The Free School – Upcoming Newstalk Documentary

Students at Wicklow Sudbury. Image courtesy Wicklow Sudbury



Download: The Free School Trailer

Think back, what were your least favourite parts of school? Maybe math, maybe physics, maybe you just hated gym. Now imagine a school where you didn’t have to do anything you didn’t want to. A school with no exams, no homework, no classes, not even any teachers. What if I were to tell you that not only does that school exist, it’s right here in Dublin, in a regular semi-d near the cold unfinished boom era monstrosity of the Sandyford industrial estate. This documentary explores a year in the life of Ireland’s most unconventional school, ‘Wicklow Sudbury’. This radical form of schooling has been running in the United States for almost fifty years, but can it work here? We follow the first few months of the fledgling school. Listeners will meet students, staff and parents, and explore what they found lacking in conventional education. In the process we’ll see just what Irish education can learn from The Free School.

Wicklow Sudbury School is an experiment in alternative education, attempting to apply the principles of ‘free schooling’ and ‘unschooling’ in the Irish context. The first ever term has recently begun, and right now the school consists of eighteen students of all ages, learning together.

Free or democratic schools are organised around the principle that students should take a lead in deciding their own educational path. These schools take a radical approach to encouraging free thinking and agency in their students. Free schools offer an alternative to mainstream education. They share an emphasis on child-centered learning: Seeing the learner as an active participant who choses his or her own course of study.

For many Wicklow Sudbury students the mainstream educational system has been a failure. They or their parents haven’t found the education they’re looking for in standardised classes and subject based classes. Instead they’ve chosen a school with no classes, no subject, no homework and no teachers. We follow their first few months in the school and learn how radical education works in Ireland in practice.

Broadcaster: Newstalk 106 – 108fm
When: Sunday 12th November at 8AM, repeated at 10PM on Saturday 18th November.
Online: Podcast or soundcloud.

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Free Schools or No Schools

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Serious question: Why are we so comfortable with imprisoning children for 12 – 14 years? It seems the answer is we’ve constructed an economic system that requires both parents to work, for most of each weekday. Schools act in loco parentis, helping to tame children in preparation for an adulthood of service to industry. They take in creative, artistic, anarchic individuals and release obedient, ambitious conformists. But there is another way.

BBC News recently ran a great retrospective on the free schools of the 1970’s. Free schools, also known as ‘democratic schools‘ serve a caretaker role, without indoctrinating learned helplessness, conditioning obedience, and training respect for unearned authority. What the article doesn’t mention is that free schools, despite having almost disappeared from the UK, are far from extinct. In the United States Sudbury Valley Schools are an increasingly popular alternative, offering a playground for learning, rather than a cage for ‘education’.

Beyond Sudbury, ‘unskooling‘ (a secular equivalent of ‘home schooling’) is a growing movement in the US, as parents (wealthy enough to have the the choice) remove their children from an increasingly unequal, militarised public school system.

Here’s the thing. We pay lip service to entrepreneurship and ‘life long learning’, but if we really want a society of empowered creative individuals, we can’t expect it to emerge from a cookie cutter approach to ‘training’. People learn, dogs are trained.

A kind of amnesia occurs in parents, who forget just how stifling and uninspiring most of their time spent in school actually was. It’s precisely because the majority of school is spent ‘keeping the head down’, trying to placate capricious teachers, and stressing over exam results, that we remember the teachers who went against the grain and genuinely inspired us.

So what can well intentioned parents and educators actually do? After all, we need an income to survive, and fewer of us than ever have access to the extended alloparenting arrangements that our ancestors enjoyed. The answer isn’t simple or easy – but it’s clear. The twentieth century, 9 – 5 employee / business arrangement doesn’t work. It doesn’t allow us to be citizens invested in our communities. It incentivises employees not to rock the boat, as financial institutions mismanage and outright steal vast quantities of global wealth. It trains us to defer to higher authorities, even when they display no real concern for our best interests.

All these issues are connected: the revolution in robotics that will put most manufacturing and service industry workers out of a job in the next twenty five years. The increasing inequality of the globalised economy, concentrating ever more of our wealth in the hands of a tiny group of literally jet-setting plutocrats. The economic necessity of basic income. The enormous possibilities for learning created by the internet, and the bonkers dropout rate of online courses.

