The first TalentLab session: Living Experiments - I

Some days ago we held the first session of the workshop “Living Experiments“, part of the TalentLab project. It took place at the Agrigenomics Research Center, (CRAG, CSIC-IRTA-UAB) a research center of CSIC, the Spanish Sperior Council for Research. The session’s design included an intense working dimension. But, first, to warm up, we started with a visit to the CRAG premises. It was led by CRAG researcher Ana Caño who provided very interesting explanations. It was during the visit to the CRAG greenhouses that the participants in the workshop (researchers and school teachers) started to show their interest in the questions that the session was meant to revolve around.

Starting from these interests, as we had planned, we moved on to get to work in one of the CRAG work rooms. Irene Lapuente from la Mandarina de Newton S.L -CoCreating Cultures- started by explaining the structure of the workshop to the participants. In no time everyone was hard at work!

They organized themselves into three groups. By using different techniques, we facilitated different discussions within each group and a general one as well. Step by step, the attendees become more familiar with co-creation processes.

The first activity, to spark inspiration, started generic discussions about the relationship between science, education and society. The first group remarked the role of the different fears (fear to change in general, of nuclear power, of trangenics) in understanding the relationship between science and society. The second emphasized the role played by the media and educators in creating a predominant image of the animal kingdom in the collective imagination (making plants and vegetables much less prominent in comparison). Finally, the third group picked the goals of improving quality of life and general well-being as an important guiding princple for scientific research which, however, operates under anthropocentric premises.

After this, a more exploratory activity started. Participants were asked to identify challenges for education in the mid-long term (2030). There were significant coincidences between the three groups. All of them gave a key predominant role to the energetic challenge. There were specific contributions and variations on this subject. The first group projected a significant geopolitical shift, motivated by China becoming a global superpower. The second group anticipated a positive twist in the social consideration of researchers and school teachers. The last group envisaged an intensification of conflicts related to natural resources, specially water.

The participants defined the profiles of the users of the educative resources that will eventually be the result of the Talentlab project. They resorted to their own experiences or their imagination to depict the main traits of these future users. They were described as people familiar with new technologies -although they did not necessarily knew them in depth- who had low motivation, were skeptical about everything and had little confidence in their own abilities.

The last activity consisted in building an affinity diagram from elements that had emerged from the previous activities. The first group ideated an activity for the classroom about energy using participatory methodologies. The second group created an experiemental activity that should help in creating a direct relationship between researchers and students. The third group proposed to create a graphic adventure about energy.

All along the session the atmosphere was relaxed and favourable for working. Participants were able to move from very general discussions to a first levell of workable detail. From now until the next session (novembet 2nd) the groups have engaged themselves in an imternal documentation activity that is taking place online.

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Laura Valls. Unitat de Cultura Científica Delegació del CSIC
Irene Lapuente. Co-Creating Cultures/La Mandarina de Newton SL
Ramon Sangüesa. Co-Creating Cultures/La Mandarina de Newton SL
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TalentLab, a co-creation project with teachers and researchers

Talentlab is a project where the main focus is to co-design online educational resources for the classroom

The project is based on co-creation workshops that explore life sciences, environmental chemistry, earth sciences and artificial intelligence concepts. The registration period is now open!

CSIC, through its Science Culture Unit in Catalonia and some of the CSIC research centers, and la Mandarina de Newton SL, have set up TalentLab, a project conceived as a co-creation laboratory of online educational resources for the classroom.

TalentLab mixes professionals from the scientific and educational community in order to add ideas, efforts, abilities and talents, and co-design science education resources. It is aimed at teachers of upper primary, secondary, further education and vocational training.

Workshops
TalentLab foresees the completion of four workshops, each of two sessions each of it, on different scientific disciplines. The registration period for these workshops is already open. You can register through the project website: http://talentlab.csic.es.

The first workshop takes place on October 19th. It is called Living Experiments and it will take place at the Genomics Research Center (CSIC-IRTA-UAB). This workshop goes around the theme of model organisms, or laboratory organism. During the workshop, which will continue in a second session on November 2nd, we work in groups in order to co-design an online educational resource.

Following the same structure we have organized three more workshops: React with the Environment is based on chemistry and environmental issues. Its is going to be held at the Institute of Environmental Assessment and Water Research (CSIC), on the 23rd and  the 30th of November. Hearing the Earth is about the dynamics of the Earth. It will be held in the Ebro Observatory (CSIC-URL) on the 25th of January and the 8th of February 2012. The last workshop is Around Intelligent Machines. It deals with research on artificial intelligence and it will be held at the Institute of Artificial Intelligence Research (CSIC), on the 7th and the 21st of March 2012.

Educational resources resulting from these four workshops will have been co-created by members of the science research and the education community. The idea is to produce high quality products that satisfy both researchers and teachers.

TalentLab is an innovative project that aims to generate debate, dialogue and innovative products in order to foster scientific creativity in young people. It is an initiative of the Culture Unit of the Scientific CSIC Delegation in Catalonia, in collaboration with various research institutes of the CSIC in Catalonia and la Mandarina de Newton SL. It si financed by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and has the support of the Educational Coordinating Council of the Municipal Institute of Education of the City Council.

