Learning to learn Scratch

This week Gabriel and I have been co-teaching a course called Learning to learn Scratch. The class is made up of 20 kids from a local 3rd grade. The kids use a puzzle piece method to create small games in two class sessions, and on Monday they will present their work in the new part of the lab on 10 big screens in front of their family, friends and the local media.

The kids have worked great together and despite the gorgeous weather, we have had trouble getting them outside to take breaks and play tag in the sun.


Gabriel and I have had high hopes for this class. Our pedagogical goal has been to model ways of solving problems that integrate analog, digital, and cognitive skill sets. Gabriel has taught similar courses many times, but this has been my first time so I thought I would take a few minutes to sit down and reflect a bit on the experience.

The first day the kids and I went through a three hour tutorial where we made a princess and firefly game. It was both complex and simple and I thought, ‘Wow! How are the kids EVER going to remember this!!’. I voiced this to Gabriel, but he smiled and assured me that the kids retain more than they even think they did. And after watching them begin on their own games yesterday, I see that he was right. Fairly complex scripts that have some characters wait while others complete a task, backgrounds that switch or that whip characters through portals are just a few of the things the kids were able to do after very little prompting. I am so impressed at their abilities after just ONE tutorial.


The media has also been quite interested in our little class. We have had the visits from both the local newspapers, a tv crew and a radio guy. And I was a bit surprised on the questions they chose to focus on. You could almost say that they were very ‘moral panic’ focused (should talk with Simon about this at some point). In the class you see here, only two girls were signed up. They made a hamster game while one group of boys made a war game. The two other boy groups both made fairly neutral games that involved chases and fantasy beings. Rather than looking at all the games, the hamster and war game were set against each other in a discourse that was both somewhat gendered and with a focus on ‘computer games=violence’. I think it is an unfair association towards the hard work these kids have put into their games. On the whole, the games were very neutral and fun. Yes, there was one slightly violent game, but the actual game turned out to be fairly tame and also provides an opportunity to discuss issues with your student/child about the themes he or she uses in their game.

You can check out the media coverage in the following links. They should be active for a month from today.

VK (only in paper format. Will scan and link soon)
Local TV news

All in all, the class sees to have been a great success. The kids have been enthusiastic, and the games fun. The real measure of success, however, will be if one or two download the program and continue coding at home. If nothing else, I hope that we have shown them a different view of what they can achieve with a little excitement, a lot of curiosity, and a willingness to learn and try new things.


Open Source Embroidery

Last weekend I went to Ele’s opening of the Open Source Embroidery exhibition at Bildmuseet. It was so wonderfully put together, and the performance by Yusra Warsama, Jason Singh and David Littler was great. If I understand correctly that they mix samples of music, embroidery and stories.

Sampler – Culture Clash brings together the worlds of embroidery and dj-ing through the common word Sampler. David and Jason will present work in progress created over the last 8 months through collaborating with embroiderers, dj’s, beat-boxers, performance poets, filmmakers and curators from the V&A and the Embroiderers’ Guild.

via Chris Joseph’s blog

If you want to check out a small sample of the exhibition, click on the video below. But if you are in the Umeå area, you really should go check out the real thing. Go by and create a running stitch with GPS, or embroider a Sampler Culture Clash chair. The exhibition will be up and running at BildMuseet over the next three months.


Getting ready for /ETC

Stefanie and Karin were working hard today in the lab getting the preparations for the eclectic tech carnival going. I have seen lots of other women in and out of the lab helping and discussing. It looks like it is going to be a really great event!

Here is a little video to show the very beginnings of the set up (I know that the planning has been going on for quite some time).


Talking to teachers about YouTube

Yesterday Simon and I talked to a small group of teachers about the habits of Swedish youth using YouTube and the way that these habits are presented in the media, the historical presentation of new technologies in media, as well as a small presentation of theoretical terms used in this type of research. The talk was very well received, and in preparing for the talk I was able to begin preparing for the talk I will give at AOIR in October.

I think this kind of interaction is so important in research. By having a discussion with teachers, we are pushing our results down a chain of knowledge and hopefully the creators of these videos ,and the knowledge that they bring to a discussion, can be met by the interest and knowledge of their (formalized) teachers in order to create opportunities for using media/technology in classroom settings.

Here are some of the materials we used…
Prezi presentation of YouTube clips
The project website, http://www.yapa.se
The project video

New Style

I am working on a new style for the blog – something new, clean and simple. There have been a few hiccups with browser compatibility, but here is a preview… thoughts, tips, comments?

Bruce Damer and Galen Brandt in HUMlab

[May 18 at 1.15 pm]
Tiny Dancers, Singing Fish, Burning Man: Virtual Worlds, Real Stories
Galen Brandt, DigitalSpace Corporation

[May 18 at 3.15 pm]
Will Bona Fide Life Evolve from within Human Technology (and what are the consequences of this happening)?
Bruce Damer, DigitalSpace Corporation

Bruce and Galen arrived in HUMlab to close the invigning on Thursday, as well as participated in the international symposium on Friday. On a personal note, Bruce and Galen have taken time to get to know us all throughout the course the event and over the events of this weekend and we all have greatly enjoyed their warmth, stimulating conversation, and thoughts on digital culture, art and life. They are an inspiring part of our HUMlab friend network and I feel very privileged to have had the chance to walk along the river with both and talk about everything from shared cultures to baking this weekend. If you have a chance to come to today’s seminars, don’t miss them. And as always, if you can’t be here in person, please join us online. Both talks will be streamed on our streaming page, http://stream.humlab.umu.se/



Ada Lovelace day – empower the women!

Today is Ada Lovelace day all over the world. It is a day that we celebrate excellent women in technology – and I am sure that if you google Ada Lovelace you will find thousands of tales of phenomenal women in blogs and on twitter, and maybe a tribute or two on YouTube. This is wonderful! But it is not how I am going to commemorate Ada Lovelace day. I want to talk about the other side – the darker side of technology that takes power away from women (and men and children too).

I want to start a conversation about the uses of technology in domestic abuse. Using the Internet allows victims of domestic abuse (DV) to reach out to others to get help, plan their escape, or even just to receive information and to inform. But the same technology traps cookies, saves browsing histories and can allow your abuser to stalk you through email (both by reading yours or sending you email) or GPS. In a recent survey of 479 DV victims aged 15-74, 25% of those had their browser history monitored. 24% had been repeatedly threatened, insulted or harassed by email. 18% had their email monitored. Did you see those numbers? At least 1 in 4 victims had technology used against them as a tool to continue abusive patterns.

Why do I bring this up on a day that we celebrate women in technology? Because an overwhelming number of DV victims are women. And an overwhelming number of those are exposed to the affordances of the Internet as a tool of abuse. So my celebration today is more a call to arms. We need strategies for keeping ourselves safe online to percolate through our school, our shelters, our book circles and cafe chats until they become part of the popular knowledge. Not only to protect ourselves from the rare boogey monster lurking in the chat room, but for the much more prevalent threat of the boogey monster in our beds.

For those of our friends in the States, check out The Technology Safety Project developed by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Abuse. They really are doing amazing things at the WSCADV. They get that the answer is not to not use the tools, but to empower the victim to use the tools well.

On Ada Lovelave day, I want to celebrate all women in DV relationships that dare to use technology as a tool towards freedom and as a tool to heal. You rock. Now, share with your friends your strategies for doing it safely.