Mudlarking in Deptford - Futurelab

Mudlarking in Deptford - Futurelab

Mudlarking in DeptfordA new kind of guided tour that empowers 11-14 year-oldstudents to interact with the environment and other peoplethrough the innovative use of mobile technology

Mudlarking v.To scavenge in river mud for items of value, especially inLondon during the Industrial Revolution. Poor peasantswould scavenge in the Thames River during low tide,searching for anything of value.WikipediaContentsOverview 1Context 2The ingredients: How we got there 3The future 10Resources 11The team and our partners 12

OverviewThere’s the standard school trip – and thenthere’s Mudlarking…The school tour has been a part of theeducation process for decades, but the fullpotential of this activity is not realised since itis often a static, one-way experience.The results illustrate that it is possible toextend the experience of education outside theconventional classroom environment, usingaffordable and accessible mobile technologies.The Mudlarking in Deptford project wasdesigned to enable young people aged 11-14 toactively engage with an area of historic andeducational interest, Deptford Creek, by usingstate-of-the-art mobile technology to designand produce their own guided tour.Students helped to create multimedia‘enhanced landscapes’ which were combinedto create a wider historical tour that combinestext, drawings, images (still and video) andaudio – and which future visitors to the Creekcan access and perhaps add their ownreflections. The outcome is a rich and fluidjourney companion for all visitors to the Creek.“I think Mudlarking is really good‘cos you get to do things and forme it is a different experiencebecause I haven’t done this sortof thing before”1

Context“At first I thought that doing atour for other people would beboring but it has been fun andI have learned more about theenvironment. I also learnedabout the history of the Creek”2Since at least the 19th century, scavengers,sightseers and the curious have been drawn toexposed areas of busy rivers such as theThames at low tide. Why? All sorts of weird andwonderful ‘treasures’ can be found there –flotsam and jetsam, rubbish – but alsodiscarded valuables, antiques and relics. All ofthis adds to a multi layered ‘history’ of the areaand the people who live around it.In dense urban areas such as Deptford, insouth-east London, local history can beexplored through a tapestry of architecture,engineering, natural habitats and the RiverThames itself.One of the conventional ways to teach localhistory is through the guided tour, where asingle tour leader guides a large group ofstudents around an area, perhaps with the aidof worksheets and other printed materials.However, whilst this kind of teaching doesencourage students to make connectionsbetween the various elements of the environment,it could go further in enabling studentsto make these connections for themselves.The Mudlarking in Deptford project encouragesstudents to actively discover their environmentby travelling through the area, noting theCreek’s various smells, sights, sounds, objectsand buildings. Students are then encouragedto make wider associations with issues suchas regeneration, industrial heritage andnatural habitats.Modern communication technologies alloweducators to add another dimension to theexperience: mobile and satellite networksallow students to record their observations inreal-time, and to see immediately theconnections between the layers of historybefore them. They can then add their owntexture to the layers of history and experiencearound the site.Thus the concept was born of using technologyto aid the modern mudlarker to not just accessthe past but extend it – enabling today’sstudents to leave ‘virtual notes’ for othervisitors about their environment – as well asaccess possible future scenarios (artist'simpressions of future ideas such as floatingallotments etc).

The ingredientsHow we got thereThe idea for Mudlarking in Deptford wasbrought to Futurelab by Juliet Sprake ofGoldsmiths College, University of London, whothen worked with us to develop it into aneffective learning resource.To build on this vision, we drew on theknowledge of the local community and otherexperts in environmental studies, local historyand Deptford redevelopment, and offered themthe means to both design and experience suchan ‘enriched tour’. We invited them to help tore-imagine what, to some, would be a veryfamiliar environment and, to others, one richin mystery.The project was supported through Futurelab’s‘Call for Ideas’ process, which encourageseducators, researchers and those from thetechnology and creative industries to workcollaboratively to develop new ways of usingtechnology to help learning.“We’ve got a chance to talk.Normally we’re talked at, nottalked to, but talked at. Nowwe’ve got a chance to saysomething and people listen”3