Years ago I volunteered at Seomra Spraoi, a consensus run communal space off Gardener St in Dublin. At the time, Seomra had a parent run Steiner playschool, where a group of volunteer parents put into practice the art driven principles of Waldorf Education. What they shared wasn’t any formal pedagogic education, but a real concern that their children should become rounded human beings.

Here’s the thing – we can all do this. Teaching doesn’t have to be a profession – in fact, I’d argue that (like political office) it should never be. Learning doesn’t have to be something you only do from age four to seventeen or twenty two. Anyone running a business or practicing a profession will tell you that the first couple of years at their job were far more informative than the dozen or more spent in the classroom.

No magic bullet is going to make our education system fit individual kids, rather than the amorphous mass of students. No curriculum (online or off) will erase individual differences, or inspire the way allowing a person to follow their innate interests and talents will. Learning and teaching need to become part of how we operate as people. It might be simple things like creating community education programmes, volunteering at libraries, or teaching as part of our businesses, studios and factories. It might involve working less, taking on less or no debt, and living a more modest life – accepting that we won’t own the latest consumer goods, but will have time to learn to teach and to create, in other words, to live. If we do these things – if we undermine the systems constructed to inhibit us, we’ll empower citizens capable of genuinely changing a system enabled by mediocrity.

Free Learning Festival in February

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Open Learning Ireland are proud to announce our first week long first Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something event this February. This is a new event in association with AONTAS and their Adult Learning Festival, and the Dubzland Audio and Visual Gallery, featuring free workshops and classes, open to all.
Continue reading “Free Learning Festival in February”

Next Steps for Open Learning Ireland


The most recent OLI event in Exchange Dublin, June 2012.

Cross posting this from the Open Learning Ireland google group, as there’s a good chance it’ll reach more folks here. Some background: OLI is a non-profit education group set up in 2011 to work towards creating a new free (as in beer), open (as in source) education institution in Dublin. An all age space where anyone can come to learn or teach any set of skills, and where members of the public can access the tools, journals, technology and library resources ordinarily available only within academia or subscription based maker workshops / hack labs. You can read about one of our previous events here, or check out the lecture which kicked off the idea on youtube. See our plan below (which also serves as a handy list of folks doing interesting stuff with education in ireland right now).


Andrew Edgar, of Gamepak Collective, at the last OLI event in Exchange Dublin.

Proposal

Niamh Farren from AONTAS (the Irish adult education charity) was kind enough to meet with me last month, to talk about possibly working together with Open Learning Ireland in the future.

AONTAS have agreed to look into getting access to a NAMA building or similar for running a pop-up Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something week in February next year, to co-incide (or lead up to) AONTAS’s Learning Festival (Feb 25th – 28th).

Basically, we need to figure out the logistics for this: What kind of building or space we’ll need, what equipment we’ll need, what costs are likely to incur. Source folks to lead workshops that will fill a week of time, and get cracking on promoting the event once we have the details nailed down. This is an amazing opportunity to build on what we’ve already done with our three previous pop-up weekend events, and to build interest in the idea of a more permanent open access learning institution in Dublin city.


Ideas for groups to collaborate with:

AONTAS
Sharing Ireland – David Collins – and Justfortheloveofit.org

Samual Bishop – who organised last years Gluaiseacht Skillshare Festival

Dublin Skill Share
Mutant Space (who run an indie performers festival and performance skill share group)

Transcolonia (who’ve helped source buildings for other projects in the past)

Science Gallery Make Shop – run by Nora O’Murchu
Science Gallery ignite talks – run by Shaun O’Boyle

TOG Dublin Hackerspace

Exchange Dublin’s Language Exchange / Exchange Words (if the new writing group is off the ground by then)

Dublin Intellectual

Chocolate Factory Dublin (especially roof gardening folks)

Near FM (may teach radio workshops, and even lend laptops)

Knowledge Exchange (roster of speakers who might be interested in repeating talks or expanding into workshops)

Hedge School Dublin (who teach kids app development – ran an event at NCAD last year)

