Summer in Siegen

For the third and last leg of my sabbatical, I decided to visit the University of Siegen, in Germany. I was here in July 2010, with a DAAD grant, and I really fell in love with the place. My colleagues here were among the founding members of our COST action, I hosted and supervised a few of their HCI master students in Limerick, and every time the chance occurs, we are organising events  together.

As I was spoiled back in 2010 (one of the secretaries found me a small studio overlooking the valley in Weidenau before I arrived), I was hoping I’ll be that lucky a second time. In the end, I had to be grateful to be accommodated in a small university guest apartment in Artur-Woll-Haus, as the semester is still in full swing and my efforts on online rental sites didn’t pay off so far.

On Friday – my first day at the university, I had a full day, meeting up with my hosts, making plans for my stay and joining my colleagues on a visit to a potential city centre venue for FabLab Siegen.IMG_20170602_140848

I also found a nice cafe by the river with good wi fi. IMG_20170602_162848

I recognised some places from my previous stay, and I discovered some new ones.IMG_20170605_210757

I am really looking forward to the next two months!

June 07 2017 | sabbatical | No Comments »

End of stay in Great Britain

I am back in Limerick for a while, enjoying my own home’s comfort and tweaking things in the garden. The last two months in the UK were demanding and I did a lot of travelling around.
It’s good to be home for a while, reflecting on what I saw and writing.

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In the mean time, there are a lot of interesting events happening in my own university – a briefing about joint EPSRC- SFI projects, an information session on the Draft Societal Challenges 6 Work Programme 2018-2020 (part of Horizon 2020).

My colleagues running the Social Media for Social Good module had the idea to submit a paper to the Shannon Consortium Teaching and Learning Symposium about our experience teaching this module over the last two years. Our paper “Building Resilience Through Experiential Learning: A Case Study of Undergraduate Engagement with Community Organisations”, co-authored with John Lannon, Sheila Killian, Liam Murray and Stephanie O’Riordan has been accepted and will be presented at the symposium this month.

May 04 2017 | Limerick and sabbatical | No Comments »

Two talks in two days

This week has been extremely busy: I had not one, but two talks at the University of Sussex.

The first one was an intervention at the final of Becky Stewart’s talk on e-textiles and movement. The event was organised by Pollie Barden from the Creative Technology research group and took place on the 5th of April 2017. Here’s the Eventbrite presentation of Becky’s talk:

Dr. Becky Stewart: Sensing Movement with Textiles

Dr. Becky Stewart will be sharing some of her work in e-textiles that covers a range of applications and explorations. She works with e-textiles and signal processing to build interactive, body-centric wearable computing systems. These systems often incorporate performance, fashion, music and/or design.

Becky is a lecturer in the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary University of London. She was recently awarded the Daphne Oram Award Lecture for Digital Innovation. Becky was the co-founder of Codasign, a creative technology education company that ran workshops teaching kids and adults how to use technology to develop creative projects.

My short talk, titled  Textiles and Digital Technologies from an Interaction Design Perspective [slides here], brought together reflections from the Limerick Lace and ATTIRE projects on how one becomes a maker, also based on the discussions we had at the Making Laboratories workshop in Trento, and on my recent experience with attending the Textile Academy bootcamp.

On Thursday April 6th, I gave a presentation for the Creative Technologies research group as part of their regular lunchtime series of talks, titled Reflection on the role of co-design in a large-scale international collaboration  talk about the role played by co-design in the meSch project. I  spoke about co-design in meSch throughout the 4 years of the project and of the way co-design shaped the collaboration between designers, technologists and cultural heritage professionals.  The slides can be downloaded from here.

April 07 2017 | sabbatical | No Comments »

My first week at the University of Sussex

I am spending the second part of my sabbatical with Prof. Ann Light’s Creative Technologies Group at the University of Sussex. I will be in Brighton for March and April, hoping that spring will come soon and I will get to enjoy the atmosphere around here.  After spending the first week of March at the meSch final review and visiting Nottingham, I finally made it to Brighton.

