Ethics of learning analytics

Data is everywhere, ubiquitous and plentiful. But data labour, which renders data, is often invisible, hidden, and unpaid. The rights of data workers are oppressed and overlooked. This is particularly true in the case of ‘fluid data’ (Shacklock 2016) in a marketised higher education sector.

Learning analytics, as defined in the first International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge in 2011 (LAK11), is ‘the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs’.

Much has been said about the utilities of data in a data-centric higher education sector (see for example Shacklock 2016, Sclater et al. 2016, Palmer and Kim 2018). But in general, learning analytics means using aggregated information resulting from the analysis of the data gathered from class activities with the aim of improving instructional design, enriching didactic methods and better understanding the role of educational agents, developing frameworks for improving strategic decision-making, organizational design, and curricular policies. It can be understood as using educational data mining to analyse student behavioural patterns and to establish relationships between the variables involved in learning processes and learning outcomes.

Here at Roehampton University, for example, reading list analytics has been used as ‘an indicative measure of student engagement’ (Celada 2019). Librarians check student engagement with the lists using the Resource Lists analytic tool, and other tips to help enhance the student experience.

Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard, TurnItIn, FutureLearn MOOCs. All these virtual learning environments (VLEs), all offer what Greller and Drachsler (2012) describe ‘a powerful means to inform and support learners, teachers and their institutions in better understanding and predicting personal learning needs and performance’. However, data rights of the users of these VLEs and e-learning tools have rarely been discussed.

Admittedly, I have not discussed ‘data labour rights’ with my students when involving them in the class activities enhanced by some other cloud-based tools such as Nearpod and Kahoot.

Given the scandalous episode of Cambridge Analytica in 2018, and numerous breaches of user privacy and data rights, it is timely and important to consider ethical issues with learning analytics (Slade and Prinsloo 2013, Pardo and Siemens 2014).

My first data art piece installed at Roehampton’s Learning and Teaching Festival (10-12 June 2019) surveyed opinions about learning analytics in the higher education sector. This ‘interactive poster’ exhibition, initially conceived to make up a late submission for an interactive seminar, also unexpectedly revealed the embodied process of labour of making learning analytics, and shows how nontrivial and nonlinear the process of data production is.

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The exhibition / reception area for the Learning and Teaching Festival in the Duschen Building at the University of Roehampton on 10-12 June 2019. #LandTFest2019
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The set-up of my interactive art at the Learning and Teaching Festival in the Duschen Building at the University of Roehampton, Tuesday 11th June 2019. #LandTFest2019
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The set-up of my interactive art at the Learning and Teaching Festival in the Duschen Building at the University of Roehampton, Tuesday 11th June 2019. #LandTFest2019

There were five A3 posters, each of which has a provocative statement printed on it. Delegates were invited to take the round dot stickers of different colours to express your views about these provocative statements on a True-False spectrum. Here are the outcomes:

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Learning analytics data art 1 – Higher education institutions value students’ data rights.
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Learning analytics data art 2 – Analytics impose one-dimensional learning.
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Learning analytics data art 3 – Learning analytics are trustworthy.
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Learning analytics data art 4 – Learning analytics embody the surveillance culture in higher education.
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Learning analytics data art 5 – Algorithmed learning is the inevitable future.

These five diagrams offer some insight into what the delegates at #LandTFest2019 thought of ethical issues about learning analytics. The realisation of these diagrams also ‘documented’ a few issues about data labour and data quality.

Let me start by discussing the design and creation of the posters.

The outlook of the posters was an accidental success. It was difficult (and expensive) to print white characters on black papers. So I had to print out the statements, manually cut them with a scissor and them glue them on the black papers. But, the handmade craft feature surprisingly turned out to be good looking (well, the beauty of imperfection). It also signified the analogue texture of the digital matters in question.

The nonlinear datafication process

This self-selective respondents who opted themselves in to take part in this “survey” of this interactive art work also showed a nonlinear thought process. They did not just put a dot randomly on the posters; they read the statements, went through a rather long (more than 10 seconds) thought process, and then took the action of sticking a round dot on the black papers.