Other arts festivals – e.g.: Ranelagh arts festival / Shakefest / Knockanstockan

Innovation Dublin Festival

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland

Recyclism Hacklab

Saor Ollscoil (Dublin Free University)

Upstart Collective

Gamepak Collective

Thinking big – could we try to find funding to bring over folks from further afield? i.e.: Noisebridge, Bike Kitchen

Ideas for workshops:

Guerilla Knitting
Guerilla Gardening
Digital Music
Photoshop / Final Cut / Audition
Creative Writing
Dance
Radio Recording / Editing / Production workshops
Hardware Hacking / Software Design
Comedy / script writing
Journal Access – how to read a science journal article
Making the most of free learning resources – udacity, kahn academy, instructables etc
Fill in yours here!

In closing, I think this is an opportunity for us to open up the Open Learning Ireland idea to a much wider constituency, and work with other groups in a more collaborative and inclusive way (now that we have enough time to plan doing do properly). Lets get to work! Hop on board the discussion either at the OLI Google Group or Facebook Group.


Seb Dooris at the last OLI event in Exchange Dublin in June 2012.

Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something

Last weekend, Saturday and Sunday the 15th and 16th of October we staged Open Learning Ireland’s inaugural event, Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something. OLI is a new organisation seeking to create an alternative learning space in Dublin. For two days we took over a room on the second floor of Earlsfort Terrace at The Dublin Contemporary Exhibition, and filled it full of as many learning opportunities as possible.

The room was divided into several zones – each designed to provide a distinct learning affordance. Sebastian Dooris created a hack zone full of everything necessary to build basic robotic devices. Emily Gallagher utilised methodologies developed through her thesis on play, exercise and wellness to develop an all age play space. Steph Gallagher curated an art space and library. Andrew Booth donated a variety of digital academic books. Conor Houghton, the man behind ignite @ the Science Gallery lent us his incredible 3d printer – a glimpse into a future of home-printed consumer goods. Shane Conneely and I assembled a library of academic texts and set up a chill out / study area. Finally, a variety of workshops were provided by Coilín “The Oh-Aissieux” in storytelling, Natasha Gavrilovic in knitting, Noelia Ruiz in writing for dramatic performance, Bill Doran and Kali Carrigan in circus performance, while Niamh O’Reilly faciliated a ‘learning circle’.

We started the weekend with grand ambitions, but no certainty that there would be interest in the project. We promoted the event with a blurb on the Dublin Contemporary Website – http://exchangedublin.ie/blog/learn-something-share-something-do-something

“Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something” is an experiment in letting people learn from one another, at their own pace, in a relaxed and inspiring environment. We’ll be tossing aside conventional hierarchical educational methods, and creating a new kind of campus full of arts and crafts, traditional and electronic musical instruments, books, articles, science experiments, discussions and workshops. There’ll be mini-workshops, talks and activities throughout the day, and everything is free.

And a blog post at skillsharing website Mutant Space – http://www.mutantspace.com/skills-exchange-open-learning-dublin/

Decades of research into how children and adults learn have demonstrated that different people – surprise surprise – learn differently, following varying developmental schedules, and though distinct modalities (auditory, visual, kinesthetic, tactile). Some of us learn most effectively through reading, some through physically manipulating / building and making, others through creative processes like poetry, art and music. Our schools (and increasingly our colleges) are not set up to educate us – at best, they serve as factories for producing consumable workers for the knowledge economy. We pay lip service to ‘life long learning’, while in reality the cost of education is sky rocketing, while the target of education is shifting from the well rounded, autonomous adults; to the upskilled workers.

We were pleased to find out the project struck a chord with the public, who attended in significant numbers and took an active role in exploring the educational opportunities of the space. Key to our project is the idea of play and experiential autonomous learning. Throughout the weekend, we succeeded in creating a playful welcoming environment, where learning and active participation were socially modelled.

Things Learn Something; Share Something; Do Something Achieved

1) Promoted and demonstrated the practicality of an autonomous democratic all ages learning environment for the city.

2) Tapped into the talents of a variety of creators / makers / technologists / academics and artists.

3) Provided a model multi-disciplinary, multi-level learning environment.