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Products and processes open to participation


Products vs processes

A product can be any object that can be offered in a market and that satisfies a wish or a need of a given consumer. Products can be understood as industrial products, that is, the results of a process of fabrication. But we cannot take for granted that products are physical objects. Products can haven a very ethereal reality: a touristic route, a massage, a show, a lesson, and advice…

On the other hand, processes are sets of operations, reactions, calculations or the steps that are needed to change some given initial features. What is relevant for a process is its ability to induce change or transformation.

We live with products and processes every day in a very natural fashion. Creating a product requires a process. The realization of a process ends up with the development of products. A process can be a product. This is not a problem, in principle. If times were not changing as they are, we wouldn’t event bother to talk about products and processes. Where do dissonnaces occur?. Let’s go step by step. Let’s try to unveil the mistery of the process of writing this blog entry, which is our final product.

Processing dissonances.

The word “process” became very important during the second half of the XXth century, very probably because of cibernetics, computation and systems theory. For a long time, our focus was set on the results of our actions. We lived in “product times”. Cibernetics, computation and systems theory made visible the difficulties of programming changes and transformations. In doing so, they suggested the need to be more attentive to processes. We live in “days of processes” but products are still on the market!. What has changed?

Nowadays we don’t only give value to results but also to the path followed towards this result. In fact, we have learnt to see these paths, when, in the past, we usually forgot about them. With this learning also we have been made conscious of the fact that, although the focus is on the process (enjoy, have experiences, etc.), we still put it on the product (clothes, books, swimming pools and many other surrounding objects). In other words, even if most processes and products live together in harmony, most of the times one is more relevant than the other. This difference can have important consequences.

The XXth Century: the century of openness!

If the XXth century has brought us processes, it also has brought open processes of interaction, participation and co-creation. Increasingly, more initiatives pop up that invite citizens to start collaborating with each other. We live days of “co-”: “co-creation”, “co-production”, “co-ownership”, “co-working”. The “co-” philosophy has wonderful facets and, I think, it represents a general positive trend in humanity. But it also has important dangers.

What happens when we open a process where the important part, the focus of action, is the process itself? What happens when we open a process where the most relevant part is the resulting product? And what happens when we open to participation an action whose result will be beneficious to humanity in general but there is a chance, however slight, that the result of the participatory process developed ends up in the hands of just a few?

Let’s take the case where we open up a learning process where the most important thing is that a given group, that is invited to participate, obtains new knowldge. If we start this process and we think that participation will result in greater, deeper learning, openness is justified by our goals. It is a well-known fact of learning, that teaching is learning twice. If, for a student to better acquire knolwedge about, say, fractions it is more interesting that we invite him or her to shoot a video about fractions than submitting the student to a long-winding lecture about mathematics, let’s do it!. In this case, the product, a videoclip, will be interesting, but the focus will be clearly on the process. We’d like the student to behave independently, perform information research, analysis, and process. Finally the student organizes this information as a video script, learning in the process how to translate it into the language of images. Eventually the student will be able to observe the result and even evaluate it!

If what we open, on the other hand, is the creative process leading to a new advertising campaign, with the only goal of developing a business strategy that will attract more consumers, then we, again, have a very effective method, but we don’t have a justified openness. In this case we are just lowering costs and improving efficiency. The focus is on the result, the product, but not on the process. Let’s add that if this process is presented to the public straightforwardly in its real terms and the public still wants to participat, because they feel that they will be compensated in some other way, then let’s welcome this initiative too!. Eventually, everything is an interchange. The important thing is that all sides feel compensated. Personally, I am not that confortable with participatory processes that just focus on the product.

The biggest difficulties arise when things are not white, nor black but grey!

In “twilight zones” difficulties pose even bigger challenges. Sometimes the focus is on the product but it has a positive impact on humanity. Take for example the cure for a disease o the creation of a given content. It is difficult not to agree that for these goals, the more people that gets involved, the more we open the process, the better. I am the first to be in favour of openness. I’d like to put as an example of success, a product such as Wikipedia. But I also want to flip the coin and look at its other face. In this case, The Huffington Post. All people who devote effort to create participatory processes or who contribute to collective benefits through group collaboration, have the right to attribute themselves the merit of the ideation and realization of the process but they wouldn’t be allowed let the benefits be enjoyed by a small and closed group nor allow them to exclusively enrich themselves from the co-created results. If a group develops together something to go forward together, this is something that has to be a progress for all the group not for just some part of it!

These reflections make me think that is important to understand what process are, what products are, where we put the focus of our actions, which are our goals and what is the return for the involved people, both those who created participatory processes and those who participate in these processes. It is vital that we analyze each case in turn. Not only because I believe that these processes should created collective benefits but because if we don’t understand the difference between product and process we will miss the advantages of opening up. I just want to end by bringing these considerations to the world of museums. What is more important for a museum: to have objects, collections and exhibitions or to promote culture and induce social change? Does this correspond to a product or a process? Can we all benefit from these paradigm changes?

Products_and_processes_open_to_participation_Pdf

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Credits of photographies:
- Rowdy Kittens
- Seychelles 88 
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