And, just like some vaguely designed questionnaires, they were pondering how to interprete the phrases such as ‘one-dimensional learning’, ‘inevitable future’, and ‘surveillance culture’.

One respondent said, academics have always take students ‘data rights’ very seriously. So this participant firmly put a dot on the ‘True’ end of the statement ‘Higher Education takes students’ data rights seriously.’

One respondent thought that not all surveillance is bad. We monitor students attendance and performance in order to identify problems early so as to respond to them promptly.

One respondent thought ‘algorithmed learning’ has existed for a long, long time, even before the word ‘algorithm’ was invented. (The Arabic source, al-Ḵwārizmī ‘the man of Ḵwārizm’ (now Khiva), was a name given to the 9th-century mathematician Abū Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Mūsa, author of widely translated works on algebra and arithmetic.). So it’s not ‘inevitable future’; it is an ongoing and still developing trend.

These interesting qualitative responses, individual thoughts behind the decision making, however, could not be fully captured and preserved when all these data inputs were aggregated into a collective dataset. Loosing all these embodied gesture and footprints is one of the problems with big data datasets, as argued in the paper I co-authored ‘Co-observing the weather, co-predicting the climate: human factors in building infrastructures for crowdsourced data‘.

Common data processing issues such as missing data and data type errors are also materialised in these five diagrams. My original intention was to colour code responses to these five statements (purely for aesthetics). However, some participants did not know of this colour coding rule. With all stickers out there to be grabbed, some used one colour throughout the game without switching to other colours designated for different statements.

Colour coding reveals these unintended ‘inputs’ in this crowdsourced dataset. This highlights the importance of supervision, moderation, interference, guidance and instructions during the datafication process to ensure the quality of the data (may it be data collected from those who opt-in to take part in a survey or the production of transaction data).

The participation of delegates at the Learning and Teaching Festival was key to this project. The analogue incarnation of the posters helps reveal the often invisible data collection activity and the digital labour (and emotional labour) involved. It shows that there are mixed feelings (and very divided feelings) about learning analytics in higher education. It also shows that datafication is not a straightforward process, as one would have expected.

We need to know more about the social and political life of learning analytics in order to make better judgements and more informed discussion about how to protect the data rights of our students (when gathering information generated by student activity in digital spaces) users data rights and data labour rights in data-driven education. In line with the effort of the Data Workers Union, we need to raise awareness of data labour rights in surveillance capitalism. The co-production of this interactive piece materialises our collective ability to see.

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Hors Lits Mcr

I had enjoyed every single minute in the last 24 hours at Manchester.

Today, I stumbled upon the MMU’s Degree Show 2019 ‘Everything starts from Something’. Lots of quality student works with critical ideas were exhibited there.

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Clandestine at the MMU Degree Show 2019

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‘Is it just me?’ Clever idea of crowdsourcing graffiti. Beautiful artefacts after the temporality of graffiti is removed. At the MMU Degree Show 2019 by Jake Stevenson Grimberg

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The British Isles of Good (exhibited at the MMU Degree Show 2019)

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‘Play this poster’. (MMU Degree Show 2019)

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White lies lab (MMU Degree Show 2019)

After meeting an old friend, I went to the performance by Tina Richardson at the MMU. This research-based performance was entitled ‘The Rael/Real of Psychogeography: Urban walking as a method of ameliorating castration anxiety in Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’. In Tina Richardson’s own words:

Rael is not real, but he is a popular culture representation of a real individual who is a stranger in a new city. As a recent immigrant to New York, Rael has to negotiate the alien space that has suddenly become his home. Part hero, part graffiti artist, part urban explorer, we witness our protagonist traversing the physical landscape of the city and that of his own psyche.

This lecture explores the Lacanian concepts of castration anxiety, lack, the Other, and the real, in the context of the album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (Genesis, 1974). It examines the anxiety displayed in the character of the story and his attempts to work through this by using the landscape of the city as a vehicle for his own self-therapy.

By analysing Rael’s behaviour in the story, Richardson demonstrates that by taking a psychogeographic approach to the physical space of the city, and the abstract space of his own mind, Rael manages to work his way through the aesthetics of living in New York, as a foreigner, by facing his own troubled past.