4) Successfully framed the project as a difficult to pigeon hole fusion of art, learning and technology – this is important both because it destigmatises learning, and motivates participation.

Things We Can Improve

1) Budgeting / Fund Raising

Running the weekend demonstrated the need to acquire funding to progress the project. In addition to the accepted opportunity costs of volunteerism we encountered a variety of visible & invisible financial costs that were shouldered by individual volunteers and (in the case of liability, heating, electricity and security, by the Dublin Contemporary Exhibition itself).

These include – food, transport, breakage, consumables (art supplies etc), insurance, electricity and rent.

Our lack of budget also prevented us from printing signage and further information to promote our mission.

2) Age & Service Provision

We found that many of the participants in the project were parents with young children, who availed of the art and play facilities. While we don’t want to discourage children / young people from participating in the project, an important element of the ‘unskool’ concept is provision of an all age education resource, and we need to work on methods of communicating the availability / desirability of the space for older groups; while providing adaquate resources and supervision for children and young people who do participate.

3) Communication

As we’re a new / consensus driven group – our purpose and ethos are developing dynamically. However there are a number of things we could do in future to elaborate the purposes of any pop-up or permanent spaces we create.

Example 1 – providing readily accessible, specific learning projects for those eager to participate but lacking an initial learning goal – a lego kit approach.

Example 2 – Writing up a real time / real world skill share. This would be a black or while board listing who is currently in the space, and what they’re learning / what skills they possess. This would help to facilitate peer learning and autonomy amongst participants.

4)  Democratic Structures

In our own group organisation, we need to build concrete democratic structures to alleviate the inevitable ‘invisible heirarchies’ and barriers to participation in decision making that arise; and communicate the democratic / consensus driven nature of the decision making process.

Impressions – Volunteer – Jules Fitzsimons

I was at the event for only a limited time, so I don’t have the full picture but I thought the open learning area was a great success. There was plenty for everyone to play, do and make with and I saw lots of people getting involved.

Something that went well but could also be improved is welcoming visitors into the space.
Some people stayed or left because they were interested or not, but there were plenty of people who were interested but left after only a moment in the space, because they didn’t know how to relate to it.
Perhaps some explainatory flyers near the door would’ve helped this, and maybe an interesting widget there too could have hooked them in?

Another thing to do next time is take people’s contact details and start messaging them about the group.
Hopefully we’ll have a website ready by then too.

In the main I thought the space was great, and the important thing now is using the momentum generated effectively.
My €0.02!

Impressions – Volunteer – Shane Coneely

I was happy to have participated in the OLI Learn Share Do project over the weekend.

I know that personally I’ve great difficulty asking people for help, my natural instinct is simply to bash away and try to figure out a route to my destination.

There are however things which, while figurable outable, are difficult to experiment with. In my case, I learned how to solder. Not a complex task, but one which I did not have the equipment to attempt. Having Seb there to guide me, and then confirm where I’d gone right and gone wrong allowed me to create something, and I’m greatful to the project for allowing me that.

I think that the 3d printer was the star of the show. I think that any future iteration of this project has to have well defined, and highly visual stimulating, projects that we can suck punters into, that they can have a conversation about, and that they can participate in.

Something like: http://makeprojects.com/Project/Gigantic-Bubble-Generator/1364/1

People were happy to talk about the 3d printer, but it’s nature (and slowness) ensured that they couldn’t participate in it.

The kids could see how they could participate in the games and in the drawing space but the adults needed different cues, I’d say that if you handed them something, and asked them to paint it while you were doing something else then it would be easier to get them to move from watching to participating.

I was happier in the space the second day, the room was better defined in terms of age, the layout the first day made the room seem too child focused and therefore excluded older people from engaging. By bringing the books out into the space we ensured that that area was not for children.

I think that we will have to experiment with how we lay out spaces so that we can interest people without intimidating them.

In future I would like to see there be an island of worktables in the centre, and shelving on the walls so that every body is working facing eachother, the way we had the different zones meant that people were almost invariably facing a wall (and therefore, not another human being) when engaged in an activity, I think that this could act against cross pollination.

More photos on our flickr.

