1215.today Innovation Lab 2

We recently had the pleasure of being involved in the 1215.today Innovation Lab, which was held at Lincoln UTC, 11th May. The Lab brought together students from local schools, colleges and the University to work alongside artists and creative technologists to develop ideas for a digital intervention that responds to the theme of ‘contemplation in a digital age’.
Jon and Stephen were Creative Technologists for the day, and were allocated a group of students to discuss, debate and develop a ‘proof of concept’. Here’s an overview of the concept they developed during the Lab. If ‘AVR’ is chosen for full commission for the 1215.today project, Jon and Stephen will work with the artists to fully realise this concept.

Workshop – Day 4

Today we fully immersed ourselves in the ideation process by formalising an initial concept and discussing how we might best visualise our ideas. The central concept expands on the conclusions of yesterday’s workshop – that we don’t want to replace the book in its current form(s), but rather we wish to develop some kind of system for augmenting the book. The idea being that this system/architecture would connect many ‘containers’ of knowledge (print books, eReaders, journals, etc.) and enable different devices and applications to be integrated in order to deliver a whole raft of multiplatform/multimedia/multisensory features that can support learning, engagement and comprehension.

Our research and discussions throughout the workshop have suggested a range of core functionalities and requirements for academics in the 21st century:

  • Social/communal – allowing users to discuss, analyse, critique and exchange related/supporting/contrary research 
  • Personalised and customisable learning experience
  • Providing information about the impact, citations and relevance of the book (and its contents)
  • Providing key-words, overviews and additional information about the content, authors, suggested readings, etc.
  • Ability to tag, categorise, archive
  • Suggest and augment books with additional related audio-visual content
  • Support learning difficulties and learning styles

In addition to this central concept (an integrated learning ecosystem), we started to brainstorm the various applications and interactive surfaces/screens that could connect to this system. One of these is a development of the IKEA interactive kitchen table and IDEO Future Book concepts that we had discovered earlier in the week (and which generated lots of fruitful discussion/inspiration for our designs). Whilst these concepts are fairly confined to one device, we are interested in the ways in which different devices can be integrated together to enhance and augment the learner experience. In the afternoon we began to design a version of this interactive table concept, we developed storyboards for our concept visualisations, and we shot some test footage.

Workshop – Day 3

Today began with a collaborative word association game, which was designed to get us warmed up in a similar fashion to the activities we did yesterday. We then took part in a ‘brainwriting‘ exercise that encouraged us to address the requirements and experiences of key stakeholders in the academic book of the future. This involved us spending some time (in silence) writing our individual ideas for each stakeholder on post-it notes. The benefit this approach has over more traditional verbal ‘brainstorming’ is that all ideas are given equal footing (avoiding a scenario where the ideas of quieter or more reserved individuals are ‘drowned out’), and it soon becomes clear when certain ideas have particular prominence within a group. After these ideas were pooled together and categorised (Academics/Learners, Authors, Librarians, Publishers, Booksellers, and Policy-makers), we collaboratively organised each category into ‘clusters’ of similar themes or issues. This helped us refine our understanding of the various users/audiences we are designing for.Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 20.04.28

Before we can begin the ideation phase of the project, it is important to define the key issues that need to be considered when designing and developing our creative responses to the brief.  To support this process we had a discussion about an article that was posted to the co_LAB Facebook group by one of the participants. The article (an interview with panel members from last years FutureBook conference) presented us with specialist insight about key digital challenges facing the book industry – which led us to focus on a particular a suggestion made by Samantha Rayner (UCL):

As consumers of books become more connected via a global online network of readers and texts, the digital realm will continue to develop as a key context for “the three Ds”: Dissemination, Discoverability and Discussion. But the digital future does not just mean e-books. “The three D” environment also holds huge creative opportunities for supporting new print books, too.

This turned into a break out activity where we split the group into three teams to discuss the the core values, features and functionality we would like the book of the future to embody in relation to these ‘three D’s’:


The afternoon saw us begin to explore the creative potential of a range of existing mixed reality technologies, with participant Stephen Fisher demonstrating the triggering of augmented reality overlays, fully immersive virtual reality environments, and switching between VR and AR using the Samsung Gear VR. This was followed by assessing similar concepts and examples of speculative design in order to provide inspiration for our own design concepts.


Workshop – Day 2

We began the day with a series of physical exercises to get our minds active and to expand on some of the ideas we have been discussing about different learning styles. We find that we spend most of our time sat down (either facing screens or talking around a table), therefore it’s important to break from this, not only for physical benefits, but to get a fresh perspective on the way we collaborate. We played a series of improv ‘games’ that got us out of our chairs and engaging with one another, with each activity having a metaphorical lesson at its core. A game about trust, teamwork and acceptance, another about how our brains are wired according to logic and creativity, and finally the (now infamous!) 12 part handshake game, teaching us that peer-to-peer collaboration can help to produce creative outputs that can exceed the sum of their parts.

One of the participants of the workshop, Patrick Deters, is a visiting lecturer from The Hague University of Applied Sciences (an LSFM Erasmus exchange partner). In addition to providing an international academic perspective to the workshop, Patrick also presented an overview of copyright and intellectual property laws, which was followed by a discussion about the creative and collaborative potential of Open Access publishing, Copyleft and Creative Commons licences.

Dr. Sarah Barrow, who is on the Advisory Panel for The Academic Book of the Future, came into the lab to provide some context for the key aims and objectives of the the broader AHRC-funded research project. The Academic Book of the Future is currently in its second phase of a two-year cycle, which is focussed on facilitating conversations with and between all stakeholders of the academic book (including academics, publishers, librarians, booksellers and policy-makers). As part of this process, support has been given to institutions from across the UK (including UoL) to interrogate current and emerging issues around the academic book and its contexts:

  • What is an academic book?
  • Who reads them?
  • What do scholars want from academic books?
  • What can technology do to help make academic books more accessible?
  • How can we make sure academic books, whether print or electronic, are kept safe, and preserved effectively?
  • What has changed over recent years, and what is still changing?
  • What new challenges and opportunities do librarians, publishers, booksellers, and academics face?

The afternoon saw us exploring the potential ‘forms’ that the book of the future might take. To support this process, we returned to a suggestion made yesterday by Dr. Duncan Rowland, a participant from the School of Computer Science. Duncan proposed that the book is a combination of two things – a container and its contents (i.e. Book = Container + Content). This presented an interesting way of defining the particular issues we will be addressing in the ideation phase of the workshop by thinking about the academic book as a medium (container) for transmitting new knowledge (content). This saw us focus on the potential multi-media/multi-platform/multi-sensory properties and functionalities that the book of the future might embody.

Another aspect of the workshop is to explore the themes of Academic Book of the Future through a case study/live brief of an actual book (an edited collection of academic essays entitled The Neurotic Turn: Interdisciplinary Correspondences on Neurosis, which has a print publishing contract with Repeater Books). This will represent the ‘content’ to populate our designs with, and to explore how this might be disseminated and made accessible to a variety of readers. The editor of this book, Charlie Johns, came in to speak about how the themes of this book (how forms of knowledge are produced or constrained through neurosis) might be useful for thinking through our own experiences of learning and the role of the book in the future.


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.