from their own (if they have one) or looking for a solution to the problem they are posting. Judgment of the situation is a core skill required to analyze and try out a solution, but at the same time is a skill that requires practice to develop and  VFT  provides a safe learning environment for it to flourish. Once someone changes the action of an existing play, and remixing it into a new one, there is room for new judgments and negotiations, generating an intermingled and iterative process.   In fact all the skills sited above can be improved as a group of teens use  VFT  and engage in the full process of creation and collaborative virtual performance or virtual chatting.   Several examples of appropriation and remix happened during my research. Groups created the same sketch giving a different solution but using themselves as the characters, so it meant another version of the same  VFT performance.  Another group decided to create a different plot (story) around the same issue, therefore another  VFT performance  emerged. Examples of plots were discrimination of students of public schools by sales people at shopping malls, as well as gender and skin color discriminations; animosity in the public high school classrooms among cliques (the shoppers (frivolity) groups, the academic ones, the political ones, the ones who do drugs, etc); issues of noise and trash pollutions on the poor neighborhoods of the city where neighbors do not collaborate with each other at all.
  • VFT is a computer-based learning experience that allows face-to-face, computer, and multimedia-based drama. The VFT toolset is a multimedia tool for creation of dramatic plays using audio, and images that enables participatory and collaborative digital playmaking through the Internet. The VFT process is the collaborative learning environment that I designed for creating a digital play, including dramatic exercises involving group bonding, social awareness discussions, and development of dramatic skills. A VFT performance is the activity of watching and responding to a previously created digital play by creating a new version of it, or a totally new digital play.
  • Briefly demo the tool
  • I started brainstorming about oppression just to find out that the participants would not perceive oppressive situations around them, but injustice. Their perceptions drove the study. They acted out a solution to the virtual play The virtual play might have different dramatic tension from physical play
  • Externalizing their conceptions of self/community and injustice/oppression through construction of a virtual play and internalizing new ways to see the world and solve problems through their enactments, discussions and collaborative interactions. Brecht Epic Theater has a strong theoretical body and informed about using theater as a learning medium, definition of gestus/gestures informed Dramatic Faces, the non-linear structure of the play, interventions (why and what for), external acting techniques, etc. The actor should portray and demonstrate the character’s emotions and feelings but not inhabit the character. The actor should be in control of the character; he should enact the character, but not lose sight that he (the actor) is in charge. It turns the audience into an observer and arouses their capacity for critical thinking and action. Boal’s TO extended Brecht’s work and made the spectacle participatory and a rehearsal for change; define new ways to intervene; use theater to explore issues of oppression and foster social awareness. It was very appealing because there is a lot of influence of my own brazilian culture. The dramatic tension that exist in a FT play when the spect-actor replace the protagonist and interact with actors/antagonist who have their own desires/goals. How would that play-out in VFT? Based also on Freire’s PO. Freire was the main influence in the creation of TO, they worked together in the exile and Boal was mentored by Freire. While Freire was concerned with the cultural environment where the learner was inserted, Papert concentrated on the introspective world of the learner, even though both collaborated with each other in the realm of project-learning and learn by doing Papert talks about "hands-on plus heads-in" meaning that “hands-on” construction is more valuable when accompanied by “heads-in” thoughtful reflection and engagement. According to Papert constructing knowledge means externalizing your thoughts in an artifact, getting feedback from the process of its construction, reflecting on it, and re-internalizing the new thoughts; “this leads us to a model using a cycle of internalization of what is outside, then externalization of what is inside and so on” (Papert, 1990, p.3). Grasping concepts that are abstract and difficult to comprehend -- through an object to “think with” -- helps to make the knowledge concrete.
  • Some activities emerged from the participants These activities happened in most of the groups. Some groups did not discuss much, but acted out the solutions such as SYCC and Aplicacao. Only two groups participated in on-line chatting. I planned and facilitated most of these activities, except for the on-line chatting. Collaborative learning happened through out most of these activities, the participants were always exchanging ideas among themselves and me. Externalizing their conceptions of self and society through construction of the virtual play and internalizing new ways to see the world and solve problems through their enactments and discussions.
  • These are Kabum children deciding the best images to use in their scene. They are alone in the room and Danilo for the first time is taking the lead. He is the only one who knows how to use computer well. Amazing how they can be so engaged with only one machine. Their play was about the issue of noise and trash pollution in the city. The injustice of the lack of respect.
