Artists Without A Cause – Diana Arce interview

Open Knowledge Festival 2014 by Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)

Open Knowledge Festival 2014 by Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)

This summer I made it over to Berlin, for the a Open Knowledge Festival (#OKFest14). I was mainly there for the open education track, and to thrash out some ideas around approaches to staff development and open licensing. Click through here for a great round up of ‘Open Educating at OKFestival’ from Marieke Guy.

Neelie Kroes delivered the keynote – ‘Embracing the open opportunity’, which argued that open approaches were critical to publicly funded bodies delivering on transparency, fairness and innovation.

One of the highlights of the conference was the involvement of artists and musicians from all over the world, including Artists Without A Cause (AWAC) Bankslave, Peng! Collective, Ingrid Burrington, Josh Begley, Juliani, Sasha Kinney, Swift, The Swag, UhuruB, and Valsero. I was delighted to get to meet the irrepressible Diana Arce from AWAC, and over drinks she foolishly agreed to let me interview her:

Tell me something about Diana Arce.

I’m notorious for travelling at the drop of a hat based off a whim or a gut feeling despite the fact that I’m into organizing and planning most everything else. I’ve been doing this quite a bit over the last few years, taking my work with me and looking for new inspiration. It’s quite easy to do with less money than you think. I keep jokingly saying that I’m writing a book called Permanent Staycation to show people how to do this – which I should- but honestly, I’m quite clueless on how I pull this off and don’t really have time to write a book!

Tell me something no one knows about Diana Arce.

Some people know this but not many: I never intended to be an artist. Funny enough, I was studying law as an undergrad and my law professor soon-to-be mentor convinced me (although it was more like an ultimatum if anything) that I should focus my energies and interests in law and the social sciences into my artwork. Looking back, I’ve always been making political and cultural based work since I started out as an artist so I guess it was just a matter of time that I would end up working on something like AWAC.   

Who is AWAC? How did AWAC come into existence, and where is it heading?

Last year I was invited to participate in Tactical Technology Collective’s Info Activism Camp. For the first time in my career as an artist I was surrounded by over 120 activists and organizers from across the world. Through my participation I realized there were many artistic projects and actions that many of the other participants didn’t know about and I offered to lead a short session to discuss possibilities of developing better collaborations between artists like myself with activists and organizations working to make the world a better place. During the session many of the other participants seeked advice and suggested to myself and another artist that we should form an organization to do this. At the end of the camp we announced Artists Without a Cause and a few months later we put together a basic concept. I begin filing the paperwork in Berlin to get us non profit status and researching potential collaborators and organizations we’d love to work with. It all happened quite quickly and many things changed during the first year. My original partner left to return to school and a few months before OKFest, Jeff Deutch and Brigid Pasco joined the team. I didn’t really realize it while it was happening, but it was a pretty amazing thing to conceptualize an organization, build it and complete our first collaboration within a years time. OKFest happened almost exactly 1 year after the Info Activism Camp.

As far as AWAC’s plans for the future, we are currently talking to a few organizations about incorporating arts as a part of strategic campaigns. We are negotiating with several groups to tool kit Politaoke to make it available to organizers and Brigid is currently researching and developing a project regarding feminism and women’s rights which we hope to turn into a tour. I’m also giving a talk with Peng Collective, one of the artists we featured at OKFestival, at the #FixEurope Camp from European Alternatives this October. We’d like to connect with more organizations and discuss how working with artists can add to their campaigns!

How did AWACs involvement in OK Fest 2014 come about?

I was performing Politaoke at the Berliner Festspiele Theatre as part of the Net culture conference. I put together a program of speeches mostly from the Bundestag dealing with Chancellor Merkel’s phone being tapped by the NSA as well as a few of the greatest hits from the previous Politaoke iterations and Snowden’s Christmas address. It turned out that one of the participants was OKF’s own Beatrice Martini who was organizing OKFest. She wanted me to bring Politaoke and I told her about what we (which at this point consisted of only me)  are trying to do at AWAC. I was then invited to be on the Program Team for the festival and after a few more conversations, Beatrice was convinced that artists should be a part of the festival and AWAC began putting together the plan of what artist participation could look like.

