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The CONSTRUIT! exploratory workshop

The CONSTRUIT! exploratory workshop ... How do you think it works? ... and how we think IT works

We often use computers for computations based on scientific theory. But can computers also help us to explore our world in the search for science? Our exploratory workshop will give you hands-on experience of an online computing environment for constructing mental models of what we learn through experience, experiment and imaginative thinking. This kind of learning is not just what scientists do in the lab - it is a central part of what we all do in our everyday life. Find out for yourself by exploring computer models you can make and break to shed light on natural and artificial intelligence in inventing and playing games, solving puzzles, making music, optics ... and, not least, shopping.

The overall concept (as revised by WMB on 16th April)

The activities in the workshop will be based on five construals - shopping and the other four construals from our gallery of construals and some experimental blends of these construals that are to be constructed by the players colaboratively. Broadly speaking the five construals are concerned with

  • shopping - an 'everyday' activity
  • the science of light
  • making music
  • making and playing games
  • solving puzzles

The construal in italics has a special role, and will be relevant to all the players. There will be at least 2 players specifically allocated to work with each of the other four 'core' construals for the entire session.

The workshop environment

The workshop environment will have six 'stations' notionally corresponding to the six partners in the CONSTRUIT! consortium. There will be poster boards at each station, and each will combine information about the partner institution and information about a specific construal and associated set of activities. The stations will be laid out in a hexagonal arrangement with nodes at UEF, Comenius, Edumotiva, Helix5, Warwick, Edinburgh in clockwise order. UEF and Helix5 will be exceptional. UEF will be the master station from which the workshop activities will be managed via two computers. There will be a screen at UEF to enable guidance and information to be disseminated where necessary. Helix5 will be the station where specially configured computers for collaboratively making blends of the construals, will be hosted. The players (between 8 and 16 in total) will be seated at the four other stations (Comenius, Edumotiva, Helix5, Warwick) where they will either be working individually or collaboratively in pairs using the JS-EDEN construit MCE on the same or two separate computers (8 machines in total). Each of these four stations will have a programme of activities, probably in the form of a dedicated webpage and JSPE presentation 'playsheet', that relates to one of the four core construals. There may also be special equipment, such as a piano keyboard, or a custom-built physical artefact, at these stations. Tutors with special expertise in these construals will be on hand to advise.

The workshop programme

The workshop activities should as far as possible be carried out autonomously by the players with minimum input from the workshop leaders. There will be five notional phases:

  1. An initial registration and set-up phase, during which we allocate anonymous ids to players, match them to the machines on which they will be working and ensure that any procedures for ethical data-gathering are put in place. We expect to be able to configure the MCE so that the history of interaction on each machine can be independently recorded.
  2. An initiation phase, in which the leaders will introduce the shopping construal by presenting some preliminary worked examples similar to the activities to be carried out on the core construals. These will be projected on the UEF screen in such a way that all the players can simultaneously participate and imitate the interactions themselves. The introductory presentation will last 5-10 minutes, and will be available both as a JSPE resource that can be loaded and studied in the MCE and as a handout. This will be useful for those who wish to need more time to assimilate basic techniques and concepts and for any latecomers. The JSPE resource will make use of a template that will be adopted in the playsheets for the core construals.
  3. A phase during which each group of players explore their core construal independently and are rewarded for successful completion of the associated activities. These rewards will take the form of virtual coins (euros in Slovakia and Greece, and pounds in England and Scotland) that will be separately accounted for each of the 8 computers. These coins can be used as payment to unlock further activities in the playsheet - essentially imitating an adaptive learning environment.
  4. A phase in which the players pair off with someone who has studied a different construal and collaboratively create a blend of their construals by introducing suitable bridging definitions.
  5. A short plenary session to highlight insights and issues arising from the workshop and to advertise the opportunities for further ongoing participation through Virtual Workshops and possibly attendance at face-to-face events. We would also gather feedback from players on the workshop and ideas for improvement of the individual activities and the overall structure.

 The workshop agenda

From a CONSTRUIT! perspective:

  • we'd like to prove that we can (potentially) stage something highly original and intriguing for pupils who are prepared to look behind the superficially 'plain' and 'old-fashioned' artefacts and texts that shape their first impression.
  • we would like to get as much experience as possible of how far pupils can participate in our novel computing practice and to harvest useable data on how this is affected by age and background etc so as to address the claims regarding accessibility and comprehension of construals that we are targeting in this first year.
  • we would like to enable pupils to carry on pursuing the 'exploratory workshop' activities after SciFest - provided only that they were 'registered' to take part.
  • we might even be able to recruit 'the best' pupils from SciFest to participate in future CONSTRUIT! events - possibly even paying for them to attend workshops in Warwick (e.g.) in 2015 and 2016.

Additional issues

  • For the exploratory workshop activities, we would initially be making quite high demands as far as understanding English is concerned (though we shall do our best to decribe things simply, and there is a sense in which once you have some key ideas, English language skill is less essential). We would surely benefit from some help with translation to Finnish, ideally both during the workshop and of the workshop resources - perhaps there may be one or two students who came to C5 who could be helpful to us here. Because of the language skills, and the computing formalisms that need to be interpreted, the target group for the adventure game has to be 11-15 and 15+. We'd like to think that pupils who had no prior experience of computing could be involved though. The idea of having 'at least 2 laptops per table' is suggested because of the value of collaboration / working in pairs, and this might work OK provided at least one of the pupils has a good level of language skill, computing skill, educational maturity etc. (Because of the special qualities of construals, it is in principle possible for two pupils to work both synchronously and asynchronously on exactly the same construal simultaneously side-by-side for instance.)
  • We are trying hard to make sure that our construals and activities are as accessible as possible. We definitely have some activities associated with our construals that are within reach of the 7-10 year olds, but these wouldn't be quite as advanced as those that are involved in the 'exploratory workshop'. They would be the kind of activities that would be appropriate for passing trade / casual interaction / advertising the project, but are not likely to be 'whizzy' in terms of appearance or superficial behaviour. Perhaps if we have enough representatives we could have such a 'shop window' drop-in stand at the entrance to the workshop environment - it would mean having one or two additional computers (e.g. tablets, which would be adequate for simple single-interface demos derived from construals) that were free for that kind of casual use. At some stage, it might also be good to show how 'whizziness' at the interface can be achieved to some degree by dressing up the basic states that are embodied in our construals - this could be a valuable exercise in itself, and potentially of interest as a 'window dressing' activity.
  • Ideally, we would like to be able to show that making construals supports the kind of flexible and opportunistic development of software that is needed to make our exploratory workshop a success. The first goal is more modest: to make a 'minimum viable product', for which we shall need simpler expositions and much more extensive documentation for our gallery of construals, together with suitable activities for pupils in both the 11-15 and 15+ age ranges. We shall also need to construct some blends of the core construals as exemplars.

There are bound to be further issues to be considered, and reasons to be cautious ... here for instance are some thought-provoking reflections and questions from Steve Russ. Please feel free to send your comments and feedback so that they can be posted for general discussion.