Hacking, mentoring and rapid prototyping as new models for learning

Image attribution under CC to Tessa Farrell














This blog is going to cover a lot of innovation developments very quickly and try to tie together informal and ad hoc wanderings I make over the internet and in “real life”; the people I meet and the reflections they make on education. I have referenced a lot of video in this blog post and I would urge people to take the time to look at these exemplars to get a deeper understanding of the ideas I’m trying to convey in this piece.

I often say to people I’m too busy to do traditional academic research but sometimes I start to see patterns happening in society with technology and in the cases below I think there is a glimmer of social activity that may be growing in schools and in society at large some parallel paths that seem to jump out in high relief – and so I will focus on them and try to amplify those elements or patterns of use I see as having some common ground. I document and collate interviews and video and try to make sense of it all over time. I hope you find it of interest. I’ve always found education and learning to be a messy business – not as cut and dried as some commentators might like you to believe…


Although the initial focus of this blog will be on how the nature of the traditional medium of film/ video is changing and how that change is being exploited by different people to effect transformation in different ways it segues into  how that, in turn, has repercussions for how we learn; how we come together; how we reconfigure our learning in different spaces in education and allied “social” places. I think there is a cultural change going on; one that involves technology, our relationship to it and to each other.


What triggered this was the fact that the TES has released the whole of the Teachers TV archive to the wider world. Not many people are aware that you may digitally remix the video content where appropriate in that archive.

So long as you give attribution and so long as you don’t try and sell the content and if you don’t devalue the content or bring it into disrepute i.e. sully the brand, you can remix the videos for educational purposes.

It is good to see the TES as well as streaming the content online is also allowing selected videos for download.

But I am going to question the whole model of how we use media in this rather lengthy and detailed blogpost because I suspect those very models of how we consume and interact with media (and more importantly each other) are about to change radically.


Remixing of content was perfectly legal under the previous Teachers TV terms of use and also under Crown Copyright – so I’m looking into remixing content. Why? Because I believe the way forward within any culture is to take and remix ideas, artifacts and systems from the past in a highly social context to make new and challenging ways or methods of exploring ourselves and our world, and how we coexist and interact within that world.

I doubt the TES and other providers would lose sleep over my examples below; the truth is that not many people will want to remix content but, perhaps, at some point in the future it will be a viable exercise. In fact I think this would be a perfect opportunity for the TES and others to exploit the whole archive and open it out to make fresher content around it. Read the rest of the blog, the exemplars and the documentation of social activity over the last year – I think it is small thing but significant.


It would seem fairly obvious that these films are going to have a very limited value in only one or two years’ time. Educational systems, institutions, personal and public technologies will have changed and these films will almost certainly not stand the test of time. They will soon become historical documents rather than living, breathing resources. They will become the equivalent of vellum but not as durable. They are essentially stuck in the age of “flat media”.

In some ways the DfE, even though they don’t know it yet, has conspired to sell off old stock and has essentially made a good deal out of an electronic ‘pig in a poke’.


The reference to TV points to the fact that these resources were made for one medium but became very useful in another – online. However I would say their value lies more in teachers and students exploring them from a more pro-active “making” aspect of learning rather than time-shifted ice-blocks of expertise (although they do serve that immediate purpose).

The old model of “lean back” learning and CPD is slowly being eroded by more hands on “engagement” in the classroom, TeachMeets,maker“, “tinkering” and “hackfest” or “hackday” culture which has been prevalent with larger media and online companies for some years now, is beginning to port, if not spill, over into other areas of society.


Wouldn’t it be good to remix content? I chose the beginning of this “creativity” film and made the transitions between the speakers slower so I could do more varied things with their individual clips.

I then converted the clip to an Ogg file and uploaded the new clip into the popcorn.js HTML5 “Butter” Template and got the film to “trigger” various other events through the browser like links to Wikipedia and other resources on the web. Make sure you have a modern browser and click on the image below to see the effects.

I rewrote a little of the javascript and the whole process took me about 20 mins because of the templating system.

