Technology in, for, and with community 1 | Fab Ateneus, Barcelona

Being based at a university, and working within the cooperative extension system, I’m always looking for models of community/university collaboration that exemplify a participatory engagement with citizens (Or, as some would put it- “stakeholder” engagement). And in our current era of makers and making, examples that integrate technology are especially of interest. And I always mean to preserve examples when I find them, but hardly ever do…until now. Going to make a real effort to post them here starting now.

Fab Ateneus, in Barcelona, is my first stop. First brought to my awareness by this great article in the Guardian back in April, it has obviously been lurking about in the recesses of my mind influencing my thoughts about making and civic engagement.

There are more examples, programs, place and people working on technology in, with and for community – likely many more than I am aware of – that I’ll try to highlight as time goes on.

From Code to Craft – Open, appropriate, technology and the design of a new world – part 3

10900111_343478819172598_193884582881854888_oInformation and communications technologies (ICT’s) continue to change and develop at a rapid pace. Increasingly pervasive and networked (both socially and ‘physically’) ICT’s are largely black boxes. While there are indications of movements and trends that attempt to plumb the depths of these black boxes, by and large, most people remain unaware of the ‘mystery in the box’. Digital literacies, hard and soft, offer a way into understanding ICT’s.

The development of a robust understanding of ICT’s leads to an ability to deconstruct, reimagine, and innovate beyond the original boundaries of any given tool or technology. It is possible to see this process at work in communities surrounding the sandbox game, Minecraft. There are ways of seeing the world building, mod creating, and sharing within the Minecraft community as analogs for other processes that can/could have tangible real world impacts. The challenge is in moving from code to craft.

While there is value in knowing how to use software to build vivid and impactful worlds online, the end goal should be to teach literacies that help learners emerge into the world and enact change there. Building the world we want is an exercise in shaping tangible realities. Crafting a more just and equitable world may seem outside the direct goals of any digital literacy learning, but all learning should orient itself towards that goal. The tools and technologies of ICT can be powerful agents acting towards sustainability, creativity, free expression and on and on.

This movement from understanding to intervention informs the Maker and DIY movements, to a degree. But it is time to think about harnessing the energy of such movements towards concrete and meaningful impacts in the world. This is not to say that all activities must be socially useful, just that an articulated goal should include utility towards a more just and equitable world.

OPEN, APPROPRIATE, TECHNOLOGY AND THE DESIGN OF A NEW WORLD – VERSION 0, PART2.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O’Neill_cylinder

We have continually expanding access to new technologies. And yet the issues, problems and plagues that have been with us for decades still endure. And what is even more troubling is that we have largely surrendered the dreams and visions that have the power to animate our work for a better world. This is, of course, not universally true – there are dreamers and visionaries at work today. What we have lost, largely, is the ability to dream as a community or society. The energy of dreams and visions has been transformed into the power that animates fear and loathing. And too many people now cling to fears for lack of any other better emotion to attach themselves to. Because, in truth, what hope is there when we see increasing disparity, increasing selfishness, increasing poverty with no solution, with no path out?

But there are movements and motions that are at work now that could counter this lack of larger vision and hope. Open source, peer movements, plentitude economics are several points of light. But if we are daring to dream again on a larger (some might say grander) scale lets include autonomous technologies, an intelligent world built of objects that speaks to us in multiples of voices and space.

But so long as money is the measure of wealth we will be on the short end of that equation. We need to include, within our new dreams, an alternative measure(s) of wealth. How do we address the fundamental problems of health, nutrition, housing, human rights within a system that is not dependent on money as a measure? To eliminate money, to redistribute the wealth seems impossible but to ignore it – to use it when needed but not let it be the measure of wealth – is that possible? There are so many more of us who are not million(and billion)aires, surely we can come up with something?

This article (Technology Networks for Socially Useful Production) by Adrian Smith began some of my thinking on this. And this (Why communists need moon bases, or in other words, a vision for post-capitalism) added a bit, among other things.

Coming up next…desktop manufactories, surplus workers and space colonies.

