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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To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit 

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 

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To find out more about inspirenshare Pop Up Thinglabs visit