“When it was first announced inassembly everyone was like ‘whowould wanna go on there?’ cosI’m a person who doesn’t reallydo this sort of thing. But when wewent to the Centre I found itreally interesting and different”Initial stepsAt the outset of the project, the team workedwith a local student group to create a paperbasedmap of their local environment,beginning with their school. This was thendeveloped into a paper-based tour of themudlarking location (Creekside EducationCentre in Deptford) providing vital data for thedesign of the electronic tour, in which thestudents took the lead with support fromdesigners.Meanwhile, the designers created a prototypeapplication that would be used for the ninemonthpilot project that included wireframing,user experience testing, iterativeuser-based workshops and technical trials.The original application was based on a seriesof workshops involving designers workingalongside students, which determinedessential features of the PDA, both as a datacollection and communication tool. Theseworkshops also produced ideas for the userinterface and specified what tools the usershould have available in order to be able toinput their own stories into the tour.The experts then collaborated with the studentdesign group to develop an interactivelandscape, centred around four majordestination points (or nodes) on the journey:Halfpenny Hatch; the Laban dance centre;Creek Road and Greenwich Reach. Each ofthese nodes has specific attributes thatdemonstrate Deptford’s changing history. Ontheir PDAs users could navigate their presentposition using GPS, which was one of thefeatures of the trial that most excited thestudents, against a suggested map.User data in the form of recorded audio, MP3files, photography, drawings and text couldthen be added into the landscape. This was keyto enabling tour visitors to participate inbuilding an ever-evolving tour, by leaving theirthoughts and memories for future tour users.4

Dynamic activities were suggested aroundeach of the nodes. One of the most popularwas the ‘wobbleometer’, which takes place ona bridge that vibrates in response to localtraffic in a spectacular way. Another was the‘tarantella’ – named after the famous Spanishdance – that referred to the mesh structure ofthe man-made hills near the Laban dancecentre which students thought looked likewebs made by a giant spider.5

“The PDA guides you aroundand then there are all theactivities to do”AimsThe overall purpose of the project was torethink the traditional guided tour and todevelop a modern alternative that would bemore involving and which would evolve overtime ie a rich, interactive tour for bothstudents and adults. The key questionsFuturelab sought to answer through theproject were:• how does the fact that users can changethe tour and the tour is not a one-way flowof information help to develop creativeresponses to the built environment?• how can mobile technologies enable younglearners to interact with an everyday urbansite differently?• how can sharing experiences throughlocation-sensitive technologies create acommon understanding between users?A second core aim of the project was todevelop a toolkit that enables students toinvestigate and creatively respond to the builtenvironment. When developing and testing theMudlarking in Deptford application, it wasassessed against the following successcriteria:• how well Mudlarking in Deptford enhancedthe young people’s engagement withsemi-formal educational activities• how far the application enabled usersto represent their knowledge in aninnovative way• how much users were encouraged toparticipate in a guided tour, rather thanpassively receiving information.Additional aims of the project include:• encouraging local people to re-imaginean otherwise familiar environment• working with local students at thedesign stage.6

Initial trialThe trial was split into three parts. 23 studentsfrom the local area were involved, around halfof which were from the co-design team whohad originally designed the tour. A secondgroup was selected from a different school,Deptford Green School, which had not beeninvolved in the project prior to the trial. Alsoinvolved were adults who had asked toparticipate in the scheme as an optional part ofthe London Open House event.Students then set off on a suggested route forthe tour. During the tour, all students wereaccompanied by a teacher and an observer,who ensured the students’ safety and watchedtheir behaviour during the tour.Finally the whole group met back at theCreekside Centre for a post-tour debriefingwith interviews and questionnaires.Students completing the trial tour were splitinto four groups, each starting the tour at adifferent destination node on the route. Thegroups were then split into pairs and eachpair of students was given a PDA, a GPStransmitter and a pair of headphones to listento audio content on the handheld computer.“It’s sort of an adventure:like running around andfinding stuff”Before embarking on the tour, students weregiven a briefing including instruction on how touse the devices, how to manually reboot theGPS in the event of a failure, and how to restartthe PDA if it crashed. Students also filled in aquestionnaire about their expectations of the tour.7