On my 3rd day here, I got asked what is the difference between a sabbatical and a holiday. My definition of the sabbatical was that you get to do pretty much the same amount of work (meaning morning till evening!), but away from your desk and your home’s comfort. In a way, it’s a bit like that advice on actions that are supposed to keep dementia at bay- brush your teeth holding your toothbrush in the other hand, stand instead of sitting , open the door with the other hand, learn a different language. When one gets out of her own comfort zone and habits, there’s a need to rethink certain practices, to adjust to a new environment, and this helps make habits more visible.

On Monday at 8:45am I  got my visitor status and my IT account sorted, and I had a quick look around the campus. We even got to have lunch outdoors, as the weather was mild.

 

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Tuesday got eaten in its entirety by writing a workshop proposal.  And then Wednesday I had my first meetings with members of the Creative Technologies Group, I had a Skype call with members of the Living Limerick initiative working on the April suite of events, and dedicated time to the budget of the new COST action.

It is interesting how the face-to-face meetings and the online ones alternated, how in one moment I was in my new context and then, out of the sudden, in the old, how I was getting to meet new people both online and face-to-face.

Half-way into my first week here, I realised that I need to plan the things I wanted to do- more reading, more writing – otherwise time will fly without me knowing!

 

 

 

March 16 2017 | sabbatical | No Comments »

End of meSch project

Our final meSch review marks the end of an era: over the last 4 years, I had the chance to collaborate with a fantastic group of designers, technologists, cultural heritage professionals and many others from 11 partner institutions in 5 different countries.
We were a relatively small team at the Interaction Design Centre, University of Limerick, and it was tough in the beginning. We were in charge with the Co-Design work package, which started on Day 1 of the project. We were lucky to have the support of our colleagues in Sheffield-Hallam University, and collaborate with the WAAG Society on co-design activities.meschNick
I was fortunate to have Laura Maye working with me for the whole 4 years of the project – she was an exemplary PhD student and received her PhD with flying colours in September 2016. We were joined by Fiona McDermott for part of the journey, who led the field work and data analysis and designed the excellent co-design resource. Having the chance to continue the collaboration with my friend and former colleague Lui Ciolfi, who was also Laura’s co-supervisor, was one of this journey’s highlights.

meSchAtlantikWallProf. Daniela Petrelli led and inspired this large team with passion and vision, and – with humour and patience, brought us together to achieve goals that seemed to me extremely tough to reach when we first started.meschgroup

Observing the authoring feast organised by WAAG in November 2016 and co-organising one in January in Limerick with Laura brought the confirmation that the meSch authoring tool is easy to use and understand by curators and gave us hope for its future.

meSchkitLast week, our final review ended with excellent results. There was a lot of joy, but also sadness that we got to the end of the 4 years. I will miss the meSch team – I gained so much experience, I made so many new friends, and had the chance to do such interesting work with them.

My hope is that we will continue to collaborate in our future efforts to meschmerise the world!

March 10 2017 | meSch and projects and sabbatical | No Comments »

House of Light

Last Friday evening, I decided to leave the house to go and attend  The House of Light Ritual - announced as an all night celebration of music and dance dedicated to Saraswati at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance. A nice warm atmosphere welcomed us, the Tower Theatre was completely open to the lobby (it was the first time I saw it like this), there was tea and coffee and quite a few people around.

Soon after 9, Matthew Noone, who organised the event, introduced Prof. Karaikudi S. Subramanian playing veena and Karaikudi Krishamurthy playing mridangam. Although I am a big fan of Indian music, I must confess I don’t know much about  Indian instruments. The sound was fascinating, and I wished they would never stop playing.

Next, Prof. Mel Mercier invited us upstairs to see, play and listen with the newly forged gamelan, made on order for the IWAMD by a Javanese gamelan maker. I witnessed a gamelan performance before ( it was the Cork City gamelan), but I have never been so close to one.  What Mel did with the volunteers was incredible, assigning to each one a rhythm and some sounds, until they sounded like an experienced, faultless orchestra. In the second half, students from the BA in Contemporary Dance went to perform a dance in the middle of the room, adding to the magic.

Back downstairs in the Tower Theatre, we listened to Praveen Patiballa  playing  carnatic flute and afterwards to a few of  Ceara Conway‘s amazing songs.

Liam O’Brien  was invited on stage next with his concertina. Toward the end, Matthew Noone joined him on stage playing the sarode .