If you’d like to offer your help in running Open Learning Ireland, to participate in future events, or just to communicate with us you can contact us..
On Twitter @ OLI_Dublin
At our google group – https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/open-learning-ireland
Via email – Openlearningireland AT gmail

Art for Arts Sake?

I recently gave an email interview, the answers to which were included in a feature on arts funding in Ireland. The article, ‘Art for Art’s Sake’ was published in the January 26th edition of The College Tribune (not yet online), a University College Dublin publication. Perhaps like everyone who’s ever been interviewed, I feel the quotes chosen for the piece slightly misrepresented my answers. This is first time I’ve written at length about my involvement in Exchange Dublin, Exchange Words and ‘the arts’ in Ireland generally, so I’m pasting the full text of the interview here ‘for the record’.

Tell me about Exchange Dublin and your involvement in the organisation.

Exchange Dublin is a collective art centre in Temple Bar. It was established initially by a group of artists involved in something known as ‘The Office of Public Works’. These were Jonah King, Dylan Haskins, Rosin Beirne, Anna Khan and Andreas Von Knobloch. The initiative grew out of their interest in creating a non-profit, youth orientated space to facilitate the creation of innovative, publicly accessible art & music initiatives in the city. Exchange Dublin is part of a new, perhaps recession driven interest in non-profit, collective arts in Dublin. Longer running initiatives in the same vein include Seomra Spraoi & The Shed.

I got involved in the Exchange on 15th August 2009, at the first Exchange general ‘open space’ meeting. I’d become interested in storytelling events by listening to podcasts from ‘The Moth’, a US storytelling organisation which along with shows like PBS’s ‘This American Life’ has done much to drive the current revival of the American oral tradition.

I had the idea to do something similar here, though in a more collaborative, less exclusive way. My experiences visiting Seomra Spraoi, and personal disillusion with authoritarian styles of organizational structure drew me to the Exchange initiative; and have been key in my approach to helping to organise the Exchange Words group.

Exchange Words is the group that ultimately developed out of these disparate interests. We’re an open group meeting weekly in the space, who’ve so far put on three events at monthly intervals; featuring a mixture of spoken word theatre, standup comedy, poetry and more experimental work. We’ve also helped out with other spoken word initiatives in the space, like the enormously successful ‘Milk and Cookies’ storytelling group. Currently we’re focused on organising a series of free writing and performance workshops.

It’s been a very strong emphasis on my own personal involvement in the group from the start to document the group process. Both in order to make it as accessible for new members as possible, and to provide a record of what we’ve done. To do this I’ve implemented a website (http://words.exchangedublin.ie), making all our meeting minutes public; and more importantly making available (as audio podcasts and streaming video), as complete as possible a record of our participants participation in Words events.

Outside of Exchange Words, I also volunteer on a weekly basis in the space; greeting new arrivals, making tea, and helping with general upkeep. I also attend the weekly Exchange Counsel meetings which govern the running of the space as often as I can.

What obstacles have you encountered in establishing yourself in the arts? How much of this can be attributed to your recent graduate status? Do you find youth a help or a hindrance in this way?

My main interests career-wise are in creative writing and standup comedy / sketch comedy performance. I started standup in August, and I’ve been writing since secondary school. I’m not sure how to quantify difficulties encountered… In terms of standup, getting paid work would be the most important problem. There’s a sort of virtuous circle in Ireland, where TV appearances and competition victories land you paid spots in comedy clubs. Right now I’m working for free. Because of the limited size of the audience here (and the poverty of televised and radio comedy), pretty much every Irish comedian plans to move to England at some point; and I’m no different. It’s just a reality of the business that even moderate success here doesn’t provide a living; and ‘big’ success on the Irish scene doesn’t translate abroad. To make it comedians have to go to England or the US.

I don’t feel that my graduate status impacts this at all, and my youth even less so- As a 30 year old former mature student, I’m at the older end of the ‘amateur’ comedy scene.

In terms of writing, I guess the difficulties would be getting published. Fortunately with publication, location is less important. It would be difficult for me to quantify initiatives to make the ‘life of the writer’ easier, beyond grants and residencies, which wouldn’t be granted to someone at my stage of career in any case (one story published, one novel seeking a publisher).

