Error 404 – A school hackspace

Getting young people coding is a high-profile issue at the moment, with a series of dire warnings about the consequences of inaction.  An argument for teaching young people to code is that to participate fully in the society and economy of the 21st Century they will need to understand and be able to use a range of digital technologies and tools.

From a lack of capacity in schools, inappropriate curriculum to a negative perception of people who code, there are significant challenges to getting more young people coding.  We want to explore the process of working with young people, to support, and inspire them to learn coding and develop computational thinking and use it on ‘real’ world issues they care about.

Our starting point is the everyday experience of the young people in the school, and working with them to understand, explore and develop what it would be like to go to a Smart School that will educate young people for living in a digital future.

We are working with Oasis MediaCity Academy to put this plan into action. The principal, Patrick Ottley-O’Connor, is committed to his school becoming a gateway for his pupils to working in high-profile jobs in places like MediaCity UK.  We are converting part of the school into a ‘hackspace’ (see photo).

A blank space…

The hackspace will become a participative and democratic R&D lab for the school.  The hackspace will be a place where data will be collated, aggregated, curated and mixed into various interesting things – both physical and digital.  The project will bring people with the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm into the school to inspire and support the school community as they explore, understand and seek to change their school and the publics it networks with.

The project is beginning in October 2012 and we are talking to a number of national and local partners – watch this space for news.

If you would like to advise or support this project please get in touch, leave a comment below, or visit the project’s webpage.

James Duggan and Helen Manchester


Encountering Space Place and Social Justice in Education (a kind of conference report)

In my last blog, I promised an update on the space, place and social justice in education seminar – so here goes. Now, as I’m starting to ‘get’ blogging, I can see that the art of the blog allows a focus on how it looked to me, from my particular viewpoint. Others post from their own angle (there’s an invitation!) and the conversation grows.  So, perversely, I’m not going to give a straightforward report (suffice it to say that the day was a great success, with around 70 people in attendance sharing discussion around 35 plus papers). Rather, I want to say a little about how four particular but inter-related spaces came to somehow map the territory of the conference for me.

The first space – a space of longing, aspiration, some personal pain and a lot of determination – was encountered in the refectory at Didsbury on Thursday lunchtime, the day before the seminar. A young woman worker (hi, Chelsea…I said I’d name check you!) was preparing the tables for our buffet on Friday. We got talking and she told me her own story of growing up in an inner-city area of Manchester and finally going on to Salford University (the first person in her extended family) after a Tourism btec at the local college. Living at home, trying unsuccessfully to make sense of the culture of university – “I didn’t know what you were supposed to do” – and being involved in giving support to an aged family member, Chelsea struggled to fit in. She talked poignantly about the difficulty of growing away from her ‘friends from home’ while not quite managing to enter the new world that neither welcomed her nor understood the pressures she was under. After a number of difficulties, her Salford experience came to a disappointing and messy end. Her options narrowing, she went back to ‘working a couple of jobs’ (including arranging our tables!) before applying to MMU to start all over again. Chelsea ‘knows’ that she will have to ‘leave others behind’ if she is to become what she feels she might become. She also knows that she will feel compelled ‘to give something back’ if she is to find any ease in her own change. I told her what our conference was about and we chatted about how her own story encompassed many of the themes we intended to explore – place, loyalty, uncertainty, hope, commitment, fairness.

The second space hovered around a couple of tables pushed together outside the Didsbury pub on Thursday evening. Early arrivals to our conference gathered to say hello, eat something and have a drink together. A diverse group of ‘researchers’ – from Australia, Hungary, Germany, Italy, South Africa and the UK – they steadily got to know each other.  As the evening went on, the conversation grew warmly expansive with laughter and sharing as individuals found a collective, if nomadic, home in the intellectual terrain of critical inquiry that ESRI endeavours to engender.

The third space was conjured by the wonderful keynote that Valerie Walkerdine delivered to the conference on Friday morning. Traversing My Fair Lady, the wardrobe of Lauren Bacall, one of Valerie’s own films, and the schizoanalytic cartographies of Felix Guattari, the presentation gathered dreams and embodied imagination to its theoretically radical purpose. In doing so, it charted vividly affective ‘lines of flight’  from those narrowly conventional spaces of educational ‘aspiration’ that frame much contemporary policy discourse yet still fail to hold learners like Chelsea.

The fourth space – astonishingly, I thought – enacted such a line of flight. By challenging our conference to do research otherwise, one of the presentations that I attended succeeded in actually overturning the dominant power relations of knowledge production by constituting a de facto instantiation of socially just research. This space was created by ‘professional researcher’ Beth Cross of the University of Sterling and her ‘independent’ co-researchers Caroline McFarlane, Ian Brookes and Kerry McInnes (all three of whom came to the project through involvement in disability peer advocacy projects). Their presentation, Creating Communicative Space: the use of spatialised metaphors in peer research with disabled people with complex support needs, explored the question of how people ‘upon whom disabling constructs impact daily’ might come to find their place in research on policy that affects them. Incorporating the virtual immediacy of Skype, the usual power relations between researchers and participants were levelled out as Beth, Caroline, Ian, Kerry and those of us actually present jointly interrogated these questions in a live, mini-version of the “public space under pressure” that Prof. Jan Nespor of Ohio State University canvassed in his written message to our conference. For me, this was an extraordinary, enervating experience.

