Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Loop the Learining Web Project


Short Description:

Loop is a group learning project.

One web page a day for six weeks.

13 people.

364 pages.

Starting from the most basic html getting more complex each day.

A collective sketch book.

A space for ideas.

A resource for other people.

A learning process.

Based in Woolwich in South London.

The whole project ran from 8th June 1998 to 22nd July 1998.

A numinous project for Gallery 37

Long Description:

loop

1. DESCRIPTION 2. PROCESS 3. BALANCE 4. PROBLEMS
5. ADAPTATIONS 6. LOCATION 7. PROGRESS 8. COMMENTS




DESCRIPTION

Loop was an intense six week project which operates on many levels, and if asked for an exact description as what it is ­ it hovers between collective art project/"social sculpture"/conceptual learning/web building/systems project... either/or/neither/nor...

Ten young people between 16 and 23 made a page a day every day for this collective web site. There was an "instruction" for every day of loop and a structure. This outlined the idea and limits of what was expected in terms of ideas and technologies but made no restriction over content. The style and expression within each page was entirely up to the appprentice artists involved.

Each day they were introduced to at least one aspect of learning about HTML, and as each day progresed, they began to slowly combine previous skills learned into more sophisticated pages.

The official instructions each day usually only covered one specific skill; tables; embedding audio etc ­ but along with this were many other skills being learned such as search engines, browsers, questions about other sites and techniques they used. Once in while I would ask the group during the morning session to list terms or words that they did not know the previous week; "avatar", "hexidecimal", "index colour" ; "tweening" and so on. It was always surprising to see how much was being absorbed and this useful exercise allowed the group to verbalise and actually hear some of the terms that they were already taking for granted.

From the beginning of the project I told the group that they were collaborators with me on the project. For me this approach made a key difference. I constantly told them what I was learning and made a virtue of telling them what I didn't actually know, seeking their help ­ sometimes to their sheer disbelief.

Loop was NOT just about me or the other artists teaching people how to build web sites ­ it was about creating an open environment where all types of learning were taken into account ­ not just the skills using technology but the often unquantifiable aspects of learning ­ flexibility, adaptation, experimentation.

I made the group aware that what we were doing was building a resource and reference point for other people learning about the net and html and also a repository of a particular moment in time ­ where we were, what we were doing, who we were ­ and alongside this marking particular aspects of technologies that will undoubtedly date as things progress in areas of software, hardware, and usage ­ VRML, Real Audio, and Flash being good examples.

There was a caution about offensive material ­ but the youngest person on the project was 17 - so essentially a group of adults ­ and I was luckily never put in a situation where I had to restrict content on a page. If there was material ­ usually language ­ which might have been offensive to some, my only interception was to ask if they would feel comfortable showcasing this project and this material to a third party ­ and how they would feel showing this project once loop was completed. The decisions over exact content was up to them.

PROCESS

The idea was that loop would provide a backbone to the project. The loop daily pages were the minimum requirement. I had expected that the pages ­ which I had intended to be like a sketch book ­ would be done quickly and allow for people to pursue their own interests. The chosen hexadecimal colours in the beginning providing an instant coherence for their individual sites. But the group really took to loop as the entire project ­ a natural development for the whole group and one which ultimately enhanced the project.

I kept telling the group that this project was NOT about technology or learning how to use software but it was about using conceptual skills, playful skills and the ability to experiment. These are essential skills that make artists so good at using the internet. Artists have exactly the right flexible and sometimes illogical approach needed to constantly adapt and change, and abandon one direction to pursue another.

For me loop was about understanding and nuturing this approach. This is not something that can be taught in a traditional sense, but it has to be unearthed , coaxed, absorbed. Loop became an environment where this happened ­ one of the apprentices afterwards the described it as "a big game". Struggling to describeloopto someone I said the way people were learning was general, sloppy, vague and non-specific I accidently called it loose learning.

Loop was a systems project ­ a project that was looking at organisation, learning, the relationship of cause and effect within a group, and experimented with a way of learning founded on instinct, constant adaptation and play ­"there is no wrong" and " if in doubt...muck about" being two slogans I used frequently.

Loop had to be responsive to a group dynamic and from the beginning took into account that everyone would be learning ­ even though they might be learning different things. Often, admitting my own lack of knowledge during the project, caused others to reconsider their own experience and their position in the group ­ questioning and pushing the boundaries of being a learner or teacher.

I never disguised my perspective or approach to the project but never enforced it ­ each person responding, rejecting, ignoring or absorbing different aspects of what I said or asked.

Each day there was an instruction and each day there was deadline ­ a 3.00pm upload time where all their pages and html had to be ready. The intial stages of this process encompassed all the rigours of web site structure, file naming, file sizes, and correcting html. This became part of a natural daily process. We hardly ever made the deadline as an entire group, with always pages left over to be done, corrections to be made or people taking so much time over one page that work accumulated.

