Sans Duty – Workshop One

Joe Lindley and I ran our first workshop with members of the Brixton Pound (B£) community, using design fiction to explore ideas of developing community-based initiatives to make tax fairer and work for communities. The purpose of the workshop was to meet with people who live in Brixton and use the B£, and understand how people think about tax and what practical, community-level actions we might develop to make tax work better in Brixton.

The aim of the project is to co-produce design fictions with community members, which can be a challenge. Approaching any research it’s hard not to try and work with the theories you know or want to use, map the research feeding into and being illustrated by these theories, and then treading through the dusky shadowed edge of participatory research to get the data that backs it all up. We’re not going to do this but I definitely would like the design fictions we develop to explore the reconfiguration of the aesthetic fields of tax, communities and business… and make sense of this using Ranciere’s notions of dissensus and the distribution of the sensible. However, in the workshop, a number of participants were more interested in talking about the spend in tax and spend. How councils spend citizens’ hard-earned taxes, the procurement of services through private providers that end up (sometimes) offshoring profits, and the general perception that councils are funded by the people yet remain unaccountable and unresponsive apart from faux consultation processes for pre-decided decisions.

Some of the ideas the group came up with were:

  • Brixton Jury/ Court for Fair Tax: people would be selected from the electoral roll, like jury duty, and serve for 6 months over the tax affairs of the community. They could look into issues such as how and where the council were spending tax, and if businesses are paying enough tax.
  • Community symbols for tax: Businesses that pay tax and good contracts could be rewarded by being able to paint their premises different colours or climb higher on a community ‘totaliser’, a civic monument to businesses that contribute to the community. Another idea for a symbol was that businesses could show how much tax they paid by adding images such as hospital beds to their premises or websites – which is a bit like the way in which fighter pilots represent ‘kills’ on their planes.

Now we have to make sense of these ideas and weave them into the fictional documentary. Hmmmm. Easy.

James Duggan

Schools and MMU launch learning hub – Growing community partnerships

Pupils building a robot at the Learning Hive Community launch 

PRIMARY schools and the Faculty of Education have joined together in a new learning hub to support pupils in the community.

Six neighbouring schools have joined the University’s Learning Hive Community aimed at inspiring youngsters to turn their ideas into a reality.

All of the schools are based in the community in Hulme, Moss Side and Fallowfield, and study with MMU students and teachers in the Birley building.

At the launch event, pupils tested their skills in education, computing, and art and design to build a robot.

‘Open platform’

Dr James Duggan, research assistant in the Education and Social Research Institute, said: “We are looking at ways we can work together through the Hive community to create an open platform to innovate in the relationships between student experience, community engagement, and research across MMU.

“We were really proud of the launch event and created a really exciting introduction to a range of digital technologies such as Makey-Makeys, 3D printers and a robotic arm.

“The pupils’ engagement and feedback was really positive. What we want the pupils to realise is that coding and making is a lot of fun, and they can make whatever their skills and imagination can come up with.”

In total, six schools are part of the learning community. They are: St Mary’s, Rolls Crescent, St Wilfrid’s, St Philips, Wilbraham Primary and Holy Name.


This was originally posted here.

MMU Learning Hive Community… capacity building session

The MMU student participants will be in school this week working with the six local primary schools as part of the ‘EVERYBODY LOVES ROBOTS’ challenge. (It seems finally that we’ve selected a name for the event – ELR!)

One of the issues we’ve faced is getting people with the tech skills to go into schools. We’ve found that students on computing and engineering courses are reluctant to go into schools, and work with pupils to develop their ideas. There is a stereotype of the lone tech-head, who prefers machines to people. I don’t want to get into this stereotype issue too much because it’s not helpful… It’s important however to recognise the skills that we all have.

(Self-indulgent/ reflective bit: I’m not a particularly (digital) technology person. I’m getting better but it’s from a very low base. I am happy however to go and work with young people, listen to their ideas, potentially look stupid and muddle through. Realising your teacher doesn’t know everything is a powerful lesson in life. Being prepared to not know something in front of a class is part of that process, and it takes courage… at least for the first few times.)

We are however trying to think through ways where we can create the opportunities for people with a diverse range of skills, as in not particularly good with making and coding, to get involved… because at this point that’s what we have. So we’re running capacity-building sessions this week to skill up the student participants in working with Arduinos and making things flash and beep and what not.

All of this is really what the Hive community is about for us. It’s a network for learning, where we are learning as much as the young people who are the target group, and it’s a learning network, so we’re figuring out how to do this better.