It is for anyone interested in psychogeography, psychoanalysis, popular culture, cultural theory and/or progressive rock.

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Tina Richardson performing ‘The Rael/Real of Psychogeography: Urban walking as a method of ameliorating castration anxiety in Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway’

Funny enough, after Tina Richardson’s performance, I myself had an accidental (yet pleasant) psychogeography tour with a theatre company called ‘Hors Lits Mcr‘.

When I stepped out of Levenshulme station after getting off the train from Manchester Piccadilly, I saw a group of spectators who was about to set off to their Hor Lits theatre shows (Hor Lits #2 Levenshulme). I joined them for four mini performances at four different very private locations in Levenshulme. Theatre director Jonathan McGrath staged a moving performance in a cellar in a private house. OLA (One Little Atlas) the band played original live soundtrack to Baraka by Ron Fricke. Dancers Alice Bonazzi and Sara Marques (from Damae Dance) performed well-choreographed and emotive dance at a nursery. Finally, actor Conor A. and co. gave a comedy show about mental health issue. By walking from one venue to the other, I was experiencing Levenshulme in different way. I also learned new places in Levenshulme, met new friends. I thought the whole thing about Hors Lits was really psychogeographic.

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Hors Lits #2 Levenshulme

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Hors Lits #2 Levenshulme

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What a day. I have enjoyed every single minute. Life is full of surprises, just like a box of chocolate (quoting Forrest Gump). I’d like to conclude this entry about my serendipitous encounters with the MMU degree show, with an old friend, and with Hors Lits Mcr with this quote from Conor’s show:
“You are not damaged; you are just shaped differently.”
After today, I am definitely less damaged than I used to be, even just slightly.

iWeekTAMK2019

Blue sky. Clear lake. Glorious spring leaves. Gentle breeze. Perfect climate for the 12th International Week at Tampere (#iWeekTAMK)at the Mediapolis at Tampere.

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The lake next to the Mediapolis at Tampere

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The lake next to the Mediapolis

Using ‘neon’ as a metaphor, iWeekTAMK2019 had a theme ‘See the invisible, hear the silence’.
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Poster for the iWeekTAMK2019 – ‘See the invisible, Hear the silence’.

The workshop I led, ‘live streaming, slow tv and digital stories’, explored different storytelling techniques in live streaming. I had three participants over this three-day workshop. We started by comparing different vlogging styles by looking into Italian, Finnish and British microcelebrities on social media. On Day 2 we looked into some classic Norweigian slow tv. On Day 3 we created small digital stories, interviewing one of the delegates from the Netherlands Hilde Spille.
I learned some new trends from the workshop participants – Italian Chiara Ferragni, Finnish mmiisas, and the ‘slow tv’ has become a new therapy for insomnia.
This year I had another interesting encounter with Finnish Sauna. We went to a public sauna, where men and women had to dress up in swimming suits to go in. The sauna room was huge, and very hot (usually between 93 to 94 celsius). Instead of a wooden sauna ladle, the ladle was made of heavy material. I had a go with it and realised why usually the job of adding water on the coal was carried out by a strong Finnish man.

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The lake by the public sauna

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I was really impressed by some of the works exhibited at the iWeekTAMK 2019. The outputs from the workshop “Linear Interpretations” led by Tibor Kecskes was particularly stunning as they utilised the neon materials so well. Nothing could capture the WOW feeling when one walked into the dark room where many neon objects were placed.
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Tuomo Joronen’s ‘blow-a-kiss-o-matic’ is a clever design – see some photos.
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Tuomo Joronen and his creation ‘blow-a-kiss-o-matic’

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Blow-a-kiss-o-matic. Com

The idea of projecting on cardboard boxes is also very clever and fits very well with the topic of the video about moving homes.
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Projecting on cardboard boxes.

This year’s iWeekTAMK was quieter than the past events. I was the only visitor from the UK. Although there were events taking place at the same time, Brexit perhaps is another unspoken factor. The world we used to know is changing in such an unpredictable way at the moment. Events such as iWeekTAMK2019 play an important role in reiterating the values of knowledge exchange and network building.

