Creativity is emerging, alongside culture, as a parallel cure, twenty-first century snake oil, yet it is little understood, not least amongst our political and bureaucratic leaders. When it is understood, with all its potential for rapid individual and collective transformation, disruption and resistance to authoritarian strategies, its development is resisted, toned down or dismissed in order to maintain the status quo. 1


I have chosen the quote above to open this evaluation partly for the half dozen words in the first line; creativity, culture, emerging, cure, and snake oil. The last two remind me of Clifford Stoll’s
rant on new media ‘silicone snake oil’. As an art teacher, creativity is obviously key to the work that I do, but I am well aware of the contrariety of my own position, extolling the virtues of a traditional arts course; hand craft, hand eye co-ordination, the tactile and spatial nature of the mediums that we use, and the non linear, non logical thinking that we try and encourage, while being hopelessly drawn to the seductive power of digital media. Is it a cure? Is it creative? Can it engage? Will it be a catalyst to real changes in our education system? There are many questions to ask, and I set myself this project in part to explore some of these issues. I remain particularly interested in the arts, rather than looking across the curriculum, whilst believing that there is much change that does need to happen across the whole education system, and that the seductive nature of digital imagery, film, the web, and other creative uses of this technology will play an important role in this change:

The standard model of teaching with 30 children in a classroom with a teacher at the front remains the same. This is because fundamental behaviours have not changed. The potential of new technologies will be realised only if the relationships and behaviours that underpin the school structure also change. 2

My own pedagogy favours a collaborative and team teaching approach, that is decidedly pupil led. I see myself as a facilitator, working alongside my students. To this end, I
did not set out to create a finished, polished, workable product, which is good, as had this been the case, I would have fallen far short. This project was intended as a process of action research, ‘learning through doing’, based on experimentation and iteration, and firmly based on the work that I was able to do with young people.

Two concepts have stayed with me through this project. The first is ‘possibility space’, from my reading of Bob Hughes’s Dust or Magic, and the second is ‘intertwingularity’, a word coined by Ted Nelson. It may be inevitable as one looks at any subject, that the more one finds, the more connections and possibilities arise. I enjoy the creative connections and possibilities that arise through my work as a teacher, when I set out on an open ended journey, inviting others to join me, not knowing where I might be going until I have gone far enough to look back and see where I have been, and to examine what I have picked up on route.

climbers don't bother with mountains that offer no challenge; new technology (new kinds of " protection", for example) make things safer - but people respond by opening up harder routes. At the same time, you never take on bigger challenges than you can deal with. The criteria seems to be: do something that seems impossible, feel certain that it is do-able - and carefully, logically restrict the possible damage if it isn't. 3

The metaphor of a journey, initiated by Bob Hughes’ Dust or Magic, and enhanced by the maps, charts and locative technology of the mediascape projects, has also been a feature of this project, as has the notion of play as an essential ingredient in creative education.

Choosing mediascape in particular fitted well with the ‘art teacher’s’ dilemma that I mentioned in my opening paragraph, as a technology that combines being out in the real world, with an overlay of digital creativity, and huge possibilities for telling stories, combining the spoken word with imagery, and exploring a linear time-based medium alongside opportunities for a more spatial and random approach. My safety net has been the digital photography that I more usually practice with my students.

The ‘Sydney Garden’ project around which I have based this experiment was only four days, and as it turned out, four days with only four teenagers, (and in the penultimate week of the module), so my evaluation covers the full four months of work, with the working methods that I have adopted, as being as much a part of the experimentation as the final outcome, especially as this is ongoing.

To this end I shall break the evaluation into the main sections in which I structured both the full project, and the website that records it:

1. Sydney Gardens Mediascape
2. Sidcot Mediascape
3. related projects
4. Walking Blog
5. Pedagogy

I will end by looking ahead to the coming year of work, and suggestions for the route that this work might take me in.

1. Sydney Gardens Mediascape

To start at the end, a brief evaluation of the four days that I spent in Bath.

Each of the four days took on an individual character, with Tuesday and Thursday being relatively structured, Wednesday and Friday less so. In the feedback that I have attached from Emma, one of the mentors who was with me for the week, she felt happiest with the day that was the most structured. It is very difficult to be with young people, and let them do as they will, we are very conditioned towards discipline, structure, not wasting time. One of the biggest difficulties that we face with digital media in an educational setting is having to release some of our control, and accept digital media’s extraordinary propensity to apparently ‘waste’ time. There must be a balance, but I think that we need to allow enough freedom, a loose and flexible enough structure, to let ‘ownership’ develop, and allow genuine creativity to flourish. On the first day, one of the perhaps more difficult boys had great difficulty concentrating on the project. But the following morning he showed me a whole set of photos that he had taken that afternoon, on his own initiative. Contrarily, the structure that I imposed on the project on the third day created a much more pleasing plan for me, and was in response both to a bad second day in which much time was wasted, and the suggestions made my the teenagers themselves.

If digital activities tend to be self-motivated then they are also likely to be ‘owned’ by the individual child or group of children. It is clear that possession of their creative output would be damaged if an adult were to set the parameters of their activities.4

Part of the problem I had with these teenagers, being keener on facebook and youtube that the project I was trying to engineer, was to do with the fact that they did not have internet access at home, a very different demographic from the students that I teach at Sidcot. However, I think that this demographic is changing, as mobile phones become personal computers. Mobile phones were ubiquitous among both groups of teenagers. There is no longer the need for a large initial outlay, indeed, once you have signed the contract, the devices are often free. A perfect hook, and peer pressure will do the rest.

I knew that my ideas of getting the students involved in telling ‘telling’ stories would be a challenge. Lissa’s idea of creating a simple treasure hunt game gave us a simple, but none the less powerful brief. Mapping the idea to the park’s benches also provided a physical frame work on which to build the project, and concept of ‘ten things’ provided a neat structure within which to work.

As ever I was trying to do more that is needed. The simple idea of a treasure hunt, coupled with the structure that arose, created a very pleasing ‘possibility space’ for the creation of a mediascape. Although we did not manage to create a finished product by the end of the week, I feel confident that I will have a finished version to unleash on the public by the the August bank holiday, the end project.

The unexpected aspect of the project was a development of my ‘contingency’ planning. Leaving clipboards and disposable cameras around the park so that park users could contribute to the project. This lent an element of ‘happening’ to the project, and proved to be a good way of getting a greater involvement from the students. It also went down well with the museum staff who have a keen interest in making full use of the park, and how the park is used.

Frank Locker, one of the speakers at the Futurelab conference that I attended, spoke about a progressive school in Minnasota which basis it’s curriculum around the interests of it’s students. There are no subject teachers as such; groups of about 120 students, split into teams of between 12 and 20, work alongside four or five members of staff who facilitate individual and collaborative work in an open plan, multi purpose space. My experience of something akin to this was one of the teenagers, a boy who had proved very difficult in group situations, speaking to me with great passion and knowledge about the squirrels in the park. A perfect ‘Kes’.

The constraints that made this a less than perfect week were mostly the frustrations of misbehaving technology rather than misbehaving students. If the technology fails to work, for whatever reason, the frustration is understandable. I should perhaps have let go even further than I did, trust in the students, and perhaps give them enough freedom so that they can sort the technology for me. I would like to base a project like this entirely on the devices that the students themselves have, so that it becomes the project, and not experimenting with the technology, that is the primary motivation. This will mean software that is simple and intuitive enough for students to use without having to ‘learn’ it, but powerful enough to enable real creativity. One of the real advantages of HP’s Mscape, is the simplicity with which a simple mediascape can be created. Within a few minutes I was able to show Lisa the basics, and enable her to take over the creation of our mediascape.

The story telling was another surprise success. Although the students were unwilling to engage in this in a larger group, individually they came up with some wonderfully imaginative stories.

My favourite moment of all was the first testing of the mediascape that Lissa produced; the magical moment when a ‘hidden’ object popped up on the screen as we neared it.

2. Sidcot Mediascape

I ran into more problems with the work that I did with my own students at Sidcot than I did with the supposedly difficult teenagers that I was working with in Bath. It was of course a much larger group, but they tended to group together. There was little of the vital energy that can make working in a group so exhilarating. The ‘chemistry’ of a group has a great effect on the work that I can do with them. This particular group was very polarised by gender, which, although prevalent with this age group, is not always the case at Sidcot. They found voice recording very difficult, both technically, in holding microphones at the correct distances to get consistent results, but also in getting sensible recordings. The boys in particular were very self conscious. Working with sound is new to me. I had to sift through many hours of unusable recording. For the future I will need to get the groups themselves to do this editing process, which will mean creating a tighter initial structure. I discovered that the creating of mediascape is very akin to the process of film making, and should be approached in the same way, with storyboard, script, and so on. In effect, I used large prints of maps as story boards.

I very much look forward to software like this being available on a platform as sturdy as the iPhone, with a screen bright enough to be properly useful outside as well as in, and with audio recording, camera, and internet connection, all built into the one device.

For me, the two significant and unexpected findings of the mediascape project at Sidcot where the sheer amount of material needed to cover an area; hence restricting the Sydney Gardens mediascape to a given route around the park. Unlike a film, that might need watching from beginning to end in order to understand a story line or plot, with the Sidcot mediascape the whole idea was based around a montage of sounds and memories. One could stop and listen to a story if one so wished, or move on and find another, like skipping through a picture book, the element of choice created by allowing audio files to fade the moment one had left their ‘zone’.

A multimedia application is a bit like life: there is lots of it. You may be able to explore the information it contains by thousands of roots, of unpredictable lengths. Is it possible to design systems in such a way that whatever route to the user takes, and whatever its duration, it will have the characteristics of a good story: a beginning, a middle, and an end, with some delight provided? Is this an impossible goal? 5

Another surprise from the students at Sidcot was how successful the ‘photoquilt’ was. In my teaching I am forever looking for simple but effective creative ideas. As with the constraints that I discovered for ’10 things about Sydney’ giving student the constraint to keep the focal plane of the camera parallel to the ground plane led to a homogenous and artistic end result, albeit with me as the artist.

For me personally, working with the memories of old scholars was fascinating, especially as I am also currently engaged in staging an exhibition of 60 or so years of art at Sidcot. I would like to pursue my interest in digital story telling. This fits well with web technology. Everyone has a story to tell.

3. Related Projects

I am very pleased with the progress that I have made on my school website. I strongly believe that this should be the main administrative tool for the department, as well as being interesting enough to draw my students in, so they will take their dose of administration regularly and painlessly. With both a Twitter and Flickr feed to the home page of this site, and the ability for students to respond directly via a pop up window, I am hoping to attract them in. I aim to create a site where students can take and upload content as simply and easily as they currently do to facebook, and encourage a genuine and creative dialogue about their art work and artistic explorations. This is again, I believe, about trust and about ownership. If the site is seen to be ‘mine’, it may not get used, if we can share it, discourage misuse, and encourage good use, it may become a very powerful educational tool.

I did not attempt to explore any social networking tools with either of my guinea pig groups although I spent some time myself experimenting with the likes of flickr and twitter. I still plan to do this in during the week in the summer, and for this to be the main focus of my work next year.

We are all increasingly waking up to the importance of learning that takes place beyond the school walls. Developments in technology mean that we are now able to learn and communicate when and wherever we want, and this is reflected in a myriad of Government policies from Extended Schools to Home Access. But what is the real value of the learning - and play (after all, the Children’s Plan sets out how important this is) - that takes place out of school? could it be that we are missing the point and, instead of organised ‘school-style’ learning encroaching on children’s out-of-school time, maybe formal education should be recognising the value of more spontaneous and unstructured learning? 6

The Silver project has been most interesting to me so far in relation to the debate on copyright. Copyright infringement and plagiarism are big issues for education currently. The Silver project has given me access to the Bridgeman collection, and a much greater understanding of the copyright issue. I think that will this work will be very informative to the work that I shall be doing in the coming year.

4. Walking Blog

I am not sure if this has been a success or not. I am certain that many of the original ideas that I have had over the past few months have come to me while I have been walking, but I do not know that this was necessarily helped by an actual recording. The process of transcribing these recordings to make them more accessible was tedious. I am looking forward to a (very close) future when I can make use of reliable speech to text directly on the iPhone.

I also had difficulty sensibly summarising and tagging these recordings. If they are to work for me, an intelligent search engine might be an answer.

I did have a lot of good ideas during this solitary walking, thinking time, but the times at which the ideas really flowed were when I was bouncing them off other people.

