About EdLab

I’ve started work as a Educational Innovation and Enterprise tutor at the MMU edLab. The main part of my role is setting up educational opportunities with informal education projects. Here’s a little about the new edLab project and the presentation I did to apply for the job.

About EdLab

Our core aim is to create and support activities involving our students and their local and regional communities. We recognise the potential for ‘gentle partnership’ – where knowledge generation and exchange is decentralised, rather than offering services or favours.

We see particular value in operating in informal spaces to add to the experiences of learners, youth and community. To make such community work sustainable, we will make it part of our normal activities – and not just voluntary or one off projects. There is a danger that the areas of community/public engagement and student experience can tend to be siloed. We don’t think these areas need to be separate.

EdLab outreach projects will work with the Department of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies to create strong connections to the MMU’s central policy to enhance employability, employment and enterprise (E3).

These kinds of projects will be a way for our students to build their distinctiveness and experience of innovation as future employees within the education sector. To support this, we will integrate these experiences into the delivery and assessment of units.

EdLab projects are a great way to explore new areas of innovation in the areas of learning, teaching and educational provision. In doing this we’ll find out more about the ways in which ‘flat’ collaborations operate to produce innovation. MMU students will offer crucial support experimenting and documenting this projects and MMU staff will seek to add their experience to the project’s outcomes.

Four Core Principles

The activity that we intend to develop will be underpinned by an aspiration towards four key qualities:

  • Collaboration: We will work in partnership with education providers, social enterprises and charities around our locality and across the region. At the MMU we will bring students from distinct subject disciplines across the university’s faculties to work with those from Education. We are also forming a loose but stable network of academics involved in student experience, research and community engagement within and across faculties.
  • Participation. The projects involve different people and organisations working together to solve particular problems, or to produce or take advantage of opportunities, to do good things. Our students aren’t just volunteers, they are contributors to activities. We should avoid the language of ‘placements’ and think of our students as a useful resource.
  • Cogeneration. Taking part in collaborative open-spaces is a way of creating knowledge and understanding. The best way to learn about new processes is to be involved. The projects are structured to maximise new knowledge and create ways to distribute it. They form part of our students’ programmes of learning, of a status equal to any formal learning.  We’ll communicate the outputs of projects in ways which make sense both to the academy and to the general public.
  • Agility. Large institutions can be slow-moving, particularly in their need to over-plan activity, and pre-empt all problems and complexity. One of the approaches of EdLab is that as long as we are doing activities, innovation and understanding will ‘fall out’. We use principles of agile management to help this happen. An agile approach is all about ‘doing’ something, evaluating how it went and ‘iterating’ it (doing it again). We think this approach is a good way to create projects together with community partners where we work together on an equal basis, under flat power structures where all partners have a say from the start to finish of projects. This also means that we can work out interesting directions together.

My Application for the post

I’m excited about the project outlined in the visioning document and how the Educational Innovation and Enterprise Tutor post supports it.  It seems a fantastic way to bring employability skills into the student experience. This is a good location for it. There’s a great diversity of groups in surrounding areas, loads of informal education happening and lots of opportunities for student-led projects to make a real impact.

I’ve arranged the presentation using the four key principles of the project’s visioning document to propose some links with skills and other learning from my previous projects.

  • Collaboration: Collaborative and interdisciplinary writing of manuals and course materials specifically the project FLOSS Manuals.
  • Participation: Reflections on setting up People’s Voice Media in Salford and the complex multi partner work and work with students and diverse volunteers
  • Agility: Innovative and adaptive planning of the Hulme based Green Zone project
  • Cogeneration: Recent work with JISC with cocreating a resource on Digital Storytelling

Collaboration – FLOSS Manuals, collaborative documentation and community building

I feel documenting both the project work and innovative processes used on the programme is vital. Why not set up online, collaborative ways of doing this be it for video, photographs or collaborative writing?

I would invite you to use me to do training on the use of the software and the facilitation of intensive writing sprints. This could promote interdisciplinary knowledge exchange and generation to support the enterprise teaching strands and contents of the enrichment programme.

This process could be a way for the contents of formal employability and the enrichment programme to be directed by those team involved in their delivery . Getting ‘buy in’ for a new programme is key to an enthusiastic roll out.

In terms of integration with formal curriculum there are several candidates that seem suitable from previous courses structures. Policy, Practice and the Professional, Informal Education with Young People and Communities, and participation, reflective practice and research based elements. In previous courses these were in the second year and that seems appropriate timing.