#BVE19 under the threat of the #Brexit?

Although media industries have always been driven by technological development, it’s interesting to see how digital tech companies are making their marks at #BVE19.

This year’s BVE focused on machine learning, AI, OTT and platforms. Content making these days is tighten with online platform delivery. AI has been applied in many aspects of media content production: sorting out content, organising metadata, making business plan. Despite promises and possibilities of machine learning and AI to transform content production and operations, it seems that most media workers are sceptical and resistent of the implementation of AI and machine learning. Not only because of job loss, but also the not-so-perfect jobs done by machines.

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#BVE19

Audience is another keyword that kept being mentioned in the talks. Having access to cutting-edge technologies has advanced content production, but how to successfully target and communicate with audiences remains a big issue. Commissioners from MTV International, BBC Three, and Channel Four discussed their thoughts on what’s next for 16-34s. Each channel has its own focus and remits (in BBC and Channel Four’s case). For example, BBC Three’s ‘Abused by my girlfriend‘, and MTV’s ‘True Love or True Lies‘ are considered quite popular amongst young audience. But Channel Four’s ‘Shipwrecked‘ appeared to be a disaster due to content targeted for different generations of audiences mixed together.

And, data is at the heart of everything people do. To understand audience behaviours, BBC requires users to log into iPlayer so that they can monitor them. YouTube/Google is partnering with BT Sport to explore how subscriptions (data) can be turned into revenues (new ways of monetising models through targeted advertising).

But I have to say that the talk that I enjoyed the most at #BVE19 was the lecture ‘The grammar of film directing’ delivered by Patrick Tucker, an internationally acclaimed Stage and Screen Director. I am not a director and has no interest in directing a film. However, the participatory and theatrical approaches he used in delivering his lecture made it so engaging and animating. As an educator, I learned a lot from watching him teaching others. Of course, I learned one or two grammars in relation to film directing, too, such as ‘Don’t cross the line unless there’s a conflict’, and ‘how to resolve “unmotivated zoom”‘.

Yesterday when I walked into the exhibition hall at London Excel, I did not sense the usual buzzing at BVE. The damaging effect of Brexit has started to show. A big theatre for keynotes and a central stage normally occupied by a shiny new motor and cutting-edge industry-standard cameras were absent. No Sony (probably expected because of this. Instead, I observed a gazebo dome tent being used as a theatre venue, and unusual sponsorship from Skype, Dropbox, Barclays.

But perhaps the Brexit is the red herring here. Perhaps it’s to do with the changing nature of media industry marketing and publicity. For example, Sony’s PlayStation decided to pull from this year’s E3 event, ‘moving away from benchmark physical events designed to attract traditional press coverage and toward dedicated fan events or online broadcasts, aimed directly at consumers and YouTube influencers’.

I do hope that there is going to be a BVE2020 as this event is a great place to network, and to learn the state of art in media industries. It may not be as big as the IBC Show in Amsterdam, but it is significant and symbolic in the UK context.

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After the session ‘The grammar of film directing’ at the Cinematography & Lighting Theatre Day 1 #BVE19

Panel discussion #BVE19
Panel discussion: A new breed of sports broadcaster (chaired by Keshav Nagaraja of Cognizant, with Russel James from the FA, Ben Gallop from BBC Sport and Ben Napier from Google)

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The commissioners: What’s next for 16-34s #BVE19 (A panel chaired by Jason Mitchell of The Connected Set, with Nasfim Haque of BBC Three, Craig Orr of MTV International)
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Adobe workshop #BVE19
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A panel on eSports chaired by Neal Romanek (FEED magazine), joined by James Dean (ESL UK), Andrew Lane (FACEit) and Jonathan Lyth (ES Broadcast) #BVE19
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Adobe workshop #BVE19

The Datafied Self

I gave a guest lecture entitled ‘The Datafied Self in a New Media Society (新媒體社會中的數據化自我)’ at the Institute of Communications Management at the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on 21st December 2018.

One of the student journalists has written up some very comprehensive notes about the lecture, nicely breaking down the big concepts I discussed. The article is available here) and I have copied and pasted the texts below.