But look at this blog on the activities of the Bay Area Video Collective and what teenagers who had no coding experience did in two hours:


Now the films they produced were a lot better than mine above and I’d recommend you look at the finished products through a modern HTML5 enabled browser:


and then go and have a look at a far more sophisticated film in the HTML5 examples especially the project Michael Wesch orchestrated and crowdsourced here:


Yes, you will be able to click on any of those movies in the timeline which will take you to other movies. These are, in effect, hypervideos.

I will come back to the Mozilla project at the end of this blog as they are in London in November working with young people.


Many more people are now disaggregating media resources and putting them back together to make new things from old; more pertinent and more engaging media often serving highly social agendas. This is where the culture of learning is at its most rapid and agile and there seem to be elements that point the way to a new form of education and learning which is, of course, one variant of an old way of learning. One through doing and making but also reflecting on and using rigorous expertise. We are on a new threshold of diversity in learning and it is not going to come from schools but from left-field as usual.

The ability to reuse and repurpose media, particularly video, is about to get fairly ubiquitous and seamlessly easy in the near future. Already much younger people (I am talking 0 – 4 year olds here) do not use video in the way we do if they have had any exposure to computers like the iPad. They expect an interaction. They expect the video to have some form of what I would call “social inflection” built in. A narrative that needs to be engaged with “virtual” or real play partners/ objects. Many designers understand this and are gearing up to make the connection between real life “toys” or objects and screens so that interactions can become more purposeful so they can make their products more engaging.

So something like this:


Click on the pic for page…

and these very sublime ideas http://www.volumique.com/en/

can become something a little less sublime like this:


Good luck to Disney, however, this is still, essentially, a “push” model masquerading as “choice” where it is fairly pre-determined. What is more and more common these days is that someone then “hacks” the technology and puts it up on YouTube and you get this:



The mistake many traditional media and educational companies are making is to think we are all passive consumers of video when video is rapidly evolving into a highly interactive medium that we will all be able to “tweak” either by coding or through templates or “hacking”.

At the present, the majority of us are still passive consumers of media but there are new models of use about to emerge that will change that and the older media companies just aren’t aware how they could be co-opting their educational consumers in far more engaging ways that would keep them coming back to their companies. The ability to interact with and manipulate media will become fairly trivial and so the ability to remodel and construct personal variations will be seamless. How do you plan for that?

Take this interview with Color

Warning this is a long interview go to http://youtu.be/r2jLGwbVsDE?t=15m50s to cut to the chase.

That technology is also a very closed or black box one as it purports to give the user more perception of communication and freedom whereas, in my view, it locks them into a joint video monasticism that closes down culture rather than opening it out – it offers a “seeming” freedom through new cool features whilst doing entirely the opposite. That’s my view anyway. I wish color and Facebook lots of success in their ventures but, for me, this could be a route to locking down culture rather than making it thrive. Time will tell…


Now compare that to the Hackday culture that has around for over six years now. The vanguard of this kind of rapid protoyping was started at Yahoo and this film of one at Alexandra Palace between developers, engineers, designers and UX people working for the BBC and Yahoo in 2007 will give you a fair idea of the process involved:


Click here for popup of vid

What is more interesting, for me, is media used in ways around co-operative endeavour to change the way we collect together and think, learn and make knowledge and things. It isn’t rocket science these are elements that are well known in the commercial sector and UX design and have been around since the 1940’s but the nature of the changing relationship between user and media is becoming so personalised, so complex that there are new disciplines of use beginning to emerge.


But we are still having conversations in schools about the difference between ICT and Computing. This discussion at a recent educational barcamp sums it up really – people are looking for ways forward and questioning how we teach things:

Thanks to Teknoteacher (Alan O’Donohoe) for the filmed conversation and reflections.

And yet there are organisations like Young Rewired State where good multi-agency models of learning are already happening:

But the ways to do this are not in the domain of schools – they are out there in the wild and unless we have institutions whose curriculum can be more agile, then schools will become an irrelevancy in the face of this new climate of “can do”.


Often these new ways of learning and making come from people who are naturally creative and curious and who want to explore taking apart stuff (and by this I mean ideas too) and then putting them back together in new combinations. This applies to the way we do things socially too – which is augmented by the tech. I predict that it is this social aspect that will eventually find its way into schools and traditional education in some areas.