I had to go home around midnight, as I felt really tired. The concert continued until the morning, and I’m sure there were plenty of other unique moments – so sorry I didn’t last longer! On the way home, I was thinking how lucky I am to live and work here, to have all these cultural confluences on my door steps, and to be able to join in from time to time. On the night, I heard about the new BA course in Performing Arts – World Music that is starting in September at IWAMD. So many opportunities – lucky those who will take this course!

February 04 2017 | arts and Limerick | No Comments »

MuseumFutures Lab Presentations

Yesterday, I was invited to a meeting of  the MuseumFutures Lab. The Lab is part of the  Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering and is associated with the Connected Everyday Lab of Prof. Elisa Giaccardi. Its focus is on exploring the future of museum experience design, looking at experiences that start before and last beyond the physical museum visit. Such experiences are connected to personal lives, activities that take place in schools, community spaces and other institutions. Arnold Vermeeren, the director of the Museum Futures Lab happened to be our guest last year for the Cultural Heritage Communities workshop organised in conjunction with Communities&Technologies 2015.

The work of several students and researchers associated with the Lab explores the role of the Internet of Things, DIY technology, the  Maker Movement and other current technology-related developments  in facilitating and stimulating the design of new experiences for museums and heritage places.

Some of the previous work done in the group includes:

Arnold invited specialists from two prestigious Dutch agencies involved in designing for museums (Fabrique and Tellart), an independent museum exhibit designer currently working with Royal Delft Porcelain, as well as a number of colleagues from IDE, to listen to presentations made by four postgraduate students currently working with different Dutch museums and attempting to design innovative experiences for their visitors.

The ideas were extremely diverse. They ranged from combining museum visits with making in an adjacent makerspace, to organising country side circuits of memorial houses including transportation and accommodation solutions, and designing joint museum experiences for visually impaired people accompanied  by friends or family.

After the presentations, we had a round of feedback for which pairs of specialists forming the audience had the chance to discuss separately with each of the students. It was a rewarding experience, as all these group discussions allowed us to exchange information in an efficient and intellectually stimulating way.

My time here at TU Delft proves to be very rewarding. My initial plan was to hide, read and write, but I am finding myself attending a lot of interesting events just because I happen to be here!

November 09 2016 | Events and sabbatical | No Comments »

Rotterdam Park Hackathon

Last weekend, I had the chance to join a Park Hackathon organised by my colleagues at TU Delft (OpenData Lab Rotterdam) as part of the CAPSS EU project Open4Citizens.
The participants came from different backgrounds: civic activists, public administration, communities around Rotterdam and researchers.

Four parks, all part of the envisaged Groene Connectie (the Green Connection) were targeted:



 

Before the hackathon, I had a bit of time to explore two of the parks. While Park 1943 is a “normal” park in an area with schools and apartment blocks, Dakpark is not your usual park. The municipality and the citizens had very different ideas about how to regenerate an area that was falling into dereliction: while the municipality wanted a long row of shops, the locals wanted a park. In order to reach a compromise, the park was built on top of the shops: that’s where the name- roof park – comes from.

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The hackathon was meant to reveal what kind of data could be accessed, collected, shared, reused in order to respond to current needs and allow the collaboration to improve.

We started with presentations of  the parks  and their current problems on Friday afternoon. As most of the talks were in Dutch, I had to guess, look at slides and Google a lot to make sense of what was going on. When groups with mixed expertise formed, I joined the group working on the Dakpark. People were very nice to me and I finally got a summary of the previous discussions in English, but then people shifted naturally back to Dutch. Once tuned in, I realised I understood a lot more. For people who don’t use English frequently, switching can prove difficult.

After the end of the project that involved building the shops and the park, the municipality is claiming that from now on, it is the responsibility of the citizens/volunteer to maintain it and does not see supporting them as a priority. And although a lot can be done with volunteer work, infrastructural elements and other logistic issues are not so easy to deal with without any support whatsoever!

The details of what happened and what was discussed were thoroughly documented by the project team. What I want to share here are just my thoughts on this type of events. I am a big fan of barcamps, design jams, hackathons and so on, because they give you the chance to meet new people and learn new things outside of our academic environment. Most of the time, people choose to go to such events rather than feel obliged to attend.

But other than the fun and the networking, what is the value of such events?
In this case, the researchers committed to this type of work sessions as part of their project. They organised and documented everything, played the hosts, kept the time and so on.

