Thursday, March 22, 2018

Public Libraries Are Our Open Universities

Brunswick Public Library from Library Design Showcase 2012: Youth Spaces
“The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein

Anyone can just walk into a library and learn ... there are no minimum entry requirements, qualifications, criteria or costs -just come on in and browse, sit down and learn in a safe and friendly place or borrow books, films, music, toys and a lot more.

Libraries are free ... not just at the point of access but in terms of what you can learn ... libraries are for freestyle learning ... mix and match subjects, levels and media .... the range is endless and libraries are always extending the scope of what you can do and learn. 

Most of us might think of a library like this
But a library might look like this ... Peckham library
Libraries are diverse ... while all libraries have a common theme that we can recognise they also vary amazingly - their buildings, collections, resources and activities are truly amazing. I was going to list out all the things that libraries do but that would be too much .. just look at one library group I have worked with - Redbridge libraries and see what they have on offer ... craft clubs, digital workshops, health & wellbeing, art exhibitions, performances, presentations, discussions, dance, yoga, careers advice .. anything from knitting to code clubs. Teach Meet Tech, 360 media, virtual reality, virtual realities, robots and 3D printing ... and these are just workshop topics (Thinglabs) and events that I have run in libraries.

Senior learning in one of our inspireNshare workshops
Family learning in one of our inspireNshare workshops

Libraries are for life-long and life wide learning. Children's libraries with books, toys and activities like rhymetime, wiggle and jiggle fun movement, laughter clubs and of course story time. Teen libraries with books, topics and activities relevant to young people - such as careers, mental health, substance abuse, knife crime and violence, abuse, sex, the environment etc. The there are books, topics and activities for parents, the middle aged and the elders among us from fitness to finance, from parenting to pottery ... there are films, discussion groups, workshops .. there is too much to mention ... and of course you can just go in and read a book, magazine or newspaper or use the internet of course. No matter how young or old you are, who or what you are there is something in the library for you.

While Information itself is virtual and capable of being accessed virtually ... i.e. on-line anytime, anywhere like a Martini solitary learning like solitary drinking can lead to problems ... we aren't just brains in a jar - we are mind and body ... we are physical beings and libraries are of course physical places - this is important not only in providing access to cultural artefacts but in maintaining and developing community. Your local public library is just that ... its local and its public ... I always think local means within walking distance and its so important to have a local library within walking distance that any member of the public can walk into.

Meeting spaces, working and co-working spaces, leisure and learning ... libraries are essential in providing community access to knowledge for all citizens but especially the underprivileged who may otherwise not be able to access the information and artefacts of their society. Meeting the needs of everyone and free at the point of delivery - libraries are the National Health System for learning - libraries are our open universities.

“We need to understand libraries as places of education and nourishment for everyone - there is a terrible sense that libraries are just an add-on to a council building, but they save lives. 

A library is one of the few places, in a town or even a large village, where you can go in and immerse yourself in that world. To actually have access to a real collection of books, of literature and reference works from across the ages is really important.”
~ Stephen Fry

"The library is the temple of learning, and learning has liberated more people than all the wars in history." 
~ Carl T. Rowan


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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pop Up Thinglab 36: Optimistic Making Tech

Our virtual realities workshop inside the amazing Wanstead children's library

Pop up Thinglab 36 was a virtual realities workshop for children to learn about experience and make holograms, augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. It was a fun practical introduction to virtual realities where children could make their own hologram viewer, make augmented reality images, see themselves in virtual reality and play an augmented reality instrument.

We started of with an introduction to virtual realities - from the optical illusions of Peppers Ghost in Victorian theatres through the different ways it has been used in the media to the many forms we find among us today.

We weren't at school so the children asked questions and talked about what we were doing all the time - this is informal education and we were free to go wherever the the young people wanted. We talked about robots, artificial intelligence, the future of work and even the nature of reality ... learning is natural for children - they love to engage in learning and love to learn anytime and anyplace they can. Informal natural learning is indistinguishable from play and children play like scientists work ... curious and always asking so many  questions.

We talked a lot about the nature of technology and about the future .. while the children clearly understood the dangers of technology they were very positive and optimistic about the future. The children understood how technology can go wrong, how it can be used by bad people and the problems of becoming dependent on it - most of all they were worried about becoming lazy and not thinking for themselves. Children's positivity and optimism about the future comes from playing like scientists work and thinking like scientists - although they said there would be problems in the future they believed they could be overcome and solved if we worked at it. 

"Everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal

"Anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it"
~ Douglas Adams

Children are so comfortable with technology - its either natural, taken for granted and not considered technology at all or its new and incredibly exciting. The children were so tuned into technology but this doesn't come from school ... they learn about things on-line (especially Youtube), on TV, in libraries, in museums, at home, at technology events and even in shopping centres. The children didn't seem to expect their school to use technology or teach them with or about it and they weren't at all bothered about this. We spoke about smartphones .. how, in the palm of your hand you could have access to "all the world's information" and all the capabilities that they have but how their is no place for them in their schools. The children weren't concerned about this ... they accepted the way things are and how they learned at school and even argued that it is also good to be able to use your own brain and memory and think for yourself rather than become dependent of looking things up on-line.

We moved on to hands on practical activities - making and using simple and cost effective technologies that we can all get access to.

We started out by making DIY holograms viewers using a template to trace an outline onto small sheets of plastic, cutting and folding them to make a volumetric display that can be used with smartphones and for better viewing in the bright library we made a small theatre from a cardboard box.

Busy marking out and cutting our holographic viewers

Lifting the cloak of reality ... looking at our DIY holograms
Our next activity brought cartoons to life with augmented reality ... personalising the cartoons with our own choice of colours and bringing them to life as augmented reality figures with our mobile phones and tablets. Again, the children's playful scientific thinking led them to think outside the box ... what happens if I add colour to the outside of the line for example.

Creating augmented reality cartoons

Bringing cartoons to life with augmented reality

Our next activity was to put ourselves in virtual reality - using a 360 camera and some warm up activities to have fun, get familiar with this new form of media and see ourselves in virtual reality. While many children have used virtual reality few have used a 360 camera and seen themselves in virtual reality - looking around to find yourself is really engaging and makes the experience personal ... putting ourselves in the picture makes it relevant and helps understanding. To really give an idea of the immersive first person perspective of virtual reality I put the 360 camera down really low and asked the children to jump when the timer went off to see if we could catch ourselves in mid air. I asked the children what they thought they would look like when they saw themselves in virtual reality ... it was an exercise in empathy - trying to think about another point of view and then experiencing it for yourself. In this case the children had to imagine what the scene would look like from the 360 camera near the ground ... some of them got close but it was only when they saw the scene in virtual reality did they appreciate the point of view from the little camera near the ground .. "wow .. we look like giants". It was quite an experience for the children to see themselves as very big!

We are giants ... flat image from 360\VR image at

We are giants .. seeing yourself as a giant in virtual reality
We finished with an exploration of mixed reality - playing the virtual xylophone from Zappar's Zapbox. We placed the supplied markers onto a low table and used the Zapbox app to map out a mixed reality space and then loaded the xylophone. Zapbox provides cardboard "wands" with AR markers that are tracked by the app and become the xylophone beaters in the mixed reality scene. It takes a bit of getting used to but everyone managed to play a tune.

Playing a mixed reality xylophone

This is what you see ... the mixed reality xylophone

“Play is the highest form of research”  
~ Albert Einstein

"The best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids! They ask question and have a sense of wonder. They have curiosity." 
Sylvia Earle

"I am just a child who has never grown up. I still keep asking these 'how' and 'why' questions. Occasionally, I find an answer." 
~ Stephen Hawking

Pop up Thinglab 36 showed that with a curious, playful and active maker mindset we can be optimistic about technology and the future ... we don't just have to be passive consumers of technology but can be active participants in it. Our inspireNshare Thinglabs are learning in the youth zone - using "Citizen Tech" and technology as "the science of craft" to let Children Play Like Scientists Work - its all part of the fun - its an essential ingredient of  learning.

inspireNshare are passionate about peer learning and specialise in facilitating mutual co-created peer learning projects through sharing. Our projects focus on "Citizen Tech" using cost effective, free, open, easy technologies and social media. With our projects everyone is both a learner and a teacher.

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 36 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Pop Up Thinglab 35: Youth Voice 360

Pop up Thinglab 35 was a 360 media workshop with members of the Croydon Youth forum to learn about and use 360 media in a live discussion of the issues that concern young people.

We started with a discussion about technology. 

Mobile tech is just a part of life

"Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works." 
~ Douglas Adams

Mobile tech is just a part of life for young people ... they are immersed in it and it doesn't seem to be a big deal until its not there. We spoke about the the psychology of smartphones and social media, about how big tech companies engineer their products to be addictive and about the mental health affects of this. I had powered off my smartphone to conserve my smartphone battery power for the media recording ahead and made a big deal about turning it on in front of the group and asked if they ever turned their phones off ... jaws dropped and their was laughter - if their phones weren't giving constant and continuous updates, alerts or notifications they thought it must be broken or something. We spoke about the mental health affects and pressures of "smartphone addiction" - the group were all aware of this but it just seemed a fact of life for them. We talked briefly about "digital detox" and one of the group told how he had had one of his most relaxing times of his life when on holiday he couldn't get on-line with his phone.

"Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet." 
~ Douglas Adams

We spoke about education and technology ... the group had a very mixed experience with their different schools ... while some schools tried to accommodate contemporary technology most were very conservative. Overwhelmingly the group were not impressed at all with their teachers competence with technology in the classroom - problems operating smartboards and the computers, accessing material on-line and taking on-line registers were the norm rather than the exception. The edtech community is obsessed with the use of technology in education but apart from it being embarrassing the young people didn't seem that concerned about it - they have more pressing concerns.

Technology is just there, the young people just get on with it  young people have more important concerns and this is what we went on to discuss in the second half of this workshop.

For the 360 media workshop we started with some warm up activities for the group to get used to the medium and feel at ease.

We spoke about the similarities and differences between 360 media and flat media. We spoke about the importance of lighting, composition and pace ... not doing things to fast with video. With 360 media there is no frame ... the whole environment is "in shot" - where flat media is like hunting 360 media is more like setting a trap. We spoke about 360 media, virtual reality and the immersive first person perspective and to get a understanding of this we set up the camera low so that we all looked like giants.

Getting a sense of first person perspective

For a bit of fun and a warm up we tried the challenge of jumping as the camera timer went off to see if we could all be caught mid air with our feet off the ground.

While many of us have used virtual reality few have used a 360 camera and seen themselves in virtual reality. Looking around to find yourself is really engaging and fun and makes the experience personal ... putting yourself in the picture makes it relevant and helps understanding.

Seeing ourselves in virtual reality

We were ready for a discussion ... the first thing was to "lose control" ... get rid of the tables and put some chairs in a circle facing each other and the camera at the same time.

We started off with each member of the Croydon Youth forum identifying the issues that concern them - these were unlocking employability and opportunities for those not academically focused, awareness and perception of mental health in general and stress and anxiety in particular, youth violence in general and knife crime in particular, healthy eating and finally an issue that is underneath many other issues - the problem of social stigma and tackling it to allow people to talk about issues more freely.

One of the advantages of a 360 camera is that it doesn't point, shoot or frame but rather absorbs a scene - we moved on to a longer and more interactive discussion where the young people forgot about the camera.

The group posed themselves the question "if you were running the youth council and you were given £5,000 - what would you do?".  This isn't a lot of money in the scheme of things but clever use can make a significant difference. 

One compassionate suggestion was to donate the money to a homeless shelter - providing hot drinks, meals and social engagement would make a clear and present difference to many homeless people in the borough. 

Another suggestion was to use the money to improve appearance and environment more equally through the borough - they argued that when something is renovated, maintained and clean people respect it more. The group pointed out that adding greenery and flowers can do a lot to improve the look and feel of a place and achieve quick results ... they were concerned about the long time frames of council initiatives.

They spoke about the location of youth clubs and how these need to be equally accessible to all ... how a central location may be the answer to this and how unused buildings could play a part.

Many of the issues raised were around communication to develop awareness and interaction through the use of events better use of social media. It was felt that the council could do more to advertise and raise awareness of youth issues across the borough using events and social media and use these to engage young people with decisions being made.

It was felt that while schools prepare young people for academic life better engagement with young people in schools about youth issues might help young people better prepare for the more practical aspects of life.

They recognised that good communication requires understanding on both sides and spoke about the problems of youth relationship with the police - how police uniform can stigmatise and that the police need to understand better how to talk with young people. It was recognised that to understand young people and what needs doing police need to engage with and talk to young people more but not to wear police uniform when doing so.

The group went on to discuss foster care. They were concerned about the lack of independent communication links for those in care and about the quality or foster care ... while a the current checks provide minimum safeguards there is a lot to be desired when it comes to the quality of foster care but recognised the difficulty of more rigorous assessment. The group talked about the issues of those in care ... that those in care don't talk about it, that there is a degree stigma around being in care and about the marge number of missing children and that many of these are from care. There was a suggestion for better facilities, communications and support for young people and that those in care in particular have independent support lines. 

The group went on to talk about life at school and about bullying and sexual harassment in particular. They were concerned that sexual harassment is often overlooked and not dealt with properly, that young people don't always understand it when it happens and that gender double standards can result in 'the rude boy" being condoned and the victim being stigmatised.

The group talked about teachers - they recognised that good teaching is more than just professional qualifications and technical competence - the better teachers as those who emotionally connect with every student and understand them - finding a way to explain things in ways you can understand. The group had fond memories of primary school and the way primary school teachers go about their work and tried to understand how this changes in secondary schools. The group identified good teachers as those who care about them and that they could tell when a teacher cares ... they "go the extra mile" communicate and express themselves in ways they can understand and relate to.