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【行傳講座】解構數據社會 被編碼的日常生活? 

【記者王人豪/採訪報導】

隨著物聯網技術的提升,許多訊息以數據的形式傳送上雲端,並描繪出一個以數字為基底的社會觀。人們在大量的數據當中徜徉,並從中建構出自我。本學期開設「媒體與科技社會」的蕭蘋教授邀請到University of Roehampton的 Dr. Yuwei Lin,以科技社會學的角度,探究人們究竟如何運用數據建立自我以及對相關議題的批判思考。

We’re all Cyborg! 數據化的社會學議題

數據在現代生活當中無所不在,而數據化(datafication)是什麼?Dr. Lin 將其定義為「將日常生活的行為與活動,轉換為電腦可運算的單位與形式。」而大數據這個觀念,並非是近年來的新興詞彙,過去的史料、人口普查等,其實都是數據的形式之一。另外她也提到目前數據與過往的不同,在於數據形成的過程(What’s new is the process),而近年來由於穿戴式裝置興起,可供蒐集的資訊也愈發多元。因此,在討論數據資料時,仍需要釐清數據的形式與來源。

以推特帳號@middleclassprob為例,在文本數據化的過程中,質性資料被上傳到網路後,轉變為電腦可讀取的資料,以便供人採用。又如同在脫歐公投前,社群網站上的脫歐聲量就已經相當可觀,說明了脫歐事件透過文本數據化早有跡可循。而談到一般的量化資料,當前普及的穿戴式裝置,透過記錄個人的睡眠、運動時間、心跳糖尿病等健康數據,並上傳至雲端的伺服器,而能立即對個人健康資訊做出回應。

數據讓決策變得更加容易,卻有著不夠完善之處。當資料都轉換成為電腦可讀取的形式,亦即0/1的位元碼後,即成為非黑即白的二元對立,但在人類的世界中存在著許多模糊地帶,若將這些資料數據化後,就喪失了訊息本身的意義,可見數據化對於不同情境下的適用性值得探討。

如何數據化自我 電腦編碼的生活方式

Dr. Lin 以 Apple Watch 與 fitbit 的穿戴裝置廣告為例,指出現代人的健康生活與這些穿戴裝置相連結,人們可以依據裝置所偵測到的數據建立自我追蹤(self-tracking),並且透過裝置的提醒安排日常生活中的健康活動,甚至建立起個人化的生活風格,形成以數據溝通為主的社群。

透過數據所建構的生活形式,在社會學家的眼中也成為值得討論的議題。透過探究日常瑣事中所匯聚而成的資料,便能夠瞭解偏好。而以數據溝通、表現自我的社群或個體,將更進一步的剖析數據化自我的目的、動機以及意義。另外也以推特實際案例說明,有些人以日誌形式與不同的Hashtag表現不同的自我認同,透過不同的標籤,了解人們是如何在社群媒體上展現自我。

個人醫療品質方面,透過數據化的資料,人們得以藉由數據強化醫病關係當中的權力。病人如果能夠量化自己每日的活動,就可以透過這些資料去瞭解自己的健康狀況,並與醫生達成良好的溝通協調。

數據化還能做什麼? 反思數據化社會的價值觀

除了與個人攸關的數據之外,環境中的變化其實也可以是數據化的素材,有些創作者更透過這些數據資料進行藝術創作。Dr. Lin 以倫敦公共腳踏車的分布數據為例,說明這些公開數據是如何透過藝術的形式,去呈現倫敦市民的日常生活。她也說「大數據的創新,也使人可以有不同的方式重新瞭解自然與科技間的關係。」

此外,由於電腦普及化的關係,每個人都可以成為「數據公民」。她引用Haraway的名句「We’re all Cyborg」—我們都是可以化身為電子數據,徜徉網路的「賽伯格」,透過蒐集各式各樣的開放數據去表現自我、展現我們所認同的社群,甚至是由下而上的對官方文本提出質疑與批判。

最後,Dr. Lin 也針對了數據化社會提出了一反思與論述。在數據化社會下,雖然產生了新穎的價值觀、自我認同與表現形式,甚至是再分配,使人重新檢視大環境與民眾間的關係,但同學們仍要關切數據化過程中,人為建構的偏見、黑箱、歧視與隱私議題所帶來的後果,藉此反思數據化社會所帶來的正、反價值。

MozFest Weekend 2018

The highlight of MozFest 2018 was the MozFest Weekend taking place at Ravensbourne University’s award-winning building next to the O2.