“When I first came here I didn’tknow any facts about the areaand didn’t bother about theenvironment. But now I’velearned about the environment,history and facts about the Creek”8FindingsOverall, responses to the Mudlarking inDeptford project were extremely positive.Using four nodes to structure the tour allowedstudents to take a break from the technology toconverse with fellow students, and to completeother activities while travelling betweennodes. The students were interested in thetechnology and being able to identify theirposition on a map gave them a sense of beingtruly involved in the tour. It also acted as a‘safety net’ to reaffirm that the tour wasworking even when no particular content wasbeing delivered to the handsets.The students enjoyed taking part not only inactivities they had worked on themselves, butalso those designed by other students. Inaddition, because the tasks are interactive andfun, they are likely to serve as more effectivememory prompts in the classroom. Activitiessuch as the ‘wobbleometer’ and ‘mushrooming’are more memorable than dry fact sheetsoften produced during guided tours.Although the students were divided intogroups and pairs, there was a lot of interactionand collaboration at the nodes along the route.Students shared ‘hidden stories’ from theenvironment, both during and after the tour. Inthis way the flexibility of the experience isdemonstrated.The ability to record their own experiences fora ‘real’ audience was an attractive feature forthe students, and the variety of methodsavailable to record stories meant that allstudents were able to capture at least someexperiences to share with others.Teething problems largely centred on thetechnology, and included:• some students were not able to use therecord facility on their PDA• some GPS transmitters experiencedproblems because of cloudy conditions• some PDA screens were obscured byrainwater or bright sunlight.However, students were not deterred by theseproblems, and all were still keen to completeas much of the tour as possible.

TechnologyThe underlying technology was the MobileBristol toolset (, anemerging tool for manipulating a 'digital'version of urban landscapes throughapplication of mobile and pervasiveinformation technology.The devices given to users were multimediapersonal digital assistants (PDAs). The PDAused was a Hewlett-Packard iPaq with 256Mbmemory card to help support the range ofmedia used.Crucial to the overall experience was the useof standard Bluetooth GPS (provided byportable transmitter) as well as a Flash userinterface. User could share the audio elementsof the tour through two sets of headphonesattached to the PDA.9

The futureThe project had a number of aims in seeinghow technology could be used to help studentsmore actively ‘discover’ the built environmentusing a variety of senses, instead of simplyviewing and then interpreting it.Although the initial trial was limited, it is feltthat there are many early findings to suggestthat participatory tours could be developed fora wider use.“At first I thought that the Creekwould be boring and muddy, butnow, when I sort of ‘got to knowit’, I see that it is a vital part ofour community and more peopleshould take notice of thatimportance”Future exploration of the issues that have beenidentified could include more work on therole/contribution of the teacher and otheradults, looking at how much more pre- andpost-tour activities could be linked within theclassroom context, and a look at the pay-offbetween the benefits of authoring a tour forother people to enjoy and participating in oneyourself.Beyond that, further investigation is neededinto how best to support mobile learners.10

ResourcesThe Futurelab website has a number ofarticles and video reports on the Mudlarking inDeptford project. For more information, go Sprake and Peter Rogers havedeveloped a website that shows elements ofthe prototype tour in number of other resources may also beusefully consulted if you are interested in thisproject:Literature review in Mobile Technologies andLearning – Innovations Workshop on Future(3G) phones – Innovations Workshop onInvestigating the Educational Toolset for thePDA – Bristol is a programme investigatinghow mobile devices and pervasive informationtechnology can be used to enhance the ways inwhich people experience and interact withtheir physical environment and with eachother in urban and public spaces –www.mobilebristol.com11

The team and our partnersFuturelab would like to thank the projectoriginator Juliet Sprake, lecturer atGoldsmiths College, University of London, anddigital artist and lecturer Peter Rogers, alsofrom Goldsmiths College. We are also indebtedto the team at Mobile Bristol, without whomthe project would not have been possible.Our thanks also go to:• the staff, partners and students, someof whom were members of the projectdesign group, as well as students whotook part in the tour• Lee Carrotte, interface designer• Ella Tallyn, user experience consultant• the Department of Trade and Industry.12

ILLUSTRATION ON LEFT OF FRONT COVER,COURTESY OF CREEKSIDE CENTREFuturelab is helping to transform the wayInitial researchpeople learn. We’re using new and emergingtechnologies and ideas to create richlearning resources that are involving,interactive and imaginative.By bringing together the creative, technicaland educational communities, Futurelab ispioneering ways of using new technologiesto enrich and transform the learningexperience.Our activity comprises three interwovenstrands: research, prototype developmentand communications. These core activitiesenable us to act as a think-tank thatnurtures new ideas and gathers intelligence;as an incubator and tester of early-stageand untested concepts, and as a hubsupporting the multi-directional flow ofinformation and knowledge betweenpractitioners, policy makers, creatorsand learners.Supported by:If you are interested in orwould like to support thisproject, then contact:Futurelab1 Canons RoadHarboursideBristol BS1 5UHUnited Kingdomtel +44 (0)117 915 8200fax +44 (0)117 915

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