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DIY aerial photography: Kite-mapping workshop at the ElectroMagnetic Field Festival in Bletchley, UK

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Reflections and insights into a 'family-oriented' kite-mapping workshop

By Cindy and Ted

This past weekend (30th Aug) Ted and I held a two-part workshop on DIY aerial photography using kites at the ElectroMagnetic Field Festival (EMF) near Bletchley Park, in the UK. We were invited by the University College London (UCL) outreach team to run a family-oriented activity as well as a talk at the UCL Geek Show.

We would like to share with you the basic schedule and insights from these activities.

Intro to workshops

In this 2-part workshop we will roll up our sleeves and learn about DIY aerial photography using kites: we'll fly a kite, map an area of Bletchley Park, learn how to make a composite aerial photograph using MapKnitter, and learn how to interpret aerial photos, their uses, and examples of how/where DIY mapping has been used around the world (including how this all began during the BP oilspill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010). No prior experience is required. This method is a Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science open source prototype.

In the first part of this session we will gather data flying a kite over Bletchley Park - everyone, young and old, will get to fly the kites and attach the camera to the kite line but not before learning about the technical and safety bits of DIY kite mapping.

In the second part we will learn how to make a map using the images we collect, interpret them, learn about and create ideas about how these can help us tell a story of the spaces we map, whether these be our communities, public space, our schools, natural areas, farms, etc. We will also talk about the ethics of mapping and the relevance of community mapping and using the imagery gathered.


DIY aerial photography Part I: capturing aerial imagery using kites (2hrs) - Quick introductions game and brief sharing of interest in aerial mapping (we do this outdoors) - 15 mins - Brief introduction of facilitators, Public Lab, materials, online tool, and the concept of civic science as a kind of science that questions what and how things are - 10 min - Kite flying basics and safety incl. walking to site - 20 min - Camera basics incl. attaching to rig - 10 min - Aerial mapping (max 10 people per kite) - 55 min - Debrief and overview of next steps in Part II - 10 min - Q&A (incited) throughout the workshop

[During the break workshop organisers select and print a few of the images in colour A4 so that we 'knit' a physical map on the floor or table where kids can reach comfortably; we use crayons, post-it notes of diff. colours, and markers, so we can draw, doodle, and 'annotate' the maps]

DIY aerial photography Part 2: creating your own map from aerial imagery (1hr 30 minutes) - Recap of Part I and introductions for newcomers, if any - 5 mins (we do this in assigned room/tent) - Set-up, introduction to online software, and 'civic science' in action (examples of composite maps made form aerial imagery around the world, the story behind these images and their applications/impact), while downloading imagery to personal computers - 25 min - Image selection and knitting maps from 4-5 selected images working in pairs/families - 35 min - Wrap-up and debrief - 10 min - Kite mapping kits give-away - 15 min [breaks can be taken at any time during the workshop]

Reflections: what worked well, what could be improved

Giving support to kids who are accompanied by a parent(s): Our group had a mix of parents and kids; some kids where there on their own, others were there with their parents. We noticed that some parents exerted some pressure on their kids to 'perform' well, especially when using the online software. To address the shyness factor, we started with an 'introduce your partner game' where people pair up with people in the group whom they've never met or talked to before. We mixed adults with kids and the pair learn a few things about each other to then share them back with the group. In this ice-breaker the kids made new friends immediately with whom they hung out during the rest of the outdoor workshop. This also meant that the kids were learning on their own without their parents, who were also learning on their own, with other parents, and with other kids.

Voluntary splitting of the group: During the kite-mapping, we divided the group into two, letting people choose which group to join. Ted had most of the kids, Cindy had most of the adults - this is just how it happened and we think it might be because the rainbow kite is more visually attractive than Barney, the DIY kite. The pros of this split was that the kids in Ted's group felt the freedom of doing kite-mapping on their own, knowing that their parents are also learning the same, which they can then understand, share and relate to together - but that they are somewhere else on the other side of the field, far away (!); the parents immersed themselves in the activity as kite-mappers without concerning themselves with their kids. Cons with a voluntary split can include lob-sided groups, which then need facilitator's interference. Different questions will inevitably arise in the different group, which can lead to slightly different learning experiences.

Weather conditions: In the outdoor part of the workshop we had the introductions game outside (UK = cold and windy = reduced tolerance and hearing capacity). This was of course out of our control due to the festival scheduling but in hindsight, we should do introductions indoors, if possible, and then walk to the mapping site when the weather is not very good.

Using vs. printed aerial imagery: During the second workshop people worked with the aerial imagery captured and the group was once more divided into two: those working on a screen and those working with printed images. Even though the printed images have great limitations to 'knitting' a map together because of variation in scale, distortion, etc. (which we can manipulate in MapKnitter), we noticed that having the physical image in front of you makes you think about how to fit things together; a tangible image invites questions, and engages in conversations, exchanges of ideas and issues - in essence, it incites collaboration. Because of the nature of the EMF festival, most kids and parents had computers and they were immediately drawn to exploring and using the online tool, and getting a map exported. Ted and I reflected that in future workshops we should encourage a rotation between screen and paper to experience both ways of making composites and both ways of telling and sharing the story of our maps.

Giving closure to the workshop and reinforcing the learning experience: The 'kite-mapping kits giveaway' competition at the end of the workshop drew from all information and knowledge gained throughout the workshop. With the group split during the outdoor activity it was crucial that both Ted and Cindy were sharing the same information with the kite-mappers for a fair chance to win some DIY goodies. The questions used in this particular workshop are listed below. These questions were read out loud giving people time to write them down and then extra time was given for them write their answers and hand them in. Ted tallied people's answers and awarded extra points for thorough answers. The answers were then read out loud to the group and discussed or clarified further where needed. Cindy announced the winners and two 1st and 2nd place runner-up prizes were awarded for a total of four prizes: two kite kits and reels and two canon a495 cameras with Infragram kits an DIY foldable spectrometers. For those who took part but did not win a prize, the disappointment was clear but we ensured they took with them some of the printed images and we assured them that they were winning a lot more than a physical object: a fantastic experience and expertise as kite-mappers. It sort of works...

Questions used in this Kite-mapping giveaway:

What kind of rigs can you make to attach your camera to the kite line? What are the tails of the kite for? When would you choose to fly a small vs big kite? Name three uses of kite mapping How much would the material we used today cost? Why do we wear gloves?







Pictures courtesy of Cindy and Linda Sandvik @hyper_linda

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