Despite some hiccups (e.g, journey delayed on Sunday due to the multiple signal problems on the Jubilee Line which led to a temporary suspension of Jubilee Line), I had lots of fun: physical games, data art installations, workshops, talks and conversations with those who shared the same concerns about internet health.

I had the pleasure of making acquaintance with Mozilla Fellows Sam Muirhead and Darius Kazemi, who both shared their insights into decentralised web with me.

It may be obvious to those savvy techno elites, but I did not know there are protocols other than http and https. Thanks to Sam Muirhead, I now have the Beaker Browser installed in my laptop and can access the dat protocol if I want to. I can also use patchwork to access a decent(ralised) secure gossip platform called ‘scuttlebutt‘.

Darius Kazemi wisely said in his lightning talk that ‘the decentralised web is becoming centralised’ and it’s worrying. Just because people don’t use decentralised social networking tools don’t mean that they are stupid. They may choose not to for various reasons. And decentralisation means more than just building yet-anther-Twitter to replace the current Twitter (or Facebook, you name it). It requires a change of mindset, a change of culture, a understanding of barriers.

Big organisations such as the BBC also engaged in this event, organising tech workshops for young people (e.g., the Micro:bit). For me, it’s particularly refreshing to learn about BBC CAPE, an initiative that aims to create a positive environment and to welcome neurodiversity at workplaces. Leena (@L1L_Hulk) and Sean from Project Cape (@S67Sean) gave a great workshop raising awareness of the importance of diverse talents and needs in the creative industry. You can learn more here.

The Mozilla Foundation has generously sponsored this first ever field trip for Roehampton’s BA (Hons) Digital Media programme. We received subsidized youth tickets and free educators tickets for our staff and students. There was a superb and free creche service on site. A big thank you to the Mozilla Foundation. We are looking forward to the MozFest 2019 already.

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Future Neighbourhood Technologies

At the Workshop: Trust, AI and Neighbourhood Technology led by Loraine Clarke from Dundee University, a small group of us were brainstorming emergent technologies for our neighbourhood communities.

We started by thinking of the neighbourhoods that we live in, described and drew the neighbourhoods. And then, we designed what information we’d put up on the community notice boards.

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My neighbourhood.

The brainstorming was driven by the problems we had at hand:

A vegan participant would like to share his veg box with his neighbour. To solve this problem, we thought a communal smart fridge or an Amazon locker would be a good way forward for sharing unused food.

Some participants pondered how to identify neighbours who shared the same interests or needs (e.g., for childcare). Social media appeared to be useful for such match-making purposes. And, increasingly, social media like Facebook is replacing the traditional function of a communal notice board. Our memory of advertising our lost cats on a lamp post will soon be forever gone.

I came up with an idea of having a driverless robotic cleaning truck shared by local communities. Thanks to the gov’s austerity policy, many local councils cut funding for street cleaning. Future communities may have to clean the streets themselves (well, with volunteer manpower). To access this driverless robotic cleaning truck, volunteers registered with the system will access the garage by scanning their face. In so doing, we also known who the volunteers are, and can honour them publicly.

One of the participants is living in the shiny new smart apartment in Portland in the US. Every apartment includes an Echo equipped with Alexa. He could use his mobile phone to unlock his flat, and switch the heating off or turn the heating on remotely. There are also lockers in the common space for easy delivery and pickup of packages from any sender at any hour. The system also told the residents about their neighbours. If we think about how long it takes to familiarise oneself with a neighbourhood after moving over there, it is scary to see how quickly AI systems offers the neighbour information that probably would take someone a decade to gather. But whether or not a sense of belonging and a sense of community can be enabled by AI is questionable.

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Outcomes from the brainstorming session for future neighbourhood technologies.