The relationship with the police is a big issue with young people today and the group spent some time exploring the problems and how it could be improved. The group identified problems on both sides and that better communications to  develop mutual understanding could go a long way to helping them connect. The group thought more diversity in the police would help both sides relate better. The group recognised that the police had to be professional but that in school visits the barrier was too high ... "when the police are in high school they aren't taken seriously .. the police come in .. do their presentation and leave .. they don't talk socially ... they don't say hi - they just get on with what they need to do ... there is no positive interaction or mutual respect ... if the police approach you always panic and think what have I done ... when they may just want to speak to you". The group recognised that the police can't be too informal but that the barrier is too high and that there needs to be more positive interaction to open closed minds on both sides to develop mutual respect. The group understood the power of social conditioning ... how those in your group shape your mind and behaviour ... they spoke about how an elder sibling with a negative opinion of the police will shape the opinion of a younger sibling. The group considered that school years 6 - 8 would be most effective for police engagement activities as this is the transition age to teenage-hood.

The group considered the power of social media in shaping opinions and recognised that while some are swayed by what they see and read on-line it is the five closest people around you that affect your behaviour the most and that "it takes a whole community to raise a child". The group understood the power of the local community, connections and communications in shaping attitudes, ideas and behaviour and thought local communities are too disconnected these days - that "we are too disconnected in Croydon".

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 35 here

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Pop Up Thinglab 34: Agile Minds

Agile minds .. a flat image from the 360 Jump here

Pop up Thinglab 34 was a virtual realities workshop for children to learn about experience and make augmented reality, mixed reality, virtual reality, holograms. It was a fun practical introduction to virtual realities where children could see themselves in virtual reality, play an augmented reality instrument, make their own hologram viewer, make augmented reality images.

Talking about Pepper's Ghost 

We started of with an introduction that covered past present and future of virtual realities ... from the augmented reality smoke and mirrors of Peppers Ghost in Victorian theatres through to the various forms of virtual reality of today. 

We weren't at school so the children asked questions and talked about what we were doing all the time - this is informal education and we were free to go wherever the the young people wanted. I'm always impressed just how quickly and easily children learn when they are free to but I shouldn't be - learning is natural and children love to learn anytime, anyplace and in anyway they can. The children were so tuned into technology but this doesn't come from school ... they learn about things on-line (especially Youtube), on TV, in libraries, in museums, at home and even in shopping centres ... none of the children mentioned school at all!

Gather round ... using a 360 camera

We moved on to hands on practical activities with virtual realities starting with warm up activities with a 360 camera and seeing ourselves in virtual reality. While many children have used virtual reality few have used a 360 camera and seen themselves in virtual reality - looking around to find yourself is really engaging and makes the experience personal ... putting ourselves in the picture makes it relevant and helps understanding.

DIY volumetric display (hologram)

In the introduction we talked about holograms, optical illusions and volumetric displays and for a hands on practical activity all the children made their own volumetric display to take away that can be used with smartphones. The DIY holograms are a good example of what I call Citizen Tech the ability of the ordinary person to participate in technology as the "the science of craft" -  technology that is simple, friendly accessible, cost effective and able to do it yourself.

Playing the Zapbox mixed reality xylophone

The Zapbox mixed reality xylophone 

We finished off playing with the Zapbox mixed reality xylophone ... another example of what I call "citizen tech" ... its made of cardboard and its cheap and accessible. This was great fun and It was quite extraordinary how the children experimented and explored to learn how to play the mixed reality instrument ... in fact the younger they were the easier they seemed to find it ...  it seems that the younger you are the more open and agile your mind.

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 34 here 

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 33: Reality Explorers

Playing mixed reality golf in the library
Pop Up Thinglab 33 was a Crafts Council Make:Shift:Do virtual realities workshop with inspireNshare, Croydon Youth Arts collective and Croydon Central Library. We introduced people to the many types "reality tech" available from holograms through augmented reality, mixed reality through to 360 media making and virtual reality - we had a lot going on :)

Talking about how Michael Jackson was brought back from the dead as a hologram

The workshop started "heads on" where we covered the past, present, future and uses of "reality tech". We started with Keiichi Matsuda's stunning video Hyper-Reality "a provocative and kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical and virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media". We then looked back to holograms and the development optical illusions from the "smoke and mirrors" of 19th century theatres and Peppers Ghost through the images of holograms in science fiction to the reality today where dead celebrities can appear as if live on stage and politicians on campaign can appear in many places at the same. We covered the different types of augmented reality, how you can make it yourself and the many uses to which it can be put - from games like Pokemon Go through seeing what you look like with different hair to seeing what a building design might look like from place you are standing. We covered different mixed reality products and talked about some of the hopes and fears about its use from the amazing types of games that might be available, through the overlay of technical data onto fields of view like the F35 head display "iron man" style to the the invasion of privacy in everyday life "Glasshole" style. We finished with a recent history of the development of virtual reality from my experience with Virtuality in the mid 1990s through to the many 360 cameras and virtual reality viewers that are available today at much lower cost.

