Archive for the ‘Phase 2 progress (current)’ Category


July 26, 2013

So here it is, the school year has ended and this is the last week of the REF Impact period. Nic and I are knackered but have had such a brilliant year and would like to thank everybody who has worked with us  – both in all the schools we have visited and at the Crystal Palace Museum. In the course of this year we have worked in 5 schools with almost 150 students, delivering classes in the virtual model, and have delivered a video flythrough of the model to the Museum. We have managed to accomplish everything we set out to do and we couldn’t have done that without everyone who has supported us particularly Ken, Barry, Jo, Mary, Rich, Andy, Hayley, Anne and Catherine.

It seems fitting that in this last week of activity the Sydenham Crystal Palace has been appearing in the national press – with the news that a Chinese property developer is exploring the idea of rebuilding it.

Or at least – rebuilding A Palace. It’s not quite clear to me whether it is the reporters or the development company themselves who are insisting that the intended new building will be an exact replica of the 1851 Hyde Park Palace. How ironic, that even if rebuilt, the Sydenham Palace will still be pushed out of history by its Great Exhibition antecedent…

Wishing everybody a great summer. We will be back in the autumn with, no doubt, more schemes for developing our project and investigating the utterly fantastic Crystal Palace.




July 17, 2013

Weird to find ourselves in a post-trials world this week! But in spirit of winding down gently I went to the North Bristol post 16 centre to talk to the Year 12 Classical Studies Group about the reception of Pompeii, inevitably using the model as an example of how Pompeii might be re-imagined and what motivations might lie behind such imaginations. I weaved that into the much bigger story of Pompeii’s enduring appeal – using film posters (Steve Reeves in his tiny outfit playing the muscle part in a 1950s Last Days of Pompeii that would make Lytton’s eyes water), Primo Levi’s poem, La Bambina di Pompei, which uses a body cast of a young girl to think about the child victims of Second World War atrocities and a New York Times article from 2001 comparing Ground Zero to Pompeii. It was an excellent session and the students had lots of great ideas, reminding me, as if I needed it, of what a great case study Pompeii is for exploring the ideas tackled in this project.


July 12, 2013

This week has been a busy one, squeezing in 4hrs worth of teaching at Redland Green with a group of Year 8s. They did really well, picked up the technology easily, as ever, and grasped some of the bigger ideas. There is a big difference between Year 8s and 9s in their ability to grasp big concepts in such a short space of time but they did well. They also provided some excellent written feedback so we have a great, rich record of their reflections on their experience. To facilitate this kind of information gathering, we’d made a proper mini-handbook with guide questions to help students pick out and respond to key points. We’ll definitely use this in the future. Both Nic and I missed the dinner party challenge – and was interesting to note the impact it has on bringing groups of students together by noting the effect of its absence. Much less buy in to the avatars and less of a relationship built between each others’ characters. On the other hand, other things worked really well – particularly the time line – and the feedback shows how students had enjoyed working in this medium. I am always struck by how reflective the school students are of their learning experience and how they are able to articulate that.

Mid-week, too, I met up with all of the teachers we have worked with over the last calendar year. It was great to have a chance to talk again outside the classroom and to discuss ideas for collaboration next year, particularly with the idea of trying to connect different schools across Bristol.

Thanks to everyone at Redland Green for their input this week.


July 4, 2013

Not much to report this week other than we’re preparing for the trials at Redland Green next week. We’ll be working entirely on their campus, so Nic is busy working with their IT people to check their network and pcs are up to it. This is always the nerve-wracking bit, especially because if anything goes wrong when we’re on site, Nic can’t simply run back to the project workstation to reboot the robots etc. Seems to be working ok. Nic says there is a big delay on log in so we’ll just have to get in early so that the world has time to render on each computer and then stagger logging in all the avatars. They’re not appearing properly but are functioning. We’re learning to be more relaxed about their appearance though – we haven’t noticed any of our users have difficulty accepting the bots as characters even when they’re not appearing properly. I guess it says something about the imaginative leaps they are prepared to make in-world. Interesting when so many purveyors of VR spend so long angsting over every visual and environmental detail.


June 21, 2013

This week I went up to Edgware to take part in a teaching-enrichment day at the North London Collegiate School. I was asked to do a session exploring how ideas and issues arising from studying the reception of Pompeii might enrich the way in which the teachers there teach Pompeii to their students. It was really interesting sharing ideas and approaches. Of course, I shaped the discussion around this project and its key themes but, in this context, the potential of our environment has an added interest. NLCS have recently opened a partner school in South Korea and are about to introduce Classics to the curriculum there, sending out a Classics teacher (funnily enough, Judy from Bristol Grammar School who has worked with us a year or so ago) for the first time. Open Sim here offers not only a data- and experience- rich environment but also a space in which students at both schools might work together online in completely collaborative ways. Thank you to NLCS for inviting me and to the staff who took part and very best wishes to Judy in her new post.


May 15, 2013

We did the second Fairfield trial today. Learning from the previous session, we tried to break down the activities into smaller chunks. This was the session we concentrated on the Victorian world and, with prompting from Hayley in reminding them of the things they had studied in the History curriculum, they were able to make some great connections about Roman and modern slavery and experiences of empire etc.

All in all , a good trial – the technology held up yet again (beginning to get a bit too smug about this!) and the model and activities delivered the point we wanted about the contingent nature of history. Hayley has left us some really useful advice about tweaking the activities to meet her students’ needs and I am utterly in awe of her teaching skills and what she was able to draw out of her enthusiastic and responsive class. This teaching lark is a bit more complicated than it looks isn’t it? Realise that despite having taught in universities for 15 years and being pretty good at it, I rely largely on personality and still know very little about how the teaching and learning process actually works.


May 6, 2013

Hmph, we didn’t get REACT funding. I had an inkling things weren’t going our way when I had an email from the convenor asking for clarification on whether we were intending to build ‘real’ robots to wander around Crystal Palace Park. Clearly hadn’t explained ourselves as well as we might have done!!! Very disappointed but inevitable I think given the focus on film-making at the soundbox events that David and I attended ( see February blogs). Oh well, sure we’ll come with something else.


May 3, 2013

The first Fairfield trial was today – got off to a bit of a shaky start with a last minute hitch about starting times but Hayley arrived in the mini bus eventually and we got started.  We started by me introducing Pompeii and showing them images of the site and then going into the model – Nic doing the usual orienteering exercises and then letting them loose on the Dinner party challenge.

The students were excited to be at the university and in using the technology and did the challenge pretty well with some help. What was really noticeable  was that  the real difference with them and the GT group at St mary Redcliffe was not in their inability to grasp ideas – but the different way that they needed to be supported in grasping those ideas. This probably seems obvious to any school teachers reading but for us it was an eye opener. So, for instance, we are used to letting the students use their avatars to roam around the space finding out information and soaking up the environment. This group didn’t respond to that free time at all well. They needed much more guidance and short-term tasks to reinforce essential points. Once they had these in place, they did have the confidence to explore more by themselves. Hayley was really useful, stepping in to keep order but also to help us micro-structure the planned activities. She suggests that we design worksheets in order to help a wider group of abilities to get maximum benefit from the project.


April 23, 2013

A nice moment this week. I went up to Redmaids’ School to help the GCSE Class Civ class revise for the Pompeii bit of their upcoming exams and I ended up popping in to see the class of girls who helped us with our trial  back before Christmas. It was really nice to see them and they had good things to say about the project – great that they remembered it and were still enthusiastic. Thanks girls!


April 8, 2013

Our next trial is with Fairfield High and Nic has been trying to sort out the network capabilities there. Looks like it’s too risky to run the software on such a frail network so Hayley is going to bring the group up to the training suite at the University. It’s frustrating that the state of school networks and IT infrastructures are so varied across the city because it must have such an impact on what teachers can do in class.

We have agreed to run two sessions up at the University – we’ll concentrate one on the Roman stuff and then bring in the Victorian. It’ll be interesting because this time we’re not going to work with the Gifted and Talented cohort. Instead we’re going to have a broader mix of attainment and a good number of students for whom English is their second language. For the sake of comparison, we’re aiming to stick to the same kind of basic activities we used at St Mary Redcliffe. Will be interesting to see how things go.


March 30, 2013

Happy Easter! Hope Nic is getting on with that film editing whilst stuffing chocolate. Can’t ask him because the University has closed down our email for a migration to Google (less said…). Horribly bad timing for us as we’re supposed to have our REACT bid ready by end of next week. Next post will inevitably be bad-tempered and rushed as I will be wrestling with internal costing tools and filling in the wrong forms, Nic will tell me I can’t do numbers and I will tell him he can’t spell. And then the project computer will crash about 10 mins before the internal deadline. Happens every time!


March 22, 2013

University ‘kindly’ sent us suggestions for improvement of our impact case study write-up for the REF. Nic and I both love this project and have had such great responses from the school students and teachers we’ve worked with. Unfortunately, moments like that we had at SMRT do not seem to count for much in the world of REF documentation. Ugh.


March 15, 2013

Got through the snow this week to meet up with Rich at Redland Green School to sort out dates (set for May) for taking the trial there – basically agreed to follow the pattern we followed at SMRT, which will make it a useful comparator. At the end of the week, Mary Beard (country’s most well-known Classicist, Times blogger etc etc) was in Bris for our faculty’s Past Matters festival and I was put in charge of organising a sixth form event. So we got some local sixth formers in (thanks for coming everybody) to discuss the process of making historical documentaries (Mary recently made a number of docs about Pompeii and Rome). At one point, we discussed the worth of VR and digital reconstruction – or at least, lack of, as Mary was dismissing the need for, say, simulated volcanic eruptions during docs about Pompeii. Inevitably, I waded in on VR’s side, insisting there were more subtle and worthwhile uses than that. All useful for the REACT bid I guess….


March 7, 2013

Not much to report. It being the rule that both academic and creative partner should have attended a sandbox event, David from Daden went along to the Cardiff event for us this week. His experiences seem to have been pretty much like mine – he sent this photo of the ‘ideas board’:



There seem to have been a few more comments about immersive documentary and Second Life in particular this time round but David says these weren’t picked up by the convenor. Hmm, maybe not the best sign…. Then again, shouldn’t the whole point of Future Documentaries being about experimenting beyond existing conventions? I wonder how much it is that virtual environments seem like a step too far from film or rather that SL itself sounds like yesterday’s news to people?


February 27, 2013

So on Tuesday I spent the day in Exeter at the REACT Future Documentaries Event, a workshop to bring together academics and creative partners (mostly film makers, though I met a few people from other avenues, like the games industry). Nic couldn’t make it so I was on my own and I’m shockingly bad at networking but it ended up being pretty interesting. It was quite ruthlessly organised so not much opportunity for skulking at the back. Anyhow, because we already have our industry partner lined up, the main interest for us was finding out a bit more about the theme of Future Documentary and (of course) sussing out what kind of other projects might be about.

As far as I could tell, the interest in the room was almost entirely about film documentary with probably the majority of ideas being about how to use web 2 type tools to supplement viewer experience and participation. From this point of view, I think our project is going to look quite ambitious and different in terms of technology and concept. Where I realise we are hopelessly naive (consequences of working in our ivory tower)  is in the reality of documentary making for the film makers there in terms of scoping and reaching an audience. All our thinking has been about the technology, applicability, intellectual interest and creative possibilities. I suspect we might have to wise up a bit in this new world of impact.


February 22, 2013

So we have a few weeks between school trials and Nic is still editing the little film for the Crystal Palace Museum (which is going to mean that at some point Nic and I are going to have to commandeer a computer lab and zip between PCs on swivel chairs so that we can control a number of our cast of ‘bots, who promptly miss their cues and bump into the set (well, if they’re the ones being controlled by me) as soon as it’s their big moment!

But just to introduce another spinning plate, Nic also attended an information session for our local AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) REACT hub funding stream.  REACT is a scheme to bring academic and commercial partners together to find innovative ways of using technology in the Arts. The current funding stream is designed around the theme of ‘Future Documentary’

Our plan is to put together a bid with Daden to increase the functionality of the ‘bots and explore the possibility of using the virtual environment and sophisticated characters who can move, apparently freely and recognise cues to trigger certain responses or behaviours towards other ‘bots and also ‘live’ avatars, the idea being that, for the user controlling one of those ‘live’ avatars, this could provide a completely interactive form of  documentary, with no predetermined paths. Could be exciting. On Tuesday I am attending a ‘sandbox’ event in Exeter to meet other projects interested in bidding. I’ll report back in my next post.


February 14, 2013

Not much new this week – we met up this afternoon to pick up on our film for the Crystal Palace Museum. We had got further than we remembered at least but it’s frustrating that we haven’t had the time to finish this – we were hoping to have had it in place by the end of January. It will look good though I think and the decision to screen it on a computer monitor rather than TV screen certainly improves the quality and detail.


February 10, 2013

On Friday we went down to St Mary Redcliffe for the final session. We were there for three hours – the first two hours were taken up with the Year 9s’ presentations to a ‘random’ sample of mixed ability Year 7s, with the final hour after break given over to an evaluation session with the Year 9s. So much happened but, to summarize, here are a few of our initial observations:

1. They Year 7s engaged very well with the material and the environment- they were remarkably well behaved in-world, particularly given the fact that we didn’t really have enough time to let them run off steam in-world before starting to work (something we always factor in to the beginning of classes regardless of age of customer!) and despite it being a very long session, towards the end of which they were clearly getting tired, were alert and responsive throughout. After a brief intro from me on why they were here (they had no pre-warning) and a quick induction in the OpenSim controls from Nic, we went straight into the presentations.

2. The Year 9s did remarkably well in structuring their activities. Their teaching styles showed how much they absorbed from their teachers’ lesson planning – they explained their sessions in advance to the Year 7s and one group even included formal feedback into their session. Although some of them were a little nervous in advance they clearly enjoyed passing on what they had learned and the Year 7s responded very well to being taught by older peers.

3. Each year 9 group had used the model and environment in very different ways but all showed imagination – one particular imaginative idea was a ‘tag’ game in which the ‘it’ avatar has to chase others and once caught, the tagged avatar has to give a fact about the topic under discussion. Two groups introduced a competitive element to their activities, which proved as ever to be a major motivational factor as did the opportunity for group work (demonstrated in particular by observation of 2 year 7 students who ended up working alone). All the groups’ planned activities blended in-world execrices whith classroom discussion. A particluarly effective activity was one in which the experience of the virtual Roman world was complemented by the visceral experience of tasting some ‘real’ Roman army bread (predictably pretty disgusting). It was gratifying to see that the session that the Year 7s said afterwards they enjoyed the most was the session on marriages which was most closely based on one of our activities.

4. We only had time to get the most rudimentary feedback from the year 7s but the consensus was definitely that they had enjoyed the session and that they felt that the novelty and ‘fun’ of using the virtual environment had helped them retain what they had learned. They all felt that they had learned a lot about Roman life in the session. Unfortunately, we don’t have any objective way of testing that!

3. In the session after the break, we did a debrief/evaluation session with the Year 9s. We got them to work in groups to think about a general question – ‘What and how do you think you have learned?’ – before pulling everyone into a class discussion. The responses mostly confirmed what we had heard from them already – but showed a range of affordances of this medium for teaching and learning. Students had found the ‘bots very useful in conveying class and status relations and found that the experiential nature of virtual worlds allowed them to pick up a lot about Roman and Victorian society by inference.This was especially gratifying since back in the summer, feeling for period was something history teachers had reported as something that students struggle with. Several students specifically commented on how they had become aware of the contingent nature of history and the need to make judgement on the reliability of sources and tackle contradictory accounts. In response to this students were also able to identify how this awareness would impact their approach to History back in the classroom. (Result for REF ‘impact’!!). But one of the most gratifying responses covered the collateral advantages of the project – a student who talked about how being picked for the project and facing the challenge of designing an activity for year 7s had given him confidence he didn’t know he had. Whilst the responses about changing perceptions of history are intellectually gratifying and, getting down to stark realities behind the university allowing us to spend our time doing this, fabulous in terms of REF impact, this students response was surely the best possible outcome of the trial – to help a teenager change his perception of himself and his abilities for the better.




February 1, 2013

A week off from the trial this week – we’ve left the Year 9 groups to it and Nic is just waiting to receive from them any billboards etc they want him to upload (easily done – the billboards are essentially mounted ppt slides).

This leaves us to consider the ways in which we might evaluate the trial next week. Neither us being trained in evaluation techniques, this is the thing we always struggle with. Up till now we have relied mostly on voting technology in the belief that this will allow us to deliver hard quantitive data. Problem is we never quite pitch it right and don’t get data we can do much with. The questions we ask and choice of responses we offer, we tend to realise in retrospect are too leading and we often make the mistake of allowing each student to select too many options.

My own tendency, mostly based on my own ignorance of formal evaluation techniques and leading from my own (as of most academics of, ahem, a certain age, completely untutored) teaching style is to go for open discussion – to see what the students come up with and run with that. The problem from Nic’s point of view, quite rightly, is that we end up with hours of audio recordings which we have to trawl through to pick out key responses and then it’s very hard to judge how widely held by the rest of the class any one proffered point of view was. Because we feel under pressure to offer numerical data, we often feel our reports on the basis of these discussions are a bit half-baked, even if the discussions themselves were rich and varied.