So, how was the international seminar for me? Well, memorably, it ranged through at least these four lived, powerfully critical spaces as they intersected in the domain of ‘education’. But more than that, it kind of shocked me back to the idea of socially produced space – as a dense ‘encounter, assembly, simultaneity…[of] everything that there is in space… Everything: living beings, things, objects, works, signs and symbols’ – delineated by Lefebvre. The job that presents itself now for this loose community that we have created is to work through the theoretical, methodological, practical and political possibilities that such an idea raises for education and social research.  My immediate role will be to try and get some funding to facilitate that process. I‘ll keep you informed.

Inspired2Greatness – research to impact

The impact component of the Research Excellence Framework (2014) poses a significant challenge to academics: how to communicate research so as to change wider society for the better?  Academics must engage with the communicational barriers of the ‘impacts interface’ through which research filters but also the ideological inertia permeating the interface and society in general.  Communication is a lot harder when people do not want to hear the message.

We have been grappling with these challenges at ESRI and one approach has emerged out of an ESRC-funded project ‘Hands-off sports’ coaching: the politics of touch’ (see the report) by Heather Piper, Dean Garratt and Bill Taylor at MMU and the University of Chester.

The research identified a moral panic surrounding adults being around children, especially in relation to ‘touch’.  Although there is no legislation against adults touching children, for example, to improve their technique on the violin or hug a crying child, those working with children feel themselves to be under constant suspicion of inappropriately touching or abusing a child.  The effect is that adults regulate their behavior to avoid being accused of acting inappropriately and this damages the crucial relationship between the coach and the young people they work with.

The research team’s response was Inspired2Greatness.  The campaign aims to interrupt the moral panic surrounding ‘touch’ and associated issues between adults and young people by using social media to enable anyone who cares to post a video message sharing a story of how an adult took time to share a love of sport and the ability to play it well.  Without adults taking the time to work with young people the summer of sport – Euro 2012, Wimbledon, the London 2012 Games, and the Olympic Legacy – would have been a desultory affair.

By asking members of the public to share a positive story about someone who inspired them, the Inspired2Greatness campaign both facilitates the dissemination and engagement with the research but also builds a campaign and a counter-discourse focused on the positive motivations and effects of coaches working with young people thus interrupting the dominant narrative that adult and young person relationships should be understood primarily in terms of the risk of harm and abuse.

Please take the time to share a story of someone who inspired you to play sport at Inspired2Greatness, join our FaceBook page ‘Inspired2Greatness’ or follow us on Twitter (@Inspired2Great).

Heather Piper and James Duggan

Growing a bigger research conversation… space, place and social justice in education

Questions of space and place – physical, social, virtual, private, collective – and how they impact on fairness and the distribution of power in education is what I want to talk about…so here I go as a first timer into the unfamiliar space, for me, of the blogosphere! If I can, I’d like to use the ESRI blog to mention a couple of related things. First, I want to give a last push to our forthcoming international research seminar on space, place and social justice in education (MMU Didsbury, 13th July). Second, I’d like to say a little bit about the back story to that event, bringing out how formal research ‘outputs’ – bid success, publication – can be grown out of conversations in informal ‘over coffee’ spaces and in so doing can assist in developing the kind of convivial, collaborative and expansive research environment envisioned in ESRI’s core values.

As to the event itself, it’s still not too late to register (go to ‘register’ at the webpage) and be part of a developing academic network coming together for what is set to be an excellent day of input and discussion. Keynote contributions from Prof. Valerie Walkerdine and Prof. Danny Dorling promise a cutting edge engagement with the issues around space, place and social justice in education and around 40 papers from scholars from four continents will take up different aspects of the spatial turn in social theory as it impacts on education research at various scales: from inquiries into macro-level policy to highly focussed, micro studies of the classroom or the school bus (check out the abstracts).

That’s the event. What about the back story? Well, the seminar had its initial germination in a coffee and a conversation at the European Conference of Education Research (ECER) in Helsinki in 2010. Basically, a session of papers convened by the Ethnography network of ECER had prompted a fairly ‘robust’ discussion about the use of spatial terms in ethnography of education: ‘site’, ‘field’, and such like. As a result, geographer Phil Wood (based at Leicester and a contributor to our seminar) and I had a natter about the need to try and build a bigger conversation on what seemed to us a very important topic. Phil’s work was looking at the physical, architectural spaces of the Building Schools for the Future programme and mine was looking at the power of a community’s memories of conflict and traumatic deindustrialisation to affect young people’s sense of belonging (or, more commonly, not belonging) in the space we commonly call ‘education’ (see, for example, my article ‘Non-servile virtuosi’ in insubordinate spaces: School disaffection, refusal and resistance in a former English coalfield in in European Education Research Journal, 10: 4. Space, place and equity were obviously critical – in different ways – for both of us.

From coffee in Helsinki, the idea grew via the Oxford Ethnography Conference a couple of weeks later, gathering support from the journal Ethnography and Education and the conveners of the ethnography network at ECER on the way. Eventually – by way of wider conversations at ECER 2011 in Berlin, at last year’s British Education Research Association (BERA) conference in London and with colleagues at ESRI in Manchester – we succeeded in gaining funding from the ECER Network Support strand, the Social Theory Special Interest Group at BERA and Ethnography and Education to bring the international seminar to ESRI at MMU. Indeed, in offering attendance bursaries for colleagues from Eastern Europe and elsewhere who are themselves marginalised to some extent from the global academic community we have been able to directly address issues of space, place and social justice in education.

So, next week, from a starting point of two Finnish coffees, the conversation finally formalises as an international research seminar. Publication opportunities are being finalised and the next job – preparing a bid for ESRC International Partnership and Networking Scheme funding to consolidate what we’ve built and kick start an international research project – begins. Watch this space (sorry!). I’ll update soon.

Geoff Bright – Research Associate (ESRI)