Open, appropriate, technology and the design of a new world – Version 0, part1.

lb2I recently returned from two weeks in Nicaragua. During my time there we conducted some tech workshops with kids using littleBits (more about that in a future post). While I was there I began to think more closely about the relationship between things like open source, cultural and economic constraints, and so on. I’ve worked with kids and young adults around tech issues for a long time now – sometimes here in New York and sometimes in Nicaragua. I still harbor the firm conviction that tech literacy is now a fundamental need if one is going to take part in shaping a new world, the world we want.

But what became startlingly clear to me (perhaps I am a slow learner?) this time around was the basic powerlessness of teaching tech, so long as it is disconnected from a political orientation, or a political platform. This is perhaps a troublesome thought and possibly poorly articulated. But what I’m trying to get at is something about the point of using technology as a toolkit to build a better, new world, necessitates that tech itself is politicized, contextualized within an operating framework that engages not just tech but the whole social/economic/cultural ecosystem. Because I don’t think it’s possible to build a new world using the constraints of our current system.

Open source is a great concept, but in the context of the political systems we currently work within it is a privileged concept. Access to tools, supplies, even knowledge is unevenly distributed due to a particular system(s) – to enact open source as a robust technology system demands it be a part of a new ecosystem that includes the social, political and economic workings (inner-workings, networkings) across the board.

All of this arises from thoughts about free association and knowledge sharing that I began to put down on January 2nd while in Managua. It was deepened as I moved to the Atlantic coast and began working with kids there. Thoughts of open educational resources, open systems, and networks soon became mired in the realities of daily life – which I only experienced as a spectator. But it rapidly became obvious that the untidy, sometimes ugly, nest of interrelationships between economics, politics, culture and technology cannot be sectioned off and dealt with as autonomous entities.

Each bit of tech we carry, each new thing we teach about, carries with it this intertwined web of economics, politics and culture. The challenge is to be able to use this tangled tool as a lever opening the door to another possibility. Add to that the additional difficulty of respecting difference and diversity and culture and it becomes daunting. But not impossible. I keep coming back to the image of handshaking (in the IT sense of the term). There has to be a negotiated connection that can establish common boundaries and parameters, that does not overwhelm one side of the connection but finds an equilibrium that allows participants to move forward together.

 

Makers,making,diy and hacking citations

As of December 9, 2014: Journal articles I’ve gathered around the topic of makers and making. Many read, a handful left to work through, and more to discover. Does not include books – update on those coming soon.

 

Bevan, B., Gutwill, J. P., Petrich, M., & Wilkinson, K. (2014). Learning Through STEM-Rich Tinkering: Findings From a Jointly Negotiated Research Project Taken Up in Practice. Science Education, n/a–n/a. doi:10.1002/sce.21151

Blikstein, P. (2013). Gears of our childhood: constructionist toolkits, robotics, and physical computing, past and future. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on …, 173–182. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2485786

Blikstein, P., & Krannich, D. (2013). The Makers ’ Movement and FabLabs in Education : Experiences , Technologies , and Research, 613–616.

Buchholz, B., Shively, K., Peppler, K., & Wohlwend, K. (2014). Hands On, Hands Off: Gendered Access in Crafting and Electronics Practices. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 21(4), 278–297. doi:10.1080/10749039.2014.939762

Dawkins, N. (2014). Do-It-Yourself : The Precarious Work and Postfeminist Politics of Handmaking ( in ) Detroit. Utopian Studies, 22(2), 261–284. doi:10.1353/utp.2011.0037

Fox, S. (2014a). Third Wave Do-It-Yourself (DIY): Potential for prosumption, innovation, and entrepreneurship by local populations in regions without industrial manufacturing infrastructure. Technology in Society, 39, 18–30. doi:10.1016/j.techsoc.2014.07.001

Golsteijn, C., Hoven, E., Frohlich, D., & Sellen, A. (2013a). Hybrid crafting: towards an integrated practice of crafting with physical and digital components. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 18(3), 593–611. doi:10.1007/s00779-013-0684-9

Goodman, E., & Rosner, D. K. (2011). From Garments to Gardens : Negotiating Material Relationships Online and “ By Hand ,” 2257–2266.

