Workshop – Day 1

Day 1 of the workshop began with introductions and a discussion of the co_LAB ethos, highlighting the interdisciplinary nature of the workshop (with participants from performing arts, games computing, computer science, media production and psychology). Next up was a screening of a fantastic lecture by Sir Ken Robinson as part of the RSA Animate series. 

The group discussed the contention that education requires a radically new paradigm, with creativity and divergent thinking representing key skills for the 21st century. This thinking resonates strongly with the principles of Student as Producer, of which co_LAB is a staunch advocate. The co_LAB workshop model engages learners in what might be considered a ‘community of practice’. Throughout the project students and staff from different academic contexts and backgrounds will be working in partnership, learning through discovery together to produce new knowledge and creative responses to the brief.

To introduce an element of creative problem solving (and to act as an icebreaker, since none of the participants had previously worked together), we ran our #Twitter_Bricks exercise we developed in last years workshop. This activity involved splitting the participants (a mix of students and staff) into 3 teams to work together to recreate the co_LAB logo in Lego. They were assigned a third of the logo but instead of just recreating it flat, each group had to turn their “node” into a tower and their “connections” into a span. The 3 segments would then have to join together. Sound easy? Well if all 3 teams were to work together in the same room then yes, it probably would be very easy. However, here’s the twist… the 3 groups were separated by being in different rooms and so therefore unable to directly communicate. This meant that we had to develop novel methods for communicating dimensions in order to overcome this problem. All the teams had the same briefing, and all had the same instructions and rules:

  1. No direct communication with the other groups BUT you can communicate with them via a Twitter hashtag (after 20 minutes radio silence)
  2. The spans of the bridge have to connect
  3. A Lego car has to be able to travel along the entire length of all the bridge once the spans are connected
  4. A Lego boat (which later became a camel) has to fit underneath each span
Our #Twitter_Bricks creation!

In the pre-workshop phase participants were tasked with contributing to a Google Doc, which was designed to get the students collaborating and to encourage them to respond critically to the following three questions:

  1. How do you learn best?
  2. What supports or hinders your learning?
  3. How do you engage with reading and research in the 21st Century?

As a follow up to this activity we discussed each of individual learning experiences, which resulted in some emerging common themes: learning best through the practical application of knowledge, through engagement with a variety of audiovisual content, and via social networks. To contextualise this trend we discussed ‘Connectivism‘, which George Siemens (2004) describes as a ‘learning theory for the digital age’. This framework views learning as a process that occurs within nebulous social, cultural and technological environments, emphasising the networked nature of learning. Connectivism is useful for understanding how to successfully facilitate learning in the 21st century as it underscores the significance of interacting with other learners, providing value across networks and communities by contributing to the sharing and co-creation of knowledge.

In the afternoon we introduced the brief to participants, which is to respond creatively to key the research questions of the AHRC-funded Academic Book of the Future project. This involves some speculation about the roles and forms that the ‘book’ may embody in the future. To aid this process we watched a number of videos of similar explorations of interactive/digital publishing to act as inspiration for our own designs. To further support our creative endeavors we explored the Design Thinking model.

According to this model, empathising with the end user/audience is a crucial starting point for all good design. To begin this process we turned our attentions back on our own learning experiences so we might understand the needs and requirements of different learners (from Level 1 undergrad students to lecturers with PhD’s). In order to help us further define the issues that need to be addressed in the ideation phase, we also generated ideas about the purpose of academic books.

Branding Design Workshop mini-series

Hot on the heels of the Game Engine workshop series came our second extra-curricular opportunity for students from across the University. This time the subject under the spotlight is Branding Design and a call for participants was circulated (predominately to the College of Arts). This particular workshop was created for two reasons.

brandingdesignposter

Firstly, back at the start of 2015, we, along with other members of the OnCreate consortium, co-created a blended learning course on the subject of branding design with the intention of offering access to students across all partner institutions. The course was devised in such a way that it was to be as a collaboration between students from different institutions. They would be provided with all the learning material via an online learning platform (in this instance Eliademy) but this would be blended with scheduled online live workshop/meetings hosted by partners responsible for creating the course materials.

Secondly, the school to which I belong had recently been granted permission to create their own sub-branding to gain a certain amount of autonomy. This reflects current trends within educational institutions to highlight a particular area of importance or to encourage growth and improve reputation. As a research group also known for producing and facilitating well-designed artefacts, we were approached to design this new branding. We thought however, this should be an opportunity that is presented to students, utilising the learning materials developed for the branding design workshop.

We know that at least one other partner institution from the OnCreate consortium were planning on running something in the domain of branding design with their students so we decided this was an opportunity to try and engage the students with collaborative production.

