Thursday, August 3, 2017

Pop Up Thinglab 28: Education, Free Association & 360 Degrees Of Freedom

Pop Up Thinglab 28 was a 360 media staff development workshop for Redbridge Institute of Adult Education.

InspireNshare Thinglabs explore and experiment with new technologies and with new ideas and methods in education. In Pop Up Thinglab 28 we used a 360 camera and virtual reality to explore new methods for a staff development workshop.

The first thing was to deconstruct the standard classroom - literally. We got rid of the tables and had no use for the smartboard so people arranged themselves in a circle so they could see each other and we could "lose control."  

The standard classroom layout with its focus on the front of the classroom and the blackboard\whiteboard\screen or smartboard are powerful in shaping the power dynamics of a classroom and framing the roles people play. Presentation surfaces like "smartboards" are useful but are they too often used as prostheses for control and as Zimmer frames for the "sage on the stage" to stand and deliver the standard education model?
Death by Powerpoint?
People in education were starting to talk about "Death by powerpoint"  so I started talking about "death to powerpoint" and presented for a full three years from 2010 to 2012 without using a slideshow ... I even started quoting John Hagel who also spoke without slideshows, smiling and saying  "I must apologise for not having any Powerpoint slides". Not using a slideshow is more exposing but you do get used to it and with this exposure comes a new relationship with the other people who are present ... you notice them a lot more, there's a lot more eye contact and interaction ... and without a slideshow presentation I found myself far more present.

With everyone facing each other .. people were talking to each other .. a wonderful thing - a million miles from the behaviour expected in the well ordered and well controlled classroom where it almost seems "children should be seen and not heard" for a lot of the time.

I had lost control :)

I was having a conversation about teaching and risk with an Ofsted inspector sitting next to me and said that I would be quite happy for people to talk among themselves as the staff development session ... exploring something wholly non deterministic and emergent. However, people had come to see and use the 360 camera and make some virtual reality so I gave them a round of applause and we got started.

We put the 360 camera in the centre of our circle and I explained how it had no direction .. that it captured the scene in all directions at the same time. When asked who would like to be in the picture and see themselves in virtual reality ... everyone was keen - to get interest and engagement there is no substitute for personal involvement!

In Bob Dylan's innovative and influential 1965 "Subterranean Homesick Blues" film clip he holds up and flips through a set of cue cards as the song plays. Linear sequence and direction are necessary with flat media but 360 media can be non-linear and non-directive - we can substitute time with space and Dylan's cue cards could be shown all at the same time but arranged in space with 360 degrees of freedom so we could view them however we wished. It's also the case that by organising in 360 degrees we can contain show a lot more in a single frame than a flat image.

I wanted to explore 360 media as well as education and had an idea of doing a something like Dylan's cue cards but in a 360 media style and to have something created by the people involved ... after all "educere" (to draw out) is one of the roots of the word education. 

I wanted something fast, fun, spontaneous and intuitive and something non-linear, non judgemental and emergent ... free association seemed ideal. With free association people are invited to relate whatever comes into their minds and not to censor their thoughts. It is intended to help us learn more about what we think and feel, in an atmosphere of non-judgmental curiosity and acceptance. The method of free association has no linear or preplanned agenda, but works by intuitive leaps and linkages which may lead to new personal insights and meanings. When used in this spirit, free association is a technique where those involved do not know in advance exactly where the conversation will lead, but it tends to lead to material that matters.  'In spite of the seeming confusion and lack of connection...meanings and connections begin to appear out of the disordered skein of thoughts...some central themes'. The goal of free association is not to unearth specific answers or memories, but to instigate a journey of co-discovery which can enhance the integration of thought, feeling, agency, and selfhood.

I invited the group not think about it but to write down the first word that came to mind when asked "Education?". This was an experiment with a risk ... I had not done this before and I had no idea if it would work ... once you stop and think it becomes difficult to choose just one word but would people be open enough to just write down a single word. I'm not sure if it was the engagement and participation with 360 media making or something else but everyone wrote down a word - this was a learning experience for me ... education doesn't have to be tightly structured, managed and controlled - you can be spontaneous, take risk, explore, experiment, co-create and learn together.


With 360 degrees of freedom here is what our teachers free associated with the word "Education"

View in 360 degrees on Flickr here

Everywhere, Learning, Paperwork, Brain Friendly, Learning Fun, Power, Discovery, Learning, Empowering, Enriching, Progressing, Moving Forward, Enjoy.

View in 360 degrees on Flickr here
Fun, Learning, Exhilaration, Opportunities, Empowering, Accessing, Enjoy, Learning, Training, Fun, Progression, Enabling, Moving up, Enhancing, Fun Learning, Learning.

In workshop two we had a little extra time left so I asked the group if they would like to make a 360 video for Youtube - everyone was enthusiastic ... the video is here. This was another learning experience for me ... I was amazed at how creative everyone was ... its just like sir Ken Robinson says "Creativity draws from many powers that we all have by virtue of being human" ... we are all creative ... it just needs to be drawn out. In the video you see some unfolding their cue card, some rotating it, some moving it above and below the 360 "plane of the ecliptic".

The 360 camera was at the centre of our circle but seemed to disappear -  I've noticed this before ... maybe its because people are unfamiliar with 360 cameras or the fact that it isn't pointed to anyone in particular but encompasses the whole group all around. The 360 camera gave the pre-text to form a circle and helped facilitate a 360 group activity but in theory all this could have easily happened without the technology ... in this case the tech was like a placebo ... it could have been switched off or have been fake but would have helped facilitate an inclusive effect.

We talked about technology and education ... how the PC era of IT had been intrusive - everyone separated, looking into glass and at worse with their backs to each other facing a wall. Hopefully a new era of technology will be not just "non-invasive" but even enabling of social relationships in the classroom.

Learning is a whole person thing ... its about body as well as mind and bringing movement , social interaction and physical activity into the classroom must be a good thing. We talked about how the classroom is a physical space and how we can bring physical activities into the classroom with maker education, role play, project based learning. We talked about how the classroom is a social space and how technology has affected this. We had a conversation about the "technology trap" ... putting technology first and then justifying it, for example using voting systems rather than having students simply put their hands up. Technology mediated discussion is fine for distance or individual learning but a classroom is a social environment .. its good to have peer discussions in person.  Its true that for some things a voting system can help collect anonymous responses but there are other ways to do this. 

I found that free association and the degrees of freedom with 360 media were perfect symbols for a new approach to education and technology. Free association for education as a journey of co-discovery which can enhance the integration of thought, feeling, agency, and selfhood. 360 media to add new dimensions to a flat education experience by including everyone and putting them picture 

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