Bianca Pereira
A researcher and software developer at work, a feminist by ideal, and an educator by passion.

Rites of Passage: A transition between levels of reality

Today I would like to share my experience attending the workshop on Rites of Passage: Creating impactful Scenarios for the Transition in Between Realities in Mixed-Reality. This is one more post in my reflections about the 15th EATEL Summer School on Technology Enhanced Learning (JTELSS). I suppose that, from all workshops, this was the most impactful for me and I explain you why.

When organising my presentations, I don’t like to think that I will “give a talk”. Saying that sounds as if I will be talking whatever I want to say, whereas people in the ‘audience’ need to be there just listening and waiting me to finish and leave (sounds familiar!?). Instead, I prefer to think that I will “create an experience”. By creating an experience, now we have participants rather than an audience. People will feel, think, imagine, remember, talk or do something. This workshop gave me some hints on how to help people to smoothly change from their current reality (in this case their everyday life with the work they were just doing and/or still thinking about) into an alternative reality (i.e. a ‘world’ of ideas we will co-create during our time together).

The workshop started in a very odd way. The organisers asked to scan our iris in order to register us for the workshop. It felt weird because I could see that it was so dark at the room that the phone camera could barely capture my eyes, even less detect my iris or anything else in that picture. Later I went to learn what it was all about.

Why are you scanning my iris?

Having our eyes scanned, the workshop started with an extremely interesting presentation topic. Katharina Tillmans , from Cologne Game Lab, started by introducing the Reality-Virtuality continuum. She explained that each of our experiences fall somewhere between Absolute Reality and Virtual Reality in this continuum. According to her, we never really get to experience Absolute Virtuality because, well.. we exist in the real world.. right? (Unless you believe in The Matrix, but that is another discussion). Therefore, each of our experiences using technology is more or less virtual. The problem, she claims, is that our current technological experiences create gaps in what should be a continuum space. For instance, when we use our phones to scan a QR code, at the first point in time we are in the reality and at a second point in time, BOOM, we are already within the virtual world navigatin some website or acessing a given app. Katharina points that the lack of a smooth transition between levels of reality is what creates a gap. The work of the workshop organisers is to improve people’s experiences by creating smooth transitions between levels of reality-virtuality and, consequently, removing this transition gap.

We never really get to experience Absolute Virtuality. Slides from Katharina Tillmans.

In order to fill the gaps in the reality-virtuality continuum, Katharina presented the idea of “Rites of Passage”. She explains that human life has a few common rites of passage (e.g. birth, marriage, childbirth and death) and that in each of these rites we pass through three stages: Separation, Liminality, and Incorporation.

The first stage is the “Separation”, when one gets separated from their old self. She gives marriage as an example, where, depending on the culture, the groom and bride have bachelor and bachelorette parties with their friends in order to celebrate the end of their time as unmarried individuals. They are basically saying goodbye to their old selves.

The second stage is the “Liminality”. It is the moment of transition into the new identity; it is the moment when one chooses to make the transition. In the marriage example, it happens when someone has the wedding ceremony and shares the vows or signs the marriage contract. At this moment, the individual takes the definitive decision into transitioning to the new self.

The third and last stage is the “Incorporation”, where individuals start to get into the new role they chose. For instance, it is when the two newly weds start to accept and embed in their lives the idea of being a married couple. As I understand, at this stage the individual goes back to the world but with a different perspective on it and a new identity.

Katharina claims that these three stages can be used to bring users from the absolute reality smoothly into the virtual reality.

The stages of a Rite of Passage

The next presenter was Jonas Zimmer. He presents the Porta Praetoria project where the concept of Rites of Passage is used to teach children, through a game on their phones, about the life of the romans who lived in Cologne, Germany centuries ago. In this project, children start the Separation stage by inviting their friends to make a group of 3 explorers, downloading the app and deciding what will be the role of each player (navigator, excavator, or puzzle maker). Then, still in the Separation stage, the navigator guides the group to a given physical spot in the real world. At that spot, through the use of augmented reality technology, the group can see through the navigator’s camera that there is a portal at a specific point in the space. At this moment the “Liminality” is activated. Should the children cross the portal and move further in the virtuality continuum, or stay where they are?

The navigator is the one who can see the portal and needs to physically go to the place and cross it. The other two members of the team can only pass through the portal if the navigator invites them in. Having chosen to pass the “Liminality”, i.e. having crossed the portal, the children now can see the city through augmented reality as it was at roman times in that specific location. Then, within this virtual world, they are in the “Incorporation” stage, where they are now explorers of the history of the Roman Empire.

Note that we do not bring the kids so far just to abandon them in the virtual world. Instead, the way back is also smooth. Do you remember we still have an excavator and a puzzle maker in this story? After having observed how romans lived, the kids need to choose to cross the portal back to the reality in order to discover the artefacts the romans left behind. The excavator needs to use the app to find buried pieces of artefacts (e.g. vases, plates, cups), whereas the puzzle maker needs to assemble these pieces in their original form, i.e. rebuild the artefacts. The journey of our team guides them through the city and finishes at the local museum, where our explorers are brought back to reality by observing the real artefact they just built in the virtual world.

A video demo of Porta Praetoria project

I mean… I love this story!! But it did not stop there. After the presentation, we were all divided into groups to design an experience that takes advantage of the concepts we just learned about. The challenge was: “How can we create an experience that support people living in Bari to save water?”. Our group came up with the idea of starting by showing how would be the world if we did not have enough water. As this post is getting too long, I will try to summarise.

People would be invited to enter a house and try to wash their hands. By turning the tap, they will notice that there is no water, but also note that there was a QR Code in the tap. People would scan the QR code and start their experience. The app would guide the them to the kitchen, where they would be requested to inform their favorite foods. Next, by pointing their camera to the table, the food will start to disappear from the picture (using image techniques) showing how much of their favorite foods will cease to exist in a situation where there is not enough water. At this moment, individuals are informed that there is a back garden in this house where all the food is available, but only “Water Champions” are able to access that area of the house. A prompt appears and cites what is expected from a Water Champion, i.e. the type of behaviours that make people successfully save water, and the individual will be invited to “sign a pledge” to become a Water Champion. This is our Liminality stage. Does the person wants to live in this “no-water” reality or wants to move on? Having accepted to become a Champion, the person is brought to the back garden where there are a variety of food and where the individual can see through the app how much water is needed to grow each plant under varied weather conditions. Unfortunately that was all the time we had, so no bringing people back to reality smoothly. In any case, it was a fun exercise.

Presentation of our design. Photo by Mikhail Fominykh

To finish the workshop, all participants were invited to present the experiences they have designed and to reflect on the elements used in it. We also came to learn that the eye scanning at the beginning of the workshop was just our own Liminality stage 😉

Surprise, surprise!

Did you like the concept of Rites of Passage? Do you know how to apply it in an academic experience (not lecture or presentation anymore)? If so, I would love to hear from you. Feel free to drop your ideas at the comments section below or reach me out at Tweeter. Cheers!

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