We moved from "heads on" to "hands on" with simple, friendly, accessible and cost effective "citizen tech” and DIY activities with holograms, augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality. The objective of the hands on activities was to demonstrate the principles of "reality tech" - not with expensive high tech demonstrations but with technology that is affordable and accessible to the average citizen and technology that you can DIY.

Making DIY holograms for your smartphone

On one table we made holograms that can be used with your mobile phone. Based on the "Peppers Ghost" optical illusion these can be made easily and quickly - tracing a template onto a clear acetate sheet, cutting it out, assembling and using it in under 10 minutes.

The whole world in your hands .. one of our DIY holograms in action
On another table we brought drawings to life with augmented reality - colouring in cartoon templates with our own colours and bringing them to life as augmented reality figures with out mobile phones. I was surprised by just how popular and engaging people found this. This wasn't colouring by numbers but using our own creativity to choose which colours to use. I found the same thing as I did with our 360 degree workshops "only a few people can take a completely blank sheet and draw something ... most people need direction and purpose". Not everyone can draw but everyone can colour in a drawing - the colour book templates provide direction and purpose and a framework for self expression. Its no wonder that the recent adult colouring book craze prompted a global pencil shortage - its easy, fun and good for your mental health ... its like a form of art therapy. 

Bringing colour book drawings to life with augmented reality

A fairy escapes the page and comes to life with augmented reality

"Centre stage" was an exploration of 360 media and virtual reality. Groups gathered around the 360 camera to strike poses and take "VR selfies" to view in virtual reality. I've always been amazed at how people are more ready to strike a creative pose with a 360 camera than with a flat camera. People seem less constrained with 360 media than with flat media ... its as if 360 adds a new dimension to their creativity. I'm wondering why people are less constrained around a 360 camera:

* Is it because its unfamiliar so people can't simply roll out their normal behaviour and have to adapt and even try something new.

* Is it because the camera doesn't have a person behind it so they don't feel observed by another person in the same way. There are studies that show people more willing to open up to a robot than to another person for example.

* Is it because its a new technology ... a new gadget, a new toy and so brings out people's "inner child" and playfulness so they are willing to explore, experiment and play.

360 media making really is a new medium - people are curious and intrigued and for whatever reason they are more playful with it.

Of course .. many of the people using the 360\VR setup in the workshop were either young people or children and for them playful is the default - the playfulness of young people with new technology is a truly exciting and inspiring combination and often provides new and interesting perspectives. William Gibson once wrote "the street finds its own uses for things" ... from what I have seen of young people and technology we could easily also say "the next generation finds its own uses for things" .. and this is just as well as this is how new inventions come about ... we can't keep repeating history and re-inventing the wheel.

Putting ourselves inside the picture with a 360 camera & virtual reality

We finished by playing mixed reality golf using Zappar's Zapbox cardboard tech. 

Rather than nearly £3,000 for something like Microsoft's Hololens, Zapbox costs under £30 and offers affordable access to mixed reality for anyone with a smartphone capable of virtual reality (the smartphone needs a gyroscope).

Zappar have been a leader in augmented reality (AR) for many years and have extended their marker based AR to mixed reality by using a cardboard viewer into which you put your phone - just like Google's cardboard virtual reality viewers. The Zapbox app on your phone uses the camera to track their AR markers in the real world and combines a virtual scene with the scene from the camera to create a mixed reality scene on your phone's display which you view through the cardboard viewer.

We placed the supplied markers onto the floor and used the Zapbox app to map out a mixed reality space and then loaded  golf course. Zapbox provides a cardboard "wand" with an AR marker which is tracked by the app and becomes your golf club in the mixed reality scene. It takes a bit of getting used to but everyone managed to hit the golf ball and get a ball down a hole and we managed to complete and unlock all three of the golf courses. 

Playing golf in the library

Our virtual realities workshop was fun and informative - we had a really wonderful time with lots of activities that brought a very diverse group of people to play and learn together. 

See more photos from Pop Up Thinglab 33 here

To find out more about inspireNshare visit

To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit