Sunday 30 October 2011

A pop-up university of the future?

The 2012 Learning Without Frontiers conference will be taking place at Olympia. The website makes the following announcement:

Our design team are busy re-imagining the interior of Olympia’s National Hall to create a “pop-up university of the future” presenting an entirely new experience for our delegates and attendees.

It is interesting to see that the notion of a Pop Up School (#popupschool) has caught on at this event which aims to be a source of disruptive thinking in education. The flashy and obviously very expensive pods illustrated above are a far cry from our Pop Up School at the Creativity World Forum in 2010. Our DIY booth (named 1001/2 because we were not assigned a proper place in the venue and had to squueeze ourselves in between booths 100 and 101) was resourced with paper, pens and other stationary items that we had scrounged from other exhibitors, and yet we were equipped with a number of digital devices (iPod Touches, iPads, laptops, cameras) that enabled us to exist online and engage visitors with the concept of a virtual school.

We certainly confused a few people. "So, what time does your pop up school start?" and "Do the students have to wear a uniform?" were frequently asked questions. But I like to think that we also raised a few eyebrows and delighted a few visitors with our proposition that the idea of a school is changing due to the different ways in which we are able to learn in the 21st century.

I am tempted to book a ticket to LWF2012 to see what a big budget "pop-up university of the future" might look like. You get a 'free' iPad if you book in the next two days (price £800). However, I hope that it will look and feel and function a bit more like this.

Friday 21 October 2011

Design for Good


"Creativity can defeat habit"

Musical bicycle

Check out this demonstration of collaborative creativity:
What if you would be able to generate music by the simple act of riding your bike? This project started with that question. We have build the first prototype and thanks to Jeffry Sol and Vincent Beijersbergen we were able to do so in a month. And yes it was pretty difficult, but loads of fun.... the idea is pretty simple; basically, a wheel and dynamo work the same way as a record player. But it was not as easy as it looks. First, we had to come up with a solution for the wheels; how can we change the records? The forfork was blocking the wheel. That's why we changed a 30 year old bike into a lefty bike; and build a construction that would still support the weight and would be strong enough for people to ride on it. The biggest challenge of all was to make sure that the needles would stick to the record and follow the grooves, without skipping too much. Therefor we bought two vertical record players and took them apart, to see how they worked. Also; we wanted our bike to be as low tech as possible; that's why the only "extra" energy we used was a 9 volt battery to support the amplifier. In order for the records to run smoothly, we also had to change the crank of the bike and the chain. After that, we build our own horn, to have some extra volume, and we sprayed the whole bike black. We had some sponsors like bikestores, handy people and DJ's and that's how our dream in progress turned out to be real... Here's to the crazy ones; thank you guys, you rock. - Merel, Pieter and Liat

Monday 3 October 2011

The importance of creative constraints

A couple of weeks ago we were faced with an interesting challenge, what one might call a 'creative constraint'. We discovered that we did not have enough publicity booklets for prospective Post 16 students. The booklet would cost several thousand pounds to both redesign and print. It would also cause the deaths of hundreds of innocent trees. We have a much reduced budget for publicity and marketing this year, a situation faced by many schools across the country. We also had a looming deadline by which we needed to have a new set of marketing materials ready. The final challenge was perhaps the most significant. We need to recruit approximately 200 new members to our Post 16 Centre over the next couple of years in order to make the books balance in our new BSF school Opening on 1st November).

We met to discuss these constraints:
  • a tight deadline
  • a small budget
  • a recruitment challenge
  • ecological issues
After some time batting ideas around I made the suggestion that we ought to rethink our whole strategy. Why did we need an expensive printed booklet? How many people actually read it (all of it anyway)? Given that most of our Year 11 students transfer to our Post 16 Centre, where were these extra 200 bodies going to come from? How could we create what we needed on a tight budget and in time?

The solution I suggested was taking almost the entire marketing strategy online with a new mobile friendly website, lots of social networking integration (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr) and harnessing the talents and energies of our fantastic students, parents and friends to help out. I suggested that the most successful marketing strategy, especially with students outside our school, is word of mouth. The majority of those who choose to study in our centre have friends at Tallis who tell great stories about their time here. How could we support this 'word of mouth' effect and build a community of learners communicating about the benefits of studying at Thomas Tallis School?

Given the budget and time constraints (and my limited knowledge of web design) we chose Weebly as our platform for the website. Weebly is a brilliant, free, online web design tool. It offers plenty of decent looking templates for the novice designer (we use it with our students to create ePortfolios) and the ability to tweak the design behind the scenes. Its drag and drop interface is pretty intuitive and published sites are automatically mobile device friendly. It has taken me a couple of weeks to create the site from scratch. I bought a custom domain, a good looking Tumblr template for the blog news feed and a Weebly Pro account. The total cost of the new site is just over £100.

We have already seen some interesting benefits with this new approach:
  • We have discussed the Post 16 marketing strategy with colleagues and got them actively involved in promoting their curriculum areas by using the blog and Facebook page
  • We have recruited a few parents and friends with experience of working in the fields of journalism, radio, PR and design to help support students in managing the new social media strategy
  • We have beaten the deadline and gained an audience for the site well beyond school via Twitter (@creativetallis) and the blog
  • We have the ability to constantly update the website with the latest news and information about the centre (this would have involved lots of writing letters to prospective students in previous years) thus saving hours of admin time
Time will tell whether this strategy achieves the ultimate goal of recruiting new students to our Post 16 Centre. We haven't abandoned the notion of printed material, but the savings we have made on the booklet, by creating a website, mean that we can now establish a creative partnership with an artist in residence to create a Post 16 fanzine with a group of students.

Would we have arrived at this strategy and its solutions without the original constraints being imposed upon us? I doubt it.