Hemmi, A., & Graham, I. (2013). Hacker science versus closed science: building environmental monitoring infrastructure. Information, Communication & Society, 17(7), 830–842. doi:10.1080/1369118X.2013.848918

Hemphill, D., & Leskowitz, S. (2012). DIY Activists: Communities of Practice, Cultural Dialogism, and Radical Knowledge Sharing. Adult Education Quarterly, 63(1), 57–77. doi:10.1177/0741713612442803

Kafai, Y. B., & Peppler, K. a. (2011). Youth, Technology, and DIY: Developing Participatory Competencies in Creative Media Production. Review of Research in Education, 35(1), 89–119. doi:10.3102/0091732X10383211

Kuznetsov, S., & Paulos, E. (2010). Rise of the Expert Amateur : DIY Projects , Communities , and Cultures, (Figure 1), 295–304.

Lindtner, S., Hertz, G., & Dourish, P. (2014a). Emerging Sites of HCI Innovation : Hackerspaces , Hardware Startups & Incubators, 1–10.

Minsky, M., Akshay, N., Amritha, N., Anila, S., Nair, A. C., Gopalan, A., & Bhavani, R. R. (2013). Soft Circuits for Livelihood and Education in India, 2–5.

Moilanen, J. (2012a). Emerging Hackerspaces – Peer-production, 94–111.

Roeck, D. De, Slegers, K., Criel, J., Godon, M., & Claeys, L. (2012). I would DiYSE for it ! A manifesto for do-it-yourself internet-of-things creation, 170–179.

Rosner, D. K. (2013). Making Citizens, Reassembling Devices: On Gender and the Development of Contemporary Public Sites of Repair in Northern California. Public Culture, 26(1 72), 51–77. doi:10.1215/08992363-2346250

Smith, C. D. (2014). Handymen , Hippies and Healing : Social Transformation through the DIY Movement ( 1940s to 1970s ) in North America, 2(1), 1–10.

Tanenbaum, J., & Williams, A. (2013). Democratizing technology: pleasure, utility and expressiveness in DIY and maker practice. Proceedings of the …, 2603–2612. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=2481360

Thomson, C. C., & Jakubowski, M. (2014). Toward an Open Source Civilization. Innovations, 7(3), 53–70.

Toombs, A., Bardzell, S., & Bardzell, J. (2012). Becoming Makers : Hackerspace Member Habits , Values , and Identities. Journal of Peer Production, (5), 1–8.

Vossoughi, S., & Bevan, B. (n.d.). Making and Tinkering.

Weinberg, T. (2012). Making ( in ) Brooklyn : The Production of Textiles , Meaning , and Social Change.

Wylie, S. A., Jalbert, K., Dosemagen, S., & Ratto, M. (2014). Institutions for Civic Technoscience: How Critical Making is Transforming Environmental Research. The Information Society, 30(2), 116–126. doi:10.1080/01972243.2014.875783

Zapico, J. L., Pargman, D., Ebner, H., & Eriksson, E. (n.d.). Hacking sustainability : Broadening participation through Green Hackathons.

Zelenika, I., & Pearce, J. M. (2012). The Internet and other ICTs as tools and catalysts for sustainable development: innovation for 21st century. Information Development, 29(3), 217–232. doi:10.1177/0266666912465742

 

Also available over at Mendeley: http://www.mendeley.com/groups/4975081/makers-and-making-diy-hacking/

Raising funds to support technology workshops in Nicaragua

michael-kids-smallerThis January (2015) I’ll be heading off to Nicaragua for two weeks. During my time there I will be conducting several technology workshops with youth. While I am still in the planning process I do know that I will be using littleBits as the core tool set for these workshops. Right now I am hoping to run 4 workshops – 2 on the Atlantic Coast (Puerto Cabezas) and two inland in Matagalpa. While littleBits is donating some modules I am hoping to raise funds to purchase additional modules and possible a few other components. I am not used to asking folks for money like this but as I am self-funding I find that it is necessary if I hope to have a full range of flexibility in the workshop activities and outcomes.

http://www.gofundme.com/gkug8o

This past summer I used littleBits in a workshop for 4-H here on campus and had very good results. You can learn more about that work here: http://littlebits.cc/educator-spotlight-paul-treadwell

As always I am more than happy to talk about this work and answer questions, so please feel free to drop a comment here and I’ll respond.

