PhD Candidacy

USEUM and I, a few weeks ago we upgraded! That means that my PhD project (USEUM) and the research associated with it, passed the upgrade phase, which makes me now a Doctorate Candidate at UCL! It required amongst other things, a lot of writing and a 50′ examination-like presentation (see photo).  In a nutshell, the essence of the “Case for Upgrade” is for the academic institution to see whether your PhD is worth continuing. For full-time PhD students the upgrade takes place 1 year after they started, however since I am part-time I had to do my upgrade only a couple of months ago i.e. 2 years since I started. The research I have done so far for my PhD focuses on crowdsourcing; its origins and how it has been utilised in various projects, focusing on those ones that deal with the accessibility of art.

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Studying crowdsourcing proved challenging, mainly because I was frequently coming across contradicting literature. For example, although the phenomenon has been out there for years, 1 prominent definition for it, has yet to emerge. The paper Towards an Integrated Crowdsourcing Definition by Estellés-Arolas and González-Ladrón-de-Guevara brought to life 40 (!) original definitions for crowdsourcing. Thankfully it was not the first time I was doing research on a phenomenon that lacks a definition widely accepted by the academic community; that was no other than games! I have covered the (large) debate around what a game is, in my MFA Thesis.

However if there is one reason I enjoy doing research in leading edge subjects is for the very fact that the literature is very young – and yes there may be contradicting bibliography and little given data that you can rely on, but the way I see it and how I have experienced it firsthand, is that my work achieves bigger impact. I was impressed to see one day, that a document on Augmented Reality (AR) I had published online, which I would consider of minor importance, had reached thousands of views, without me promoting it whatsoever. Why? Because there is not much out there for AR despite its high demand.

In my mind, this is quite similar to what is happening nowadays in tech entrepreneurship: it may be a tough environment to be in, but it offers countless opportunities. In this booming industry it is indeed harder for a project to stand out, because of the global competition and as a friend told me the other day on the subject “For people your age it is much harder to make your first million, than it was for us back then (i.e. 90’s)“. But on the other hand, because the industry is growing so fast, everyday there are more and more opportunities to take advantage of. As Larry Page puts it in an interview he gave to Wired “there are all these opportunities to make people’s lives better. Tech companies are attacking 1 percent of them. That leaves 99 percent virgin territory”. So it is always a give and take.

The abstract of my PhD has come to be the following:

Crowdsourcing refers to the process during which a task is outsourced to the crowd, whilst augmented reality is the technology that superimposes computer-generated imagery on a user’s view of the real world, so that it appears to the user that virtual and real objects co-exist in space. Despite the wealth of literature and practice around both of these phenomena, there is only a limited number of research projects involving both of them. USEUM is one of these projects, utilising crowdsourcing and augmented reality in an attempt to make art more accessible, not only on the digital domain, but also in the physical space by taking advantage of mobile augmented reality. USEUM as a platform (http://useum.org) is defined as The World’s Museum of Art, featuring today nearly 10,000 artworks by hundreds of artists from 90+ countries worldwide.

In terms of juggling a part-time PhD and a start-up venture it is tricky at times but it is certainly possible. As of now at least, so far so good.

Guest Lectures

For the first term of the academic year ’11-’12 I was given the chance to do the lectures for the Communication and Visualisation unit of the BA Sound Design course at Ravensbourne College. I face this ‘task’ as a challenge; if there is a perfect presentation, i.e. one that achieves communication through meaningful visualisation, where else should it be found, if not at the lectures of the homonymous unit? Whether I made it or not, it’s your call.

In practical terms the unit’s goal is to offer the know-how to the students for making an online portfolio of their work. That will enable them to communicate who they are and what they do in a professional way. The unit’s curriculum covers some theory on user interface design, however the majority of the lectures is live demonstration of tools and methodologies for building an electronic portfolio. The free service offered by wordpress.com is demonstrated as a starting point.

The presentation below is from the first lecture of this unit, which was an introduction of the goal of this unit, the importance of having a website and a critique on portfolios of sound designers and music composers that are already out there. The first half of the slides is covered with notes of the talk that accompanied them.

The second lecture covers some fundamental user interface design principles and recommended methodologies. Hyperlinks to the resources used, are mentioned on the respective slides, through which more details about every ‘prinicple’ can be found. Simplicity is also one of these principles and at that point I felt obliged to make a tribute to John Maeda’s work on the subject. His book ‘The laws of Simplicity’ is one of my favourites and for that lecture I extracted from this book the laws that could also be appropriated on web design.

There is another lecture to follow, which will also be the last one. Due to the large number of students I was asked to give each lecture twice as the students are split into groups. The third and final lecture will be ammended on that blog-post as well.

Presentation @ Digital Futures

I had the chance to be invited at the Digital Futures Conference hosted by Ravensbourne College to talk on Serious Games and learning. The conference featured a number of great professionals like Euan Semple and Dr. Paul Coulton from the University of Lancaster. The headline was Howard Rheingold who talked about a couple of hours via tele-conference.

I discovered games and learning in my research about a year ago when I came across SAAM’s Ghosts of a Chance project and was fascinated by the idea of using the power of games to achieve something as tough and important at the same time as learning. During my MFA studies I’ve been exploring in depth Serious and in particular Educational Games and their impact on learning, focusing always on case studies coming from the cultural heritage sector.

My ‘aha!’ moment came when I read about the so-called ‘Game Mechanics’ on which I focused my presentation at Digital Futures. Game mechanics are a set of rules intended to produce an enjoyable game experience, but has also been applied in other areas such as business.

One of the main themes of the conference was collaboration, so another point I would like to highlight from the presentation is the slide at which I talked about my personal experience of game enhanced-learning. Quoting the text that accompanied the slide that showed the Microsoft Silverlight forum:

As a developer myself I find the online forums very important and whenever I face a serious issue myself I post a question online and in one or two hours people from allover the world respond to solve my (!) problem. And I did wonder many times; why do all these people bother? why do they spend their time to share their knowledge? Well for a little while, I used to be one of those. When I used to develop with Microsoft Silverlight at some point I felt I had to give back to the community that helped me, by helping others. But being honest waht really got me going, where the game mechanics of the website and for two months I tried very hard to get 700 points and get promoted from a “Member” to a “Participant”. As you can see, I never managed to do so, but by the time I got bored I had already helped in the solution of  a few hundreds of questions.

I also got a nice tweet about it!

I got a few complimenting tweets for my presentation but once Rheingold was on, I was rather forgotten! The networking was good as well, and for me in any case it was a great experience as I always wanted to present at a conference. Bling! +5 Achievement Points!

My MFA thesis is on Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and combines all of my interests: Augmented Reality, museums and game mechanics. More to come from that one!