Newsletter 4

Jul 24, 2019 | Share

MakEY Newsletter 4

As our MakEY project comes to an end, in this newsletter we provide updates on some of the final secondments undertaken by team members.
The secondments have been a particularly rich element of the MakEY project,as they have allowed team members to spend time with teams in other countries in order to share ideas, analyse data, undertake collaborative writing, and a whole host of other activities.
We have welcomed this aspect of the RISE programme and so aim, in this newsletter, to provide some of the highlights of recent visits, but also to offer a summative reflection on why secondments are such a valuable part of the programme..

The Iceland team go to Sheffield

From March to May 2019, Sheffield hosted three visitors: Kristín Dýrfjörð, Anna Elísa Hreiðarsdóttir and Þórdís Sævarsdóttir. Kristín and Anna Elísa are based at the University of Akureyri and Þórdís runs Innoent, an SME that offers makerspace workshops for children and families. They had a productive time, exchanging progress with the Sheffield team, visiting the non-academic makerspace staff involved in the project and finding out about their progress, writing up final reports and participating in dissemination events.
Thordis, for example, attended a MakEY public engagement event held by the Sheffield team in the Millenium Galleries, Museums Sheffield. The event was organised as part of the exhibition ‘Leonardo Da Vinci: A Life in Drawing’. An installation designed by the studio Universal Eveything was the focus for the MakEY workshop for under 5s. It consisted of a digital river that swirled across the gallery floor. The MakEY team organised a range of maker activities for young children around the gallery. The event was a huge success, attracting 200 children and families. It has to be said that the most popular activity was the installation itself, with children running in the digital river, delighted to be immersed in the digital flow!

Kristín and Anna Elísa had opportunities to share their studies whilst they were in Sheffield. Kristin gave a seminar to students at the University of Sheffield. The seminar was well attended, and students were interested to hear about the differences in makerspaces in early years settings in Iceland and the UK.

The Sheffield team go to Canada and the US

Makerspaces: New Spaces for Children’s Digital Media Production
Written by Becky Parry

When I took up my role at the University of Sheffield I was delighted to be offered the chance to undertake a MakEY secondment to Canada. MakEY is a research project I was highly interested in engaging with before I joined the department, especially having acted as a discussant for a MakEY symposium at the UK Literacy conference in 2018. I am not an early years researcher but I have always drawn on early years pedagogy when thinking about children’s creative practices, especially in thinking about the relationship between play and digital media production. This symposium really highlighted for me some key terms associated with making that I wanted to explore further. Ideas such as ‘hacking’ and ‘tinkering’ seem to me to suggest many possibilities for developing more playful approaches that might enrich learning when we support children in learning to make films, animations, videogames and comics.

In my professional work in children’s film festivals I have observed approaches which mirror industry practices of production, which can sometimes seem rather limited in the way in which there seems to be a ‘right’ way to do things. Children are often allocated individual roles such as director or editor, rather than working on all the different stages and processes. There’s often a focus on a final polished film, rather than on process and sometimes too much of the film is shaped by adult / filmmaker sensibilities. The MakEY activities I have been part of have helped me to think about cameras, phones and tablets as well as images, moving images, sound, music and editing software as materials which children need opportunities to ‘take the back off’ or ‘get the feel of.’

The more I have engaged with the MakEY programme, the more interested I have become interested in the potential for more exploratory, child-led and playful approaches to enable children to engage much more meaningfully with digital tools alongside a whole range of other materials. Through my involvement in an international project with partners in Australia and Denmark, focused on space, I observed children’s embodied engagement with materials. The children created clay models of rockets which they uploaded to VR and used Tilt Brush to create their own galaxies. The children used all their bodies in this process with arms swishing around to create a trail of stars in VR and small fingers involved in tiny, detailed manipulation of clay in their model making. Often story was important to the making, the people in the rocket had to make new homes for themselves in space. The story worlds the children imagined as they played and made, clearly supported their inventiveness.