For example, musicians sampling and using remixed video/audio loops to create new content from old. Below is an example of taking a program like Ableton Live, an Akai APC40 controller a piece of coding software called Max for Live and using them in tandem to create this:

See film in Popup

I could give multiple instances of where code meets art meets innovation meets performance creates new stuff that sells.

In some ways I think we could go back to Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or Delueze’s braiding of different disciplines to see the underlying canons that drive the epistemologies in this area but this out of the scope of this blog but may one day make it to a book on philopsophy and education, tech and learning.

The common elements here, I suspect are:


Passion for learning




Constructing / hacking / making /reflecting

Elasticity of Media

Transparency of teaching and learning

Co-creation, Collaboration towards a social goal

The Internet of Things



Video cameras are now in a number of devices that can be controlled locally or over the web. The variety of ways this can happen and be networked will undoubtably grow.

But there is also the fact that video is now becoming ubiquitous and soon it will be networked into an increasing array of different devices – my friend Peter Barrett has been experimenting for years with ways of using networked video with commercial devices in schools – imagine hacking these devices to do new things and interacting with browsers and other people?




Recent “cool” and somewhat frightening elements of how video is beginning to become more “elastic” through use of open source software and “making” or “tinkering” culture called http://www.openframeworks.cc/ can be seen here another example of remixing media to quite a high level using repurposed code:

Scramble Suit from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

But that is “nothing” compared to the work going on at Harvard headed up by Kevin Dale


where the videos there show face video face replacement to be almost indistinguishable from one person to another. We now have the ability to make one person look like another and this raises all sorts of ethical concerns about online identity (as if we didn’t have enough already).

What then happens is a raft of quick prototyping developments that lead to different experimentation in other fields. For example this face controller for music

or this one for “virtual instrumentation”

This is part of ongoing research happening at the University of Southampton into different types of musical interfaces. Here a connect is being used to control music:

or this one for making a servo motor work using arduino.

Some of this prototyping by people experimenting with disparate equipment could lead to concrete and positive outcomes and new innovative products. When people like this get together and have a “Hackday” they concentrate development into a few hours or days. Hackdays, usually but not always, enable people to rapidly explore and prototype ideas together in a social context that spreads the development load and ensures co-construction to a common goal. Skills needed in our workforce. Why not in our schools?

Video can be used in other ways too – as sensing and controlling for code through hardware.

Look at this wonderful scratch video of Stephen Howell using a Kinect as a data capture device to control computer programs:

Scratch and Kinect from Stephen Howell on Vimeo.


A lot of musicians/ coders are now doing what is called Live Coding

Show Us Your Screens from louis mccallum on Vimeo.

Click here for popup of vid

As one person puts it:

Perhaps what will happen in Live Coding is that it will become more tangible – that using little musical interfaces … you’ll be able to “Live Code” your haptic interface.

At the TopLap wiki you can even see examples of Live Coding without computers.

But up until now I think the HackDay has been a Geek enclave and the domain and preserve of highly academically able participants with the right channels of connection and communication in their social groups to be able to participate. People would find out by word of mouth or blogs or twitter where to go and what to do.

How about democratising the process a little more and bringing down the models and expanding and interleaving  them with mainstream education?


So how could we layer or interleave those social elements around media and the browser and smart things? Because, for me, that is the fastest changing aspect of how people interact with each other at present – or younger people at any rate. How can we blend real life with screens and objects and meld them with ideas and change in the ways in which we learn? What are the new models out there?

There have been some pioneers like Jessica Wolpert and Tracy Tsang of Seaweed Studios whom I filmed a few years ago that showed how they used Toy Hacking with younger children.


or Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino formerly from Tinker.it



I think we are going to have to renegotiate our relationships with learners – one of the most interesting presentations I have seen recently was Oliver Quinlan’s at the beginning of the year at the BETT 2010 TeachMeet about how we need to reflect on our interactions with learners:


Neil Hopkins’ blog on children as co-constructors of learning (third of three) is another film I always point to that makes similar points:

Now this chimes for me with other interviews I have done about how people meet up in traditional spaces and how those spaces are beginning to change or are being changed by users using tech. This interview with Chris Meade and Anke Holst is one early example of how people are reconfiguring the traditional institutional spaces we have inhabited in the past and remaking them for the 21st Century tinkering with the social aspects as well as the kit.