Open Knowledge Festival 2014 by Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)
Open Knowledge Festival 2014 by Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)

AWAC coordinated a range of sessions at OKFest14 – My favourite was probably the Political Karaoke session. I got to reenact a George W. Bush classic, although the best speech was a French one which seemed to mostly consist of enthusiastic applause from the audience. Tell me some more about the project? Can people get involved with the project or run their own political speech-offs? 

I began Politaoke in 2007 as an experiment to see what would happen if we could remove the politician from the politics. Would the words have the same impact? Would someone believe or back the words without the politician in front of it? Political engagement has been on the downturn for so long in the US yet people were willing to vote to pick their pop stars and entertainers in mass. Additionally, becoming a politician seems harder than ever; it’s grossly expensive and requires hundreds of people sometimes even on a local US scale. This seemed like a potential way to encourage people to participate by giving them the speeches as a tool, allow people to hear something more than a news media sound bite and have some fund at the same time. I work with contemporary speeches and try to create a program that is non partisan so people have the option of performing different political viewpoints. And it works just like a karaoke bar. There are books of speeches which the audience can chose from and when they come on stage they are played for everyone to see. I’ve toured the project throughout the USA, Canada, Germany and Israel (There are several interviews about the project available on our youtube and soundcloud pages where I go more in depth about the work).

AWAC is currently working on turning Politaoke into a tool kit and training program that other organizations can use and expand upon for local use and are looking for support to do this. We also now have an instance set up on SayIt a platform created by MySociety to post open source transcripts online. Because many of the speeches we work with have no official transcripts, we’ve amassed a large collection that would be useful for other activists, organizations and artists. We want to make this available to the public.

I loved the way that artists and musicians played such a prominent part in the OKFest 2014 Programme. The approach achieved a couple of things: one, it made sure that creativity and art was as much a part of the event and the definition of open as data, science, education, government, and two, the artists provided opportunities for all attendees to engage with art and art practice. This in itself was a lovely thing, but I also think it helps practically encourage people to recontextualize, to open up :),  their own viewpoints and approaches. Is that anything like your experience  of how artists were included? Or your interpretation of what the impact was?

I completely agree with you regarding the experience. I’d like to think that artists are the next phase of data visualization – more like data dramatization per se. It was an amazing experience to see and meet so many people focused on making information open, available and transparent. We were there to help show how all this work can be presented and brought to audiences face to face, especially those who don’t know what it is or why it’s important. The more we can encourage the public to understand the importance of this work, the better it is for the people and organizations doing the work.

Typically conference organisers don’t make integrating creative practice and opportunities into the schedule a priority in the way as OKFest did. Is this the kind of thing AWAC is interested in doing – working with conferences and event organisers? Or was it a one off?

We were truly excited and proud to be a part of OKFest. I definitely have to give their organization many thanks for trusting that our vision for how to incorporate artists into the festival would be representative of this year’s theme open minds to open action. We were able to develop the project like a festival within a festival, from conception through production, and the OKFest team did a great job of presenting the projects as an integrated part of the festival. This format was helpful as it also alleviated any potential extra strain on the OKFest team and allowed us to manage the artist sessions with speed and ease. We believe this is a fantastic way for conference and event organizers to work with us and we’d love to help other groups make this possible.

Tell me a bit about the other sessions AWAC coordinated? Or point up a couple of your favourites?

I can’t really pick a favourite! If I didn’t love the work that these artists have been making, I wouldn’t have asked them to be a part of the festival! It’s amazing to see the different genres and methods of each of the artists could bring to the table and their contributing sessions are only a small glimpse into the body of work they’re creating. I truly enjoyed Ingrid Burrington and Josh Begley’s ability to deconstruct complex data sets in order to make them into a tangible story. Peng Collective is able to use humour and research in order to create interventions and point out issues to large audiences. The Spray Uzi Crew are amazing graffiti artists whose work is often more effective in reaching people than more traditional forms of outreach. And Juliani and Valsero’s musical talents are only topped by their political knowledge which they incorporate into their art. It’s amazing to know and work with so many people who are using their gifts for engaging and activating many people to question and look at many aspects of their environment differently.

Again – huge thanks for your time Diana! Was brilliant to meet you and Brigid and Jeff – thanks for making OKFest14 so fantastic.

