Each year, the University of Edinburgh holds Innovative Learning Week (ILW), a festival to inspire, support and celebrate creative learning. This year’s theme was ‘Ideas in Play’.
In this guest post, PhD student Matluba Khan tells us about an ILW event she devised with Nik Farhanah and other colleagues from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), working with children aged 5-11 on a real-life outdoor design challenge.
As she explains in her post, Play+Design=Learning builds on Matluba’s PhD research at the University of Edinburgh on Design for Outdoor Education in Bangladeshi Elementary Schools, as well as Nik’s PhD research on children’s participation in designing educational environments.
Matluba’s research is co-supervised by Simon Bell and Eva Silveirinha de Oliveira of OPENspace, together with Sarah McGeown of Moray House School of Education. Nik’s is co-supervised by Fiona McLachlan in ESALA, together with Catharine Ward Thompson of OPENspace and Kay Tisdall of the School of Social and Political Science.
“Working in my office, looking at spreadsheets for hours, days and weeks, my mind often returns to working with the children in Bangladesh to build their dream school ground.
On one such occasion, I received an email calling for proposals for Innovative Learning Week 2016 and it came to my mind… can I do something similar for the children in Scotland with support from ILW?
I shared my idea with Architecture PhD student, Nik Farhanah, who is also working with children, exploring their participation in designing learning spaces in Scottish schools.
She immediately agreed and we had our first formal meeting perched on a staircase!”
Keeping it local
“Our initial idea was to work in the grounds of a primary school within walking distance of Edinburgh College of Art (ECA), where we are both based.
Then we thought “how about we get the ECA open space designed by the young landscape architects?”
So, the project became focused on the green space at the heart of the ECA campus on Lauriston Place, with indoor activities held in the college café overlooking the grounds.
We planned a day of inter-related activities, including an ice-breaker craft activity, an accompanied walk-along audit of the college grounds, a re-design of the outdoor space using drawing and modelling, and plenty of group discussion and presentation”.
Getting friends on board
“Play and learning are very multidisciplinary, so we asked for input from colleagues in related fields.
Norhanis from Landscape Architecture did the multimedia projection, photography and videography, Katie from Illustration designed beautiful certificates for our youngsters, Sharifah from Education looked after the children’s wellbeing on the day, and Reyhaneh from Landscape Architecture helped the youngest group (Nik, Katie and myself were also facilitators).
Our friends worked a great deal to advertise the event among their colleagues and friends and the response and outcome of the event surpassed our expectations.
The enjoyment of working with out-of-the-box designers with wild imagination as well as reasonable thinking (which we often don’t want to accredit children with) cannot be compared to anything else”.
What we learned
“We not only enjoyed but also learnt how we can work with children more effectively to generate creative and effective design ideas, for example, taking into account how children of different age groups express their ideas in different ways, and which materials children prefer to work with.
The children also learnt, through seeing, analysing, acting on, collaborating and listening to each other, but above all through playing with different materials, colours and objects.
They designed water features and modern seating. They proposed a bird feeder and bird bath to attract birds and a shelter where students can paint or sketch when it rains.
They picked up on things like the potential to incorporate some modern art forms or sculpture that would right away communicate the college’s status with any visitor”.
You can read an extended version of this post on Matluba’s blog, PhD_the other half, where you can also keep up to date with progress on her research.
We would also like to take this opportunity to extend our congratulations to Matluba who has just been announced as the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities’ first ever Thinker-in-Residence, in partnership with Deveron Arts.