We have learnt from previous attempts with remote location-based collaboration that it’s important to set the scope of what realistic exceptions are achievable. Based-on the fact our collaborations are only ever extra-curricular (as to include everyone at module level would be logistically difficult due to the number of students we have), we decided to opt for the minimum expectation of collaborative peer review and feedback. This way, teams of students could work autonomously but get together at various instances to present ideas, developments and final work.

Another issue that arises from us only ever been able to commit to these projects as extra-curricular ventures is that the time we can commit to them is always very short or compact. In this instance we only really had the opportunity to “connect” our classrooms once.

Connecting The Classrooms

The plan to connect the classrooms was to use Adobe Connect – the platform used by the consortium for OnCreate meetings – to bring all participants (or groups) together in a “meeting room” and then divide them out into “breakout groups” for feedback sessions.

In theory this is a good system and prior to this we had some success with the Adobe Connect platform, however there were issues that hampered this experience and actually convinced us that the platform is actually quite poor, especially in conjunction with the way we managed and envisioned it would work.

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Firstly, the technology is relatively outdated. It is still powered by Flash – which, when it comes to video, isn’t necessarily the worst option as although Flash as a web-based platform is now obsolete, Flash video is still quite prevalent and the choice of many video streaming services. However, the quality of the experience is directly proportional to the capability of both the server and bandwidth of all connected clients. If one or more of these components is weak then the experience for all tends to diminish.

There was an additional logistical problem, that wasn’t the fault of the technology but still a consideration, in that we (Lincoln students) were all in the same room and the EU students were either at home meaning that they had access to headsets, and we didn’t. Even if we did, it would have been socially inappropriate to don headsets whilst a room full of other collaborators.

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Perhaps the largest issue however was the apparent lack of planning brought about by a mixture of slightly misaligned expectations, poor communication and the inability of the technology to deliver an effective transition from modes (from open meeting to breakout groups). After this pilot we concluded that in order for future online classroom connections to run efficiently, the facilitators of said sessions must present an agenda ahead of the actual meeting. Unlike meeting in person where the agenda can be circulated at the time of the meeting, the nature of the collaborative practice undertaken in these sessions requires that participants be forearmed with potential questions or feedback ready to take full advantage of the reduced ability to communicate via this combination of technology and activity.

There were some positives which clearly demonstrate that once an ideal platform has been selected (or the existing one improved), that there is potential for online connected classroom activities to play a very useful role in both extracurricular and general curriculum activities. For instance, when the text-based communication was utilised by both parties then actual feedback and suggestions for improvement did take place. Most notably however, the functionality of the real-time drawing board did allow those who discovered it to actually “sketch” ideas out as opposed to describing them. This obviously rendered any language barrier null and void. If Adobe Connect had the ability to sketch in real-time over existing files (like PDF or PNG), then feedback could have been directed to the location of the issues or point of comment. It may well have this feature but it wasn’t immediately accessible or intuitive to new users.

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Digital Platforms

As part of this workshop, students were introduced to two digital platforms. Firstly, the course was hosted on Eliademy because online learning management platforms tend to be closed to visitors outside of the owning institution. As this was a collaboration between different institutions we therefore turned to Eliademy because it is free and anyone can create an online course with whatever structure they deem appropriate.

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Whilst Eliademy is wonderfully simple and accessible, it doesn’t have the same power to encourage participants to become engaged with the topic at hand. Partly because of the open way a course is structured. There are no measures for establishing monitored progression either from the participant or the teacher. There is formal assessment but no indication that the way you are structuring your ‘classes’ or learning materials is working and that students are looking at them. Maybe there are more features in the paid version but we have yet to explore this. Basically, the course is only as good the owner has arranged it. Whilst Eliademy has tried to accommodate as many course structures as possible (by leaving you to it), I think this works against it when compared to other examples we’ve encountered that offer highly structured and trackable content management. That aside, for a simple 4 week course, Eliademy performed quite well.

The other platform we explored allowed students to perform multiple aspects of both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Padlet is simply a shared space where collaborators can attach images, videos and web links in any arrangement they see fit. It has advantages over other pin board applications such as Pinterest in that there is no grid or structure to how content is positioned. This allows it to be re-purposed as a moodboard, scrapbook, presentation aid, research repository and many more.

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Students really enjoyed using Padlet with many of them now using it as the default collaboration space online.

Conclusions

Upon completition of the workshop participants were given a simple questionnaire, the questions and topic of which were drawn from the ongoing OnCreate project’s work on establishing an evaluatory feedback model testing creative collaborative experience. For this particular workshop, the following questions were used:

  • General – Did you enjoy participating in the workshop?
  • Tools – Did you find the course environment (technology) easy to Use? If not, what problems where there?
  • Tools – Did the tools you used on the course environment support communication and working with others well?
  • Teamwork – Was your team working, communicating and sharing tasks effectively? If not, what could have been better?
  • Teamwork – Did you learn new team working skills? If so, what were they?