After much discussion (ok, dithering), Nic came up with a great compromise. We lead with the open discussion so that we’re not shaping responses (beyond, of course, the way we choose to open the discussion) – then when we get a remark that seems to hit a particularly key point, we’ll quickly compose a voting question on the fly asking the other students to vote on how much they agree with that particular point. A great idea, which we’ll definitely use in the future – though one rather scuppered in the immediate term by realising that we can’t get our hands on the voting kit in time for the final session of this trial…


January 24, 2013

Session 3 of our trial at St Mary Redcliffe was pretty easy on us – the Year 9s have all been asked to use our model’s environment as a platform from which to show 16 Year 7s (between them operating 8 avatars) about Roman domestic life – so the session was entirely given over to the four groups’ planning, with Nic offering guidance on the possible affordances (and limitations) of the environment.

This was a challenging task for them – we were asking them not only to choose and research a topic, research it but also to create any additional resource for display in-world (predominantly billboards) and think creatively about an engaging activity. The task was really enlightening for us because it allows us to observe just how much they have taken on board about content in terms of Roman social history but also about mode of delivery – to see what they have grasped and how they apply the uses of the online environment. It also allows them to put into practice some of the more discussions we had in week 2 about the presentation of history to different audiences.

As the groups worked together (4 groups of 4), we circulated to help guide them and answer questions but essentially left them to it. Whilst they did need help scaling the scope of grand plans, they organised themselves remarkably swiftly and we’ve ended with quite a spread of topics – domestic art and interior decoration; Roman social status; Roman food and finally Roman weddings. What’s also interesting is the spread of planned activities – the first group are relying mostly on our visualisation of the house’s mosaics, the second on asking year 7s to ‘interview’ our ‘bots, the third group are mainly about billboards whilst the last group are planning to model their group on our dinner party challenge.

The idea of ending with this sort of presentation was actually Jo and Mary’s rather than ours but it’s clear it’s a great idea and one to take elsewhere – rather than evaluating their learning by asking the students to reflect directly on what they’ve learned, here we can actually see how they are able to apply what we have covered and observe the parts of the model with which they seem most actively engaged. Allowing them to create billboards etc gives the students some ownership of the environment and also generates ideas and materials around which we can develop further learning activities.

January 16, 2013

Today was session 2 of our trial at SMRT – a two hour class with the year 9s, this time down at the school. This time, we moved on from considering the model as a ‘Pompeian’ house, to introduce the Crystal Palace, to explore how the house worked at a Victorian exhibit, and most importantly to use that exploration of the exhibit (armed with hard scans of the original guidebook) and dialogue with our Victorian ‘bots to open a discussion of the subjective ‘interpretation’ of history.

The session worked brilliantly (at least from my point of view – will be interesting to get the final feedback from the students). For the first time teaching a session of this sort, we added more billboards about the likely income/education etc of visitors to the Palace from different classes and then, instead of imposing a back story on each avatar, invited the students to create their own narrative for their character. They did really well, came up with plausible and thoughtful biographies (bar the odd but probably inevitable downton-esque turn!) and I’d really like to explore this further in the future because the students then also replied off the cuff with some very good answers to my questions about how their characters might have experienced the Palace.

Interviewing the ‘bots went well – we had a good discussion about the range of opinions voiced about the Palace and about what kind of attitudes the Victorians seem to have held about the Roman world. This is where things got really good. The students, with little prompting, volunteered ideas about why the Roman empire might have been so appealing to some nineteenth-century visitors, and noted the moral anxiety about ancient culture too. From there, though, we moved on to an impressive discussion about interpretation/reception, drawing on modern history and contemporary culture and politics. The students really grasped the issues and their reactions as they absorbed the implications of our discussion  (‘this is scary’ or ‘this is frustrating because now nothing’s  fixed’ or ‘it’s ok that I can’t get back to what happened but I can learn a bit more about later generations by the way that they interpreted it’ – to paraphrase 3 responses) showed how much they were engaging with it all.