I got my start writing attending free writers groups run in Balbriggan library in the early 1990’s. Initiatives like this- to provide a dedicated, low or no cost opportunity for writers to meet, write and compare their work are incalculably valuable. I’m still trying to organising similar things at an informal level to this day.


In the current climate, is it more difficult to establish yourself in the arts sector? What do you make of the state of health of the arts in Ireland?

I don’t think the health of the arts in Ireland is very measurably related to the economic climate. At least not from my worms eye view. Funding for the arts didn’t swell to useful levels during the economic boom, and haven’t yet dropped to calamitous levels. Due to the lack of government support (beyond capital investment and a few tent pole institutions like the National Museum of Modern Art), my perspective would be that most arts institutions in the country are heavily private financed, and extremely commercially orientated.

That said, an initial grand from the Project Arts Centre, and subsequent grants from a variety of institutions (including the Arts Counsel), were vital in establishing and purchasing equipment for Exchange Dublin. Although the venue itself covers ongoing costs primarily through low price, all ages concerts.

Again- completely from my personal perspective: It’s only when you go abroad that you realise the poverty of visual arts institutions in Ireland. Our galleries and museums are a joke next to British or American institutions like MOMA, the Pheonix Art Museum, the Tate etc. There are of course economies of scale at work here; but Ireland has been supremely ineffective at providing public access to the treasures of modern art. In terms of classical art, the National Gallery has some decent dutch masters and a Caravaggio. Hurray.

In terms of the performing arts, it does seem like (especially in Dublin), there are a variety of initiatives of worth; promoting theatre especially. However, without going into libelous detail, often access to and participation in these initiatives is effectively exclusive to clique of kids that have come up through youth theatre programmes; rather than writers and performers from outside the theatre world. I know comedians in general feel completely excluded from the theatre world. At the same time, I know folks in the theatre world who are all too keen to get more comedic shows into the various theatre festivals. As in all these things, the perception of exclusivity is as important as the reality.

What are your ambitions for the future? Do you see a way to actualise them in Ireland, or is a move abroad necessary?

I think I answered this partly above. Basically I would like to work as a writer of literary and science fiction, and perform as a comedian. Most of my comedy heros got their big break writing and performing on shows for BBC Radio 4, and that channel, together with the BBC digital TV channels, still commissions more original content (especially in comedy), than anywhere else in the world.

I do see traveling as a necessity at some point. It’s something I should probably do sooner rather than later… However it’s hard to see when would be the right time. I’m just starting to get a decent name with promoters over here, and traveling would mean starting again.

I’m trying to keep my ambitions as open as possible so that I don’t turn away from any opportunities. I’m also using this time to try to develop ideas that I could potentially use later in my career when I have more opportunities. I’m still a novice live performer, and I’m looking forward to developing these skills (possibly even in a theatre setting), this year. Personally, the attachments I have to Ireland are financial and interpersonal rather than anything else. I have almost no ‘national pride’, and very little attachment to the ‘imagined community’ of the Irish nation state. This kind of pretentious pomposity is endemic to comedians I’m afraid. Possibly if I do travel I’ll experience that paradoxical exaggeration of ‘national’ characteristics common to ex-pats.

What would be your advice to the current government in the light of the reduction to arts spending?

Spend money on smaller initiatives. Give money to individual groups and artists rather than swollen bodies which sit parasitically on the artery of arts funding. Make ten thousand tiny grants available, with the qualifying criteria bring past and current work- not renown, prizes won, or the current commercial value of an artists output; and you’ll see ten thousand talented artists spring up.

Encourage initiatives which build self efficacy and core skills in the production of visual, written and performance art.

Allow groups to design their own structure and don’t drown them in paper work.

Fund self organised, genuinely open spaces, which place no limits on their use beyond the consensus of their members.

Fund free seminars, masterclasses and courses.

Put money in primary and secondary arts education- I never held a paint brush until secondary school, and by that point Art Class was a glorified crammer for the junior cert.

Offer writers living in the country incentives to teach; and support the initiatives they’ve already started (like Roddy Doyle’s Fighting Words group).

Contradictorily, don’t focus all your funding on using art as a method of attenuating social inequality- a vanishingly small number of deprived kids will climb out of poverty through this method.

