Follow-up to "A Night of Learning Exchanges"

fractalexplorer's picture
A Night of Learning Exchanges at Knox Makers

Thanks to everyone who showed up Tuesday night for "A Night of Learning Exchanges." If there is more interest in this type of event, maybe we can toss around things we liked and didn't like about the experiment in creative learning and fashion something even better or try something completely different but in the same vein.
This workshop was inspired by the free Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) put on by MIT's MediaLab called "Learning Creative Learning (LCL)."
The course has already started, but anyone can jump in and participate at any time. A stated goal is to have the class evolve into a community with alive projects and ongoing discussion even after the course ends.

You can learn more here:
Like LCL, our Tuesday night workshop focused on a few important items: creative learning, peer-based learning, interest-based learning, treating others' learning processes and interests as sacred, and the value of shared creative learning spaces.
I hope everyone had a fun time, found themselves in a friendly and welcoming casual learning experiment, found their own interests to be encouraged and welcome at the space, and walked away with something to show for it (new friends, new ideas, new projects, new perspectives, etc.)
This post is a follow-up, and I will recap our evening. I would also like to offer resources so that others can duplicate this experiment in full or their own modified version. I have compiled resources so this can be reproduced or remixed for a digital environment such as a MOOC, a physical environment with technology as a tool such as Knox Makers, or a physical environment that has taken a step away from technology or has barriers to access. Feel free to print out, remix, or otherwise use our workshop for your own experiment with friends and other peers!
As LCL suggests, we focused on peer-based and interest-based learning. Expertise is welcome in this experiment, but not necessary. I started off our workshop by emphasizing it was not a competition, there was no real way to fail as long as everyone was respectful, and the event would be considered a success if I did not nervously vomit on my computer and everyone at the event.
LCL's week 4 learning exchange activity for their courseweek titled "Peers" focuses more on spending a focused amount of time and effort with others around a single project, challenge, workshop, or other learning event with peers. I went a different direction because that's what we do every Tuesday night already at Knox Makers. This was a lighthearted adaption of LCL week 4's activity and an experiment in applying MOOC activities to fit custom needs.
My goals were to give participants a chance to loosen up, warm up, break the ice with others, laugh a little, see how exciting and diverse a variety of interests can be even in a small group, see how we can easily network our individual interests into larger collaborative projects,  and reflect on the creative learning process especially when centric to individual interests among peers.
We started with a brief intro and a short video explaining the LCL week 3 activity video. I explained the week 4 activity, and segued into why I wanted to experiment with a variation.
We then began with some warm-up projects. I had a custom program in Scratch running on our HD TV to help explain the exercises and evening, and am including screenshots. Please also see the list of CC-BY resources at the end of this blogpost.
We started the night off in teams of two and continued in those same teams throughout the night.
Warm-Up I: Deconstructed

Our first warm-up exercise (pictured above) asked each team member to quietly think of a project, workshop, demo, or other event that they would like to see at a creative learning space such as Knox Makers. Participants were given a brief time limit to come up with their idea based on their interests, and all ideas were encouraged. Participants were informed they did not have to have the expertise or resources they might attribute to their idea, and ideas could even be silly. Before a time limit, they were each asked to deconstruct their idea using simple phrases and words.
The idea is that the deconstructed list could frame out some important tools, materials, techniques, and considerations without actually saying what their idea is.
We got an exciting sample of different types of lists. Some people focused on physical items like components and tools. Others focused on processes. Some lists were short, some were long.
This was a segue into our second warm-up exercise (not pictured, see resources), where participants were asked to silently trade their list with their partner.
Warm-Up II: Reconstructed
This second exercise asked participants to attempt to reconstruct their partner's idea based on the list alone. Teams were encouraged to ask and answer basic questions (such as "What is a PIR sensor?") without giving away too much. Everyone was encouraged to try guessing their partner's idea or to come up with a new idea, whichever was more comfortable to think about.
We then tied this into our third warm-up (see resources).
Warm-Up III: New Ideas
In this quick warm-up, participants were invited to assume the reconstructed idea they came up with based on their partner's list was exactly what their partner was talking about. Participants were encouraged to take turns spitting out rapidfire thoughts stream-of-consciousness style about feedback, modifications, important considerations, and ways they could help add value to the teammate's idea. I emphasized that it is entirely possible that the reconstructed idea might be entirely different than the original idea but to pretend as if the reconstructed idea were accurate. I also emphasized to be vague and simple with feedback without clearly identifying what the reconstructed idea was. A goal here was to explore new directions even if the two ideas were about entirely different things.
We wrapped up our warm-ups by inviting teams to share original and reconstructed ideas with each other.