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Many of the attendees already knew each other, but it was also an opportunity, especially for the people talking on behalf of the organisations involved in park maintenance,

to tap into new types of expertise and get others to work on their problems for free.
An important finding was how efficient data is when you need to persuade someone, and how relatively easy it is to contribute to  open data repositories. Networking appeared as a natural solution for finding what kind of data exists out there in the open and how it can be made sense of.

It was interesting to watch people working in the public administration how they listened to problems – many times outside the remit of their own departments, and how knowing the administration inside-out, they were able to suggest creative solutions. Also, I noticed how their know-how was simply bursting out in response to the problems formulated – some things appeared as obvious to them, but they weren’t at all obvious for their group counterparts.

IMG_20161105_122314Over the two days, the possible solutions continued to change and evolve: what seemed a brilliant idea on day 1 was then rejected and reconsidered on the second day.

As an outsider, I wasn’t aware of the local war stories that people kept on mentioning, so I had to ask to find out the MacDonalds saga. For locals, it was impossible to imagine that someone wouldn’t be familiar with it! There was also the language barrier, which I haven’t encountered in a good while (not since I was working with Folkuniversitetet in Sweden many moons ago), but I was able to get the general gist. When I felt totally lost, I waited for the right moment to sneak in a question or to offer an idea in English.

There’s a special sort of energy at such events. I feel really involved and my neurons fire. I can’t speak about a hackathon addiction – like this young lady -but I never had a bad experience with a hackathon. There’s always stuff to do, interesting people to listen to, and some ideas that give you a sense of achievement.

 

 

In my case, this was simply field work. I was interested to see co-design at work in a different environment than cultural heritage. I looked for the pitfalls. As an outsider, it was easier to ask myself: “Who’s in control? Who benefits?”, keeping the work of Vines and his colleagues at the back of my head.

And parks, after all, are closely related to topics I relate to: sustainability, communities, DIY, growing and sharing food, planting fruit trees in cities and so on.

I am really grateful to Ingrid Mulder for embedding me in her team and giving me the opportunity to participate in this event while on sabbatical at TU Delft!

November 07 2016 | sabbatical | No Comments »

Games for Cities Training School

During the week 10-14 October 2016, I had the chance to attend the ‘Games for Cities’ training school in Amsterdam. The training school was part of the CyberParks COST action, and the central topic was Circular Amsterdam: Cities, Public Space, Play. The main organisers were Martijn de Waal and Gabriele Ferri from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, and Ekim Tan from Play the City

 

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The main focus was on investigating “how play and games can be used to engage and activate citizens around the advent of a ‘circular economy’, with a focus on the flows of food and waste”. Taking a playful, game approach to city-making facilitates engaging different stakeholders in discussing and imagining future developments. This wasn’t my first encounter with the concept of “Circular Economy” (a SIG on this topic exists at the University of Limerick and my host university, TU Delft, is offering a MOOC on the topic), but seeing concrete examples and adopting this mindset definitely helped framing our mission for the training school.

The 5 days programme included presentations by and discussions with various specialists in game design and in the Circular Economy, as well as briefings offered by a number of local organisations on topics they brought to the table as case studies. The majority of the time was dedicated to work in interdisciplinary teams to design a prototype for a city game to take place in a specific location in Amsterdam.

The 19 participants (‘trainees’) were asked to opt for the selected case studies before the training school. The trainers’ task was to coach, nudge, inspire and share knowledge. The participants came from different backgrounds and from all over Europe. Each of them had impressive practices and achievements, and I had the chance to learn from them more than they probably learnt from me.

The first day was dedicated to introductions, general presentations and warming up with some games. We started with the Circular Economy game, designed by Play the City.