‘The arts’, whatever that means should be open to everyone. Funding should ideally be meritocratic, and put where it provides most creative freedom, and facilitates the production of the most interesting work.

Create the equivalent of an Open University for visual and performance arts, writing and music.

How necessary is art in the current economic climate? What creative possibilities do you take from it?

How necessary is the current economic climate in the light of art? To me, creative work is the whole point. Consumerism, a fixation on GDP, the exploitation of natural resources, ‘building infrastructure to facilitate long term economic goals’: These are the distractions. If our lives are to have any meaning, then what we achieve and create is all that matters- and here I mean achievement in the largest sense: exploration of space, scientific comprehension of the fundamental structure and processes underlying cosmology and subatomic structure, psychological investigations into meaning and identity.

The arts provide the lens through which we can evaluate the necessity and purpose of our lives. It’s specious to put things the other way around. We should be moving toward a society in which information technology is used to expand the public debate and the public consciousness, to facilitate complete direct democracy and the maturation of our adolescent society. Literacy- be it written, audio-visual or affective, is the core skill set in divining purpose. A skill set fed and watered by the creation and appreciation of art.

What advice would you give to other young graduates who wish to work in the arts in Ireland?

Do the thing you do. If you’re an actor, act. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a painter, paint… And so on. Don’t get a job in arts administration where you help to facilitate the distribution of funding determined by long term strategic blah blah blah blah blah. That’s how you become a clerk.

Meet people, work together on things. Don’t take it too seriously. Try to survive from the products of your creative labour, but do it even if you need to do something else to pay the rent. It’s the whole point.

What is for certain is that the skills you develop playing- busking, making podcasts, painting, messing around with electronics, writing stories at 4AM in your bedroom; will be the basis of the person you become, the people you meet, and the cool stuff you get to do for the rest of your life.

Oh and don’t get a mortgage. It’ll eat your soul.

Sound Education

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On the 24th of May I received a text message from the Leo Laporte of Irish podcasting, Bernie Goldbach, who is amongst other things, a lecture in computing and multimedia at Sligo IT. Bernie is a tireless proponent of Irish podcasting scene, so Francis McGillicuddy and I hopped along to the Clarence Hotel on his invitation, having no idea what we were meeting about, but certain it would be something interesting.
It turned out Bernie was soliciting contributions from a variety of Irish Podcasters to his address to the EdTech 2006 conference.

We all duly contributed, and the result became Sound Education in Practise, and audio visual presentation, which Bernie presented to the conference [link to podcast], and which he intends to use as a resource for future addresses.
Our contribution was a short discussion [ video | audio | notes ], in which we discussed a variety of topics relating to the pedagogic utility of podcasting.

Open educational models

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Someone needs to build a decent open source 3d brain model in shockwave, VRML or a stand alone OpenGL application (not pseudo 3d quicktime). As far as I can see, none exists. Believe me, when you’re trying to understand functional neuroanatomy, such a thing could not be more useful.
This is the sort of thing that education software does better than books or lectures, greatly accelerating the practical comprehension of complex 3d systems. Educational institutions would do well to develop such software for engineering, medicine, and physics modelling.

Start-ups, currently thinking about building yet another social bookmarking app or firefox extension, might find a market for an advertising sponsored (or paid institutional subscription) folksonomy application, which could allow lecturers to build three dimensional tours to accompany their lectures, or mail students links which would open specific interactive 3D representations of models discussed.

The whole copyright in education thing really came home to me in first year, when one of our lecturers (a brilliant speaker) delivered out lecture notes in PDF form, with all of the accompanying diagrams (most of complex brain regions) removed; making the notes literally useless for exam revision or essay writing. This is an area that needs to be urgently addressed, both legally (with intelligent copyright exemptions for educational use), and through the development of common open learning platforms.

Also, isn’t it obvious that universities should do their best to enable the creation of educational resources by their computer science / education / psychology departments – not in a service provision role, but a pragmatic brain trust style solution development role; by encouraging and financially facilitating interdepartmental projects where divergent expertise could be used to mutual benefit – sort of like an intra-faculty open source movement.