Warm-Up IV: Wrap-up
We wrapped up with each team sharing their original and reconstructed ideas, any reflections on the experiment in feedback, and other topics. We had a short discussion before moving on to the main event of the evening. Here is a list of some of the original ideas and reconstructed ideas for new build projects, workshops, demos, and other events that our participants want to see at a creative learning space:


Intro to RaspPi/Arduino + build project to control wheeled platform sensor bot

Lifecasting with molds

How to make molds to cast material designs

How to safely make glow in the dark hair

How to gauge the effects of proper hair care on bioluminescent organisms

Game design workshop

Game dev workshop

Game hardware design workshop

Blender workshop

Home automation workshop

Supercooker for your car project build

Sushi-making workshop

Workshop on sushi-making with a focus on presentation techniques

Project for water controlling sound to make a music video

Interactive music video project

Squishy circuits workshop

Project build for a motorcycle bakery that caters to musicians/artists

Workshop on bioluminescent-filled objects

Project for vaccine fabrication using molecular 3d printing

How to build a spybot workshop

Project for open Internet access from wearable technology hotspots

Wine-making workshop

Project for DIY-style long range automated multicopters using GPS

Project for a musical robot that uses GPS to generate music

Cheap thermal camera demo and workshop

TV-B-Gone glove project build

Virtual reality sensor project

Home security sensor project
An example of feedback is that my partner's original idea was for a project involving DIY long range automated multicopters that use GPS. Based on his list, I came up with an idea for a musical traveling robot that generates unique music based on GPS. I offered simple, vague feedback such as "use GPS for different outputs." Although I had a musical robot in mind, my partner came up with unique new directions to think about his multicopter project such as storing GPS data to log traveled paths. We were also able to get a glimpse into each other's interests and thought processes.
This was a segue to our main event, where we took more time to engage in learning exchanges with our partners.
Main Event I: Decide
In the first part of our event, I invited each team to get to know each other a little more and find out about their teammates' interests. The goal with this portion of the main event was to identify what each teammate would be teaching (in large part determined by their teammate's interests). Participants were encouraged to help orient their teammate even if they themselves were not an expert. We emphasized this was not about expertise, but about peer-learning based on shared interests. The idea was to open up a learning swap for part III where teammates would take turns teaching each other.
This led to part II of our main event.
Here is a list of some topics we looked at:





miracle fruit




motion alarm


3D scanners


squishy circuits

music theory



3D printing



linguistics/foreign languages

Main Event II: Announce
Each team was asked to briefly share what they would be learning about. This let some teams finish up. It also gave us a better sense of the variety of interests and learning experiences going on simultaneously. As a secret side effect, it also gave me a chance to log the different topics along with my other notes so that I could later update my Scratch program with everyone's interests for our bonus exercise.
Main Event III:

Teams were invited to engage in the main learning exchange (example pictured above). After deciding which teammate goes first, a team's first peer teacher offered more information such as summaries, techniques, history, and more resources. Then we called a switch where topics were changed, students became teachers, and teachers became students. We emphasized offering resources like online communities and resources, and that expertise was not required. We focused on interest, respect, and willingness to change course based on questions as well as openly admit "I don't know."
The room became alive. One group went to actually assemble a Squishy Circuits contraption with blinkenlights while another group made use of the whiteboard and dry-erase markers to learn about finding the elusive "H" note for piano music theory (hint: look at B and Bb for more info).
We then broke off from our main event with a short break for reflection before getting into our lighthearted bonus exercise.
Bonus Event: Pick