And when the bell went, I suddenly realised I hadn’t had to think about the technology once for the whole 2 hours. By which I mean, that it all stood up. The avatars all appeared, the ‘bots delivered their notecards, the network coped with the load. For the first time, I felt completely comfortable and confident teaching with this medium. This is a huge leap forward because it makes the technology feasible in the longer term. It shows what a great job Nic and our IT dept have done to get OpenSim to cope with what we want it to do – which is, as it did so admirably today, help students grasp sophisticated concepts and apply them to their own studies. There’s no doubt that today’s session will have succeeded in impacting on this group’s understanding of history. Result! As usual, very, very many thanks to Mary, Jo and the Year 9s at SMRT.



January 11, 2013

Just a quick report on a brilliant session today – the first of our 4-session project with 15 Year 9s from St Mary Redcliffe. As usual, Nic and I were down to the wire on trying to get everything sorted (it never seems to get any quicker to set it all up)  but having 3 hours to work with the group was brilliant. The technology stood up properly for the whole session – 5 bots, 8 student avatars and Gwendoline or Lucien coming and going. The students responded brilliantly and in one session we got through 2 of our old Chantry sessions (rejigged a bit and an extra session about family roles added).  Thanks so much to everyone in the group (and apologies again to only knowing you so far by your avatars’ names). Really looking forward to next week.


January 4, 2013

We’re starting the New Year with a trial with St Mary Redcliffe – first session next Friday (before the university term starts again). This week is all about planning what we’re doing. The first session is up at the university so we can feel pretty confident about the network holding up. Thinking of running the first session purely as a session about the P0mpeian house and household so we can get the students comfortable with the technology and try out the kinds of activities and approaches we can take with the virtual environment.


December 23, 2012

In the last week, we have been working on the show reel for the museum. It’s looking good – it’s just a basic fly through interspersed with some of our source images (photos, stereographs etc) and quotes from contemporary reviews and guidebooks which act as guides to the graphics. Basically, in sum, the show reel will reflect the kind of techniques we use in the model itself.  As ever, there are complications – the format of DVDs kills the fine detail of our footage so we may revert to running the show reel from a computer but that causes issues about ease of use in situ (unless we place our trust in programming the PC to turn itself on and run the appropriate programme).  We’re hoping that we’ll be ready to install mid-January because, of course, we now have to stop for Christmas.

Wishing everybody a very happy Christmas and we hope you’ll return to this blog in the New Year.


November 30, 2012

We had a busy week this week. On Monday we went down to St Mary Redcliffe to go over plans for the trial there. It’s great working with Jo and Mary, as they have loads of great ideas about how to get the best from off-curriculum enrichment activities. Upshot is that we’re going to do 3 sessions with some gifted and talented Year 9s, showing them the model, getting them to think about what is at stake in our and Nineteenth century’s interpretations of the ancient world with a view to presenting their own tour of the model, as Pompeian house, to Year 7s. This is perfect for us as we get to observe the model being used in so many different ways. Jo and Mary used this kind of tactic  of getting Year 9s to explore a topic in order to pass it on to Year 7s in a project at Arnos Vale Cemetery last year so it has proven track record. All looks good – starting date of January 11, so coming up sharpish.

On Wednesday we went off to Crystal Palace to talk to Ken Kiss at the museum and we measured up for our installation. The museum has some brilliant photos of all aspects of the Palace, from the Fine Arts Courts to the Fireworks (nice one of a firework enactment of the Destruction of Pompeii) and from the building process (another great one of the Pompeian Court filled with trestles for the painters to work on) to the fire. Spent a brilliant time chatting with Ken, who si so generous with his time and knowledge – his own interest is engineering and hence had some great stuff to tell us about the fair rides and heating systems.

All in all, a great week in beginning to realise the goal of putting the model to good use, all of which couldn’t be possible without the interest and generosity of our partners. Thanks everybody!


November 23, 2012

I’ve returned from California, having had a great time at the Symposium – the lectures were all brilliant and people seemed to enjoy hearing about our project.

Now back to the great news that Nic has fixed the ‘bots and an email from another teacher asking if his students might be involved in the project trials. Next week we have our second planning meeting with St Mary Redcliffe and a trip to the Crystal Palace Museum to talk about installing our DVD there.