Thanks,

Paul

Technology to build knowledge (sharing) networks – the quick start

As of today, there are a number of free online applications that can be used in different combinations to build an online knowledge network. One of the key factors in determining where to begin is the question “who are my (hoped for) participants”. Understanding who you want to contribute and collaborate will help establish some important factors you will use to select your applications. Issues such as the general level of technical proficiency of your participants and the need for secure storage of works in progress (or research) will help set the initial boundaries for selection.

For1389388545_facebook_social_circle broad public access, with a low barrier for entry, Facebook offers a good starting point.  Creating a Facebook group will allow you to connect with your initial network while facilitating its growth. The nearly ubiquitous penetration of Facebook across a broad spectrum of the population will help in reaching out to your hoped for participants.

1389388519_wordpress_social_circleIn combination with Facebook, a blog can provide a valuable repository for documents and longer form articles and updates. Authorship on a blog can (and likely should be) more strictly controlled and monitored. This is a necessity to manage spam and unwanted posts. This can also create a tiered membership – with trusted sources given access to the blog for posting. Framed correctly this can act as an aspiration for motivated participants of a more open forum (Facebook). Framed incorrectly this can easily replicate a dynamic of power that devalues contributions from your larger network.

With these two elements you can build the foundations of an online knowledge network. Both components can feed into each other, so that awareness of activity is maintained in both ‘locations’. Additional elements can be integrated to grow the capabilities of the network in a staged and thoughtful manner to either expand the capabilities of your network, or publicize its work. These elements are discussed below.

1389388589_twitter_social_circleTwitter – is a micro-blogging platform, and the case could be made that it should comprise one of the foundational elements of your network. Twitter is a network, in and of itself, with a user group that can overlap with Facebook. But Twitter has some unique features and benefits that recommend it as an important expansion of your network.

Twitter allows you to connect with other users and organizations that may not be direct members of your knowledge network, but who work in related organizations or fields. You can use Twitter to maintain awareness of their activities and inform them (if they are following you) of your activity. Many times new resources are shared on Twitter that can be of value to you and your network. This shared discovery of new resources is one of the strengths of twitter and is especially effective if you take time to follow users who are relevant to your knowledge domain.

Twitter also allows you to broadcast updates from your blog. For example, every time one of your blog users posts a new update or article, the blog can send a message to twitter that will then be broadcast to your followers.

1389388576_dropbox_social_circle_1_1_6Google Drive, or Dropbox can provide secure or private collaborative space and document storage. This can be useful if you are developing new materials, or sharing resources that may have restrictions on them (copy write issues, works in progress). The use of this type of tool demands a bit more technological skill, but is likely well within the ability range of your network members.

1389401220_social_4Youtube is for video. If and when you are generating video (captured talks, narrated powerpoints, documentation of community activity) uploading them to youtube offers many benefits. Youtube can be integrated into many blogging platforms, provides free storage and bandwidth and can help grow awareness of your activities and intent.

Distance learning (a work in progress)

Starting out from two options:

Synchronous (same time): For example a webinar, or live lecture/presentation via video

Asynchronous (any time): For example an online course, discussion board, recorded lectures

Each has advantages/disadvantages.

Synchronous learning activities can be captured for reuse in asynchronous settings. Lectures can be integrated into online courses, etc…

Ideally it would be a cycle of content creation, capture and re-use.

Synchronous technology:

Videoconferencing – High end = polycom or similar. Low end = Skype, WebEx

High end has higher costs and more intense bandwidth requirements (generally speaking) with specialized equipment.

Low end videoconferencing is less expensive, often desktop based, quality can vary wildly.

Interactivity may or may not be a feature of videoconferencing (can participants ask questions or is it a lecture)

Asynchronous technology

Learning content management systems (Moodle, Blackboard) – Allow for the presentation of learning content that can be accessed by participants at any time. A LCMS integrates tools for content creation, assessment and presentation into a common application.

