NASA STEM Challenge for Grades 9-12 InWorld

A competition from NASA provides a challenge for High school students, in 2 phases. In phase 1 students have an opportunity to work cooperatively, in teams of three-to-five students, as engineers and scientists to solve real-world problems related to the James Webb Space Telescope. Final solutions from this first phase of the challenge are due on Dec. 15, 2010.

Teams who complete Phase 1 are then paired with participating college engineering students for Phase 2, the InWorld phase of the challenge. Each InWorld team will refine designs and create 3-D models of the Webb telescope.

For more information about the challenge, visit http://www.nasarealworldinworld.org/.

Pixel Performances

How can performing in a virtual setting help aspiring musicians? Performing in a virtual setting includes characteristics of a

A "live" musical performance in the virtual world

real life performance as well as some unique qualities available only in a virtual world. A musician on Second Life told me it was more like being in a sound studio, missing are the auditory and visual cues that a real audience provides. In a virtual environment, you must ‘read’ your audience through chat. Setting up equipment so that you can see the computer screen while you perform allows a performer to be able to read the chat and thus respond to audience cues. Typically the audience will respond with applause and commentary, the commentary does not disrupt the performance and is typically a conversation about the performance (the lyrics, historical references, personal reflections). Another unique trait of entertaining an audience of avatars is that you can see all their names and additional ID tags providing the performer with a supply of information for personal interaction with the audience.

Technical aspects of performing online require some hardware setup as well as software to enable audio streaming. A basic requirement is a high quality microphone and a quality sound card. Some software is available online for free and some have an associated cost. Setting up to a streaming server and entering IP addresses are part of the setup. Then of course the performing avatar must develop their stage presence including attire, hair, appropriate instruments and animations. The ability to create supernatural effects to enhance a performance brings an additional magic to a virtual show that could be cost prohibitive or simply impossible in the real world.

A student who is interested in performance as a future career may be able to learn a great deal by performing in a virtual setting. There are the technical and studio aspects as well as the “live” aspects. The virtual stage can provide a feeling of “being there” without some of the barriers of physicality and on stage jitters that often accompany new performers. In a recent LA Times article, Thriving Music Scene, a musician who regularly performs inworld, and makes money doing so, states that “…the interactive experience that the virtual platform provides can actually surpass that of traditional live gigs.” Perhaps this venue can provide a “training stage” to help prepare future performers, something for our performing arts instructors/schools to consider.