UTC reviews One Great Workshop & the cloud-question photo booth

Renata Tyszczuk

Today Renata, Charlotte and I returned to the Sheffield University Technical College to meet with some of the students who took part in the One Great Workshop event at Bloc Projects which we held as part of the AHRC Connected Communities Festival and Sheffield Design Week. Alex Parry, Ben Twigg, Rueben Clark, Jack Mitson, Ruby Woodhouse and their tutor, Sam Booth joined us to review the event, and discuss their ideas for how it might evolve in its next iteration.

The students spoke eloquently about the format of the Workshop, reflecting on the kind of learning it allowed. Rueben told us that the photobooth set up a situation where they took an active role, learning new skills, and working together to contribute to the production of the outcomes.

Alex said that the visual approach allowed him to think differently about energy and his relation to it,

“Working visually, my question was ‘How important is energy?’ and holding the cloud and the question in front of me- to say- its more important than me- we don’t really think about how important it is, how it affects a greater number of people than just ourselves- I could use the visual to engage in this- ‘I’m not the only thing in the picture’”

Ben told us that the discussion between them as they were taking photos of one another sparked new ideas… He wanted to know how energy will affect his future- and this wasn’t just a question posed to universities and power companies- but a free question- to anyone who might want to answer it… He didn’t feel it was just for those considered ‘experts’ to answer…

Jack challenged us to get the questions he and his course mates had posed answered by the institutions and people which they had directed them towards. His question was about what new forms of renewable energy might be on their way should be directed to the Power Companies, such as the massive German owned RWE, which supplies 1/3rd of the UK’s power – “I live in Derbyshire, and there are loads of wind farms, but a lot of the time they aren’t very productive and they don’t work every day…” His scenario mapping had included sites of old mines that could be found underfoot…

Ruby recalled the inventor Tesla and his battle with Edison. Her cloud question was prompted by his proposals for the Tesla Tower, where the method of sharing wireless energy knew no bounds therefore could not be enclosed… In her work with the photographer Tim Mitchell she asked ‘Why couldn’t Tesla make energy free?”- She lamented that this opportunity was not taken… “If energy was free less developed countries would get more out of it, the wouldn’t have to worry about heat and light’. For her One Great Workshop had led her to think about energy in relation to social and ethical questions and our interdependency with other people. Other students questioned whether free energy would be ‘taken advantage of’ and how it could be produced for free… Opinion was divided as to whether it was big companies we had to worry about in this respect or individuals not willing to pay.

Tutor of Engineering and Manufacturing Sam Booth told us his question was about energising students… and how this might change. He said that the session was interesting to him because he had not ‘prepped’ the students and it was fascinating to hear their thoughtful reflections and responses.

We spoke next about the scenario making. Rueben suggested that the open format was really positive because it got the creativity flowing, and he and Jack spoke about the way in which they felt they could get stuff out there and let it flow- so that even if at first it wasn’t relevant, it came back round to being… They suggested that with such a packed and demanding timetable this was refreshing “…usually we work in a much more linear way… it as good learning… it was memorable…”

The students agreed that it worked best for the groups who did the scenarios first and got to think freely and speculate about the topic within the structure of the roles and the map and then they could throw themselves into the cloud booth. They enjoyed the table as a gathering point and Sam told us he was going to do a version of the table in his teaching the following year…

They told us we could improve the sessions by introducing objects (as we had in the Derby version of the games) and by introducing events from the news or politics, and questions of transport and communications, as well as the factories we had visited. They felt that looking more tightly at an area of the city would have been effective too.

Thinking about the way in which 3-D printing would evolve, the students speculated on how this would change energy use- with much of the printing happening within a domestic rather than industrial setting and probably having an impact on how it was supplied, but also on energy use for transport, communications, keeping shops open… they were concerned about the impact on our social relations and the decline in face to face contact and the closeness of communities…

Alex felt the day had given him a space to reflect on the future- ‘it isn’t something you usually do’… Rueben told us about how energy was part of every aspect of their education- but this wasn’t always explicit… In thinking about the costs of what you make, the way it would be powered… the possibilities for reuse and recycling… Sam and Renata wondered if our learning from the session was that we should try to change the curriculum to make energy more explicit…

Ruby argued there was a need for a greater part of their education to be concerned with sustainability and how what we do impacts the world, and more focus on how we can change it… This provoked thoughtful remarks from Jack and Alex into the nature of democracy and people’s power… “a vote isn’t enough… we need to be able to think about what we need as society… power needs to be more equally distributed…”

The students felt that people know the facts about energy and climate change but don’t really care… and felt this conversation needs to be held in such a way that people can listen and understand… they thought that energy should be more public… but how could they do this with companies being so greedy? How can we be made to feel related to the impact our choices have- when they seem so remote?

I was struck by the thoughtful nature of their responses, which gave us rich ground for further research, and sparked off ideas for how we might approach future sessions… Renata and I felt that we could have spent even longer with the UTC students and arranged with Sam to repeat the sessions next year. We would love to encourage the students to run their own session next year- and perhaps we could bring along people who may be able to answer some of their questions… or at least be challenged by the students’ questions to do more thinking themselves…

Read more about what they got up to, and learn about the other events held as part of One Great Workshop Connected Communities Festival on this website:

http://onegreatworkshop.co.uk/

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