Later, work with students to document and reflect on their involvement through collaborative writings which could inform future iterations of the project work. Outputs could be used as a basis for assessment.

This kind of rapid collaborative production is a great way to convince funders to support events convening national and international partners.

 

Participation – Reflections from People’s Voice Media

The process of setting up a media centre in Salford involved working on a community level as part of a regeneration programme. We worked with students and volunteers to facilitate the uptake of social media and low cost media production for a network of community groups and small businesses.

 

There were some key issues and learning that also apply to partnership work of this post:

  • Different partners have different priorities. Have clear offers for the different partners and organise around different strands or hubs of activity. Communicate what is in it for partners without us having to do too much juggling ourselves.
  • Maintain a good understanding of reciprocity when working with community groups who are established and have worked hard to get a sense of autonomy.
  • Communicate to students that the business and community activities are fun and rewarding but they also really build skills surrounding partnership work. Real projects with real people, can be scary but it’s worth it and we can support them.
  • Use media creation, written documentation or other generative tasks as key motivational factor for students and external groups. Be flexible. Use pilot projects, SMART objectives and different levels of participation.

Agility – Green Zone Hulme Community Development

The Hulme based, Green Zone project grew out of resident run projects including the Leaf Street Community garden and housing association City South Manchester.

In this one year project resident board members wanted to approach each area of development consultation with small pilot projects. Using focus groups and feedback from events we grew and adapted our activities. As an example, while the garden centre proposed two 20 week, accredited horticulture courses this more formal approach was not appropriate. After consultation with the community, the events targeted master classes for maintaining existing fruit trees and bushes, urban gardening in small spaces and permaculture design.

This iterative, agile approach gave us the ability to tailor our work to the different needs of the project participants in ways which can be applied to help meet the needs of a diverse body of students.

  • Offer many different levels of participation starting with casual day-by-day involvement in events to escalating to giving significant support and mentoring for longer term projects.
  • Don’t assume all students have similar interests or that they will be attracted to or prepared to embrace existing planned activities. Run consultation events and get regular feedback to see where your strong areas and gaps are.
  • For promising projects and individuals arrange training to access additional resources and funding for innovative project work and research.

Co-generation – Sunseed – Recognising Invisible Learning

I’m an ex-board member and continue to be a mentor for the Sunseed Desert Technology project. The photos of the work they do speak volumes. However, there are lots of less visible personal and communication skills that the project really brings out of volunteers. I have been working with the project to help visualise this skills and promote them at the heart of their learning maps.

Co-generation – Hybrid approaches to Educational Technology

The innovation happening in possibilities of online educational delivery are really interesting to me. I have done some experiments with online and hybrid approaches to education delivery. This involves creating several courses accredited with Open Badges done on behalf of FLOSS manuals in partnership with the Peer2Peer University and Creative Commons’ School of Open. Because of this interest, I applied and was a prize winner for the 2014 Jisc Summer of Student Innovation.

My project was the co-creation of a technically innovative hub for materials surrounding Digital Storytelling. The pilot group was a Community Arts North West course called Artists Do-IT. The process of designing the layout and taxonomy of a learning resource repository was used as a catalyst for a rich exchange of practice and experience between tutors and students.

Most recently I’ve been working with projects linked to the subject matter of my Computing Masters and PGCE. I’m interested in ways of adapting innovative platforms and adapting content to student interests including gamification. I believe this is key to creating effective and engaging resources that can motivate young people.

The process of working with JISC and similar partners has given me a good insight into interesting processes for encouraging innovation in Education Technology. I can bring these to advance the work of this part of the programme.

I would be keen for us to work with MMU departments regarding the challenge of bringing together the best of online resources, peer study groups and real life teaching, mentoring and other interventions. For University, the goal has to be making sure all contact time is used tactically.

However, Let’s not forget our heritage of co-operative education and how this can contribute to new opportunities provided by global online communities.

Summary

While there are very diverse elements and principles in the presentation I know that with the right team these different elements can pull together to create a very rich set of experiences for students related to employment and innovation in education.

I have aimed to make this an engaging presentation which references fun processes and people. I hope this shows how I would go about enthusing and recruiting members of the student body.

I also hope that previous work can be used as an asset. In some cases directly. An example of this is that I’ve contributed to may toolkits written with open licences which allows very rapid repurposing of existing educational materials.