James Duggan

New York Calling… MMU Learning Hive Community

Building on MMU’s successful engagement with the Manchester Learning Hive Community, we had a Google Hangout with Rafi Santo and Dixie Ching from the Hive Research Lab in New York this evening.

MMU Learning Hive Community student participants are currently working in 6 local primary schools. There’s been some initial nerves but in the quieter moments in Hulme you can hear the furrowing of brows, the sound of cardboard being taped to cardboard, and the methodical pushing of wires into and from Arduinos… as a small army of robots take shape… ROBOT CHALLENGE!!!!!!!

It was great to talk to Dixie and Rafi and get their insights into the way in which their research has informed the development of the Hive network in New York and further afield. We are in Manchester lucky to have a research team at the beginning and at the centre of things, exploring the initial challenges and opportunities as the community takes shape. (This may mean nothing much will happen but we are going to think and research and write the hell out of it.) We’re keen to develop the participatory angle in working with young people – pupils and MMU student participants – to research and think through the emergence and development of the Hive community in Manchester. The Hive is about enabling young people and wider communities to participate, experiment and innovate to learn and make – so enabling them to engage in the research of this processes just makes sense and fits with the wider ethic. This would build on ESRI’s tradition of innovative and participatory research methods, while also learning from great student-driven projects at MMU such as the Manchester School of Art’s Unit X.

It’s not exactly the picture of the weasel on the woodpecker but check out the minute by minute action below,

2015-03-05 17.12.18

If anyone has any ideas for research or funding or would like more information on the MMU Learning Hive Community then please get in touch.

James Duggan (on behalf of the MMU Learning Hive Community)

Building a UK-Mexico STEM Education Research Network

Last week, Stephanie Daza (ESRI) joined 20 UK-based and 20 Mexico-based researchers for a British Council Researcher Links and CONACYT funded workshop on Educational Dialogue and Transformative Learning in STEM Subjects at TEC de Monterrey, in Monterrey, Mexico. The campus is home about 30,000 students, as well as deer and peacocks.


Photo credit: Rupert Higham, Cambridge.

Below Felipe Eduardo Martínez Díaz, International Relations Coordinator, led the campus tour; TEC features impressive tiled murals by the artist Jorge González Camarena. Photo credits: Steph Daza



In university-industry partnerships, students at TEC work in interdisciplinary teams to create new products and innovations, at times participating in 24-hour hack-o-thons and resulting in new patents. The university has designed its laboratories and learning spaces to be open, collaborative, flexible, and fun. Some features in the space below included no walls (or glass walls), trampolines, tents, hanging chairs, a 3D printing lab, and moveable furniture. Photo credits: Steph Daza



The face-to-face workshop also had a Google+ community group “STEMk12dialogue” where members shared photos and information. Keynotes covered a variety of topics, such as dialogic analysis (e.g. Bakhtin), global STEM trends, and collaborative research. Many participants gave informal mini-talks about their own research. Each of us also joined two working groups. Steph participated in the globalization content group and the funding planning group. The funding group identified mobility and networking grants. Of note, Mexico is a partner country in UK’s Newton Fund to develop science and innovation partnerships. A special issue and an edited book are also being organized.

Additionally, we had the opportunity to visit local schools and explore the Horno III interactive science center. One program–Ciencias en la Familia—stood out for its quality, size, and accessibility. Working in partnerships with schools over the last eleven years, the program has supported 5000 families to complete six different science experiments a year at home. Families keep journal and lab notebook. All 66 experiments come with easy to follow instructions and use everyday, low-cost/recycled materials. Family science is inquiry-based learning about science; for example, families made robotic hands and air-driven cars. Below is the instruction page for a robotic hand made out of straws. Photo credit: Steph Daza


In addition to science content, parent and student testimonies discussed family science as play, communication, relationship building, study skills, literacy, and citizenship. The project is a model of citizen science or science and society. Three of the program’s developers/supporters were members of our group: Adrián Lozano, Cristina Reynaga, and María Cristina Moreno. Lozano, pictured here with the Head of School and parent participants, describes the project. Photo credit: Steph Daza


Part of our group posed with students in front of Ciencia en la Familia display. Photo credit: Cristina Reynaga, Cinvestav.


Meals were shared and provided opportunities for cultural exchanges. TEC’s award winning student dance troupe entertained us with traditional dances from the region of Nuevo Leon set to live music, also performed by TEC students.

Stephanie Daza