Our bonus event involved a silly, lighthearted, creative exercise designed to reinforce the power of teamwork over shared interests with peers. This used a custom project I made in Scratch and the MaKey MaKey.
I entered in various topics and interest shared from the night and had it set up so that each team used a random idea generator to select two topics. I had planned to use tactile buttons to let each team select their random topics game show style. However, my MaKey MaKey soldering job failed us, so I went with a back-up plan of just pressing the controls on the keyboard. Each teammate was shown a topic on the screen and asked to adopt the topic or try for a new random topic. The catch was that each teammate could only press their button three times, meaning a total of four topics to choose from. Some risk was involved because there was no guarantee what topic would show next, and the topic shown after the third button press was the topic they get.
Some participants stayed with their early choices, some opted to change it up by shouting out "hit me!" and one of our participants wanted to automatically go with whatever the program would choose as her last option. At the end, each team should have two topics, one for each teammate (such as "horseback riding" + "music production").
Bonus Event II: Brainstorm

Our bonus session ended by asking teams to get together based on their selected topics and any shared interests to collaborate a new and unique idea together in the same spirit of our warm-up exercises. The goal was to end up with an idea for a project, workshop, or other event for a creative learning space like Knox Makers.
We got some very interesting results. Below is a list of ideas that came up.


Leatherwork + WiFi = belt access point, belt 4G hotspot, leatherbound router holster, steampunk costumes



Microbiology + WiFi = crowdsource health info w/ heatmaps + big data + scan for issues at airports



Miracle fruit + lemonade = try to reproduce the taste of lemonade without lemons, gross recipe cooking showdown where combinations of foods normally considered gross are used with miracle fruit to recreate otherwise tasty dishes



Drawing + Python = use Python to convert images Etch-a-Sketch style using a drawing bot



Motion alarm + WiFi = not there, no share.. WiFi that cuts off when you aren't home or are sleeping



Cake + 3D scanners = scan cakes, load cakes that print icing



Multicopter + Squishy Circuits = Squishy Circuits that help better facilitate charging pads for multicopters, a muticopter that plops out Squishy Circuit creations like a hovering 3D printer



Finally, we wrapped up with reflections and discussions before opening up the space to free play and free social time.



The room seemed full of positive and creative energy, and we seemed to hit on a relaxed atmosphere that helped people feel comfortable with their interests and peers. We also got some great ideas for future workshops and builds, and new friends were made. Overall, I consider the evening a success in experimentation as 1. I learned a lot about how to do future events better and 2. I did not vomit on everyone.



Some reflections:

  • I need to speak louder. Unfortunately, one of our teams did not hear the call to switch topics. For that team, instead of a learning exchange, it was a different learning experience.
  • I included a handout for notes and to write down the initial deconstructed list. I also included a section for feedback. We found out more about guests that are interested in joining our space, got some good contact info for interested participants, and one person wrote that the experience made them feel less out-of-place.
  • I had planned on the event taking one hour, but we got carried away and it spilled over quite a bit. I will want to approach my planning better for time limitations.
  • I was not ostracized and pelted with tomatoes due to not being an expert and my experiment was welcomed. Others seemed to express interest and confidence in trying their own workshop facilitation.
  • I would like to reflect on how to simplify this workshop a little and bring more clarity to exercise instructions. Visual aides seemed to help, and I planned ahead of time with speaker's notes. However, it could have gone smoother.
  • At the beginning, one team asked if they could have three people since we had an odd number of participants. I expressed a willingness to deviate from my plans, but may have not been clear enough that it was OK. I may have presented myself as an obstacle to a completely different experiment. I will want to do more "planning for spontaneity" to be able to improvise spontaneous deviations from my planning for a future workshop.

All resources can be found in my Scratch project:
You can also view or download this PDF Instructable with quick, simple instructions:
Feel free to adapt this project as you like, change up the exercises, add new topics, etc. For offline mode without computers, consider using a system like pulling topics out of a hat to substitute the random idea generator.
To add new topics to the random idea generator, simply remix the project and add new text costumes for sprites 6 and 7 using the template. Then, center the text so it shows correctly when displayed. Finally, change the scripts for sprites 6 and 7 so that they randomly select between costume 2 and the last costume you have added in. Enjoy!


an afterthought..

fractalexplorer's picture

As a final thought on this from me to you and yours, consider this..

If we can have fun, learn something, and come up with awesome new ideas over random topics that are thrown at us..

And if we can think in new directions and expand our own dreams even when we are talking about entirely different things..

Imagine what we can do when we band together over common ground and shared passions, after taking time to learn one another's perspective.