10 participants answered the questions and the results were consistent. All students answered Yes for the first 4 questions and commented on how useful they found the experience of using technology in order to support collaborative-based working. Some also commented that when the technology was working, the real-time connection to a studio in an international institution was a new and useful experience. All participants answered No the fifth question. Comments seem to suggest that the nature of their courses here in Lincoln have already set them up for working effectively as part of a team, and even though the technology provided them with a space in which to document their ideas, because they met in a physical space, they didn’t really get to see the benefits the tools could have when distance working. I guess this would have been different if they were working in international groups, but, as mentioned at the start of this post, this was going to be too logistically challenging.

This information will shape the way we approach the next iteration of this collaborative-working model when when we start working the The Hague University of Applied Sciences and participate on their Service Design module in the Spring of 2016.

The Winners

I am pleased to share with you the final winning design from the brief the students here at Lincoln were all working towards:

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It was produced by Sam Dos Santos and Cheryl Porcelijn. Sam is a Media Production student from Luxembourg and Cheryl was an exchange student from The Hague University of Applied Sciences so even though the collaboration between different institutions was difficult to manage this time, the result did have influence of an international flavour.

All logos produced for this workshop were submitted to a panel of judges. The judges liked Sam and Cheryl’s bold approach and striking colour palette. It deviated from the “safe and corporate” option and presented the school as an entity that wanted to take creative (but measured) risks and not afraid to stand out from the crowd.

iWeek – Liepāja University

Louise Lawlor and Clive McCarthy were invited to run a workshop as part of Liepāja University’s 7th international New Media art festival ‘iWeek’ 2-7 November 2015 http://iweek.mplab.lv/en/. Of course they jumped at the chance to return and their workshop became ‘Human < > Object’.

They took along 4 students from Lincoln School of Film and Media; Philippa Revitt (Media Production), Emma Heaps (Media Production), Joseph Lewiston (Media Production) and Thomas Love (Film and Television). They began the long journey to Liepāja on Monday 2 November and after arriving late in the evening they began looking ahead to day 2 and the start of the workshops. The majority of workshops began on Tuesday 3 November in both MPLab and Vecā Ostmala 54 (an abandoned house used by a group in Liepāja to stage events, parties etc and converted this time into the grand base for iWeek).

Philippa and Emma took part in the second part of the Connected Neighbourhoods project along with Īstā Madara and Linda Strauta (LV), Thomas took part in Tibor Kecskés (HU) workshop ‘Open Up Famous Paintings Into 3D!’ and Joseph Lewiston signed up for Gyorgyi Retfalvi and Zoltan Gayer’s (HU) workshop ‘Looping iWeek’.

Louise and Clive’s workshop began on Wednesday 4 November in MPLab and included participants from a range of nationalities; Dana Rasnaca (LV), Iris van der Harst (NL), Annija Gancōne (LV), Marta Matuzeviča (LV), Kristaps Strungs (LV) and Teotim Logar (LV). Day 1 centred around discussions of the workshop concept, with explorations into what ‘human’ and ‘object’ mean. So on to day 2; the group agreed the final outcomes would be in the form of experiments that they undertook and would film and edit together in order to present, this matched the experimental thinking of the workshop and became spontaneous reactions to the concepts of ‘human’ and ‘object’.

Photo: Valters Pelns

The 3 outcomes became:

Louise and the Connected Neighbourhoods team took part in the Open Idea Space on the Wednesday evening. Louise gave a talk on her recent MA project ‘Mapping an ethical becoming, or, devices for the anthropocene’ and the Connected Neighbourhood team went through what they had worked on in Lincoln and were working towards in Liepāja. The talks were live streamed and the rest of the team watched along with messages of support.

Photo: Valters Pelns

The group went along to the iWeek dinner on Thursday 5 November, where all workshop tutors and participants came together to enjoy a meal and make connections.

Day 3 of the workshop and final exhibition day on Friday 6 November produced 3 videos of the 3 experiments and as a group they decided to exhibit these projected one on top of the other onto an object in the space. Using a mac mini to power a projector displaying the mapped videos onto 2 doors that had been abandoned in the space, giving these inanimate objects an agency and a life force they didn’t have previously. Bringing them and the room alive with the sounds of laughter from their Laugh in a Jar experiment. (A special thanks goes to Pēters Riekstiņš for the fantastic technical help!) On the guided tour of the exhibition by the lovely Anna Trapenciere, Louise and Clive gave a short introduction to the workshop and what had been produced in collaboration with the students. Inviting viewers to explore the room in their own time.