November 16, 2012

Hi from California! I’m at the Getty in Malibu this week to give a paper tomorrow about our project at a public lecture day organised in conjunction with their exhibition, The Last Days of Pompeii: Decadence, Apocalypse, Resurrection.  You can see more about the day here:

In the meantime though I’ve been making myself at home in the Villa. It’s amazing – what better place to talk about our own attempt to reconstruct a Pompeian house that in a museum designed as a full-scale lavish Roman villa, making all of J. Paul Getty’s fantasies of the ancient past come alive? What’s particularly interesting, as well as the architecture and the experience of inhabiting it, are the parallels between the building of the villa and of nineteenth century Pompeian houses, like the Court and the Parisian Maison Pompeienne, is the way in which literary imagination fused with architectural realities. Just as people’s responses to the Pompeian Court was bound up with the House of the Tragic Poet and Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii the Getty villa, based on the Villa of Papyri just outside Herculaneum was bound up with Getty’s own short story about the Roman antiquarian collector (remarkably like himself) who once lived in the Villa of Papyri. Am having to restrain myself from ringing Nic to tell him that we’re abandoning VR in favour of the real thing. Wonder how much cash we need to raise actually to build the Court? I have a cement mixer in my garage so that’s a start….






November 9, 2012

So, we began this week with our event at Red Maids’ School- 90 minutes introducing 80 year 9 students to the model and the ideas behind it. I talked to students in the Hall, and explored with them the possible benefits and drawbacks of modelling and the pros and cons of learning about Pompeii through the medium of a model built in the 19thC. The students had some great (unprompted) ideas about what they perceived as the possible virtues of modelling, particularly accessibility. Meanwhile, Nic was down in the IT suite, trying to make sure everybody got a chance to experience the model. Open Sim behaved impeccably – stood up all the way through. The students very much enjoyed the software though there was some frustration mainly caused by the minimal time Nic was able to spend on orienting them in the software before we started and then the time pressures of the online sessions. As ever, the competitive element of our Apprentice-style Roman dinner party challenge provided motivation for students’ interaction with the model and ‘bots.

We gathered feedback from the students by getting them to scribble ideas on A3 sheets of paper, q&a sessions and by using voting technology to record responses to set questions. Afterwards, we realised yet again that, despite learning a bit more each time we use the voting kits, we still don’t quite model our questions to get the most decisive and usable data. Nevertheless, it was clear that between the beginning and the end of the session, the students had become more comfortable with the idea that their own knowledge of the Roman past is dependent on the Victorian reception of it.

Overall, this was a great start to this year’s trials – Open Sim stood up to the challenge, increasing our (rather dented) confidence in it and we have been able to start honing feedback and data capture mechanisms. Thank so much to everybody at Red Maids’ for having us along. We were particularly pleased that there was considerable interest in the model – we were asked if we would be able to make it available for Year 10/11 Clas Civ classes. Just the sort of longer term opportunity we are looking for for the model.


November 2, 2012

Next week, Monday morning in fact, is the first of our trials for this year and, although it’s just a one-off feedback gathering session, it’s a mammoth one – 80 students from Red Maids’  in Bristol involved.

We have sessions planned which involve the logistics of giving everyone a chance to experience the online environment when, as we’ve documented so many times before and as all Open Sim users know, Open Sim is so flaky that it falls over if all our ‘bots and guest log ins are  online at the same time. But, knowing this from bitter experience, Nic visited the school (and thank you so much to staff there who gave up time to help set this all up and have been brilliant) and our IT team have done a great job of stabilising Open Sim as much as possible at our end by dedicating more server power to us.

So everything should have been great except we now have a problem whereby an Open Sim upgrade seems to be incompatible with loads of our structures. First it was the ‘bots, who only appear to real users if they are logged in before the user (if not, the user simply can’t see them), who have stopped loading reliably and intermittently seem to lose some of their mobility (not that our Open Sim ‘bots have loads anyhow – they just basically move to face whoever addresses them). We’ll just to have our fingers crossed that they are feeling compliant on Monday morning.


Worse though, seeing as we have been doing a lot of filming recently, we don’t seem to have any lip synch functionality. We were trying to record a message for the students from Gaius Sallustius,our Pompeian paterfamilias (head of household) and he looks fantastic- facing the camera with a steely glint – until the moment Nic starts talking on his behalf and he just keeps fidgeting and twitching with his mouth sealed shut. In the end we’ve had to just record audio over a still of him. Nic’s now spending a lot of time online trying to find a way round this problem but if anybody has any ideas for a fix, we’d be very grateful indeed to hear from you.


October 19, 2012

Another week, another school – this time Fairfield High in Bristol. We had another very productive conversation here with the Head of History and are planning a two session trial here for Gifted and Talented year 8s and 9s, which we hope to run in the New Year. We also are now talking to a school in Bath. Lots going on…