BALANCE

Balance in the group and the range of skills was very diverse. From an individual with very little formal education to another who was about to embark on a BSc in Computer Science ­ but neither knew how to write HTML. This wide skill range forced an approach that would allow people to learn as group and to be aware of each others skill levels and encourage them to keep a balance of all the skill levels within the group. This structure allows all the benfits of group learning, skill sharing and working as a team but alongside this allowed for individual expression and personal styles and interests.

PROBLEMS

The different skill levels also caused problems.

Although I reiterated almost on a daily basis that the project was not about technology but about learning adaptive conceptual skills, some more experienced apprentices intially took the daily instructions to be too "easy" ­ their perception of "sophistication" and complexity in Web site design was rooted in the technologies rather than pushing what was possible conceptually within the design, structure and content ­ in my experience a common failure of many Web sites.

This idea seemed best explained by my approach to the instructions for the day on animated gifs ­ which incorporated a small animation (9 pixels square) and displaying it at a larger size in the code, inside filled table cells with matching hexadecimal colours ­ an example which seemed to strike a chord in understanding key ideas across the whole project.

The project reads like a diary, and the difficulties, struggles and developments of apprentices in the project are plain to see.

ADAPTATIONS

Loop is a learning model, one that can be repeated and adapted. It could be re-applied starting at a higher level of knowledge - basic HTML, moving up to java script, applets and DHTML for example. The group approach and the indvidual/group dynamic works very well.

In retrospect, there needs to be more gaps in the structure ­ spaces where knowledge and skills could be talked about. I think where the "cleaning up" pagesbecame a neccessity to keep loop on track - there could have been space where collective page projects could have been run. The original intention was to assign many different groupings of people to work with each other - thereby ensuring that he whole group had worked in different combinations over a short period.

One page a day was very intense and the project was adapted on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis to accomodate new things that needed to be covered. Impossible and in fact undesirable to pre plan everything that was going to be done.

Talking about the work produced and the things learned within the group is crucial ­ and the sheer pace and momentum of the project did not allow as much discussion as I had originally intended.

The use of the document source was something that I thought of once the project had started. This became a very enjoyable part of the project and could certainly be developed further. It adds another playful element to loop but also forces the user/viewer to engage and look at the code that was being learned and written. It also allows the navigation, commentary and interface to operate on another level, and allowed a freedom for the apprentices to say and do what they wanted. The quantity of material being produced being produced was so large, that no individual could keep track of it all. Lots of games and even games within games.

LOCATION

Woolwich looked like a place in need of help. The Place, is a designated space for the young people of the Woolwich area. It had a computer area which felt anaemic, underused and desolate before we arrived. I had even heard it suggested that the computers should be removed as no one was using them! It had some very low spec computers ­ which were impossible to use (only displaying 16 colours!) and an ISDN line ­ but a place of massive potential. Software, Macs and scanner, zip drives and software were brought in and set up for the duration. It was saddening that after the project was over and the rented computers were returned, the environment was physically returned to its original state ­ which made it virtually ;-) impossible to run another a project like loop in that location.

All of the people working on loopwere from the surrounding South East London area ­ a pre-requisite for the Gallery 37 project. The "outsiders" ­ the lead artists ­ were the only loop project members who appeared to have any enthusiasm for Woolwich or its potential as an area. Many of the apprentices had grown up there and couldn't wait to leave it behind. One morning towards the end of the project the group had a lengthy and revealing discussion about Woolwich, the millenium, how it would change, and what they had experienced there.

PROGRESS

From the first day, even though everyone knew the project was six weeks ­ I started to talk about week eight and nine of the project. It was imperative to not put a full stop on the project at week six. The group was bought membership to Backspace for the duration of the project and for about a month after ­ a way of encouraging them to become part of an existing working community during the project and not leaving them in a vaccuum after it was over.

Although there was a clear structure to the project from the start, loop was not pre planned day by day. There was no way I could enforce the pace of the project, I had to see the group respond ­ and then adapt to them, adjusting my expectations if neccessary ­ usually upwards ­ as you can see from their extraordinary progress. I did adapt the project but often each daily instruction was sequenced in a way that related to the next either practically or conceptually ­ days 1, 2 and 3 looking at ideas about the differences and possible combinations of text and image for example, and days 11, 12 and 13: day 11 looking at communication and identity using text with chat channels, day 12 moving into looking at three-dimensional space within arcade games and combining these by day 13 looking at identity, communcation and three-dimensional spaces with VRML worlds.

COMMENTS

The comments from the apprentices and artists are here. This site is best dipped into here and there, returned to, used as a reference point, used as a place to steal code and tags, played with.

Pete Gomes 1998

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