5. Pedagogy.

Although it may not seem so from the record in my website, much of the work that I have done over the course of this project has been towards an understanding of where I am in relation to current trends in education and the use of ICT. It may be that because I am looking, I am seeing, but it does seem to me that in terms of trends, an educational pendulum has reached it’s zenith, and is on the turn. I have been reading and hearing many words such as; passion, collaboration, learning spaces, life long learning, self directed learning, teachers as facilitators, teachers as mentors, peer to peer learning, learning through doing, project based learning, ownership, and creativity. Many of these words and phrases resonate both with what I see as my own pedagogy, but also with the ideas behind the progressive and experimental schools that I grew up with in the 1960’s. The past 20 years have been a period of extreme greed in the west, a creed of the individual, of services becoming ‘products’, even education seen as a ‘product’, with parents as the ‘customers’. The pendulum seems to be swinging back here as well; as the recent monetary crisis developed I heard a commentator on the radio suggesting a return to ‘Quaker banking’. There is much debate on our extreme educational culture of monitoring and examining and alongside this rethinking of the value of education, is the technological revolution. This is also reaching a watershed, with a ubiquitous uptake of mobile technology, an almost complete wireless connectivity, and technology that is embedded in our surroundings and culture. Cameras are everywhere, digital photography is so easy we use it without thought. The swift and metamorphic change of the mobile phone from communication device to personal computer and multimedia player is amazing; a device with huge power and potential.

When I first put a computer in my art room, in the mid 1980’s, I was interested in how it captured some of my students, motivating some of the perhaps less motivated. The challenges remain the same now, even more so, as it’s use outside the classroom becomes ubiquitous, the challenge is to make creative and innovative use of this technology, and use it to blur many traditional borders such ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’, ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’.

A fundamental quality underpinning creative and innovative capacity is motivation and a sense of initiative. The foundations of such qualities are laid in the early phases of personal development. Creativity occupies a significant share of the curriculum in early school years, but its share diminishes drastically in the course of pupils’ education. One major challenge facing education systems is, therefore, how to keep the spark of creativity alive in children and young people. The responses have included, for instance, putting greater emphasis on creative subjects, developing new approaches to learning and fostering various extracurricular activities. 7

The mounting pressure to develop creative, innovative and critical skills implies that
traditional teaching approaches based on direct instruction or lecturing are no longer adequate. They are being replaced by more learner-focused models that are based on the learner’s active involvement in the process of reflection and interpretation. Learning is achieved together with others, creatively changing social practices and habits. An organisational culture supporting openness and creativity is a vital precondition for successful learning and innovation.

Education is serious, but I have no doubt that children learn best when they are most comfortable, when they are most engaged, and when we are having fun.

Many believe there is far too little outlet for playfulness pure and simple in the adult world, and always has been. Many people also believe that the computer is an ideal remedy. Ted Nelson says: " if the computer is a universal control system, let's give kids universes to control." (Dream Machines, p.131) " Pointless Playthings" are not as easy to create as you might think - which may explain why there are so few of them around. Also, in this serious world of ours it is very hard to make a commercial case for things that are simply for playing with - it has to be an accompaniment to something "serious" . Even children's software has a serious agenda: teach them basic math, or reading. 9

I have no doubt that digital technology has great potential to engage and motivate. My intention for the coming year is to continue to explore the use of this technology, particularly in relation to collaboration. I have an idea to bring students from my own school together with young people involved in activities at the Knowle West Media Centre, using digital photography as a commonality. I will also attempt to extend this collaboration to students outside our geographical region, using web based, collaborative and peer to peer technologies. My intention is to continue to look for exciting and interesting ways to engage students through activities that really capture their interest.

This is the ultimate " multi-voiced" or " collage" medium, and it puts vast realms of "heritage" at our fingertips. This is like what Vannevar Bush had in mind - and then some. It's also like what Ted Nelson has in mind at Xanadu- and adds great depth to Brenda Laurel's idea of the " computer as community.

What you create is a carnival, and being here is often participation enough. 10

1 Make Friends with Strange People, Peter Jenkinson, Knowle West Media Centre, 2008
2 Silicon Snake Oil, Clifford Stoll, Macmillan, 1995
3 Their Space, Education for a digital generation, Green, Hannah, Hannon, Celia, Demos, 2007 p 54
4 ibid p 47
5 Dust or Magic Hughes, Bob, Bosko Books, 2007, p 225
6 ibid p 203
7 introduction to Jan-June 2009 edition of Futurelab ‘Vision’ written by chief executive Stephen Bresilin
8 Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning the European Year of Creativity and Innovation (2009)
9 Dust or Magic p171
10 ibid p 177/178