Secondary School Staff Digital Literacy – 2014 survey results

Digilit Leicester 2014 findings - infograph

The DigiLit Leicester project is a two year collaboration between Leicester City Council, De Montfort University and 23 secondary and specialist education schools. Leicester’s secondary and SEN schools collectively support over 20,000 learners each year, with the majority of learners being between 11 and 16 years old. The project focuses on supporting secondary school staff in developing their digital literacy knowledge, skills and practice.

A digital literacy framework was developed in consultation with the schools, embedding digital literacy within secondary school practice. From this, an online survey was developed, designed to support staff in reflecting on their use of technology to support teaching and learning, and to provide individual staff members, schools and the Council with information to inform future planning around professional development.

This year’s findings!

The survey was opened for a second time between March and May 2014, seeing an increase in engagement from schools. 701 members of staff completed the survey in 2014, or 39% of all eligible staff, with 209 taking part for the second time in 2013.

Headlines for the 2014 survey findings are:

  • 56% of staff across the city who participated in the survey classified their skills and confidence at the highest level – Pioneer – in one or more of the six key digital literacy areas.
  • 23% of all those who participated in the survey placed themselves at Entry level in one or more of the six key areas.
  • Staff rate their skills and confidence highest in the area of E-Safety and Online Identity, with 43.5% of respondents scoring at Pioneer level.
  • Staff feel least confident in the area of Communication, Collaboration and Participation, with 9% of staff rating themselves as Entry level and 38.7% falling within the lower levels of the framework (at either Entry or Core level).
  • In Creating and Sharing , 42.1% of staff rated their skills and confidence in the lower levels of the framework (Entry and Core levels).
  • Analysis comparing the survey data from 2013 and 2014 shows that a statistically significant change in staff confidence has occurred, with 21% of participants registering an increase in their skills and confidence. Levels achieved increased in five of the six key areas (excluding E-Safety and Online Identity, where levels were already high).

You can find out more by downloading a copy of the report here:

DigiLit Leicester 2014 Survey Report (Word)

DigiLit Leicester 2014 Survey Report (PDF)


Share and promote Pioneer practice

1. Ensure that the work being done by city Pioneers is promoted and shared more widely. Promote and support the use of open licences to enable wider discovery, use and reuse of educational resources produced by city staff.

2. Provide encouragement, opportunity and recognition to Pioneers who support Entry level colleagues.

Support entry-level staff

3. Provide supported opportunities and resources specifically designed for and accessible to Entry level staff, particularly in relation to Assessment and Feedback and Communication, Collaboration and Participation.

Support self-directed staff development

4. Continue to provide support for self-directed staff development projects and activities. This approach is supported by the research literature, which has shown that professional development programmes that support staff in focusing on developing their own knowledge ‘are most likely to lead to transformative change’ (Fraser et al. 2007, p.167).

Encouraging contextual e-safety guidance

5. Continue to support work which supports schools in expanding the safe and effective use of social and collaborative technologies.

Increasing knowledge and use of Open Educational Resources (OERs)

6. Complete work on the project’s current Open Education schools project, and evaluate the benefit of continued focus on and additional work in this area.


DigiLit Leicester Celebration Event

On Thursday 11 September, the DigiLit Leicester team hosted an event to showcase and celebrate the ambitious work carried out by the project team and participating schools over the last two years. The evening was a great opportunity for staff from schools and other organisations to be inspired by how Leicester BSF staff are making use of technology to enhance learning and school communities. The highlights video (above) captures some of the of impactful projects presented by Leicester school staff.

The evening began with an opening address from Cllr Vi Dempster (Assistant City Mayor for Children, Young People and Schools), and an introduction by Professor Richard Hall (DigiLit Leicester’s academic lead), which highlighted the importance of the two year project, which represents a new model for implementing digital literacy aimed at transforming the provision of secondary education across a city.

Following an overview of the 2014 Survey data, the team handed over to staff from a number of BSF ICT Innovation projects to showcase the innovative and effective ways that staff in Leicester schools have been using technology:

Bring Your Own Device Trial

Tony Tompkins – The City of Leicester College

Over the last year, The City of Leicester College have been carrying out the city’s first trial of a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model in the city, with a Year 8 (aged 12-13) tutor group of 23 students. The scheme involved the students using iPad minis in lessons and at home – working with staff to investigate the ways in which the device could add value to the learning experience.