Photo: Valters Pelns
Photo: Valters Pelns

Thomas exhibited his installation of the Vitruvian Man expanded into a 3-dimensional space and viewable from a single perspective. Thomas gave an excellent introduction to the work and got people involved to interact with the piece to find the perfect viewpoint.

Photo: Valters Pelns

Joseph also exhibited the final outcome from his workshop, Joseph and the workshop tutors created a loop of all workshop groups using stop motion photography. This was an effective piece to capture the energy of iWeek and celebrate the many workshops going on.

Photo: Valters Pelns

http://coub.com/view/918p8

Philippa, Emma, Madara and Linda showed the final outcome of the second part of the Connected Neighbourhoods project, a film and soundscape of the communities of Liepāja ending with an interactive map where they invited people to pin their favourite place in the city.

The group then had a chance to explore the other excellent workshop outcomes on display. All in all it has been a fantastic experience and, although tired and exhausted, the group are all full of inspiration and motivation for future areas of collaboration.

co_LAB Maker Series 2015/16 – Game Engines

After the relative success of last year’s Human Centred Design programme run in the spirit of co_LAB’s pedagogical style (think mixture of blended, flipped and remote learning), it was decided to put on another series of workshop-based activities.

Although most participants enjoyed the theme of last year’s HCD co_LAB workshop series, and all groups managed to submit a final output, the biggest success was in the networking and discovery-based learning. Also welcome was the ability for any participant (student or staff) to facilitate the workshop because the entire programme was supplied and delivered in the style of flipped learning, allowing physical (or remote) meetings to concentrate purely on working through responses and solving design challenges.

With all of this in mind, we decided that an annual Semester A workshop series (now titled co_LAB Maker Workshops) should be scheduled with it’s content to vary, either by demand, to coincide with an external programme (such as the HCD last year) or to pencil in some time to work on any collaborative briefs with our partners. Semester B might be kept free for either a different workshop series or for the intensive workshop towards the end of the semester.

When thinking of a theme for the workshop it made sense to focus on something that is in discussion within the Lincoln School of Film & Media, and that’s delivering some form of Game Design. Coupled with this our collective experience with the subject and announcement that the Unreal Game has been made free for all to learn and use in March this year, it seemed like the perfect time to test the water with our current students.

But in the true spirit of co_LAB we wanted to open up this opportunity to as many relevant subject areas as possible in order to get a great mix of participant skills, interests and backgrounds. In order to do this, the focus of the workshop series needed to be adjusted slightly in order to attract creatives from all background areas, not just students who like playing games. This is actually quite a smart thing to do because the current Unreal Game engine is now becoming a viable alternative to mainstream 3D modelling and visualisations applications.

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Unreal Engine is the next logical evolution for architectural visualisation as the rendering quality is approaching realistic and the environments it creates are explorable, not just video fly-throughs.

The poster below was created to advertise the call and ensure the context of the learning style and content of the workshop were made clear:

Game-Engine-Workshop-2015-PosterWe had masses of interest after only a few days of the call being distributed, and we had no trouble filling the 20 available places (for both staff and students). In the end, the final places were offered to staff and students from Media Production, TV & Film, Audio Production, Animation and Architecture. In all, a good representation from different subject areas, each bringing with them different skills but hopefully all will leave with a desire to use the Engine, where appropriate, in their future projects/studies.

The workshop starts next Wednesday (30th September) and should run for around 6 weeks. There’ll be an update post soon that demonstrates participation and some of the stuff covered/created.

WORKSHOP DAY 4

The day began with a pitching workshop by Richard Adams, Senior Fellow at University of Lincoln and currently engaged in Digital Business Transformation at Royal Shakespeare Company. Held via Google Hangout, Richard gave students some great tips to prepare for the display of their work at Web We Want Festival at London’s Southbank Centre. The morning session focused on an overview of how to pitch and why this is important, with the advice of structuring their pitches using NABC (need, approach, benefit and competition). The students were then tasked with preparing their pitches to then present these back to Richard at the end of the day.

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The day then followed with more ideas development and testing while working on their short, sharp pitches. The Oculus Rift was set up in the space and the students also began work on designing a poster to be on display at the festival, which explains their workshop/installation and entices the public to engage.

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co_LAB was proud to have Dr Sarah Barrow, Head of School of Film & Media, drop by to check on the progress and hear about the great work being produced. The groups talked Sarah through their concepts and did a bit of live testing, including Sarah’s first time on the Oculus Rift that we feel was a success. It was great experience for the students ahead of part 2 of Richard Adam’s pitching workshop later in the day and left Sarah feeling very impressed.

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The day was bookended by part 2 of Richard Adams’ pitching workshop, the students took it in turn to pitch the installation and workshop and gained feedback on how to improve upon them in order to engage the public and also coherently present their concepts. Some excellent progress was made ready for the final push on day 5 before co_LAB heads down to London for Web We Want Festival.

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