Asynchronous learning can be either interactive (integrating discussion forums, peer discussion, etc) or non-interactive (tutorials, recorded lectures)

Capturing content for re-use

Video

Video can be an effective method for capturing and re-presenting learning opportunities. Whether it is a lecture or a demonstration of a specific technique, video can extend the reach of an expert to a larger audience brining new knowledge and content to underserved audiences. Video can stand alone to function as a tutorial, or be integrated into a LCMS as part of a structured learning experience.

Video capture has become much more affordable, and it is possible to produce high quality video for instructional use with fairly inexpensive equipment. Key to producing good quality video is a familiarity with the equipment and good audio quality. Someone who is comfortable using a video camera can produce more usable video with low end equipment who compared to someone who has expensive gear but doesn’t know how to use it.

This is a fairly universal lesson – knowing the tools and how to use them can produce effective and meaningful results. Deploying new, expensive, fancy tools and technologies for the sake of ‘using’ the latest and greatest will not have the same impact if you do not know how to use them effectively. This may seem like stating the obvious, but where technology is concerned it must be said- over and over again.

Narrated PowerPoint

PowerPoint can too often be deadly. However, when used properly they can help structure material for discussion or content dissemination. Being able to capture a PowerPoint with narration can create effective modules for learning use.  There are effective software packages that make the creation of narrated PowerPoint easy and potentially interactive. Again, one of the key elements to creating a narrated PowerPoint is the audio quality.

Webinars

Webinars can be recorded. This can be an effective means of capturing content, if the quality is high enough. Audio problems can be an issue with webinars. Inexperienced users can also make it challenging to produce high quality content for re-use.

Jus to re-emphasize – knowing the tools and how to use them can produce effective and meaningful results. Spending time working with any potential instructors who are going to be using Webinars so that they feel comfortable with the tool is time well spent.

Digital literacy – the key to unlocking distance learning

Regardless of how much technology we throw at an issue, the measure of effectiveness comes down to people knowing how to use the technology to accomplish tasks. This is universally true.  In order for distance learning to have the desired outcome digital literacies must be present in both the instructor and participant.

At this point in time, with rare exceptions, any effort to use distance learning technologies as a tool for outreach and engagement must include elements of digital literacy training. I would argue that this is more important than any given technology choice. Tools, a variety of tools, can be used to create the end result – but no tool can do it on its own. Developing the necessary skill set to effectively use distance learning technologies will be the make or break factor in any effort.

Useful Citations

Araque, J. C., Maiden, R. P., Bravo, N., Estrada, I., Evans, R., Hubchik, K., … & Reddy, M. (2013). Computer usage and access in low-income urban communities. Computers in Human Behavior29(4), 1393-1401.

Borthwick K., Dickens A. (2013), The Community Café: creating and sharing open educational resources with community-based language teachers, Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, v.9, n.1, 73-83. ISSN: 1826-6223, e-ISSN:1971-8829

Clary, R. M., & Wandersee, J. H. (2010). Virtual Field Exercises in the Online Classroom: Practicing Science Teachers’ Perceptions of Effectiveness, Best Practices, and Implementation. Journal of College Science Teaching39(4), 50-58.

Jaggars, S. (2011). Online learning: does it help low-income and underprepared students?.

Jung, I., & Latchem, C. (2011). A model for e‐education: Extended teaching spaces and extended learning spaces. British Journal of Educational Technology42(1), 6-18.

Means, B., Toyama, Y., Murphy, R. F., & Baki, M. (2013). The Effectiveness of Online and Blended Learning: A Meta-Analysis of the Empirical Literature.Teachers College Record115, 1-47.

New York Library Association, 21st Century Information Literacy Standards for the Digital Learners of New York

Simonson, M. R. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education. Boston ; Munich [u.a.: Allyn & Bacon.

Empowering technology? Tablets, youth and collaborative video production.

