PONToon: A Success Story Final Event
Hosted as a virtual expo on Thursday 21st January, PONToon: A Success Story Final Event, brought together Partners, associates and beneficiaries of the project for a collective moment of celebration.
The event used the world-building platform VirBELA providing users with an immersive experience in a multi-room exhibition venue. It was a great way to round off the three-year project, speaking to the ethos of PONToon: encouraging people to use new technology in exciting ways. The digital space showcased elements of the project in a creative and interactive manner, which reflects how PONToon has worked to upskill and empower women digitally. Despite not being able to meet in person, everyone’s energies could be felt which provided a sense of community, human connection and purpose across borders.
Stepping into the digital world created for the event felt similar to playing a video game. When first entering, there was the option to personalise your avatar’s body and facial features, clothing and accessories. Afterwards the character was positioned inside the virtual ‘campus’ built for the event.
The speech element was a particularly impressive function. The ability to speak to Partners and contributors from across the FCE region, simply by approaching those in public areas such as the Expo Hall, was a fantastic way to meet and connect despite geographical factors. There were meeting rooms which provided a private environment to talk in smaller groups without distraction from the ‘outside’ environment.
Being able to connect with people through this gamified experience was made fun and less daunting by the ability to converse using your microphone, yet having a personalised and controllable avatar represent you rather than having to be seen on camera. This gave a sense of ease to the social aspect of connecting with others in a work-based environment, when using video call based software can be quite anxiety inducing for many. The virtual campus made the sometimes dry experience of attending lectures and seminars into a joyous adventure.
Throughout the day, there were talks and workshops hosted within the virtual campus.
Joan Farrer from the University of Portsmouth introduced the first conference of the day. Joan, PONToon Principal Investigator and Lead Partner, situated the original aims of the project in the current context, reflecting on how digital technology has become central to our social lives during COVID-19. Looking to the future, we learnt of PONToon sustainability plan which involves digital resources being made accessible for the next five years. Previous workshops at Aspex featured centrally in the PONToon: A Success Story video. Joan’s talk is available to watch on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wu9-aS2ieT4.
The “Start your own Business” workshop with Peter Grant from partner WSX combined the excitement of being in the virtual environment, with expert advice to help participants start and run a business. The workshop was held in one of the seminar rooms where participants were able to navigate the space with their avatar, take a seat around the conference table and enjoy the presentation from the comfort of their home. People from the small group were able to ask questions and seek advice from Peter, who answered honestly and directed everyone to further resources.
Aspex were allocated spaces for 18 images and two videos within the exhibition. As PONToon Project Assistants, it was our responsibility to create, curate and upload content for these spaces. Uploading the artwork was logical and straightforward, and quickly we could see that we had made the space our own. This was a truly collaborative process with all of the Project assistants in constant communication with each other throughout the day. Displaying the work that we had produced, giving feedback and amending work in real time.
It was really exciting to see people engaging with images that we had spent a lot of time and effort creating. The images are from the PONToon project online exhibition that we have spent the last two months working on. We have commissioned artists and edited images to showcase various events that have taken place throughout the PONToon project.
Leading by example, the PONToon: A Success Story Final Event highlighted the joy of technology.
Hannah Buckingham, Sasha Damjanovic, Vera Hadzhiyska, Eleanor Harwood-Todd, Ellie Higgins & Alice Karsten