Tony led the project and carried out considerable work on developing a device management model for the school, details of which can be found in his project reports. The emphasis of device use within the school has been around students leading the innovation, with the support of their teachers.


Laura Iredale – Hamilton Community College

The Siyabonga project saw Leicester students use video conferencing to collaborate with children in Lamontville, South Africa. On March 8 2013 both groups of students took part in a live concert, involving performances from both sets of students.

The project really allowed Hamilton students to be part of something bigger than themselves, to gain an awareness of the struggles of others less fortunate than themselves and to think outside of the Leicester box!

Gearing Up to Mobile Learning

Peter Guthrie – Sir Jonathan North Community College

Staff at Sir Jonathan North worked on a project using iPads as a staff development tool, in order to integrate mobile technology into classroom practice. The project also included the involvement of Year 7 (aged 11-12) and Year 9 (aged 13-14) student groups, which were established to support students in developing their independent learning skills alongside their use of ICT.

The project enabled the school to provide training on the use of iPads to all of their staff, and to support individual staff members in engaging with self-directed exploration of the devices.

Improving Digital Literacy Continuing Professional Development

Martin Corbishley – Babington Community College

Babington’s project aimed to raise awareness of the web-based tools and services available for supporting teaching and learning. Martin achieved this through the delivery of a set of 11 workshops for school staff, covering a range of topics including; using twitter to extend the classroom and making use of online collaboration tools.

Martin felt that the course had benefited both the school as a whole and those that took part in developing their digital literacy. It opened peoples’ eyes to what is available and how the internet can be used to enhance how technology is used to deliver lessons. The school will also see further benefit because the digital champions who took part, will continue to share ideas and resources with their faculties.

Member of Parliament’s 6

Sera Shortland – Hamilton Community College

The college’s MP6 Political Speaking Competition is an annual event open to all learners aged between 11 and 16 across the city. The school used the funding to develop a website which will host young people’s speeches, and provide information about the current year’s competition and links to resources for students and staff.

The innovation project itself was only the beginning of this new phase of work for Sera, providing the training and support necessary to set up the MP6 website and make best use of the project’s new iPads for video creation. The project will now move into a new phase of content development for the site, which will be led by the students.

iPads as Alternative and Augmentative Communication Devices

Helen Robinson and Heather Woods – Nether Hall School

The majority of students at Nether Hall School have difficulties with speech and language, many requiring Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) devices: systems which support individuals with speech impairments to communicate. The iPad project aimed to evaluate the use of iPads as a replacement for traditional AAC devices; using The Grid2 computer access software – thereby enabling greater access for their students.

The project has proven that a tablet device together with appropriate software, such as the iPad and Grid player app, can be an effective and affordable communication tool for pupils with communication challenges. The work has had a lasting effect on the pupils’ communication skills, showing that where pupils are empowered with this voice, they are motivated and engaged in learning. This goes on to build confidence and engender trust and respect between themselves and other pupils and adults.

iPad Orchestra

Ellen Croft – Ash Field Academy

The iPad Orchestra project focused on the use of musical apps and light systems to enable students with special educational needs to create a piece of music. The school worked with creative practitioners to design a scheme of work which culminated in a performance of the piece developed by the students. Explorations were also made into the use of visual representation of the music, to provide students with the opportunity to explore and create light sculptures.

The whole atmosphere around the project was that of celebration, achievement, fun and coolness. The creative practitioners were both supportive and challenging to the pupils, constantly pushing them to the next level. They managed to create something that the pupils could take ownership of and celebrate as their own achievement.



iPads as Augmentative & Alternative Communication (AAC) Devices

Using an iPad as a ACC device


Nether Hall School provides education for pupils with severe learning difficulties, profound and multiple learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders. They’ve been working on a DigiLit Leicester innovation project, evaluating iPads as Augmentative and Alternative Communication (ACC) devices, to support communication for learners with speech impairment. The majority of students at the school have difficulties with speech and language, and many use AAC devices to help them to communicate. The school identified several issues with commercially available ACC devices: bulky design and look; limited functionality (for example, only supporting a few words); and cost (with many priced between £4,500 and £14,000), which limits the number of devices the school is able to afford to provide.