Games for CitiesLater in the afternoon, there were presentations on City Games, Circularity and Games Design. The day ended with a scenario game at Mediamatic, that I had to skip because of my daily commute to Delft, where I was based. On the second day, we listened to presentations from representatives of the five ‘clients’ who provided the case studies for each of the teams. The first, from the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions, introduced the concept of Urban Mining. The second one was introduced by Arjan Wardekker from Utrecht University, and was connected to water and reflecting on situations where a city has too little or too much water, what can be done to reuse grey water, rain water and so on. The third case introduced a European project run by Waag Society, Urban AirQ, which enables citizens to measure the quality of air in a polluted area of the city by distributing DIY devices. The next step is to reflect on potential behaviour changes and their own roles and that of the neighbourhood in making these possible. The fourth case focused on waste streams at an experimental site in the North of Amsterdam, Noordoogst. Maarten Mulder from the Urban Technology group at the Amsterdam  University of Applied Science talked to us about the efforts for building a Circular Economy system at this location that includes at the moment a pancake restaurant, a bakery, bee hives, a kindergarten, a vineyard, offices, a take-away restaurant and a hostel. The last case was introduced by Francesca Miazzo from Wasted , a system developed for Amsterdam Nord in 2014 to recycle plastic waste. After a trainers’ coordination meeting, I joined the team working on waste streams in Noordoogst, as I found this development intriguing. After a discussion with Maarten and some brainstorming, we decided to make a trip to see the place. It wasn’t easy to get there- we had to catch a bus from the train station and walk quite a bit. We met the hostel owner in front of the hostel itself and he gave us the Grand Tour. There is a lot of potential, but also doubts that the municipality will extend the lease after the current contract ends. Visit to Noordoogst

In the evening, we went to Pakhuis de Zwijger for a “City Game Talk Show”, which was open to the public. Ilaria Mariani, Kars Alfrink, Francesca Miazzo, Michiel de Lange and Lucy Chamberlain gave short talks and participated in a panel discussion. I missed the following day’s activities, as I had meetings scheduled in Delft.

On Thursday, Silvia Tagliazucchi spoke about her work with Architetti di strada, an interdisciplinary group including architects, human rights activists, sociologists, communication & environment specialists, and the process used in Modena to find solutions together with the citizens. Maria Tome Nuez presented her perspective on digital/physical hybridation and co-creating with the citizens. Michael Nagenborg gave us his philosophical perspective on playful interactions, illustrated with interesting examples of games such as Papers, please!  , Cutthroat capitalism and September 12th.We continued working with the teams and the prototypes started taking shape. Games titles started emerging: Food loop, Carzilla, Fun plastic…

On Friday we heard  Lada Hrsak  talking about storytelling, futuring, agents and actors in street communities. Lada is an architect running her own company and has worked on a lot of fascinating projects all around the world This was my first exposure to performative architecture and it was like a new door opened! Ryan Pescatore Frisk from Strange Attractors presented some of their projects using typography, game design and connections between the physical and digital world.

The work on the 5 projects continued until the afternoon, when the whole group moved to Pakhuis de Zwijger for the public presentation of the game prototypes.

For more details, you can check my photos here, and read the Final Report available from the Cyberparks COST action website.

October 24 2016 | Events and sabbatical | No Comments »

Sabbatical leave

The last few years were extremely busy work wise. A sabbatical was on my mind for quite a while. Fortunately, my university considers sabbaticals as important opportunities to form new international collaborations and learn about higher education and research systems elsewhere. It’s time away from our regular obligations (teaching, supervision, grading, meetings, administrative tasks) when we finally get the chance to dedicate our whole time to reading, writing and planning future research.

During the summer, I had the chance to spend 3 weeks at QUT in June, attending DIS 2016, visiting local cultural institutions and meeting people. It was mostly a meSch mission, introducing the meSch kit, the  authoring tool and our meSch codesign resource down under. But it was also a great opportunity to focus on work while the time zone difference kept my inbox quiet. But that was just the warm-up.

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The official start of my sabbatical, 1 September, found me in New York, attending the 2017 CSCW conference Program Committee meeting at Cornell Tech. A weekend of hard work, but also imbued with the joy of meeting colleagues, sharing news from our field and talking about the future.

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Back in Limerick, I sat in Laura Maye’s viva voce together with Lui Ciolfi, and I was impressed by the confidence and sparkling display of knowledge demonstrated by our joint ‘academic godchild’. I took part in another viva the following week, and now it is almost time to go.

From 1 October to 1 December 2016 I will be visiting the StudioLab in the Industrial Design and Engineering department at TU Delft. I will be back in Limerick for the winter, and after that I am planning a two-months stay in Brighton, visiting the University of Sussex, and another three months stay at the University of Siegen in the summer. I am really looking forward to the new experiences awaiting!

October 05 2016 | sabbatical | No Comments »

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