Centre for the Study of Literacies

Research Achievements

'A Leap of Faith' Logos of Arts & Humanities Research Council and Connected Communities


‘A Leap of Faith’: How can research shape the practical ways communities build their futures

Photograph of people holding UTOPIA sign

Management Team:

Kate Pahl, Johan Siebers, Patrick Meleady, Dan Jary, Geoff Bright, Steve Pool

Artists & Partners:

Patrick Amber, Steve Pool, Poly-technic, Pitsmoor Adventure Playground, Sheffield School of Architecture- Live Works

Project 

‘A Leap of Faith’ was a six month co-produced participatory arts research project is taking place as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias. The project explored how the idea of self build structures and free play can be seen as examples of Utopian imagination. Originating in the bombsites and aftermath of the Second World War, adventure play continues to provide a place for young people to build, act out, imagine and take control. 

Over a 4-month period young people from the playground worked with community artists to explore making and playing on the site with a focus on utopia and futures. Alongside this new work, staff and young people talked about their ideas of the future and what it meant to them. These ideas were recorded through a film project and a bespoke website.

The project also looked at the historic aspects of the adventure play movement and worked closely with a philosopher and utopian expert Johan Siebers. A seminar was held on ‘Play and the Utopian Imagination’ at the School of Education at the University of Sheffield, which attracted people from the Adventure playground, the School of Architecture, Education and students from the University of Sheffield. This was filmed. The Sheffield School of Architecture developed strong relationships with the playground, and their students engaged with the playground and presented an interactive sculpture forming part of the Utopia event at Somerset House in London.

An over-arching theme such as Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ can connect what would appear very different organisations and areas of interest with a real focus on research and ideas, but also it enabled community organisations to be involved in genuine co-production of research ideas. It was really valuable to go to London and see how the adventure playground and the staff could be part of something much bigger as often people work in quite restricted ways. One comment from the project worker at the Adventure Playground, Patrick Meleady, was that, ‘often in community projects work very locally and it is very good to be connected to other people at a national level to see what is going on in other areas and see the kind of work you do valued’. (Conversation, London 24th June).

Future CPD opportunities for the staff at the playground are currently being explored by Kate Pahl, with a view to a long-term relationship of support with the playground.

The Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias supported high quality participatory arts research and research co-production activities on the theme of community futures and utopias across the UK. These activities aim to build upon, widen and deepen community engagement with the Connected Communities Programme of research and wider AHRC/RCUK-funded research.

For more information, please visit the 'A Leap of Faith' Blog 

Funder:

This project is funded by the AHRC Connected Communities Festival on the theme of Utopia.

The Rotherham Project Logos of Arts & Humanities Research Council and Connected Communities


The Rotherham Project

‘The Rotherham Project’ is a co-produced participatory arts research project taking place as part of the AHRC’s Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias. This project is founded on the belief that to build better futures and more cohesive communities, we must work collaboratively to discuss our past and present in a considered, honest and thorough manner – and to make those discussions meaningful they must be led by people from within the community concerned. 

Challenges faced by young black and minority ethnic (BME) men

Principal Investigator:

Kate Pahl

Community Partner:

Nathan Gibson

This project has developed a series of empowering educational and creative workshops aimed at providing young black and minority ethnic (BME) men with the opportunity to discuss the challenges of social isolation and conflict that are faced in Rotherham, in their own voice and on their own terms. The project aims to counter negative views that persist in the tabloid press and highlight the considerable work that exists to promote effective and enduring social cohesion.

The Connected Communities Festival 2016: Community Futures and Utopias is supporting high quality participatory arts research and research co-production activities on the theme of community futures and utopias across the UK. These activities aim to build upon, widen and deepen community engagement with the Connected Communities Programme of research and wider AHRC/RCUK-funded research.

This project builds upon and is informed by previous work from the Imagine Project.

Funder:

This project is funded by the AHRC Connected Communities Festival on the theme of Utopia.