In a makerspace at Brock University in St Catherine’s in Ontario, I observed a full day makerspace run by Professor Jennifer Rowsell, where the children followed their own interests and made boats, slime, plant watering devices and the weapons from Fortnite. Having the chance to work with one group of children over a whole day, it gave me a chance to observe the ebb and flow of the children’s immersion in making, the rhythms were marked by fluctuating sounds. Sometimes loud, messy exhilarated talk looked like engagement but sometimes absolute quiet ensued as the children became immersed in trying out something tricky.

In St John’s in Newfoundland, working with Professor Anne Burke from Memorial University, I was particularly affected by a visit to the The Art Hives, where creative processes are used therapeutically with groups of children, young people and families. Here I was especially struck by the shift away from valuing creative work with praise, towards finding ways to just be curious and interested in creative choices. This has had a powerful impact on my thinking and on my return to the UK I have had a chance to try out this approach at home in Sheffield.

I have been part of public engagement makerspace activities with young children in schools and museums and galleries, led by Professor Jackie Marsh. It was a challenge, but I have been trying to resist saying that ‘everything is awesome,’ to quote the Lego movies, and to move to asking questions about the children’s decisions and intentions. This may seem obvious to others, but I had not realised how much my affirmation of children’s work was about the final product and not about the process or the learning and I think that’s a salutary lesson in relation to developing a more inclusive approach to digital media production. I am looking forward to reflecting on this in relation to the next makerspaces we are running at The Children’s Media Conference Playground. Here we plan to make many digital media making resources available, including green screen film and stop motion animation.

The extraordinarily rich discursive culture of the MakEY community of practitioners and academics has enabled me to share my thinking about ways of drawing on the ethos or pedagogy of maker spaces has impacted on my development as an early career researcher. I have been able to discuss a possible new programme of work which might take this work forward and examine what we can learn from makerspaces, as they have been developed for young children, in the context of film and media production.

Final Reflections on Secondments
As the project closes, this is a good opportunity to reflect on what, to the MakEY team, secondments offered this research project:
  1. Secondees learned a great deal from their hosts about all aspects of making in the host country. This enabled them to reflect on makerspaces in their own country in order to identify what was unique about them and/ or the policy context in which they were located.
  2. During secondments, secondees took part in many makerspaces in the host countries. These enabled them to learn new approaches, and also to identify similarities in makerspaces across countries.  This is particularly the case for those secondees who were fortunate enough to visit more than one country during the project, who were able to identify patterns across countries and continents.
  3. The secondments provided opportunities for team members to work on all aspects of the project together – developing the literature review, planning the research designs of the case studies, analysing data and writing up the final case studies. It is certainly the case that the outcomes are all the better for this collaboration,  as much thought, reflection and discussion has taken place in relation to all elements of the project.
  4. Secondees had opportunities to give seminars on the project in host countries. For early career researchers, having an opportunity to talk to an international audience was invaluable. Indeed, the project has been highly beneficial for early career researchers, with three of the team securing academic contracts during the project.
  5. During secondments, team members also had opportunities to share some of the project outputs in progress with key stakeholder groups e.g. teachers, museum educators and so on. This meant that the final outputs were more suited for the audience.
  6. Many of the secondments were inter-sector as well as international. Academics had valuable opportunities to learn from makerspace staff, and vice versa. This is, however, perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project.  Whilst it was relatively easy for academics to arrange secondments, this was much more challenging for makers and teachers, who found it difficult to get cover for their work. This feedback has been given to the RISE programme office, to see if, in future calls, there could be some way around this – could, for example, teachers’ supply cover costs be paid, so that they might travel for longer periods? Nonetheless, those makers and teachers who were able to travel in MakEY found the opportunity to be extremely valuable and took back to their practice a range of learning. For academics, understanding the way in which research outcomes can be applied to ‘real world’ contexts was key to the development of policy and practice that Will have an impact beyond project.
It goes without saying that the MakEY team found the RISE programme to be a valuable and generative approach to research, and we encourage colleagues who are eligible to consider submitting applications in the future. If you have any questions at all about the programme, then do contact us at about the RISE programme can be found here:


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