I recently spent a few days working with 25 4-H youth in a program focused (loosely) on digital storytelling. This is the fourth year I’ve conducted this program and I always intend to gather my thoughts afterwards in some sort of coherent fashion – but it always seems to slip away from me. This is my attempt to frame some coherent thoughts, reflections and questions around my experience conducting this workshop.

Empowering technology?

IMG_5052I deeply believe that technology can be empowering and, in the best of circumstances, transformative in its usage.  It is the foundation from which I work, it is the hope that empowers me when I undertake this workshop. In the 12+ years I have been engaged with youth through this program (previous years focused on web development and/or mobile devices with the transition 4 years ago to digital storytelling) I have seen glimpses of transformation in some of the kids I’ve been fortunate to work with. But I am coming to think this has less to do with the tools we use, and much more to do with creating a space that supports the process. It may seem obvious, but it has taken me a while to come to this understanding, to actually work from this understanding.

So it may be better to say I deeply believe in the potential of technology to be a useful tool for empowerment and transformation. The same can be said of poetry, theater, etc…the tool is the tool. The space and method of working with the tool can be supportive of exploration, discovery and transformation (with the converse always being true, as well). So it all comes down to intent – my intent when approaching this workshop.

That being said…

Having good tools to work with makes it far easier to keep intention in mind. Less time spent troubleshooting, working with multiple quirks, searching for specific IMG_5024cables and so on, means more time spent interacting with (and supporting) actual productive “work”. In years past I’ve worked with whatever I could lay hands on – which usually meant a mish-mash of video and still cameras of varying pedigree – leading to incompatibilities and wondrous challenges focused on just getting content off the menagerie of devices. This is obviously less than optimal.

And the physical environment can present its own challenges. At various times I’ve held sessions in labs, computer labs and the lobby of a library. Last year we used a collaborative center within one of the libraries here on campus. The collab center was built to facilitate shared work (unsurprisingly) and has flexible partitions, whiteboards and reasonable setting. Being in a library is interesting. Kids have been trained to silence in libraries and even though the collab center is positioned to allow for more activity and noise there is still the ambience of library. My experience is that this helps settle things down much more rapidly when chaos begins to creep in. A simple reminder that we are in a library is often enough to moderate voices, to diminish ‘horseplay’. (And I realize this makes me sound somewhat…aged, if not downright ancient. But after 4 or 5 hours of working together it’s very easy for the chaotic trickster spirit to be evoked with little effort. I want to maintain just enough of the trickster energy to foster creativity and engagement, but don’t want to have it slide over into unfocused chaos.)

This year my group was able to work with ten tablets for content capture and some creation. These tablets are part of a larger project in which NYS 4-H is participating. I pre-configured the tablets so that they all had the same apps and a connection to a shared dropbox account. The tablets were set to automatically upload images and videos to the shared account.

My hope was that a shared account would make it possible for some groups of kids to be out capturing content while others remained in our collaborative center able to download and work with the content. This should lead to a much more rapid production cycle. It would also allow groups to sub-divide and have one or two members out in the field while one or two we able to work on a desktop pc editing.

I was somewhat skeptical of the tablets as capture devices. I have an iPad and have used it to capture some video and was not overly impressed with the quality – it was adequate but does not work for me as a video camera replacement. So I was interested to see what these new tablets could do.

I will also admit to some reservations about the potential of the tablets as distraction. There was nothing to stop any of the kids from downloading games or other apps from the Google store. And the display is quite nice and we all know YouTube can provide hours of distraction, should you so desire.

So I distributed the tablets and was hopeful, but not overly optimistic, that they would provide more utility than distraction.

Look! A squirrel…

IMG_5003We broke into 5 groups with topical foci. 25 is a large number of teens to work with and my prior experiences have always lead me to believe that at least one of my groups will ‘check out’ pretty early into the program. So I anticipated, and within the first hour had already identified my ‘disinterested participants’. And again, with a group that large I expected some chaos accompanied by whispered reprimands or icy glares from annoyed library patrons.