Screenless Digital Technology

logoVai Kai logo

Investigating the design and use of a new form of screen-less digital technology in relation to young children’s literacy practices

Principle Investigators:

Dylan Yamada-Rice, School of Education, Sheffield University, UK
Matas Petrikas, Vai Kai, Berlin, Germany

Project

This project was a COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology)-funded Short Term Scientific Mission (STSM) that is part of the COST network ‘The digital literacy and multimodal practices of young children (DigiLitEY)’. Further details of the wider network can be found here

This STSM project relates directly to COST Action IS1410 that is interested in the changing ‘array of digital, interactive, converged and personalised devices’ and to ‘examine how young children’s literacy development is being shaped by changes brought about by the digitisation of communication’. In relation to this, this STEM had the following three objectives:

  • To undertake knowledge exchange with the EU industry host, Vai Kai who are developing an emergent form of technology, that is toys that connect online and offline domains.
  • To conduct research on the kinds of digital literacy practices children develop in the use of these toys and to examine how they link alphabetic print with multimodal practices.
  • In turn the STSM will contribute to the development of theoretical tools to understand the literacy practices that occur across digital and non-digital domains in the absence of screens

Image of Avai Kai twinsThe technology at the heart of this study was a new type of interactive and personalised digital device being developed by a German company called Vai Kai who are hosting the STSM. The connected device is a companion for children known as Avakai. Avakai are wooden figures with embedded Bluetooth technology that are designed to combine play and communication practices across online and offline domains without using screens. The devices are touch sensitive and have also been designed with a small storage in their base to promote imagination and literacy practices through story creation.

Traditional and digital literacy practices have a history of being positioned in opposition to one another. However, more recent research continues to look at the crossover between online and offline communication practices as well as their contemporary connection to play in young children’s lives. Increasingly, technology is being created that takes account of the crossover in these two domains, such as augmented reality apps, in which literacy and play practices combine. However, it is the norm for such technology to foreground screens. Development of screen-less digital devices for the promotion of literacy is an entirely new area and thus worthy of immediate research on its development and subsequent take up by children.

The COST Action to which this application responded is interested in ‘how emerging digital technologies are transforming the skills and literacies needed by even the youngest children to be competent actors in the world’. To date much emphasis has been placed on the role of the screens in digital technologies towards these changing communication practices, but what if screens become increasingly removed in future digital devices? This STSM therefore investigated screen-less digital devices in relation to how they may or may not change traditional communication practices.

The company Vai Kai believes that a different type of literacy practice can emerge when the screen is removed, and the digital remains taking on another function. Parents who have had the opportunity to see Avakai have asked about the purpose of the digital. How does it alter children’s traditional or digital literacy practices, if at all? Does it promote reading and writing in new ways?

For more information, please visit the blog

Language as Talisman

Language as Talisman

Photograph of talisman bunting with AlphabetTeam:

Jane Hodson, Hugh Escott, Richard Steadman-Jones, English, Kate Pahl, David Hyatt, Education with Steve Pool, Cassie Limb and Andrew McMillan.

Community Partners:

Marcus Hurcombe, Rotherham Youth Service, Deborah Bullivant Inspire Rotherham, High Greave Junior School and Thorogate Junior School, Rotherham

Language as Talisman involved young people from youth centres and schools together with practitioners, artists, poets and film makers, working alongside academics, from the English and Education departments at the University of Sheffield. The project was based in Rotherham, South Yorkshire and had a focus on language as a source of protection and resilience for young people. The project team worked in schools and youth centres to co-produce materials with young people about language and its power. We were interested in how young people can shape language practices in the classroom and how their understandings of language can be supported and developed. We looked at how local dialect can be drawn on in young people’s written language. We wanted to explore ways in which young people could gain insights into their use of language and link this to the literature.

The phrase ‘language as talisman’ emerged from a shared interest in the ways in which language can operate as a source of resilience. It was a way to raise questions about the uses and meanings of language and literacy that did not draw entirely on an academic discourse and to provide a more open space for discussion across University and Community contexts. The project team created talismans, films, poems, oral stories, written texts, precious words and art work with young people in schools and community contexts. In the course of the project young people reflected with academics on their use of dialect in particular contexts, and created short films about why language was important.

For more information, please visit the website

Funder:

AHRC’s Connected Communities Programme