People are beginning to remould how they approach planning and working together – in a series of workshops in Oxford under the aegis of Vital a number of teachers and advisers got together to flesh out a planning process called a Fishbowl. This had been ported over from andragogy and was being adapted for classroom planning. A number of people in the fishbowl started the process and others gradually chipped in and replaced others in a co-construction of learning. They were, essentially, “Hacking” planning. This collaborative, open and engaged planning session (this is one of hours of exemplars I have in the archive) is a whole new way of doing it. As the session progresses people add their expertise and reflect and model what they might do. This is NOT a model I see going on in a lot of schools due to time and curricular restraints.


How can we hack both the social and physical spaces and the technologies involved to create new and engaging ways of learning?

In this film of a Social Innovation Camp which is a Venture supported by the Young Foundation who work with the Social Schools Trust we can see a similar process at work:

This, in turn, reminds me of the NESTA’s work with Hyper Island :

Which is for older students but involves, mentoring, expertise, real life clients, deadlines, self-learning. At Hyper Island there are no teachers, no tests, no homework or textbooks; instead students will immerse themselves in 20 weeks of project-based activity, responding to real briefs set by industry partners, followed by a 12 week internship.

NESTA has also put a lot of research into mentoring and co-creation activities in schools.

New, more collaborative ways of working that are pupil led are beginning to emerge in the UK as well. The idea of Digital Leaders is becoming more prevalent.



And there is the wonderful work done with NESTA and STEM.

The expertise and the social interactions for learning involved in all these variants do show a strong similarity.

Ollie Bray’s Guitar Hero Transition Project at Mussleborough Grammar School in Scotland is another outstanding example of social interaction and learning around technology.


Now this ability to pull code together and the social interactions around it, with people of differing abilities and tastes, are some of the things I think are on the level of “highly interesting” on my radar when it comes to how learning could progress if we were more in control of the tools we need to disaggregate and reform media through and for learning. How we learn through the contexts of collaboration, co-operation, co-construction and multi-agency partnerships is something I am extremely interested in.

Mozilla’s work with youth groups in the Oakland / Bay Area of the US to do with film, interactivity and HTML5 is chronicled here by Ben Moskovitz and is very interesting. Mozilla is working with groups like The Factory, Zero Divide Foundation and Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC). Now they are in London for the Mozilla Festival. This is taking the ideas protoyped in the bay area and New York and grafting them onto London.

I talked with Michelle Thorne, the Global Events Strategist at the pre-festival Meetup in a London pub about some of the thinking behind Mozilla’s strategy in this area:


As you can see the ideas are very similar to those I have been outlining and giving exemplars for in this blog. The Knight-Mozilla Drumbeat Mojo project co-opts organisations like the BBC and the Guardian, amongst others, to put real paid intern posts into their organisations and use some of the techniques outlined in the blog to transform the way journalists work.

Why don’t we do the same for schools and teachers?

I would put forward the notion that we need to reconfigure how we do things in our planning, our curricula, our outreach and our delivery and it involves multi-partnership and more community involvement – it involves vision of how we do things not what. It will involve fostering an entrepreneurial mindset, a more agile teaching force – not training because those skills will be deprecated and the “trainees” will be dependent on what they train rather then the reflection about what they do and how they can adapt it creatively in education. The whole system needs shaking up.


Last night I went to the Codingforkids meetup at the Guardian and there were quite a number of people there from a variety of backgrounds. I interviewed about 5 people on the reasons why people felt they had to meet to discuss the idea of coding for younger students in this way. Here were some of the responses:






I guess I’ll still leave the final word to Seymour Papert:

Still to be continued …

Posted on by leoncych in #saveTTV, Adult Learning, advisory, blogging, Continual Professional Development, CPD, Curriculum, Digital Divide, Digital Literacy, Digital Media, distributed networking, Educational Change, informal learning, Learning Tools, mediascapes, Mediated Reality, metaverse, mobile learning, teachmeet

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