There is always an interesting degree of diversity in the kids who choose to participate in my workshops. In many ways it is a fair representation of the diversity of New York State, drawing from rural, suburban and urban 4-H clubs. At least 3 or 4 are fairly fully digitally literate, bring a solid technical skillset to the group. All of the kids are socially networked. Without overstating the obvious – this is a radical change from just 5 years ago.

Whether you love or hate Facebook, it does facilitate a baseline level of digital literacy. It may not be a comprehensive literacy (think about issues around data security here) but it does support skills for creating and posting content online. Couple this with the increasingly pervasive presence of smartphones being used to capture images and video and our teens now have a fairly robust creation and production skillset in use, which is woven through many of their daily activities.

The novelty factor was in play for the first 15 minutes of use. Mastering the interface was no great struggle. The tablets we were working with use the Android OS which was familiar to some of the kids from their phones. Functionality across an Android and iPad tablet are similar enough to not be an impediment to effective use.

Mediating relationships

IMG_4957I also need to note the ability of technology to act as a buffer and mediator. I’ve seen this happen in many different contexts. Placing a piece of technology in the middle of an unacquainted and mixed group and asking them to use the technology can bridge boundaries very rapidly. This initial focal point is neutral (in some ways) and allows participants to get to know each other as they explore the tool.

There is also a process of peer learning and teaching that can unfold in the right conditions. Some of the more technically adept kids can help other learn how to use the new tool. This draws out sometimes reticent participants, and values their contributions which can be obscured by the more socially outgoing participants. This process of relationship building can be encouraged as part of the facilitation process, but it cannot be enforced. Trust, confidence in the workshop and a receptiveness by all to work together are necessary elements that can cultivate an atmosphere of peer learning and teaching.

Tablets as capture devices

I use my iPad primarily as a consumption device. My few attempts to use it for video have been disappointing, at best. Personal experience has lead me to conclude my smartphone is a better device for media capture. I find it easier to hold steady and movement is fairly fluid with the smaller form factor.

So, my expectations for high quality, usable, video being captures on the tablet was low. I came prepared with several handheld video cameras, considering them more appropriate to the task at hand. I expected the bulk of video that would be used would come from the video cameras, with the tablets contributing small clips or images.

My expectations were consistently confounded during the course of our workshop – and this was no exception. The kids were adept at handling the tablets, video cameo out crisp and clear, and the audio quality was very good. A lot of usable content. As a matter of fact, the bulk of the content used in the videos we produced were captured using the tablets.

There was also a spontaneity in using the tablets that is missing or more difficult to achieve with a traditional video camera. Sometimes people react unnaturally once a camera lens is turned on them – they ‘act’ for the camera. The tablets seem to moderate this effect, to a degree. And the capture ability is always there with a tablet. It is a matter of switching apps, not pulling out a separate device and intruding into whatever space the kids are working in.

And there is the familiarity factor. A tablet is (in some ways) a large smartphone. With the introduction of Vine (which was surprisingly popular with some of the kids) spontaneously grabbing video is just a normal everyday activity. This ‘habit’ of capture and go is a beginning, but only that. It is like a moving still picture – a snapshot, discrete and unconnected.  To intentionally capture and weave together video, images, and sounds into a story is missing from this process.

Bracketing out a challenging issue

Having a topic is a kind of starting point. Having something meaningful to say, or ask, is a larger challenge. This is the gap with video snapshots. They are spontaneous but often without intent. Intent demands some reflection and grasp of where one stands in the world. This issue of intent is another chapter, a whole universe which has been explored deeply by others and which demands its own exploration beyond the scope of this document (which started out intending to be a somewhat concise blog post).

Finally. Trying to wrap this up

I wanted to capture a few thoughts and reflections, but obviously opened a can of worms. I hope to revisit this topic soon. Weed through and sort out a bit more of the issues and opportunities.  Some – perhaps most- of what I’ve said is not news, but it is my attempt to order and understand what happened over the course of three days. Some things have been left dangling and I haven’t even begun to encounter some of the pedagogical underpinnings, aspirations and challenges that work of this type surfaces. Nor have I undertaken any rants about the rhetoric around tablets (or any technology) ‘revolutionizing’ education. But that is coming, sometime soon.

 

 

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