OCAD Campus

OCAD's Second Life

It's not uncommon for a university or college to have its own website; but a virtual campus? That's an entirely different story all together.

For the past year, this is exactly what OCAD has done, using the popular Second Life computer game as a platform for its online campus and gallery. Yesterday's open house, hosted by lead researcher and OCAD Integrate Media Chair Judith Doyle, presented audience members with a closer look at OCAD's online property, and some of the projects that have graced the college's online installation.

For those unfamiliar with the software, Second Life acts very much as the name implies; users are given the ability to create what is essentially a secondary, online life for themselves. With almost limitless possibilities for creation and interaction with other residents, it's the sort of environment that proves ideal, not only for interaction amongst OCAD's Integrated Media students, but with other worldwide art schools as well.

Ian Murray, who designed the majority of the online campus - dubbed OCAD Island - gave the audience a virtual tour of the school's two island's, and sky-based learning center. The campus, he explained, is an online "exploration in art and architectural installations." Buildings range from a library, with online learning materials, to multiple conference centers, intended as a "very fruitful way to meet, especially when collaborating from other places."

In fact, the 45-minute tour was even broadcast on OCAD island's own auditorium, for other residents around the world to watch as well.

But while the existence of the online campus is a feat in and of itself, what proved most interesting were the projects created within the game. OCAD students and professors demonstrated one such collaboration, with Cuzco, Peru's Amauta New Media Center. Centered upon Peru's tumultuous history of civil war and political unrest, artists from the school presented a number of their 3D sculptures within OCAD's online gallery.

Closer to home, OCAD's own Goly Farrokhkish, along with partner Edison Osorio, used Second Life in the creation and presentation of their own installation, entitled Coloured Laughter. According to Farrokhkish the project is "based on the cultural experiences of what one encounters when they come from overseas," and incorporates both a documentary video and user submitted content. The film, which can be viewed by Second Life residents within the installation's auditorium, features numerous Canadian immigrants whom each tell their own amusing anecdotes and experiences regarding the culture shock of arriving in a new country.

Other OCAD students used the online medium in a similarly creative fashion, with one team even attempting to bridge the gap between real and virtual by means of an exercise bike that controlled its own virtual replica.

While there's no doubt that the idea of using Second Life as a medium for artistic creation and presentation is an interesting one, it's actually quite logical, considering the online world's intended similarity to our own. Yet, one can't shake the feeling that there has to be a better way to collaborate artistically than through the use of an online game. But as OCAD's online campus continues to improve and grow, perhaps the students and professors involved can prove otherwise.

Projects like these, and others from OCAD's Hybrid Media Lab will be presented during both OCAD's 94th Annual Graduate Exhibition in May, and the Subtle Technologies festival in June.

Image courtesty Flickr users swilton.

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