Looking back on Built with Bits – an educational challenge with immersive technologies

Thank you for speaking to us today! Can you tell us about your organization? Why is it named Macedonia?

We – Macedonia – are a collaborative studio who design strategies and experiences to help social, cultural and educational innovation thrive. We work along with social companies, cultural institutions, universities and public organizations through strategic research, methodology facilitation and community creation.

Since we come from very different backgrounds, we work in fluid, mixed teams for every project. That’s why our name is ‘Macedonia’; this means ‘fruit salad’ in Spanish so, when a new opportunity happens, we choose the custom ingredients to achieve the best taste!

How did the Built with Bits project come to life?

Due to the pandemic, one of our aims was to explore how to hybridize the physical and virtual world in an intelligent way to design ‘in-between’ experiences which could provide value to different communities. We started this research by creating our own cultural and arts virtual center called Madrix (Madrid + Matrix) and we joined some digital culture networks, like REMED (Spanish Network for Museums and Digital Strategies).

In one of their events, Isabel Crespo, Business Development Coordinator, Education at Europeana Foundation, asked if anyone knew about Mozilla Hubs, as the European Education Community was eager to begin exploring innovative platforms to engage audiences with the New European Bauhaus initiative. As Mozilla hubs is the platform we used for Madrix, the match happened.

Could you tell us about how the program worked?

Built with Bits was an eight-week mentoring program which combined collaborative learning experiences and digital technologies. It was aimed at teachers and educators working with students in secondary education in Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. We worked with them to design spaces in Mozilla hubs and explore how virtual experiences can be used within education.

The program focused not only on building virtual spaces, but also covered topics including user experience, art direction, design and conceptualization, use of cultural material, types of licenses, mediation, gamification and facilitation, concerning virtual spaces through weekly ‘learning pills’. A facilitator from each country gave support to participants.

From your perspectives, how did the program make connections with the values ​​of the New European Bauhaus?

We both have a background in Industrial Design, so the Bauhaus School inspires and motivates us, both from the disruptive point of view it represented at the time – the foundations of professions such as design or architecture – and from the School itself. It sought new ways of combining art and science by rethinking teaching methods through learning by doing, 100 years before it is beginning to be applied again in our classrooms.

The New European Bauhaus movement was therefore the perfect scenario to create this ‘educational sandbox’, using Open Source tools, designing, building and mediating virtual spaces that allow teachers and students to engage in new ways of learning.

Can you tell us a bit about the winning entries – we will be hearing more from them in the coming month!

We were very pleasantly surprised by the response of the participants and their inventiveness in developing these virtual spaces. There were very different projects, but always with a common link: digital culture. As it was very difficult to choose a winner representing each country, we also awarded some special mentions. In any case, the biggest goal was not to earn a prize but to provide tools, learnings and tips to the teachers so they feel confident to create new experiments beyond the program.

What did you learn from running the program?

It was our first European project, so we learned how to manage and coordinate different people from different countries. We had already coordinated other activities and workshops in Spain, but it was also the first time we did such an ambitious program fully in digital format. It was a good lesson about how to change strategy on the fly, listening constantly to the feedback of the participants.

This experience was very inspiring and, taking into account that most of the teachers were not used to dealing with digital tools like these, communication was a key factor. We made a great team with Isabel and the national facilitators.

What do you think is the value of using digital cultural heritage and immersive technologies in education?

Well, definitely, one of them is to protect patrimony. When we are able to digitize a 19th century vase, we allow people to interact, study or even play with it with no physical damage.

In addition to this, something may not so evident is to narrow two existing gaps. On one hand, people from rural areas or from different countries may not be able to travel to museums in big cities to interact with their collections. On the other hand, the world is changing and young people are engaged with values, codes and narratives different from past generations. So we have to learn how to reach them and understand together the world (past and future), which using digital cultural heritage and immersive technologies in education can support. We could say that it’s all about democratizing cultural access.

Do you have plans for any projects in the context of the European Year of Youth?

We are a young studio and our work is essentially made by young people, and many of our projects are aimed at them. For example, LaBotica is related to the problem of smaller villages running out of inhabitants in Spain; we have created an observatory to pool ideas, involving young people to redesign their own cultural identity in order to generate new opportunities of value for the people around them. We are continuing to run Design (Design Hackathon) and Futuration (Future Hackathon) experiences, mixing interdisciplinary groups to solve systemic challenges. And finally, we have participated in Hateblockers, which is a project that aims to identify and mitigate hate speech on the internet. The project aims to instil critical thinking and empathy among young people.

Can we expect any follow ups to the project in the future?

Yes! We already intend on a new edition of Built with Bits, so we hope it becomes a reality soon. We would also love to celebrate new editions of the project, involving university teachers and other professionals (for example, museum mediators), based in specific regions and the real world.

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