Helen Robinson, Head of sixth Form, and Heather Woods, Communication Specialist, discuss the final report and reflect on the project:

Project Process

The project began with identification of the students who would participate in the trial and the software that would be used. Through discussions with the school speech and language team, The Grid was chosen as the most appropriate software for the project as  it was seen to have more facilities and, most crucially, linked to the school’s current systems, for example Eyegaze and Communicate: in Print. Sensory Software, the makers of The Grid, provided staff training and have provided additional support throughout the project.

Initially, the team had intended to create a standard grid for use with all learners throughout the project. However, it became clear early on that with the diverse needs of their learners, and the capabilities of the software, bespoke grids could (and would need) to be created for each child. The training provided to the school was key in enabling them to create personalised communication grids for each of the students involved in the trial.

Working with Students

The first stage was to introduce the device as a tool, with a grid that was appropriate to each individual pupil. Serious consideration, based on assessment and experience, was given to deciding whether to use True Object Based Icons (TOBI[1]), photographs or symbols for each student.

One to one teaching sessions with the Communications Support Coordinator (CSC) were given to demonstrate to the pupils that if they touched the photograph or symbol, they would receive the item they had requested. In this way, a relationship of trust was built around the use of the device. For some pupils, simply recognising that they could interact and take control of the proceedings was sufficient to motivate them to use the device for communication.

Once the iPad was established as a communication device, the grid was developed.  This was bespoke to each individual pupil:

On the simplest level, the photo began true to size and gradually became smaller and moved to a different part of the screen after selection meaning that the pupil had to be more accurate to request the item or activity. Next, an item that was known to be disliked was added.  This was to test whether the pupil was selecting an item or simply pointing and touching the screen randomly. If this item was selected, the pupil had to hold it and interact with it. The next step was to make the icon move after it had been touched, again to check that this was not random.  The pupil had to look at the icon and touch accurately to make their choice.

On a more complex level, photos were the starting point; in some cases these were photos of the class and staff. Pupils would then use the device to participate in registration activities. This led quickly to adding symbols for lessons. Alternatively, the standard grid on ‘The Grid 2′ was used and simplified to the level that worked with the individual pupil.

Project Report

Since the beginning of the trial, the school have seen significant benefits to their learners through the use of the iPad as an AAC device. Learners have made improvements not only in their communication skills, but also in terms of behaviour and their relationships with staff and family. As the project progressed, it was decided that funding would be used to bring in Karen Cameron and Sarah Younie, researchers from De Montfort University, to work with the school to support the research element of the project; specifically the writing of the project report.


  • A device which can be tailored to an individual childs needs which can then grow and develop with the child.
  • Costs a fraction of other equal more expensive communication devices on the market.
  • Looks cool and appropriate for children, teenagers and young adults.
  • It’s high picture and sound quality reduces confusion compared to other communication devices.

Next Steps

  • To write use of iPads into the schools policy for devices as communication aids.
  • To train staff in supporting Pupils with AAC devices
  • To establish a Parents support group –  Promote wider  community  use of devices and bespoke for individuals home use.
  • Investigate bags for portability
  • Extend project to more students


An Evaluation of the use of iPads as Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices (Word) (PDF)

Case Studies only (Word) (PDF)

[1] A T.O.B.I. can be a line drawing, scanned photograph, etc., which is cut out in the actual shape or outline of the item it represents.

Learning at Home and in the Hospital


Learning at Home and in the Hospital (LeHo), is an open education project sponsored by the European Commission, designed to ensure young people’s right to access to education. It focuses on making use of digital environments and tools to meet the needs of learners who aren’t able to access mainstream education, because of the effects of physical and mental illnesses.  

Leicester’s Children’s Hospital School (one of the BSF schools I work with) are the UK Hub for a project partnership which includes teams based in Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Spain, and forms an international network for home and hospital education through ICT.

The project launched in January 2014, and this month head teacher George Sfougaras and researcher Suzanne Lavelle traveled to Zagreb for the projects second meeting. George Sfougaras said, “We are dedicated to providing an excellent, quality education for those who are currently too unwell to attend their own schools”.

The project will carry out an international review of how technologies are being used to support the education of learner’s who are too ill to physically attend school, and design ICT-based solutions which will enable children in hospital, receiving home therapy, or who attend school part-time due to illness, to access education.

If you are a teacher, medical professional, ICT professional, parent/carer or student involved in home and hospital education, you can get involved by joining one of the projects national or international groups.