  • The group is discussing about Aplicacao’s play portraying racial, gender and social class descrimination. This is a mix of discussion and enactment and it became common place for this group that felt more comfortable to have these kind of round table discussions than acting out the stories. This was certainly an activity that emerged from them.
  • The other virtual play worked as an object to argue about and to enact upon. It had a very strong impact on the participants watching it and was a catalyst of discussions. They were truly able to reflect upon the virtual plays and the issues presented by it. Is that related to the fact that since they were not the creators they were not totally immersed and embedded on it; that they were more distant? Collaborative learning among groups when the meet in a chat room and at my house. Each group in the last study had at least two chances to create a virtual play – their own and one response, but they all discussed the three virtual plays, except for Aplicacao that did not see Kabum’s Virtual Play. The intervention frames in fact worked as virtual jokers as I had planned
  • Personal goals: engage children and adolescents who are shy and don’t have the guts to perform on a stage using the hook of technology. Empower children by improving their expression abilities (emotion and language). Given them a vehicle of debate and discourse that is fun and engaging.
  • The findings are related to VFT toolset, process and performance. They reinforced each other. The creation of the digital play reinforced the physical improvisations and discussion; the VFT intervention gave another chance to improvise another script and create another digital play.
  • Through the participants responses and my observations during the activities, it was clear that my role was crucial in bringing them further in their reasoning. They younger participants also needed my help to assist with the use of the technology: cameras and laptop. The confirmation that the intervention frames really worked as virtual joker was also obtained. They also worked as another object to reflect upon. The participants had to give second thought to what they wanted to call attention to and get feedback on.
  • Virtual Forum Theater: Creating and Sharing Drama to Resolve Conflicts

    1. 1. Virtual Forum Theater: Creating and Sharing Drama to Resolve Conflicts Interdisciplinary PhD in Child Development, Computer Science, and Drama Tufts University Advisors: Alva Couch, Downing Cless, Marina Bers and Edith Ackermann. Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    2. 2. Order of presentation <ul><li>Virtual Forum Theater </li></ul><ul><li>Theoretical Background </li></ul><ul><li>Activities </li></ul><ul><li>Findings </li></ul><ul><li>Conclusion </li></ul><ul><li>VFT & New Media Literacy Skills </li></ul>Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    3. 3. Virtual Forum Theater <ul><li>VFT is a computer-based learning experience that supports face-to-face, computer, and multimedia-based drama. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>The VFT toolset </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The VFT process </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A VFT performance </li></ul></ul>Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    4. 4. The VFT toolset
    5. 5. The VFT process <ul><li>The VFT process includes: </li></ul><ul><li>Dramatic exercises </li></ul><ul><li>Improvisations </li></ul><ul><li>Using VFT toolset </li></ul><ul><li>Within-group discussions </li></ul><ul><li>Group-to-group interactions </li></ul>Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    6. 6. A VFT performance <ul><li>The VFT play: </li></ul><ul><li>Depicts situations of oppression or injustice meaningful to the participants. </li></ul><ul><li>Provides a starting point for resolving conflicted situations. </li></ul><ul><li>Suggests frames where audience should propose alternatives (“virtual joker”). </li></ul>Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    7. 7. Inspirations for VFT <ul><li>Research shows that disadvantaged children and youth seem to have difficulties expressing themselves and arguing for their points of view. </li></ul><ul><li>Drama-in-Education (DIE), Theater-in-Education (TIE) and Creative Drama (CD) help children develop expression abilities. </li></ul><ul><li>Theater of the Oppressed (TO) is used with adults to rehearse reactions to oppressive situations. </li></ul><ul><li>VFT combines DIE, TIE, CD, TO and technology to create an experience that enhances expressive fluency. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Theoretical Background <ul><li>Virtual Forum Theater </li></ul>Brecht’s Epic Theater (1964) Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed (1974) Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) Papert’s Constructionism (1990) Piaget, Vygostky, Brunner, Lave &Wenger, Koschman, Dorothy Heathcote
