While sheltering-in-place, our Tinkering Studio team continues to experiment and explore ways to facilitate hands-on making experiences at a distance. Recently, we lead a Shadow Remix workshop at PLAYfest 2021 where participants were invited to reimagine shadows using both physical and digital materials. We've been exploring remixing and reimaging shadows since last summer and continue to be impressed with the tinkerability of the activity. I wanted to share some of my big takeaways from facilitating this workshop over Zoom and how we designed for a playful, learner-centered environment. Learn more about the activity Shadow Remix on its project page.
Hands and Eyes
Webcams are a great way to connect with participants remotely, but the pictures they paint can be misleading. Cameras only provide a partial picture of the tinkering that's happening, so we try to find workarounds given easily accessible tools. While working, we want to be able to see each others' work when possible and ask participants to tip their laptop screens down so the webcam is centered on their workspace. This often results in more questions freely being asked, both from facilitators and participants, and sparks conversation. At this time, we also ask participants to keep their microphones open to keep conversations happening freely and to hear ambient noises of their workspaces in the background.
Support Divergent Directions
One of the unique qualities about Shadow Remix is that there are so many different ways to engage. This tinkering experience was designed to support wide walls, a phrase used by Mitchel Resnick in his book Lifelong Kindergarten. In addition to low floors (easy activity entry points) and high ceilings (possibilities to go deeper), Resnick explains the importance of wide walls in activity and technology design. Read the full chapter on Cultivating Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play here.
"It’s not enough to provide a single path from a low floor to a high ceiling; it’s important to provide multiple pathways. Why? We want all children to work on projects based on their own personal interests and passions—and because different children have different passions, we need technologies that support many different types of projects, so that all children can work on projects that are personally meaningful to them."
- Mitchel Resnick, Lifelong Kindergarten
Shadow Remix supports wide walls by offering multiple entry points into the experience. Getting started requires only a light source (like a flashlight, the sun, the flashlight on a phone, etc), a shadow-making object, a pen, and a piece of paper. Draw on top of your shadow and make something new. This can be done inside or outside, even with chalk and sidewalk. We call this direction analog shadow remixing because it's using materials and tools that are physical and low-tech.
Another direction to take the activity is with digital tools and technologies. We call this digital shadow remixing. Use a smartphone or tablet to take a photo of a shadow and use software to draw your design. One benefit of this style of shadow remix is the ability to share your shadow with someone else. That's where the name Shadow Remix originates - take a shadow, draw your interpretaion of the shapes, and share your shadow for someone else to remix. This style of collaboration opens up many directions for designing a workshop. Participants can start with the same shadow and remix, or everyone makes their own shadow and remixes a shadow from someone else. Sharing shadows and seeing everyone's unique interpretations is one of the joys of this activity.
Like the digital, but also like the tangibility of analog? Try printing out a photo of a shadow and remixing it with pen and paper. A black-and-white print on copy paper works great, and is another possible avenue for the experience.
Provide a Shared Workspace
When tinkering remotely, we miss sharing a physical space together and look at one another's work across the table. Tinkering is social, and we look for ways to add collaboration back into the digital world. We're big fans of Padlet for its ability to share photos and text easily without an account and creating a common workspace. We encourage participants to share tentative ideas and their works-in-progress, as well as build on the ideas of others.
Process Over Product
In the Exploratorium, we invite visitors to stay as long as they like in our space. The landscape of hosting workshops online often requires that we cap our workshop experience to 90 minutes, 60 minutes, even 45 minutes in length. This can be challenging not only on facilitators, but also on participants, because tinkering takes time. During online workshops, we focus more on the process of tinkering and encourage participants to keep tinkering even after the time together concludes. Providing outlets to keep the conversation going is another way to keep the conversation going. We encourage participants to add to Padlet even after the workshop ends, or to share on Twitter or Instagram with the tag #ShadowRemix.
As a group, we look for ways to grow our facilitation practice, and we decided to explore documentation during our PLAYfest workshop. How do we capture what's happening in a workshop? Can we highlight the different ideas shared and directions people take? Our Tinkerer-in-Residence Celeste Moreno captured a sketchnote of the workshop to document participants work and facilitation strategies.
We would love to hear if you host a Shadow Remix workshop and ways you support learners tinkering in an online context. You can find us on Twitter @TinkeringStudio where we share ideas, learn from one another, and continue to tinker.