Working with others

Share what you made

By Diana Bental

Background

Academics focus on publications as a way of sharing ideas, but we make things too, sometimes real working things, more often demonstrators and prototypes. It’s often easier to share software or electronic versions of things – people can make as many copies as they like with little effort and no cost. In this way, people can interact with what you made: use it, comment on it, amend it, and extend it. Your product (or idea) will come back to you reshaped, in a new form, maybe almost unrecognisable. In a sense it doesn’t matter what happens to your digital creation out there in the virtual world, as you still have your pristine original copy.

A good example of this type of digital remixing is the Scratch community at MIT. Scratch is a visual programming environment for children built on playful constructionist ideals. The designers of Scratch envisaged a creative cycle where children would imagine an idea for a program, create it using Scratch, play around with their program to refine it, share it with others in the online community, reflect on what they made and then start the whole cycle again (Resnick, 2007). Verbs like ‘imagine’, ‘play’ and ‘share’ might seem odd in an academic context but they commonly crop up in creativity theory. In fact, Resnick’s creative cycle has similarities to the scientific publishing cycle where academics think of a theory, create a way to test it, analyse the results, publish the findings to a small set of journal reviewers, reflect on the reviewers’ comments and refine their theories. The next stage in the scientific cycle involves replication and refinement by other academic groups.

Resnick’s creative cycle is more fun, though, and involves less ego shredding! Publishing and remixing in the Scratch community is much quicker than the standard academic publishing cycle, resulting in immediate feedback. It’s free too. Open access journals such as PLOS enable authors to get immediate feedback from other academics once their article has been published. But why not try out new ways of sharing ideas digitally before you publish?

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Working with others

Visualising the problem

By Alison Williams

Background

People absorb and process information in three different ways: auditorily, visually and kinaesthetically; the majority (up to 75%) have a visual preference (Fleming, 2006; Fleming & Baume, 2006). It makes no sense to have people with a strong visual preference, and possibly a kinaesthetic secondary preference, sitting talking to each other processing everything in an auditory way. Information is poorly absorbed and links may be missed.

This recipe sets out how groups of people can work together to think together visually: on their feet, moving around, being able to see what each other are thinking as they work together. Letting the images spark new connections, seeing how the images suggest other things, realising where things are not working because the images make it very clear.

Georgia Tech’s Department of Biomedical Engineering has a suite of rooms dedicated to problem-based learning (Newstetter, 2006). The rooms are small – approximately 6m by 8m (20 by 25 feet) – and the walls are covered from floor to ceiling in whiteboard material. Students at all levels use the rooms to work on complex problems set by the faculty. As they talk, they capture their thinking on the whiteboards, drawing graphs, diagrams, symbols and words. As the images build, so the ideas grow, are challenged, are changed, are built, and are critiqued. The level of learning and thinking is impressively high.

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Uncategorized, Working with others

Research interest visualisation

By Marian Dörk

Background

Effective research relies on cross fertilisation of ideas between different researchers. Considering the likelihood of researchers with different backgrounds working on similar or related problems in a research institution, it is unfortunate how often they may cross paths without knowing about each other or their research. Meeting around the proverbial water cooler may simply not be an option for researchers in different departments, based in different buildings.

This recipe, developed through conversations with Graham Earl, proposes a dynamic technological visualisation of the spatial and academic dimensions of co-located research activity. The visualisation juxtaposes researchers’ changing interests and locations on the campus. It reveals commonalities among people in their research topics, problems, and methods, prompting ad hoc brainstorming meetings, coffee breaks, and beer outings. Apart from helping people find each other, the visualisation can also be used to stay aware of the changing research landscape – both digital and physical – at a large institution.

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Working with others

Serendipity on the back of a napkin

By Andrew MacVean

Background

Encouraging serendipity in the workplace is highly desirable (Florida, 2002). An unexpected exchange of ideas can greatly enhance the creative process.  By its nature serendipity cannot be forced; however, this recipe encourages serendipitous exchanges in a simple, low-cost way. Does the pressure to produce outputs limit serendipitous encounters within your institution? Are you struggling to remove these limitations to chance encounters?

In this recipe, a culture of serendipitous encounter is encouraged and made more probable.  It uses an informal dining environment situated in a heavily populated area. Supplying napkins is normal procedure for tables in a dining area: supplying pens too encourages diners into back-of-a-napkin thinking. Key to this concept is the idea of avoiding the pressure to produce, which can sometimes inhibit spontaneous and creative thinking (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). If no serendipitous encounter occurs, the napkins just clean up any mess! Without the pressure of formal outputs, problems can be simplified, and serendipitous thought and encounters can be informally recorded.

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