    9. 9. VFT Activities <ul><li>Script improvisations </li></ul><ul><li>Group discussions </li></ul><ul><li>Photo taking </li></ul><ul><li>Recording character lines (VFT toolset) </li></ul><ul><li>Creating the animation (VFT toolset) </li></ul><ul><li>Creating intervention frames </li></ul><ul><li>Watching virtual plays </li></ul><ul><li>Rehearsing or discussing responses to virtual plays </li></ul><ul><li>On-line chatting </li></ul><ul><li>Video taping the sessions </li></ul><ul><li>Watching clips of videotaped sessions </li></ul><ul><li>Groups meeting at my house </li></ul>
    10. 10. VFT Activities N-Noelia L-Luana M-Matheus D-Daniel T-Tania
    11. 11. VFT Activities (1) A-Adroaldo L- Lillian R-Rebeca Res-Researcher T-Tadeu
    12. 12. Collaborative interactions <ul><li>A “virtual joker” frame suggests the audience to intervene and propose alternatives. </li></ul>
    13. 13. The studies <ul><li>Teachers or vice-principals selected the participants </li></ul><ul><li>Somerville, Ma (USA) </li></ul><ul><li>1 st Study: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Somerville Youth Community Center (SYCC), 8 participants; 10-12 year old girls; 6 returned surveys </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Salvador, Bahia (Brazil): Public Schools </li></ul><ul><li>2 nd Study: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Landulfo Alves School 6 participants; 14-18 years old; 5 returned surveys </li></ul></ul><ul><li>3 rd Study: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Kabum School of Arts and Technology 6 participants; 11 years old; 5 returned surveys </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rotary High School 8 participants; 14-16 yrs old; 3 dropped out mid study </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Aplicacao Anisio Teixera School 8 participants; 14-17 yrs old; 6 returned surveys </li></ul></ul>
    14. 14. Evaluating VFT <ul><li>I studied how VFT extends and augments: </li></ul><ul><li>face-to-face dramatic activities for improving argumentation skills/style, </li></ul><ul><li>expressive fluency, </li></ul><ul><li>social consciousness and awareness, </li></ul><ul><li>conflict resolution skills in disenfranchised youth. </li></ul>
    15. 15. Findings <ul><li>Importance </li></ul><ul><li>Fun and engagement </li></ul><ul><li>Argumentation skills/style </li></ul><ul><li>Expressive Fluency </li></ul><ul><li>Conflict Resolution </li></ul><ul><li>Dramatic expression </li></ul><ul><li>Social Awareness </li></ul><ul><li>Facilitator’s role </li></ul>
    16. 16. Other Findings <ul><li>The facilitator seems crucial in enabling use of technology and in deepening arguments and discussions </li></ul><ul><li>VFT toolset augments face-to-face interactions and serves as catalyst of discussion </li></ul><ul><li>VFT toolset is not a director, but an object “to think with” (Papert), “to argue about”, and “to enact with” </li></ul>
    17. 17. Conclusions <ul><li>VFT improved social awareness, argumentation style, and expressive fluency. </li></ul><ul><li>Role of facilitator could not be separated from the other parts of the intervention. </li></ul>Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    18. 18. NML Skills – Henry Jenkins <ul><li>Play - the capacity to experiment with the surroundings as a form of problem solving. </li></ul><ul><li>Appropriation - the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content. </li></ul><ul><li>Judgment - the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of multiple sources </li></ul>
    19. 19. <ul><li>Negotiation - the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms </li></ul><ul><li>Networking - the ability to search for, synthesize and disseminate information. </li></ul><ul><li>Collective Intelligence - the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal. </li></ul>
    20. 20. VFT & NML Skills <ul><li>Play & Performance </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Script improvisations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Photo taking </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Recording character lines (VFT toolset), </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Creating the animation (VFT toolset) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Creating intervention frame </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Negotiation & Judgment </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Key when interacting and proposing solutions for a VFT play </li></ul></ul>Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    21. 21. VFT & NML Skills <ul><li>Appropriation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Rehearsing or discussing responses to virtual plays </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Remixing VFT plays </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Networking </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Chatting and sharing VFT plays </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Collective Intelligence </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Solving each other drama together, remixing VFT plays or creating new ones. </li></ul></ul>Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010
    22. 22. Virtual Forum Theater: Creating and Sharing Drama to Resolve Conflicts Interdisciplinary PhD in Child Development, Computer Science, and Drama Tufts University Advisors: Alva Couch, Downing Cless, Marina Bers and Edith Ackermann. Digital Media and Learning Conference 2010