Open Learning Ireland – First Event @ Dublin Contemporary 2011

This post was originally posted on 20 OCTOBER 2011 at Hummingbird Mentality.

Last weekend, Saturday and Sunday the 15th and 16th of October we staged Open Learning Ireland’s inaugural event, Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something. OLI is a new organisation seeking to create an alternative learning space in Dublin. For two days we took over a room on the second floor of Earlsfort Terrace at The Dublin Contemporary Exhibition, and filled it full of as many learning opportunities as possible.

The room was divided into several zones – each designed to provide a distinct learning affordance. Sebastian Dooris created a hack zone full of everything necessary to build basic robotic devices. Emily Gallagher utilised methodologies developed through her thesis on play, exercise and wellness to develop an all age play space. Steph Gallagher curated an art space and library. Andrew Booth donated a variety of digital academic books. Conor Houghton, the man behind ignite @ the Science Gallery lent us his incredible 3d printer – a glimpse into a future of home-printed consumer goods. Shane Conneely and I assembled a library of academic texts and set up a chill out / study area. Finally, a variety of workshops were provided by Coilín “The Oh-Aissieux” in storytelling, Natasha Gavrilovic in knitting, Noelia Ruiz in writing for dramatic performance, Bill Doran and Kali Carrigan in circus performance, while Niamh O’Reilly faciliated a ‘learning circle’.

We started the weekend with grand ambitions, but no certainty that there would be interest in the project. We promoted the event with a blurb on the Dublin Contemporary Website – http://exchangedublin.ie/blog/learn-something-share-something-do-something

“Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something” is an experiment in letting people learn from one another, at their own pace, in a relaxed and inspiring environment. We’ll be tossing aside conventional hierarchical educational methods, and creating a new kind of campus full of arts and crafts, traditional and electronic musical instruments, books, articles, science experiments, discussions and workshops. There’ll be mini-workshops, talks and activities throughout the day, and everything is free.

And a blog post at skillsharing website Mutant Space – http://www.mutantspace.com/skills-exchange-open-learning-dublin/

Decades of research into how children and adults learn have demonstrated that different people – surprise surprise – learn differently, following varying developmental schedules, and though distinct modalities (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile). Some of us learn most effectively through reading, some through physically manipulating / building and making, others through creative processes like poetry, art and music. Our schools (and increasingly our colleges) are not set up to educate us – at best, they serve as factories for producing consumable workers for the knowledge economy. We pay lip service to ‘life long learning’, while in reality the cost of education is sky rocketing, while the target of education is shifting from the well rounded, autonomous adults; to the upskilled workers.

We were pleased to find out the project struck a chord with the public, who attended in significant numbers and took an active role in exploring the educational opportunities of the space. Key to our project is the idea of play and experiential autonomous learning. Throughout the weekend, we succeeded in creating a playful welcoming environment, where learning and active participation were socially modelled.

Things Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something Achieved

1) Promoted and demonstrated the practicality of an autonomous democratic all ages learning environment for the city.

2) Tapped into the talents of a variety of creators / makers / technologists / academics and artists.

3) Provided a model multi-disciplinary, multi-level learning environment.

4) Successfully framed the project as a difficult to pigeon hole fusion of art, learning and technology – this is important both because it destigmatises learning, and motivates participation.

Things We Can Improve

1) Budgeting / Fund Raising

Running the weekend demonstrated the need to acquire funding to progress the project. In addition to the accepted opportunity costs of volunteerism we encountered a variety of visible & invisible financial costs that were shouldered by individual volunteers and (in the case of liability, heating, electricity and security, by the Dublin Contemporary Exhibition itself).

These include – food, transport, breakage, consumables (art supplies etc), insurance, electricity and rent.

Our lack of budget also prevented us from printing signage and further information to promote our mission.

2) Age & Service Provision

We found that many of the participants in the project were parents with young children, who availed of the art and play facilities. While we don’t want to discourage children / young people from participating in the project, an important element of the ‘unskool’ concept is provision of an all age education resource, and we need to work on methods of communicating the availability / desirability of the space for older groups; while providing adaquate resources and supervision for children and young people who do participate.

3) Communication

As we’re a new / consensus driven group – our purpose and ethos are developing dynamically. However there are a number of things we could do in future to elaborate the purposes of any pop-up or permanent spaces we create.

Example 1 – providing readily accessible, specific learning projects for those eager to participate but lacking an initial learning goal – a lego kit approach.

Example 2 – Writing up a real time / real world skill share. This would be a black or while board listing who is currently in the space, and what they’re learning / what skills they possess. This would help to facilitate peer learning and autonomy amongst participants.

4)  Democratic Structures

In our own group organisation, we need to build concrete democratic structures to alleviate the inevitable ‘invisible heirarchies’ and barriers to participation in decision making that arise; and communicate the democratic / consensus driven nature of the decision making process.

Impressions – Volunteer – Jules Fitzsimons

I was at the event for only a limited time, so I don’t have the full picture but I thought the open learning area was a great success. There was plenty for everyone to play, do and make with and I saw lots of people getting involved.

Something that went well but could also be improved is welcoming visitors into the space.
Some people stayed or left because they were interested or not, but there were plenty of people who were interested but left after only a moment in the space, because they didn’t know how to relate to it.
Perhaps some explainatory flyers near the door would’ve helped this, and maybe an interesting widget there too could have hooked them in?

Another thing to do next time is take people’s contact details and start messaging them about the group.
Hopefully we’ll have a website ready by then too.

In the main I thought the space was great, and the important thing now is using the momentum generated effectively.
My €0.02!

Impressions – Volunteer – Shane Coneely

I was happy to have participated in the OLI Learn Share Do project over the weekend.

I know that personally I’ve great difficulty asking people for help, my natural instinct is simply to bash away and try to figure out a route to my destination.

There are however things which, while figurable outable, are difficult to experiment with. In my case, I learned how to solder. Not a complex task, but one which I did not have the equipment to attempt. Having Seb there to guide me, and then confirm where I’d gone right and gone wrong allowed me to create something, and I’m greatful to the project for allowing me that.

I think that the 3d printer was the star of the show. I think that any future iteration of this project has to have well defined, and highly visual stimulating, projects that we can suck punters into, that they can have a conversation about, and that they can participate in.

Something like: http://makeprojects.com/Project/Gigantic-Bubble-Generator/1364/1

People were happy to talk about the 3d printer, but it’s nature (and slowness) ensured that they couldn’t participate in it.

The kids could see how they could participate in the games and in the drawing space but the adults needed different cues, I’d say that if you handed them something, and asked them to paint it while you were doing something else then it would be easier to get them to move from watching to participating.

I was happier in the space the second day, the room was better defined in terms of age, the layout the first day made the room seem too child focused and therefore excluded older people from engaging. By bringing the books out into the space we ensured that that area was not for children.

I think that we will have to experiment with how we lay out spaces so that we can interest people without intimidating them.

In future I would like to see there be an island of worktables in the centre, and shelving on the walls so that every body is working facing eachother, the way we had the different zones meant that people were almost invariably facing a wall (and therefore, not another human being) when engaged in an activity, I think that this could act against cross pollination.

More photos on our flickr.

If you’d like to offer your help in running Open Learning Ireland, to participate in future events, or just to communicate with us you can contact us..
On Twitter @ OLI_Dublin
At our google group – https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/open-learning-ireland
Via email – Openlearningireland AT gmail
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